It’s safe to say Spider-Man is a sticky character, successfully slinging between the big and small screen, dominating toy sales and even starring in recent series of Funko Pop! YouTube shorts. Then there’s the comic book icon’s Marvel Animation series Ultimate Spider-Man (pictured), which clocking in at 104 episodes, has been the company’s longest-running series to date. As the Disney XD show draws to a close with two final episodes on January 7, two of the driving creative forces behind it, divulge how the program’s impact will live on, especially in a brand-new TV series Marvel’s Spider-Man that’s launching this summer.
“Spider-Man is a very iconic but extremely relatable character. The audience really embraces ongoing stories about him, but in this particular case we really didn’t expect to make it to 104 episodes. We started off hoping to get to 52,” says Cort Lane, SVP of animation and family entertainment at Marvel.
The final two episodes, entitled”Graduation Day Part One and Two,” will center around Peter Parker’s showdown with his nemesis, Doctor Octopus.
“We wanted to try to wrap up not just season four but the entire series, so we were able to spend time with each of Spider-Man’s friends and teams over the course of the show,” says Harrison Wilcox, senior director of television development and production at Marvel.
With Ultimate Spider-Man’s end, a new Marvel team is already busy on the next TV adaptation centered around the creation of the superhero. While it will be released at the same time as Sony’s Spider-Man: Homecoming summer blockbuster, the two are not connected.
“That was very much a happy accident because we started the process on this new Spider-Man show a few years ago,” says Lane. “The wonderful thing though is that there is this sort of synergy for the audience because they will have a film that reboots the movie franchise, and at the same time an animated series.”
As for how Ultimate kept fans engaged on the small screen, Lane says Wilcox led a team of writers who developed a unique take on the third season with bigger arcs. “That season was a hit, and the ratings actually went up, which is rare in kids television,” he adds.
“So after that success we had the opportunity to do a fourth season, which was completely unexpected and not something we were truly prepared for,” Lane says. “It’s a very long run, and from a business perspective there’s not a lot of reasons to go on beyond 104. In fact, for action-adventure animation there’s very rarely a reason to go past 52 episodes. Everything we do in animation is a part of a larger franchise plan…it’s all one big story with characters featured in products, content and online gaming, and we felt that we had gone as far as we needed to go.”
Even though Marvel is rebooting the same franchise, Lane says he expects the new show will be quite different from Ultimate, while still drawing from the series’ successes.
“Stylistically, in terms of animation, it’s different,” he says. “From a storytelling perspective, it’s back to basics. It is about him becoming Spider-Man from the very beginning, which is something we didn’t even really get to do with Ultimate Spider-Man because we started the story a year into his superhero career.”
Lane says the plan is to incorporate more daring concepts and animation styles into the new series.
“We tried some very risky things with Ultimate, including a bunch of different animation styles in season three that showed us how kids would react to seeing the characters animated in a vast array of different ways,” says Lane.
The upcoming series has also set a new precedent for Marvel, as the company delves further into making longer shows. For example, Marvel’s animated Avengers Assemble series will match, if not overtake, the number of episodes that Ultimate Spider-Man had.
“It’s the fourth season of Avengers and we get to see a lot of characters that appear in season three, like Black Panther and Captain Marvel,” says Wilcox. “They come back in a big way at the beginning of the season to help deal with some new threats that eventually spill out into this massive event, which is probably the biggest one we’ve ever done in Marvel animation. All of the Avengers are going to come together in new ways that we haven’t seen before in other mediums.”