Uncategorized, X-Men Show

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY X-MEN:TAS!

Today marks the 24th anniversary of the first airing of X-MEN:TAS on the Fox Television Network on October 31st, 1992.  (It is also Halloween, and would have been my late father’s 90th birthday, but let’s stick to X-MEN today.)  As most of you know, Fox had hoped to get us on the air at the beginning of the 1992/93 TV season in early September.  But a late start getting the project authorized (February, ’92) and creative and production challenges meant that not enough episodes were in good enough shape to show audiences by September.  Fox Kids president Margaret Loesch had a tough decision to make: show substandard episodes on schedule, and probably have to repeat them while waiting for others to complete, or delay the entire series until January for a “mid-season” start.  Delay meant showing repeats of low-rated old series in the X-MEN time slot for 17 weeks — angering televison station owners and their supporting advertisers, all of whom would lose money for those four months along with Fox.  Well, Margaret stood by her guns and insisted that X-MEN:TAS wouldn’t be shown until it was right.  History has proved her decision wise, but at the time it could have cost her her job.  As we anxiously waited for January, Margaret had the brilliant idea of a “sneak preview” of the show, to be shown in the early evening on Halloween.  This airing of the now-better-animated (still not final) series pilot (“Night of the Sentinels”) got people excited.  Ten weeks later, when “Sentinels” was right and we had enough episodes properly completed and polished, X-MEN:TAS had its official January premiere.  The impatient audiences, their expectations built up by weeks of waiting, were huge.  We started at the top and never looked back.  Out of adversity — and a brave decision — came success.

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FOX KIDS PRESIDENT MARGARET LOESCH

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HER NUMBER ONE SHOW

X-Men Show

@XMENTAS hits 3000 followers on Twitter!

Thanks again!  It took a couple of months for our Twitter site (@xmentas) to get to 1000 followers on August 3rd.  Then it took another 44 days to get to 2000 on September 16th.  Now it is the 28th of October, it’s 42 days later, and we just hit 3000!  Rogue is so excited she’s stomping a dinosaur (courtesy of X-MEN:TAS producer/designer Will Meugniot).  If you haven’t yet, please join us as Twitter followers.  We who contribute to the website appreciate your keeping in touch and staying part of our X-MEN:TAS family.  We will do everything we can to keep updating xmentas.com and responding to your tweets on Twitter.

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X-Men Show

EVIL IN KIDS TELEVISION: PICKING YOUR IMAGES

How do you show compelling evil in a kids animated TV series?  We needed some big stakes to make it believeable that these super-powerful people, our hereos, would need to fight for justice for themselves and others.  We needed nasty villains — but we had a severe limit on what nastiness we could ever show them doing.  When we chose Henry Peter Gyrich during X-MEN:TAS Season One it was because he was in charge of a horrifying “final solution” set up to exterminate our lead characters and innocent others of their kind.  We couldn’t depict mass slaughter.  But we could make his ambitions clear and reinforce the horror of his plans with images of the weapons — towering sentinel robots (see below) — he had gathered to carry them out.  Just below, Gyrich is seen doing nothing worse than simply looking down at Jubilee.  But in the image of his lifeless, covered eyes, with his glasses’ reflections revealing Jubilee’s fear, his evil is palpable.  (It reminds me of the mirrored glasses of the merciless guard in the movie Cool Hand Luke who shoots Paul Newman.)  One of the first storytelling rules we are told, at least out in Hollywood, is that your hero is only as good as the villain you have set up to challenge him.  Gyrich and his Sentinels gave us a good start.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

HEROIC SACRIFICE

Sacrifice is central to being a hero, super or otherwise.  Sadly, much of Hollywood has given up on this.  All endings, it seems, must be happy.  In classic storytelling, the great heroes died or at least suffered great loss.  In X-MEN:TAS we had our team face personal sacrifice whenever we could.  The first story climaxed with Morph sacrificing his life for his closest friend, Wolverine (see below).  In the much later “One Man’s Worth,” Storm and Wolverine sacrifice their undying love to save someone they have never met in this timeline (Charles Xavier).  One of the greatest moments in the history of sacrifice in storytelling was the final shot of the movie “The Searchers” (1956).   John Wayne’s character has just given five years of his life, struggling, searching for and rescuing his niece.  He brings her back and heals the pioneer family that had lost her.  One by one the happy family go inside the house, leaving the heroic uncle standing alone in the doorway.  The words “Ride away…” are sung on the sound track.  John Wayne looks into the house for a moment, seeing something he can never quite be part of, then walks off alone.  He did what he had to do; he sacrificed.  When I meet people who loved X-MEN:TAS, nearly every one says: “You had me when you killed Morph.”  This show, they decided, was different.  Mark Edens and I, who made this initial choice, just took it for granted that personal sacrifice was at the center of what it means to be a hero.  I guess we’re just old-fashioned.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

ALTERNATE TIMELINES: MORE FUN FOR THE ARTISTS

Think about it.  You work on a series for five years — even one as fun as X-MEN:TAS — and drawing the same look for the same characters could get old.  So imagine the fun when word comes down from the writers that we’re doing time-travel or an “alternate timeline” episode, either of which requiring new looks for the characters.  Below are a couple of alternative designs for Rogue and Scott.  Below those are a couple of images from one of my favorite epsisodes, “One Man’s Worth.”  The first, a modern-day, idyllic moment bewteen Storm and Wolverine (having a picnic!) suddenly switches to an alternative timeline (created by evil time-travellers) where they are fighting for their lives in dystopic, miserable world.  Alt-Storm is designed so much tougher, so punk, that you know her life is diferent just by looking at her.  After months of drawing “normal” Storm, it must have been fun to be asked to re-imagine her.  The distinctive looks sure worked for us in the story.

