Stephen Wacker Discusses "Marvel's Ultimate Spider-Man Vs. The Sinister Six"

Spidey is swinging back into action in “Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man Vs. The Sinister 6” in [...]

Ultimate Spider-Man Vs Sinister 6

Spidey is swinging back into action in "Marvel's Ultimate Spider-Man Vs. The Sinister 6" in the series fourth season. The show will see Spider-Man and his team of Web Warriors facing off against some of their toughest foes yet when Doctor Octopus reforms the Sinister Six and teams up with Hydra. You can see the two-part debut "Hydra Attacks" this Sunday, February 21 at 9:00 a.m. ET on Disney XD. We got to speak with Marvel Animation Vice President Steve Wacker about the creation of the new season and what surprises it may hold.

This is the first season you've overseen from the very start in your current position as Vice President of Marvel Animation.

Wacker: You're right. I hadn't thought about that.

What has it been like getting to oversee this season from its origin to debut?

Wacker: It has been cool. I was lucky that I had experience on the first three seasons of the show coming out as a consultant because of my job on the comic book side. The challenge with this season was that the end of season three with "Contest of Champions" was really meant to serve as a series finale. So when we got picked up for another season, I was able to come at it fresh, but the challenge was raising the stakes for the series and finding new things to do. I think we hit upon something interesting with "Ultimate Spider-Man Vs. The Sinister 6" and thinking of an arc that could take over the whole season and let us do small stories inside of it throughout the season. That was something of a challenge.

That is one of the interesting things about superhero stories. You always want to go bigger both in terms of character development and stakes. What was it that made you see the Sinister Six as the next big threat for Spidey after everything that has come before?

Wacker: We had seen the Sinister Six earlier on in the series, but the producer Harrison Wilcox along with the new story editors Kevin and Doc were looking for a new angle on them that personalized the story for Doctor Octopus. It changes the dynamic in a big way.

If we look at the first three seasons of "Ultimate Spider-Man" learning and becoming the ultimate Spider-Man, this next season becomes a result of that learning and what he does with it and what happens when he finds out it just wasn't enough. Using the Sinister Six as a way into that story gives us an interesting lens, but we're not limited to just those six villains as you'll see when we dig into the season more. There's a lot of villains coming at Spidey this season.

Doc Ock teaming up with Hydra at the start of the season also builds on what's come before. Hydra is more associated with fighting the Avengers and last season saw Spidey interacting with them and learning what it means to be an Avenger. Are we going to see more of him interacting with the Avengers this season and bouncing off those personalities?

Wacker: Well, he has his own team now, the Web Warriors. So we're looking at Miles Morales, Agent Venom, Iron Spider, and others. You're going to see Spidey needing to rise to the occasion as a leader, which is not where Peter feels like he fits naturally. Also within that team is a new member, the Scarlet Spider, and that adds a whole new twist for Peter Parker. They become very, very close as the season goes on. I can't spoil too much, but it's a position we haven't had Peter in much.

Looking at all of those characters you just mentioned, it's really apparent that the show pulls a lot of ideas directly from the comics. The Sinister Six dates back to when Steve Ditko and Stan Lee's run, but Doc Ock's new costume comes from Dan Slott's current run on Amazing Spider-Man.

Wacker: I definitely pulled from my experience editing the book for so many years. That Doc Ock design comes directly "Ends of the Earth".

How often do you find yourself digging through Marvel comics when searching for inspiration?

Wacker: I think the show succeeds because it all starts with the comics. That's at the core of everything we do and at the heart of the company. You see it reflected in the movies, the live action series, and the animated series; it all comes from there. I haven't been shy at all about talking to the writers and the animators about looking through the comics from stuff I edited to stuff Brian Bendis wrote to the stuff Stan [Lee] and Steve [Ditko] did in 1962. That's where we pull most of our stuff from. That's the fun.

That speaks to your own career path too, moving from New York to L.A.

Wacker: I think that's why they brought me out here. I knew the comics stuff.

What has the experience been like making the transition from telling Marvel stories in comics to animation?

