Hit-Monkey Creators On Bringing The Obscure Marvel Character To Life [Interview]

More than a decade after the Marvel Cinematic Universe helped establish the comic book publisher as the premier brand in entertainment, the company has had to dig deeper into its canon of characters for new adaptations. That means things are going to get weird and pretty unique in some cases. Such is the cast with "Hit-Monkey," the latest Marvel animated series, which stars Jason Sudeikis, George Takei, Olivia Munn, and Fred Tatasciore, which makes its way to Hulu this week.

Following in the footsteps of "M.O.D.O.K." this show is quite unlike what many viewers associate with the Marvel brand, but it's very much a classic Marvel tale in many ways. At least that's how series creators Josh Gordon and Will Speck ("Blades of Glory") view it, and why they've had the itch to tackle this adaptation for quite some time. While much of the general public is about to discover the gun-toting monkey for the first time, the filmmakers have been fans of writer Daniel Way and artist Dalibor Talajic's creation for a while now.

I recently had the chance to speak with Gordon and Speck in honor of the show's release this week. We discussed how it came to be, what might have been if "The Offenders" crossover had come to light, the potential "Blades of Glory 2," and much more.

"It's been an obsession of ours for a very long time."

How on Earth did... I don't know if you guys were the ones that were like, we want to do "Hit-Monkey" or if Hulu came to you guys and were like, "This is what we have and we're doing." How did you guys settle on what I would consider to be a pretty obscure character within the Marvel canon?

Josh Gordon: Unfortunately it's been an obsession of ours for a very long time. From the second we read the first graphic novel, which was written very well in 2010. We've been really obsessed with it just because it really speaks to what we love which is, the combination of heart and humanity alongside the potential for a really emotionalized look at violence and revenge, which in the enemy world is something we always find very interesting. It's touched on a lot of things we loved and anyone that would listen, we'd talk about how much we wanted to make this happen.

Will Speck: And then we were lucky enough to find partners at Marvel TV. And then at Marvel studios, who were like, "We like how weird and fringe it is and just go and make the pure version of it." So we really lucked out.

I myself, I'm pretty in the weeds on the Marvel stuff. I've loved it for as long as I've been alive. But I think when you are that kind of person, you sort of understand there are all kinds of different tones and genres and everything within comics. But I think a lot of people now, because of the MCU, think of Marvel as a kind of singular thing. So did you guys feel any pressure to make this feel like quote-unquote "Marvel" in some kind of way? Because even though I haven't seen the whole show, it very much does not feel like that Marvel that the general public is very used to.

Gordon: Well, just to say before we answer, we're big Marvel fans and big fans in the MCU. So I think running a parallel path was interesting to us.

Speck: This show and also "M.O.D.O.K." to some extent, were obviously incubated on the edges of the Marvel universe. And look, that was really interesting to us. We love everything that Marvel's been producing. It's obviously changed the culture and been massively successful, but in the comics that we would read, there's always these odd flavors and this is about as odd as it comes. So we felt lucky to get to make this. I think it's rare ultimately to get to make it and Marvel Studios, to their credit, when they saw it, they were like, "Cool, we like it, keep going." So there was no meddling or anything like that. But we just felt lucky to get to make it.

Gordon: I think the thing we wanted to make sure held some brand recognition and integrity was just giving it a story that was actually about something, and that had some deeper roots, which feels very Marvel. As you know being a fan like us, there is always a lot more than meets the surface. There's a lot of thought that goes into these characters, no matter how small. And I think that's what we just wanted to honor, was this idea that, it's not just a monkey with a gun. There's something deeper at play and there's an actual, real story.

"It's one of the best origin stories in Marvel, we think."

Yeah. I think that what was amazing is, even the pilot, you don't really get to ... I don't want to spoil much for anybody, but the pilot is very much in the last minute of the episode where you're like, now we're at the jump. We're sort of setting the table for the show that's going to be. You guys spent a good amount of time sowing the seeds of that origin and putting some meaning into it.

Speck: Oh yeah. It's funny because the pilot in many ways is the least humorous of all of the episodes in the series and that's by design. It's one of the best origin stories in Marvel we think, and it's powerful and it's ultimately very filled with tragedy and pathos, and we didn't want to water that down. We wanted to show that, so that when you do get to the more buddy/comedy and get to all the supporting characters in Tokyo, and all of those larger-than-life villains and all of that stuff, that you're building it off of a base of real storytelling. So that was important to us. To honor the original "Hit-Monkey" comics in the pilot.

Gordon: And what Daniel [Way] and Dalibor [Talajic] did so well in that first edition is, they did something that is very Marvel, which is give you the inciting incident, that becomes the mark that allows a character to behave in any way they want.

Speck: It allows you to care about them.

Gordon: Yeah.

Totally. There's a lot of DC stuff that I like, but I think a lot of what always got me about Marvel is the origin stories are so sound generally speaking. It just always anchors you. For me, it's always the Steve Ditko stuff, Spider-Man and Dr. Strange are my two favorite superheroes, but so much of that is because their origin stories are so sound. And it's amazing to me looking at "Hit-Monkey." I never would've thought about it, but then once you get into it, you're like, "Oh my God, this is as classic Marvel as it gets" in a lot of ways.

