X-Men Show

RAGE AND VIOLENCE IN XMEN:TAS

There’s far less than you think.  When Logan slugged Scott for “leaving Morph behind” in our opening story, it was the only time (that I remember) that we were allowed to show that ferocious a violent act among our characters.  This was kids TV after all.  We could destroy planets, but no punching people.  Cities could crumble, but we had to be careful never to knock anybody out (implied head injury).  Woozy, yes.  Knocked-out, no.  After Wolverine’s chest was scratched by Sabretooth early on, we saw no more blood and rarely a bandage (implied injury).  We found ourselves in the tough position of taking a ruthless set-up (super-beings fighting over the future of the world), based on a fierce comic (check out 1992 X-Men covers), in a long tradition of heroic struggle (check out a few unabridged myths — Hercules/Herakles killed people from his bassinet).  This was before the wide-open world of premium cable TV.  To keep true to the comics — and thousands of years of heroic story-telling — we at X-MEN:TAS had to transfer the drama and intensity of actual violence to character conflicts.  Years later I was asked by a clueless executive from another network: “Why did your X-Men have to argue so much?”  If people don’t care enough to fight for what they believe in, why should the audience care?  There’s nothing duller than a superhero team with characters that are never at odds.  To paraphrase an early-1930s movie, I Cover the Waterfront: “If two guys agree on something, one of ’em isn’t necessary.”  That certainly holds for heroes.  As to the endless discussion of violence in popular culture (I care, I have children), I would refer you to Steven Pinker’s excellent book Angels of Our Better Nature, which illustrates how much less violent we humans have become over the centuries.  Comic books and video games — and cartoons — have not corrupted us.

Wolv punch

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

OUR TOUGHEST CRITICS

Working for nearly a year before the official premiere in January, 1993, we really didn’t know if X-MEN:TAS would survive.  Animation takes a long time.  Many at Marvel doubted us.  You couldn’t blame them — Hollywood had never succeeded with the X-Men (see article below for a brief pre-TAS history) or really with any other Marvel property.  Most in the TV business doubted us: Where were the jokes and the cuddly characters?  That’s one reason it was so satisfying when the show came out, and not only did tens of millions of viewers enjoy it, critics from both the comics world and television embraced us.  TV Guide gave us an “A.”  In Daily Variety, the “bible of the industry,” celebrated TV critic Brian Lowry praised us.  In the possibly even tougher world of comic books, we were accepted as no other adapted Marvel property had been before.  Wizard Magazine published the following article, tightly sourced and focused by Andy Mangels, in an issue that celebrated 30 years of X-Men comics with the acknowledgement that we, Hollywood, had finally got it right.

wizard article

Wizard - X-Men cartoon 2 (1)

 

Wizard - X-Men cartoon 3

 

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

WOLVERINE GRIEVES FOR MORPH: The Art of Collaboration

The single most important creative decision we made was killing Morph in the opening two-part story.  Mark Edens and I insisted that we show the audience that what the X-Men do isn’t a game — it has consequences.  Larry Houston and Will Meugniot backed us up.  The only problem was, you just can’t do that on Saturday morning kids shows.  Luckily, Fox Exec Sidney Iwanter lived to make kids shows more real.  He was on board.  Now the tough part.  No TV network censor (Broadcast Standards & Practices department) had ever allowed such a thing.  Luckily for us, we had as our censor an enlightened, comics-loving, story-respecting executive named Avery Cobern.  My first notes from her were what we expected: you can’t do that!  But, as would prove to be the case for four years, she listened.  I meant it when I said the killing was all about the X-Men’s grief, not some fun at seeing Morph die.  We had it happen off-screen.  We experienced it through the eyes of Morph’s friends.  Many cried.  Wolverine punched somebody (another no-no).  But a shared loss brought them together.

The most important moment for me was Wolverine driving off to be alone in his grief.  As Mark and I originally wrote it (see script page and storyboard page below), a story act ended with Wolverine quietly alone, his head lowered.  scr 2, end act 1

scr 2, Wolv alone

Someone — Larry and/or Will — suggested one more image and a line from Wolverine.  They put it in a draft of the storyboard.  As you can see by my red marking below, I didn’t like it as well that way.  As I remember it, we compromised: We would animate and record the final image.  If it didn’t work, we’d end on the quiet shot.  Well, it was just my luck that Cal Dodd, who voiced Wolverine, nailed the quiet, emotional last lines: “I’ll avenge you, Morph.  I swear it.”  So, a combination of director’s eye and actor’s voice won that one (It didn’t happen that often.).  I’m still not sure which I prefer.

