This weekend on “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble,” Odin came to Midgard to demand his son, Thor, return home, and found his scion less than willing to just go along in “All-Father’s Day.”
With Odin demanding the Avengers prove their worth to him, and thus justify Thor’s loyalty to them, the team found itself up against increasingly tougher foes, beginning with the classic Marvel monster Zzzax and the All-Father himself, and culminating with the mad Vanirian Mangog, freed from prison when Odin decided to come to Earth. Although overmatched, the Avengers rose to the occasion, continuing to become a tighter, more cohesive unit that helped Odin overcome this deadly foe.
We spent some time with the voice of Thor, Travis Willingham and Cort Lane, Supervising Producer, talking the bonds of All-Father and son, the joy of working with Frank Welker, and plenty more. So try to steal some of Hulk’s food (but beware!), hunker down behind that unbreakable barrier, and enjoy the conversation.
Cort Lane: I think that the secret to revealing more about our characters is to show the relationships important in their lives. For example, we have an episode coming up where we get to meet Hawkeye’s mom and that reveals a lot about him as a person.
The most important relationship in Thor’s life is really with his father [Odin]. You know, in publishing and now in film, his dad banishes him to Midgard and [Thor] realizes he likes it and wants to be Midgard’s protector and then his dad wants him back. That’s a tension for decades now and to mine that conflict really opens your eyes to who Thor is. Actually, having Odin around is a lot of fun as well.
Marvel: Within the dichotomy of who Thor is, and this is for Travis specifically, does it change your approach to how Thor speaks depending who he’s speaking to? From a viewer standpoint, I thought I saw a subtle difference between the way he speaks to his teammates versus when he speaks to his father.
Travis Willingham: Of course, yeah. Anytime you have a chance to work with the legendary, almost the all-mighty All-Father, Frank Welker [voice of Odin in this episode], it is a chance that you relish and I was glad they were able to get him for Odin.
Being in the booth when Frank Welker delivers that very regal tone, it commands a great deal of respect just with its presence alone. You almost feel like you have to meet that level of performance that Frank is bringing.
I thought it was interesting because I could even feel the difference between the way that I speak to what I consider my teammates, my comrades, my fellow warriors versus when Odin comes in. It becomes almost a slight petulant child that’s trying to fight for his father’s attention, fight for his father’s approval, fight just to make sure that he’s heard. I thought that was a real interesting face to see from Thor who’s naturally so well put together and sturdy and steadfast.
Marvel: I could definitely hear that. There was an interesting moment with Mangog when Thor proclaims that he is not scared of his father’s power and you can feel the shift in the voice there as well.
Travis Willingham: Right. There’s almost a mini-coming of age that happens within that episode because it’s certainly, within the series, the first time that Thor has to prove the worth of his team, the people he’s decided to spend his time with. He’s saying, “These are warriors, our efforts are noble, there are important things that we’re taking care of here in this realm. My time is best spent here rather than with you in Asgard where things seem to be looking pretty good.”
Marvel: The episode also did something interesting with the nature of the Thor-Odin relationship. Often when we’ve seen them in the past in comics or film, the emphasis is on how they’re different, how Thor, as you mentioned, is sort of petulant child—arrogant, quick to temper—and Odin’s more staid and more of the boss, in control, if you will. This episode though emphasized their commonalities, specifically, their trend towards pride. Why was that choice made here?
Travis Willingham: I found it fascinating. In the films we’ve often see Odin be very measured, very responsible, very wise because he’s earned all of those things. You know the battles that he’s come from.
In this episode, you see where that stubbornness, where that pride, where that arrogance comes from in Thor. He is a proud warrior descended from a line of proud warriors before him.
It’s nice to see Thor, with his arrogance and pride and kind of being out of touch with everything in Midgard, to see another person from Asgard come and be even more out of touch and understand even less. Now you have Thor as kind of this interpreter for the realm trying to go, “No, you have to understand this is how things are. These things are important and they matter.” Odin has to find that out the hard way.
Marvel: The rest of the Avengers tend to take more of a backseat here until the end of the episode when they have to assert not just their humanity, but their courage whereas the rest of the episode they had been kind of depicted a bit more jovial.
Cort Lane: But even more than that, they displayed their unity as a team. Much of the arc of this season is really about them coming together as individuals who don’t necessarily get along and don’t play well with each other to a unified team. And they have to do that to combat the threat of the Cabal, which the next episode is very much about. It is their journey as a team to come together and Iron Man’s journey as a leader trying to bring them together even though it’s naturally his instinct to do so.