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X-Men Show

THE TWO SIDES TO A GOOD HEROIC STORY

Below is the brilliant early poster for the movie “Logan” that will premiere four-and-a-half months from now.  The simple image of Wolverine’s battered, clawed hand holding that of an unseen child is perfect.  We need to see our heroes fight; we need to see them struggle to prove themselves worthy.  Both are exhilarating.  But “struggle” to what end, for what purpose.  The second hand answers that question.  In X-MEN:TAS, as in all super-hero series, personal realtionships, loves, and loyalties are as important as spectacle and victories.  Sometimes creators forget the importance of one or the other.  We tried never to make that mistake.  We weren’t always 100% successful, but we tried.  We always wanted to show both hands in the picture.

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X-Men Show

MOVIE TRAILERS: “LOGAN”

I don’t trust movie trailers.  I’ve been tricked too many times by 90 seconds of images, cleverly cut together, that hide/sell a mediocre or bad movie.  Telling a compelling 100-minute story is hard, and most fail.  I just saw the trailer for the new Wolverine movie “Logan.”  It had the great Johnny Cash singing “Hurt” under it.  It showed a bruised, aging, weary Logan, struggling with personal loss.  It looks like an intense, personal movie with only the minimum of required superhero action.   It looks like a tough movie that I could love.  I am hoping that this time my fears are unfounded.  The word is that in 2017, in the 18th year of the X-Men movie franchise (2000-2017), this will be Hugh Jackman’s final performance as one of pop culture’s greatest characters.  Logan meant a lot to us as we worked to build the stories for the 76 X-MEN:TAS episodes.  He was so raw, so much the beating heart of the team, that we had to struggle not to over-use him.  The movies could have screwed up Wolverine’s character .  In large part thanks to Hugh Jackman, they got it right.  (Few remember he wasn’t even the first choice for the role.)  So I’m looking forward to next March when we get a chance to say goodbye to Jackman’s Logan.  I’m hoping that he gets his farewell in a great movie.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

WHO PRODUCED X-MEN:TAS?

The production of X-MEN:TAS had to be patched-together to be able to happen.  With sister series BATMAN:TAS, it was just: “Hey big studio Warner Brothers — you wanna do a Batman series?  You do?  Done.”  Nothing so simple for X-Men.  The TV network (Fox) wanted an animated X-Men even more than Batman.  But they needed to find someone to take the risk and responsibility to produce it.  Saban stepped forward — they knew how to market and package TV series, but they didn’t have a big production staff.  Graz Entertainment was set up by veteran  producers and crew to handle most of the art, design, and production supervision.  A studio in Korea (AKOM) was chosen to do the hands-on animation work.  Marvel Comics didn’t know TV production, but it was their property, so they were on-board as a partner.  All this made for a VERY busy Christmas crew jacket handed out to many of us (see below) in 1993.  I also believe, sadly, that the existence of this thrown-together partnership was the major reason that the series just kind of petered out.  Warners (which owns DC comics) will always renew a Batman series in some form: they have a 100% interest in them.  But Marvel and Fox and Saban and all the other X-Men partners that made our show happen ended up drifting on to other interests.  Budgets dropped, episode orders dwindled, and we all found ourselves going our separate ways.  Oh, well…  still got the jackets.

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X-Men Show

WHY WASN’T X-MEN:TAS “YOUNGER”

I have been asked this question one way or another by TV executives for 30 years: “Why can’t you write younger?”  I don’t know why.  It could be that I believe in making action-adventure storytelling as believable as possible.  (I happily wrote “younger” on Winnie-the-Pooh — I can do childlike and whimsical).  But teens or little kids fighting city-destroying villains are less real.  I also never bought the idea that young audiences need or prefer young heroes.  If you were eight-years-old, who would you rather aspire to be: Batman or Robin?  I always believe that a “younged down” version of a hero or team (for example “Young Indiana Jones”) tends to be a weaker, watered-down, more timid version of the original.  Why do that?  I understand making sure that the X-Men have a teen along — Jubilee or Kitty Pryde — for contrast and a different point of view among the team.  But imagine if she were the oldest X-Man, that her colleagues were “extraordinary youngsters” like the original book envisioned.  I truly believe that one reason the first book (’63-’70) failed was that the team was made up of secondary-school students, not adults.  When the far more successful ’75 book was launched, everyone was an adult, led by a 75-year-old with claws.  Adults have broken hearts, a sense of responsibility, regrets, long-time friends and enemies.  They have love affairs.  They have a sense of cities or countries or even planets at risk.  Adolescents don’t tend to.  (I know I didn’t.)  Below are three of the youngest characters we wrote (Larry Houston designs for Mjnari, Jubilee, Longshot), and then a clever imagining of severely “younged down” mutant fighters.  In one episode, Jubilee got to giggle and blush a little at Longshot’s attentions.  It was a nice moment.  In “One Man’s Worth,” Wolverine got to tell Storm (his wife in the future — few remember this) that he would damn the whole world to chaos and misery before he would give up their love.  That is drama, and it’s adult.