I'll Avenge You board

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

IN SYNC FROM THE START: THANKS, COACH (Sidney)

The two sides of the X-MEN:TAS creative team hadn’t met before the initial meeting on February 17, 1992.  Mark Edens and I, leading the writing staff, hadn’t met Will Meugniot and Larry Houston, leading the art and production side.  If we didn’t see the series the same way, it would be a long, frustrating, unproductive year.  Fox Executives Margaret Loesch and Sidney Iwanter chose to throw us together.  The two-part pilot story (“Night of the Sentinels”), which introduced the X-Men’s world (Will’s idea),  would be the test.  It is easy to talk like you see eye-to-eye on a project, but until something gets written and drawn, you don’t know.  As Mark and I and his brother Michael sped through setting up the first 13 half-hour stories, Mark wrote a quick 14-page outline of episodes one & two, the most crucial story we were to write over four years.  We spoke with Will and Larry (and Bob Harras at Marvel), trying to learn the X-Men as we wrote.  But we really didn’t know how our writing would go over with X-Men experts.  As we expected, Will gave us X-Men newcomers a lot of notes on those 14 pages.  The good news was that most of them were positive and encouraging, even excited.  We wanted to see the same series made.  This would prove crucial when, for seven months, many voices wanted us to change the show.  But the team hung together.  Sidney and Margaret had picked right.Will notes

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

THE TENNESSEE MAFIA: MARK AND MICHAEL (AND ERIC, AND JOHN,…)

So who wrote the 76 X-MEN:TAS stories and turned them into 40-page scripts and why?  Margaret Loesch ordered the series.  She and Sidney Iwanter hired me to be in charge of the writing.  I hired the Tennessee mafia.  That’s what friends and colleagues called me and Mark and Michael Edens (and others).  We had been friends since we programmed movies together at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in the mid-70s.  We stood up for each other at each other’s weddings.  When I, in 1985, got my first writing assignment in Hollywood (along with equally prolific and multi-talented animation writer, another UTK alumnus, John Loy), the first calls I made were to Mark and Michael, telling them that they should get ready to work.  Over a thousand produced credits later, somehow we’re still friends.  So when I was told to build/develop X-MEN:TAS  and get the first 13 stories ready (oh, take a week if you need to), I of course turned to Mark and Michael.  We all knew heroic storytelling: in college, we had bonded over Homer, Classic Westerns, and Star Trek.  But we didn’t know the X-Men books.  We learned fast, relying on mega-fans Will Meugniot (producer/designer), Larry Houston (producer/director), Bob Harras (Marvel editor-in-chief), and Bob Skir (writer) for canon details and wisdom.  Though Mark and Michael have writing credit on 20 of the X-MEN:TAS scripts, they had a hand in far more — the majority of the series.  Mark, for instance, helped lay out the first 26 stories with me and helped adapt the five-part “Phoenix Saga” from the excellent but not-TV-friendly books (see document cover below) and what was supposed to be the grand finale ( the four-part “Beyond Good and Evil”).  If they hadn’t had another series to run and write (Exo-Squad), they would have done more.  People in tough jobs tend to hire those they know and trust.  I knew and trusted Mark and Michael Edens.

Mark and Michael 2011

Phoenix prem cover

behind-the-scenes, Uncategorized, X-Men Show

WOULD WE SUCCEED IN 1992? MARGARET BETS THE FARM.

