Marvel Animation Studios has exclusively revealed plans to EW for its debut feature, Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United, which will team Tony Stark and Bruce Banner in a fight against the villain Zzzax, a creature formed out of pure energy who can absorb human minds.
As these first images show, the movie (which will debut on home video April 23) is a hybrid of computer-generated animation and hand-drawn art.
Zzzax is a character long familiar to fans of the Hulk, a sentient being created by accident after a terrorist attack on a nuclear plant caused a bizarre chain reaction. The living energy mass that results, dubbed “It!” on the cover of its first comic book appearance in August 1973, is a kind of giant, lumbering brainwave vampire, consuming the electrical impulses in the heads of every living thing it encounters.
“We see his origin in the movie. It’s what would happen if the entire Eastern seaboard [electrical grid] went out,” says Jeph Loeb, executive VP of Marvel’s TV division, which is overseeing the movie. “The two heroes meet up, thinking of each other as to blame.”
What happens next? “Calamity ensues,” Loeb says.
Fans have been hoping for a team-up between the two heroes since May, after Robert Downey Jr.’s Stark rolled off into the sunset with Mark Ruffalo’s de-Hulked Bruce Banner. At Comic-Con this summer, Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige teased a crowd of thousands: “Well, if you remember at the end of Avengers, he jumped into the car with Tony,” Feige said, drawing anticipatory cheers — which he then annihilated. “And Tony dropped him off at the Port Authority, and we’ll see him again someday.”
So maybe the Hulk won’t turn up in next spring’s Iron Man 3, but before that stop at the bus station there may have been time for one little adventure.
While the animated Heroes United isn’t a direct sequel to The Avengers, “we welcome people to interpret any way they like,” says Loeb. “In tone and character, we want to follow our best leader.”
In this version, Adrian Pasdar (NBC’s Heroes) voices Iron Man and Fred Tatasciore (a veteran of previous Hulk cartoons) voices Banner and his monstrous alter-ego. Zzzax will be voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, best known as Klaus the goldfish on American Dad. (We’re guessing this movie will feature a much different accent.)
While the film doesn’t have Downey or Ruffalo, it will try to capture the spirit of their onscreen partnership in The Avengers. “The challenge was to pick up the banter between the two of them. Certainly, Adrian Pasdar’s performance is inspired by what Robert Downey Jr. does, and Mark laid down such an incredible path for us to be able to follow,” Loeb says.
There’s one significant change from the live-action movie: “You’ll see in Heroes United that Hulk’s a little more articulate,” Loeb says. After road-tripping with Stark, how could he not become a bit more loquacious?
There’s already a separate Big Hero 6 film in the works, that marks the first partnership between Marvel and Walt Disney Studios Animation, a separate entity within the same parent company. But if the Heroes United is a hit, expect more superhero mash-ups from the Marvel Animation Studios division.
“It’s our hope that we will start doing more feature-length direct to Blu-ray and DVD stories,” he says. “They’ll more than likely be in team-up situations. We find it works really well when we have big exciting adventures with two or more of our heroes.”
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