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X-Men Show

SUPER-HERO LOGIC

You MUST believe in the details of characters’ superpowers.  If we were ever to play fast and loose with heroes’ or villains’ powers, fans would call us on it.  It was crucial to let the X-MEN:TAS writers know the fine distinctions and maintain them.  Storm doesn’t fly — she creates winds and rides them.  Cyclops’ eye beams are not made of fire or burning laser light but instead are concussive; they don’t burn things (sorry current movie), they slams things.  Wolverine isn’t immortal, he just heals quickly (the movies tend to cheat this a bit as well).  If some badass villain were to reach up under his adamantium ribs and rip out his heart, Logan would die.  All this said, we audience members tend to accept these powers at face value as long as the storytellers stay consistent.  How does Storm access the elements?  Medically, how do you take someone’s skeleton out of his body and replace it with another one?  Even stranger questions come up when you think hard about some of the more obscure details of living with special powers.  If shape-shifters can change their own clothes when the shift, why can’t they prank other people by changing theirs?  The clever question in the artwork below is a good one, and I doubt Wolverine co-creator Len Wein has a ready answer.  But if we buy the magic once, and stay consistent, we will buy it always.

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X-Men Show

MY HERO VS. YOUR HERO

The “Heroic Double Issue” of Entertainment Weekly magazine arrived today, claiming to feature the “50 Most Powerful Superheroes!”  Okay…  Nothing gets fans going more than superhero-power comparisons.  You think The Thing can beat The Hulk?!!  C’mon…  Anyway, EW, to their credit, didn’t just do the traditional combative power comparisons.  Their “scores” had nine categories, like “Cultural Impact,” “Nemeses,” and “Personality.”  The traditional measure, “Powers,” only counted 10%.  So this was twist on the traditional fan stand-off: less who is toughest than who has been more influential in the past 80 years of storytelling — comics, TV, and movies.  We were gratified to discover that NINE of the 50 Hall-of-Famers were from the X-Men universe, seven (Logan, Jean, Scott, Prof X, Beast, Rogue, Storm) directly from our core, nine-member X-MEN:TAS team.  That’s quite a statement.  Sometimes-X-Men Nightcrawler and Kitty Pryde are there as well.  As a bonus, X-Men adversary Magneto was voted as the greatest super-villain of all time.  Finally, nothing challenges a character like time.  If he or she can find favor across generations, then there is surely something there to be treasured.  It is a popular idea that the nine X-Men honorees grew, from more humble beginnings, to their fullest incarnation in the two decades after the book’s reintroduction in 1975.  Thank you Len Wein and Chris Claremont, first contributors among many. We at X-MEN:TAS hope that we were able to add to this lasting legacy.

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X-Men Show

“WHAT’S IN A NAME?” A GREAT ONE LEAVES US TODAY

Names matter.  For Romeo and Juliet, their surnames meant they were screwed.  For those of us on X-MEN:TAS who were trying to adapt a massive universe of preexisting characters, it was a challenge.  How do you feature a character whose name grates on you or seems inappropriate?  Some characters just sound wrong to your ear.  It could be that you grew up knowing three idiots all named Fred.  It could be a favorite movie character whose name you never wanted to sully (“Start the ball, Tector…”).  Marvel comics creators were world-class at coming up with evocative names for their seemingly endless universe of characters, but “Strong Guy?”  (Head writer Mark Edens hated that one.)  I had an aversion to a character we never used because, to my ear, it just sounded goofy.  It was the dragon Fin Fang Foom (see below).  The fierce creature you see here would look great in animation.  But I couldn’t imagine our characters saying his name out loud with a straight face.  Oh, well, there were plenty of others.  Which brings me around to a name almost as goofy as the fictional “Foom,” but which was absolutely real.  Today, King Bhumibol of Thailand died (see lower image).  He had been king for SEVENTY YEARS.  My late father used to tell my sister Karen and me bedtime stories 50 years ago, some of which starred a mysterious character from the Orient named “King Bhumibol.”  To our young ears, the name sounded like “BOOMY-BALL,” and its sound delighted us.  We both assumed he had made such a fantastical name up; later, as adults, we discovered to our surprise that our strangely-named, legendary king was very real.  But that wasn’t the point.  In the fairy tales our dad told us, in his gentle voice, the name sounded right.  King Boomy-ball fit.  Today, as His Majesty passes, I thank him for that.dragon-8-28-16

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KING BHUMIBOL (aka Boomy-Ball)

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