When Fox Kids TV, upstart also-ran among TV networks, committed to the initial 13-episode series of X-MEN:TAS in February, 1992, most people in the business doubted it would succeed.  In 26 years of trying, in eleven attempts, no Marvel-Comics-based show really had.  No Marvel movies had.  New Fox Kids president Margaret Loesch believed that the X-Men would make great TV.  The people she had to report to — senior executives, advertisers, TV station owners — didn’t.  She put her job on the line to get the show made.  It just goes to show what “people know” in the business of popular culture.  Not only did X-MEN:TAS become the number one kids show on TV, it pulled number four-out-of-four network Fox Kids to number one in a matter of months.  The amazing animated Batman series helped eventually, as did The Tick and Spider-Man and Power Rangers.  But it was the premiere season of X-MEN:TAS that rocketed Fox from last to first.  Have a look at the Los Angeles Times annual report on kids TV for the ’94/’95 season (our third season).  Ten out of ten Fox shows.  If you’d seen this report three years earlier, only Fox’s The Simpsons would have been listed, with NBC, CBS, and ABC holding the other nine spots.  Every Saturday Morning series on the list had been put there by Margaret Loesch (and supervised by her crazed right-hand-man, Sidney Iwanter).  Thanks to Margaret and Sidney, I was able to help on the development and pilot script of Ben Edlund’s peerless The Tick, and Julia was hired to adapt Robert Heinlein’s Red Planet.  It was a great time to be working in kids’ TV, and Margaret Loesch made it all possible.

Fox ratings 1995

X-Men Show

GOOD NEWS FOR WOLVERINE FANS

There are a thousand things to remember and celebrate about X-MEN:TAS, but at or near the top of the list is the presence of the character Wolverine.  Logan, as he was also known, was front-and-center in the rebirth, the super-charging of a once-dead comics title called “X-Men.”  The man who co-created that character (for an editor, with an artist — it’s always a group effort) is owed our gratitude.  X-MEN:TAS — and the many movies and TV series that followed — would not have been the same without him.  Today my wife Julia and I heard the good news that Len’s stay in the hospital has been a complete success and that he will be coming home soon.  Len would probably tell me to stop with the testimonials already and get back to talking about the show, so this is it.  But I thought it would be nice to show an original image of Logan, to those who haven’t seen one, as he first appeared from the fevered imaginations of Len, Roy Thomas, and John Romita, Sr.  A year later, Wolverine would be one of the X-Men.

Wolverine

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

THE FIRST IMAGE

The first image of the first episode of X-MEN:TAS was of an unnamed mutant on a rampage.  Please see the first two panels of Will Meugniot and Larry Houston’s storyboard below.  Mark Edens and I chose this initial action for many reasons.  First, it established how scary mutants can be to the rest of humanity, a challenge that Charles Xavier and his “good mutant” X-Men would spend 76 episodes trying to overcome.  Next, since the “mutant violence” is being watched as TV news footage by Jubilee’s parents, the audience has a living, roaring example of why they are upset that their foster daughter has been revealed to be a mutant — the spark to the entire story.  In addition, we were able to, in a few seconds, set up a favorite recurring mutant antagonist (Sabretooth), who would prove to be our number one star Wolverine’s favorite adversary.   After a few seconds of Sabretooth’s carnage, no one doubted why Sentinel robots might be sent out to “control” mutants.  Our 13 half-hour first season was established.

First panels

X-Men Show

THE X-MEN TEAM EVOLVES: THANKS, LEN

The X-Men team came into being, thanks to Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, 53 years ago, in 1963.  Please see Len Wein’s excellent “The Unauthorized X-Men” (2006) for a history of how and why the team evolved in the comics.  And evolve they have.  When I was assigned the job of making sense of the X-Men for a 1992 TV show, I frantically learned everything I could.  This was before the internet, so please forgive any lapses on my part.  The first thing that struck me was how very different the 1992 comics were from the few 1960s books I could find.  It wasn’t just new characters, or the fact that early Beast had no fur.  Stan’s first couple years of stories were very much about a strict teacher with a bunch of wise-cracking teenagers (“Xavier’s School for Extraordinary Youngsters”).  The members of the team looked and sounded very much alike.  Jean basically got wolf-whistled at by the punky guys — like in a 1950s juvenile-delinquents movie.  I was surprised to discover that, as every comic geek knows, the X-Men title petered out and “died” in 1970.  Five years dead.  But then came the resurrection.  In 1975, Len Wein, who had recently created tough-guy Wolverine among others (Storm, etc.), was asked to modernize and reboot the X-Men franchise.  What a change!  You can pick up a 1975 book and feel familiarity with the 1992 series or even with the 2016 comics.  Len was quickly bumped up to editor-in-chief and chose Chris Claremont to run with their shared vision for the X-Men book.  The rest is history.  Below is a cover of X-Men #1 (1963), then of “X-Men Adventures” (1992), a book that came out based on our TV series (more on that later).  But today I want to celebrate Len Wein, first builder of the new, lasting X-Men team that we have all grown to love.  Len had to go into the hospital yesterday and I want everyone who can to send out their best thoughts and wishes for him.  Maybe a little Wolverine healing power will come in handy.

