WE CHEATED: Making Connections in the Savage Land

The first season of X-MEN:TAS we got away with something rarely seen in American animated television: we showed a continuing story set over 13 episodes.  For us to be allowed to do this was a tough fight since every business interest invovled worried that delays unique to animation could make us miss our planned air dates.  In the end they were right, and our connected storytelling cost them a lot of money.  They made much more when the series became a hit, of course, but the damage had been done: no more connected stories.  Occasional multi-parters might be okay (we pushed that hard), but episodes must STAND ALONE.  Well, we cheated.  We gave the network a two-part episode, then nine “stand alone” episodes, then a two-parter.  The trick was that the final two-parter resolved a problem (Xavier and Magneto kidnaped together) that we had set up in the opening story, and the nine episodes in-between all “touched base” with the kidnaped characters.  So to our audience, it felt like a continuing story.  This continuing background “B story” seemed to knit it all together.  I’m not sure what would have happened if the middle episodes had been shown out-of-order.  Our theory was that they would still make sense that way.  Perhaps we one day will make an experiment — starting with eps. 14/15 (“Till Death Do Us Part”), then mixing up episodes 16-24 at random, then concluding with the planned season finale of 25/26 (“Reunion”).  Or maybe some fans could make a weekend of it and let us know the results.  In any case, apologies to our network for bending the rules.  But we like the results.

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THE NEW TEAM THAT NEVER WAS: The Book Will Tell the Story

When I mentioned yesterday how we had written out four team members from X-MEN:TAS and written in four new ones in what was to have been the series finale, I thought it would be just a fun note to fans.  Then last night Julia told me: “People are guessing on Twitter.  You have to tell!”  Okay, fine.  I was going to just wait and let folks read the retelling of the 10-page, 4-episode discarded premise in our “Making of X-MEN:TAS” book next year.  But she’s right: I brought it up, I need to answer the question right away.  First, who was to go.  Jean and Scott, who we’d tried to marry off and get pregnant as early as episode 14 were now married and leaving to start a family.  Makes sense.  Xavier was leaving, in this case to take on a new set of much younger mutants (the at-the-time new “Generation X”).  This is kind of like Vince Lombardi winning a couple of Super Bowls and deciding to go back to coaching highschool football, but there you are.  Finally Storm decided that she too had other responsibilities.  Bam.  After an 88-minute, time-torturing, mega-villain-filled story, the X-Men are four folks short.  Well, in our original story, we made Psylocke  a major player, and she ended up asking to stay around (fitting in with some of the recent books).  Same with Archangel.  The two larger surprises were Bishop and Shard.  The hard-fighting brother and sister from the future had become stranded in the present time (1996?).  Since they too had proven themselves, the X-Men welcomed them.  So there you have it — four out, four in.  I have no idea how the delicate balance of our core team would have been affected.  Making the new team work as well would have been a huge challenge.  I’d like to think that if asked we could have risen to it.

BISHOP                                                 SHARD

Change the Team?!

There’s a little known fact: we were going to change the X-MEN:TAS team.  We had written the script where four members left and four new ones came on.  It seems hard to imagine now.  One of the strengths of the series is that we had found an excellent balance of diverse characters.  How would we write stories without four of our team, mixing in four new-comers?  The trick is that we were not planning to.  Fox Network had decided to end the series at 65 episodes with a big story that concluded with four members leaving and four, who had proved themselves within the story, replacing them.  The big four-part story was “Beyond Good and Evil,” and we had finished the four scripts — story laid out by Mark Edens and Michael Edens — with heartfelt farewells included.  Then word came down that Fox didn’t want to end the series after all.  They wanted another season (season five).  Oops.  Now I had to go back into “B. G. & E.” and take out all of the story bits that lead to four characters leaving and four new ones stepping in.  Not pleasant.  What was a really well-constructed 88-minute story now needed to be patched together to be something different.  Fast.  Oh, well.  Below are our original ten X-Men (including Morph), plus some guest stars.  See if you can guess which four of our ten was set to leave and who would have replaced them.  Two of the replacements are among those shown below.

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WHO LEFT AND WHO REPLACED THEM?

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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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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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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DISTRIBUTION: WE HAVE NO CONTROL

You work and plan for months and hope for the best.  You are thankful that someone is paying you to make TV shows, so, since it is their money, you really have no room to complain.  But still…  One of the great regrets we had on X-MEN:TAS was that some of the episodes were aired out-of-order.  Production problems delayed a few episodes, special events preempted a few more.  During the first season this was not an issue — Margaret Loesch at Fox bravely delayed the premiere, at great cost, for four months (September to January) as we got the episodes right.  But after that, I never understood the network’s inability to manage to keep things in order.  The biggest problem had to do with Jean Grey’s poignant sacrifice at the end of the “Dark Phoenix Saga” (episode #33).  This crushed Scott.  We wrote “No Mutant is an Island” (episode #34) as a direct follow-up.  Scott, believing his love to be dead, angrily quits the X-Men.  Unfortunately, “No Mutant” was delayed (it was set as ep. #66 on the 2009 DVD — way out of position).  Many episodes with a very alive Jean showed in between, and suddenly a new story starts with a memorial for her death??  At this point, grieving Scott quitting the X-Men made no sense.  Oh, well…  Maybe one day we will be able to help assemble a boxed set of the 76 episodes, in presented in the order we intended.

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JEAN SACRIFICES HERSELF:  Episode #33

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 GRIEVING SCOTT QUITS THE X-MEN:  Episode #34 (shown much later)