Speck: Yeah, totally. Which is so interesting with a character that very few people know and is totally on the fringe.

So if I may, you guys mentioned "M.O.D.O.K." a minute ago, and that already came out. Originally, when these shows were announced, it was announced there was also going to be a "Howard the Duck" show and "Tigra & Dazzler," and they were going to lead to this crossover called "The Offenders." What was interesting to me is how wildly different the animation styles for "M.O.D.O.K. and "Hit-Monkey" were. Now, I understand you guys probably can't talk about a ton, but how was that crossover ultimately going to work with the different styles? Did you guys ever get that far?

Speck: We talked about it a little bit with the team at Marvel TV. And then also with the other showrunners, including Jordan Blum, who did "M.O.D.O.K." It was decided that each of these shows should be able to live separate from each other and honor their individual needs. And then we would just figure it out, when they were all brought together and maybe we would choose an animation style that none of the shows had, in order to just create a new offshoot. Or maybe we would do it in one of the show's styles. It never quite got that far but everybody wanted each individual show to be able to attract its own fanbase and be its own thing. Then they were going to figure it out when they combined it.

Gordon: I think the idea was pulling characters from the fringe and bringing them together in a powerful way, à la "Avengers," is very Marvel and that was the original ambition. But I think it shifted and found its own space. So we're happy with it.

"We thought we were going to go at least 30 seasons."

For me, it made it more interesting because the idea when I looked at those characters, when they first announced them, I was like, that makes sense. Then I saw "M.O.D.O.K." and I'm like, okay. Then the "Hit-Monkey" trailer drops and it almost made me more interested because I was like, "How would this have worked?" But at that point, I already knew that crossover wasn't going to happen. But another thing is, just as often as you get shows that come out now, where the network wants ten seasons of it, you get a limited series. When you guys developed this, did you view this as we want to tell our tale as a limited thing? Or did you guys have your 10-season "Hit-Monkey" Bible?

Speck: Oh yeah. We thought we were going to go at least 30 seasons [laughs]. No, look, TV is such a funny thing, right? You always have to keep an eye on wrapping up that season so that it can be its own complete thing. And then you're also always thinking about where will it go. The great thing about the Marvel TV ethos was, don't worry about tomorrow. Just literally tell the story that you want to tell and don't water it down. Don't tread water. Literally, if you burn out the story three episodes in, then just make up a new story and keep going, but keep it interesting, keep it alive. Versus a lot of TV which is like, how do we keep all these characters moving forward, but not so much that we burn the season out too quickly. That wasn't the ethos from them.

It was just, go for it. And so what we ended up doing, was we ended up being able to model the whole first season, really more on a feature model. So it really does tell a full, complete story beginning, middle, and end. But then it really does hint at where the story could go in New York and all the other layers that I think certainly Bryce, Monkey, and in our minds, Haruka and Akika, who really would've gone forward and will go forward into New York, how those characters could have future storylines.

You guys did "Blades of Glory," which I revisited about a month ago and I cannot believe how funny that movie still is. There's been this weird thing with comedy sequels happening, way after the fact, like "Wedding Crashers 2" was a blade of grass away from getting done. Have you guys ever thought, let's pick up with James MacElroy and the guys again? Is that something you ever considered?

Speck: I think the idea of them floating off into the cloud feels like ending on the highest note you could possibly find.


Speck: So it feels like only downhill from there. We've been approached about doing it, but I think we all feel like we loved that whole experience and it's such a complete thing that sometimes you really run that risk with a second of diminishing the first. I think we all honor the first so much that I think we want to just hold firm.

Gordon: But talk to us in five years when we're probably down and out.

So I was reading up and you guys got "Distant" coming out and I'm a big sci-fi guy. There's not like a ton available about it right now, but it sounds like a very isolated small sci-fi flick, which I really like. I know you guys probably can't say too much, but can you tell me a little bit about that?

Speck: Yeah, it's really just a very simple story about somebody who's stranded on a faraway planet, 100 years in the future, and there are really no survivors and he is losing oxygen and at a very, all is lost moment contacts another survivor who's on the other side of this planet. It's an A to B story of survival. And in the midst of that, he's being chased by alien creatures and also happens to form a relationship with the Naomi Scott character, who is the only other survivor, and they find their way to a new beginning at the end of the movie. So it's one of those "127 hours," "Cast Away," "All is Lost," man up against the elements. Whad a blast doing it. It's a very contained, very small dramatic movie, but we loved it and.

Gordon: It's produced by Amblin and going to be released by Universal. We just had always wanted to work with Anthony Ramos, who's absolutely incredible in it. So yeah, it was a really fun process and we love it. It's got comedy in it, but we also love exploring other genres. We just had a great time.

Speck: Yeah. The comedy's tucked away behind the sci-fi, it's much more dramatic. So yeah, there's that, and then the movie that we're shooting right now is an original musical, which we love. Which is really exciting also.

"Hit-Monkey" arrives on Hulu on November 17, 2021.