X-Men ONE

X-Men Adventures 1

behind-the-scenes, Uncategorized, X-Men Show

YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER

Everybody who cares about X-MEN:TAS has a favorite character.  For me, it was a toss-up between Beast and Professor X.  I guess being put in charge of a project, I was drawn to authority figures.  For most fans it was rebellious Wolverine (thanks, Len Wein).  For many it was sexy, powerful Rogue.  But for Will Meugniot, the guy who designed the series (choosing to make animation-friendly versions of the characters, closest in look to the originals of the great Jim Lee), it was Jean Grey.  Why?  To Marvel at the time Jean was an after-thought.  We writers soon discovered what a key she was to storytelling — she was the quiet center that held the team together.  But she sure didn’t have the coolest look or power or name.  And that’s why Will loved her.  She wasn’t “Fantastica!” or “Megamistress!”  She was just Jean Grey.  Please enjoy some early Jean “Head Pose Roughs” that Will sketched for himself as he designed the characters in early 1992, and a later glamour pose that he drew just because he wanted to.288_Jean_Gray_head_ruffs

jean_02_rev

Uncategorized

IMMORTAL VOICES: ROGUE

For 29 years the voices of the X-Men had been a private, individual choice.  Each comic book writer and reader had imagined his or her own Cyclops or Professor X.  We laid out the first 13 half-hour stories not knowing what Wolverine or Gambit would really sound like.  As we awaited the first recordings of the would-be cast, we hoped for the best.  Then we got them.  They were just wrong.  We had all dreamed of adult, movie-like dramatic voices, and what we got were goofy and young.  This wasn’t the actors’ fault — this is how Saturday morning animation voices had mostly been for 30 years.  Luckily, Margaret and Sidney at Fox knew that X-MEN:TAS needed to be different.  We recast.  And as we tried out new people — jazz singers (Wolverine) and Shakespearean actors (Xavier) — we found the voice of the series.  No other choice was more important than Rogue.  Our cast was Canadian, and Rogue needed to sound like she was from the Deep South and not in a silly or overdone way.  Lenore Zahn, born in Australia and raised in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, nailed it in five seconds.  She also created a generation of adoring male fans who loved listening to her, and a generation of female fans who admired her combination of strength and vulnerability.  Today, Lenore is a Canadian Member of Parliament!  That’s right — Rogue helps run Canada.  And some of her most fun moments occur when an adult male politician discovers that Lenore was the voice of Rogue.  She told me that “They tend to go a little weak in the knees.”  We get it.  Below is Will Meugniot’s initial conception of Rogue for the series, polished by Rick Hoberg.  And a current picture of the MP representing Nova Scotia, Lenore Zahn.

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

PITCHING X-MEN:TAS STORIES: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

We prided ourselves on our stories.  Many series had far bigger budgets and far longer schedules in which to polish their work.  We had to get the writing and the drawing and the direction right the first time.  This started with the story idea or “pitch.”  Below is a sample of one of the ones I’m most proud of.  We tried to center our stories on character, not action.  It occurred to me that there was a fascinating irony about Beast.  Dr. Hank McCoy was by far the most outrageous, most inhuman, most mutated-looking of the X-Men, yet he was the one most at ease with his mutancy.  What, against his usual character, could make him self-conscious about his looks?  Falling in love.  My wife Julia (our “Days of Future Past,” “Whatever it Takes”) chimed in, saying why not do something like Charlie Chaplin’s classic “City Lights?”  I was sold.  Then came the laying out of the story.  Beast is a brilliant doctor.  He should be involved in getting a young woman her sight.  So that’s how the idea for one of the more successful X-MEN:TAS stories came to be.  Stephanie Mathison did a compelling job on the script, and Larry Houston supervised a sharply-directed storyboard.  And, as always, George Bouza did a sterling job with the acting.  By the way, Beast’s beloved, Carly Anne Crocker, was named after the at-the-time two-year-old daughter of our close friends, Carter and Lou Anne Crocker.Beast pitch scan