Wacker: The great thing about comics is that there's an immediacy to it. I would sit around with Dan Slott and we would think of a Spider-Man story, then it would be in people's hands in the next three to four months. Animation takes a lot more time. It takes a long time to lay it all out, do the animation, and get the voice cast together.

When you're watching the premiere of "Ultimate Spider-Man" this weekend, these are stories we broke a year and a half ago. Trying to wrap my head around that sort of timing has been the biggest learning curve. Once you're doing the work though, when you're just talking about story and breaking it, it's not that much different than comics. You have to keep commercial breaks in mind, which you don't have to worry about in comics. Even that is just finding three mini-cliffhangers in the story. There are a lot of similarities, but you have a lot more time.

What's it like working with an expanded team in animation where there are a lot more hands working on a single project than in comics?

Wacker: In my capacity here I'm mostly dealing with story and business stuff. I don't work with the animators directly. Our head of production, Eric Radomski, takes care of a lot of that and "Ultimate Spider-Man" is animated by Film Roman. I talk with our supervising director Alex Soto and cover notes with him, then he deals with the rest of the animation team.

You're absolutely right that it's a lot more people. It's a little bit of a bummer that I don't have my hands on as many pieces of the process as I used to. The process is much more involved and there are parts of animation that I'm still learning about even two years in, as with comics I saw every step and was supervising every step. That's the job I chose.

Getting to supervise this season from conception to debut for the first time, what are some of the surprises and enjoyments you've found working in animation?

Wacker: With "Ultimate Spider-Man" in particular the surprise we found was when we started digging into the Scarlet Spider story and trying to do a story that wasn't "The Clone Wars" for the hundredth time. It was finding a personal story for Scarlet Spider and how he related to Peter Parker. The more we dug into it, the more we found out how much it revealed about Peter Parker.

I think there's a lot of heart in this season. The action is still front and center, but we've tried to dig into the character more. You see within his Web Warrior friends how each of them is a reflection of Peter. Miles, Iron Spider, Agent Venom, they all are a piece of Peter Parker's personality. It's always his story that we're telling.

I will say, too, that living with Miles Morales for a full season it's very nice to have that much of him in the series as opposed to the two or three episodes we got with him last season. I can't say it's a surprise because we already knew the character.

Earlier you mentioned that getting season four was a bit of surprise. Now that you've had a chance to break this story and develop the supporting cast of Web Warriors more, are you already eyeing possibilities for season five?

Wacker: I have some ideas I would love to throw out at the writers for what we could do next and I'm sure they have ideas too, but animation is the kind of world where every season you're working on you have to plan for it to be its own thing. We do 26 episodes in a season, which is a lot. So we try to make sure that the story we are telling is complete. There are certainly places where we could take the story next, if we were asked to, but we're holding those close to the vest.

Those long seasons lend themselves to a nice balance of "mythology" and "monster of the week" type episodes so you can take some tangents and provide a big, single story with a beginning, middle, and end.

Wacker: That was the first place we landed. We try to figure that out first, so we can build off of that spine.

Obviously you can't give too much away, but looking at "Ultimate Spider-Man Vs. The Sinister 6" as a unique entity, what's the thing that has you most excited?

Wacker: That's pretty easy to answer. We're going to do a return to the Spider-Verse, which was a very popular story from the last season of "Ultimate Spider-Man". We have a story that stands on its own, but also plays into the arc of the season. I'm very excited to see lots of versions of Spidey, particularly Pirate Spidey, which I think is very fun.

Pirate Spidey?

Wacker: Yeah, like "Arrr!"

That's one that isn't coming from the comics, is it?

Wacker: It's a pirate version of Spidey and there might be a little bit of Howard the Duck in there, but it's ultimately still Spider-Man.

Be sure to tune in to the two-part premiere of "Ultimate Spider-Man Vs. The Sinister 6" this Sunday, February 21 at 9:00 a.m. ET on Disney XD!

Chase Magnett is a freelance journalist, critic, and editor working with comics, film, and television. He has been hooked on comics since he picked an issue of Suicide Squad out of a back issue bin fifteen years ago. When Chase is not working with comics in some way he spends his time rooting for the San Francisco 49ers and grilling. He currently contributes to and other outlets.