Marvel Studios made thousands of fans quite — um — animated as it kicked off its very first panel centered on a growing slate of animated content.
The presentation and expansion comes after the studio’s inaugural series, What If…?, garnered three Emmy nominations. The response to the show saw Marvel green light season two and announce last year series such as Spider-Man: Freshman Year, a revival of the 1990s X-Men cartoon titled X-Men ’97, and a shorts series, I Am Groot. All those series were showcased during the panel, eliciting oohs and aahs from the gleeful faithful.
“When we did the first season of What If…?, we realized we wanted to do more,” said Brad Winderbaum, Marvel Studios’ head of streaming, television and animation. The longtime Marvel exec, who began in the studio’s live-action division, said that growing up, animation was his gateway to cinema and comic books. “It just means a lot to expand the MCU into new areas. Animation is a great way to do that.”
Next to him was another longtime Marvel-ite, Ryan Meinerding, head of visual development, who had a sizzle reel focused on his key work in the live-action sphere. With Meinerding onstage, Marvel stressed that it’s taking the making of the animated series just as seriously as its other endeavors.
“It’s not that much different,” said Meinerding. “We meet with the filmmakers early on, researching comics to find the most iconic things to draw from.”
With the preliminaries out of the way, and bringing out key creative players — Bryan Andrews, director of What If…? and executive producer of Marvel Zombies; AC Bradley, writer and executive producer of What If…?; Beau DeMayo, writer and executive producer of X-Men ’97; Kirsten Lepore, writer, director and executive producer of I Am Groot; and Jeff Trammell, writer and executive producer of Spider-Man: Freshman Year — Marvel got into the presentation.
I Am Groot will be a five-part short series featuring the adorable Guardians of the Galaxy character engaging in a variety of hijinks and dancing his way through new worlds. The CG-animated shorts debut Aug. 10 on Disney+, and executives announced during the Friday midday panel that the second batch of five episodes is already on the way.
— Marvel Studios (@MarvelStudios) July 22, 2022
Spider-Man: Freshman Year will see Peter Parker in high school with a new crew of friends and a cadre of villains, including Chameleon, Rhino, Unicorn, Doctor Octopus and Scorpion. Doctor Strange will make an appearance in the Disney+ series, as will Daredevil, who will be voiced by actor Charlie Cox, who plays the live-action version of the character. While Freshman Year won’t be debuting until 2024, a second season was announced, aptly titled Spider-Man: Sophomore Year.
While no footage was shown, Marvel unveiled plenty of character designs. The influence was Steve Ditko-meets-Alex Toth and featured a diverse and reimagined cast of supporting characters. For example, Parker’s best friend in the series will be a girl named Nico Minoru, also known as a character from the Marvel hero group Runaways. Spider-Man’s suit is homemade and not the look that audiences most recognize because the producers wanted to “give him somewhere to grow from.”
What If…?, which was the first animated series in the MCU, reimagines major moments in the MCU with multiple possibilities. It was announced that the second season will be coming in 2023, with a third season already in the works. Captain Carter, Scarlet Witch, Iron Man, Black Widow and Doctor Strange will appear in the second season alongside newer MCU entries like Shang-Chi. The second season will feature a medieval episode taking place in 1602 and a racing episode with Valkyrie and Iron Man on the trash planet Sakaar from Thor: Ragnarok.
Marvel Zombies is spun off from a What If…? season one episode featuring undead superheroes. The series will include zombie versions of Hawkeye, Captain Marvel, Scarlet Witch, and cut-in-half Captain America, while the living heroes include Yelena from Black Widow, Katie from Shang-Chi and Jimmy Woo from WandaVision.
Perhaps no series got a more enthusiastic response than X-Men ’97. The original series, a major Saturday morning cartoon hit, was a precursor to the wave of live-action comic book movies that appeared in the early 2000s — and Marvel, in showing off a reel featuring the original voice actors and show creators, is keenly aware of its legacy and impact.
“It’s an immense legacy,” acknowledged exec producer De Mayo. He also noted that the series will be the first piece of screen content featuring the outsider group of mutants since Disney acquired 21st Century Fox.
The first look at X-Men ’97, due out in fall 2023, showed Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit, Jubilee, Cyclops, Storm, Jean Grey and Beast in a lineup outside the Xavier Institute. A second image showed Cable, Bishop, Forge, Morph, Nightcrawler and Sunspot. It was revealed that in the new animated series Magneto will be the new leader of the X-Men while Mister Sinister will take over the main villain title. Season two of X-Men ’97 is already in the works, with The Newton brothers (The Haunting of Hill House) scoring the series.
De Mayo said the show will retain as much of its ’90s identity as possible: “It’s a big soap opera. It’s about who wants to kiss who, who is looking at who awkwardly. … This is who they are at their core.”
He also said the show will still tackle themes of prejudice, which unfortunately the world still needs to face. “I’m a gay, adopted Black kid who survived living in Florida. This show taught me to be who I am. For better or worse, [X-Men] are timeless. And the world has a lot to learn from them.”