We tell stories for a living. A major challenge when writing television stories is the question, “Does it travel well?” To our bosses, who are risking the millions needed to make a show, this means: Will the series stories and characters have appeal for audiences all over the world (and therefore generate enough income), or will they be appreciated only within our culture? Many things don’t travel well. Comedy is said to be toughest, especially the type built on word play or that makes fun of local events or people. Physical humor seems to travel: Charlie Chaplin was the world’s first global movie star. But there’s not a lot of slapstick in X-MEN:TAS.
Somehow, X-MEN:TAS “traveled” spectacularly. People from every corner of every continent seem to have found a way to enjoy it. I have had many such people tell me that they learned English watching it in their home country. This success is humbling and gratifying, but I’m not sure I understand how it happened. How did we connect in ways that few other series did? Heroism? Personal dramas? Fun powers? The creation of a caring family for society’s misfits?
However it happened, today, 25 years later, we all benefit from this globally shared experience. Most recently, it meant I was able to meet a nice businesswoman from Japan (Yui Kanan) for whom Jubilee was special (see below). With luck, our series will “age” as well as it has traveled, and more generations will continue to enjoy it.
A thousand influences went into the making of X-MEN:TAS. On this, the hundredth anniversary of Robert Mitchum’s birth, I thought I’d celebrate one of them.
I don’t know what models writer Len Wein had in his head when, in 1974, he first built the personality of a short, tough Canadian mutant. Our show’s voice actor Cal Dodd says he looked at our reference suggestions of Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, and Ward Bond and focused on the strength and authority of Bond, with a bit of the loner spirit of McQueen. For me, it was always the fourth name we put on the character sheet: Bob Mitchum. When I was editing Logan’s dialogue in those 76 episodes, it was more Bob Mitchum I was hearing in my head (along with Cal) than anybody — a little angrier, more energetic, certainly connected to the comics, but Mitchum-like none-the-less. Once we got the cast set, I was thrilled to be writing for Cal Dodd; for the first few months, as X-MEN:TAS was coming to life, I was writing for Bob Mitchum.
Mitchum was everything we wanted Logan to be: intense, brooding, angry, heroic, romantic, but above all, tough. He was beyond tough: in Cape Fear (1962), he played one of the scariest villains in movie history, calmly, just staring, just talking, just smiling. You sensed he could hurt you. Yet something in him made for great romantic-lead heroes as well, like Jeff Bailey in Out of the Past (1947). Finally, I often mention to people that on our show I envisioned Logan as “world-weary” (as he was in the movie Logan). Well, no actor in history did world-weary better than Mitchum. Watch him struggling in The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), and your heart breaks. Finally, there was that voice: deep as a black pool. When we sent in the voice suggestions to the auditioning actors, when Eastwood and McQueen were listed, I added “but deeper.” I never had to add that with Mitchum.