So while the episode is about Thor it also reflects the story of the season. By the end of the episode, they are incredibly united as a team. They are so effective against Mangog even though he is so big a threat. It requires a big threat for them to really act as one.
Cort Lane: It’s really fun to let Travis play more notes with Thor than he often gets to play. Being the petulant son was a bit of a change that we were happy to do. Travis plays a lot of characters in a lot of shows so it is nice to give him that change of rhythm, to take things in a different direction.
Marvel: Within that theme of evolution, I think the episode also highlights how Thor’s connection to the team has evolved since the beginning of the season. It seems to suggest that, obviously, he’s grown into a teammate as well as the team growing together.
Travis Willingham: Sure. You see him questioning all of them staying in Stark Tower. You see him questioning Hawkeye and his skills. He’s constantly berating Hulk, although that’s more of a love/hate relationship because he’s looking for the next good fight with [Hulk]. But he’s not necessarily convinced, at least in my opinion, in the beginning that this team is going to work or that they’re doing what they should with their time. This episode, he fully steps forward and says, “These are my teammates. We have a mission. We work best together. This is where I belong and I would forsake family so that I can protect this realm that I love and these teammates that I’ve grown very close with. Nothing is more endearing that seeing someone bond with his teammates like that, especially when it is these heroes that we know so much.
Marvel: Travis, for you, beyond this episode, what have been your favorite moments to depict Thor this season? What’s really stood out for you as moments you could really sink your teeth into?
I think the Loki-Thor dynamic is so rich and so much fun for me to play because Troy Baker, one of my best friends, plays that character as well. One of the things that really stood out to me in the movies, especially in the first Avengers film, was that tear that you see in Thor, wanting so desperately for Loki to turn to the side of good, to join his brother, to see the error of his ways, to maybe repent and to go back to a life that Thor…it seems like he misses terribly. He wants a whole family again. [Loki] just can’t do it. He just can’t come back to the light side.
I think that kind of struggle in characters that have so much power, but you can see them being so helpless for a short while is captivating and a real pleasure to play.
Marvel: For the both of you, within this episode, any moments in particular that you really enjoyed or realy stuck out for you?
Cort Lane: This episode in particular had a lot of great comedy moments in the dialogue. We have a legitimately talented writer named Jake Semahn who works with Man of Action on a fair number of “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” scripts; his writing is just really funny. My favorite is when Thor shouts, “Odin’s beard!” and Odin behind him shouts, “My beard!”
Travis Willingham: Yes!
Cort Lane: I watched the episode before the interview and that one I…I giggled.
Again from a cartoon history perspective, when you get Frank Welker in, it’s not every day. When you really got to hear him start to bellow his Odin, you feel like you’re witnessing something pretty special so anytime he started to really let loose, we would all turn to each other and kind of giggle and wink because there’s not many people who claim to be in the room when Frank Welker is playing the All-Father.
Marvel: To pivot towards next episode, you mentioned in passing that it would be more Cabal focused. Is that accurate to say?
Cort Lane: Yeah, very much Cabal focused. We’ve had them doing this dance for a long time now. Last episode, they fought each other but it was sort of under protest. This time it is really one team against the other. They’re in a full-on battle and there’s a bit of a crisis of confidence for Tony. He really believes that following the numbers and working a plan is the way to be and he realizes that that is not enough.
Marvel: I take it his “following the numbers” is the inspiration for the episode title “By the Numbers.” Is that right?
Cort Lane: Yeah, exactly.
Travis Willingham: Nice lead in there, Cort. Wow!
Cort Lane: Thanks.
Marvel: Excellent. Before I let you all go then, is there anything that you really liked about this episode or noticed that we haven’t touched on?
Travis Willingham: I did like seeing the continued annoyance that Hawkeye affects Hulk with, such as eating [Hulk’s] popcorn while being behind an unbreakable barrier. The beginning of that episode, I really enjoyed. It’s a just a man being a glutton for punishment and I’m loving the relationship that’s budding there. It makes me so happy.
Marvel: I also appreciated the empty rolling pickle jar at the end of that scene.
Cort Lane: Yeah, the sound effects guys…yeah, great job.
Travis Willingham: Yeah, that was great.