We opened our @xmentas Twitter account late last May. Thanks to your kind words and daily diligence from Julia (who manages the account), we have grown steadily. So much has happened so quickly. When we started, the movie “X-MEN: Apocalypse” was just opening; now “Logan” is assaulting the world. The X-MEN:TAS book was half-done, and now it’s with the publisher, getting polished up for a hoped-for summer release. We have had a great first-Con experience, thanks to Mike Towry and his partners, at Comic Fest, with producer/director Larry Houston and three series writers on panels. We hope to appear at a Con or two each month for at least a year once the book is published. But today we simply want to celebrate our growing Twitter community by marking another “1000” milestone. The X-MEN:TAS art below is courtesy of stroyboard artist Keith Tucker, an old friend, whose work appears in around 20 of the X-MEN:TAS boards.
As the X-MEN:TAS book races to its thrill-packed conclusion (late June?), I find that I am discovering more people who made major contributions (artists, voice actors) but with whom I never had a chance to work directly. Storyboard artist Keith Tucker has worked on possibly more series with me than any other artist: X-MEN:TAS, Exosquad, Streefighter, Iron Man, some Disney shows — all the way back to the long-forgotten Sky Commanders at Hanna-Barbera. We writers and artists so often work separately, that a memory of Keith stands out in my mind. Sky Commanders was the first series on which I supervised the writing (along with fellow Tennesseean John Loy). I distinctly remember getting a call from Keith, who I’d never met, about an action scene: he had ideas for expanding and complicating the choreography and wanted to run them by me. They sounded great. At H-B at the time the pressure was on the creative staff to rush through production. Here was a storyboard artist asking to take an extra few hours to make a scene I had signed off on more exciting. I remember seeing the board and seeing how good it looked. I wondered how often we would have to time push the stories like this. So it’s no surprise that Larry Houston used Keith a lot on X-MEN. The odder thing is that, while working for 4 years on the stories, I never knew who all of the artists were. Thanks to the book, I’m finding out.
The celebrations have begun.
This past Friday, February 17th, marked the 25th anniversary of the green-lighting of X-MEN:TAS, which officially premiered 11 months later. The wonderful folks at San Diego Comic Fest (including Comic Con co-founder Mike Towry) asked Julia and me and four other members of the X-MEN:TAS creative team to hold four panels. Seated with us in the first picture below is producer-director Larry Houston. Also featured were writers Len Uhley, Dave McDermott, and Steve Melching. (Steve and Dave Join us in the panel shown below.). As a nice complement to our presentations, the fest theme this year was a celebration of the 100th birthday of Jack Kirby, co-creator of the X-MEN comic and so very much more. The audiences were friendly and, as is often the case, many among them knew our series better than we did. We watched old episodes and discussed how they and the rest of the series managed to get made. It was great fun for us and was a reminder of why we are writing the “Making of” book, now scheduled for publication this summer. Once the book is ready, we hope to visit Cons around the country, perhaps one a month. We hope to see you at yours.
Happy New Year! 2017 is the 25th anniversary of the premiere preview of X-MEN:TAS (10/31/92). It’s going to be quite a year. In February we’re going to be at San Diego Comic Fest with three other X-MEN:TAS writers and Series Producer Larry Houston. If you can, swing by and say hello. We’re going to have 4 or 5 panels about the series on Saturday and Sunday. We should also have more news about THE BOOK — our history of the series. Publishing is currently set for this summer, so we’re going to be incredibly busy trying to finish it up. As a fun remembrance, I thought I’d put up a storyboard page from 1989’s “Pryde of the X-MEN” (courtesy of X-MEN:TAS leader Will Meugniot). So many of the people that got our series on the air and made it as good as it was worked on this one-off attempt at getting the X-Men right for TV. It didn’t succeed, but without it, we very well might not have had the opportunity to do our version of X-MEN:TAS.
Yuriko is all up-in-arms over the fact that we have reached another Twitter milestone on @xmentas. 4000 followers. Real fans, no bots. Thanks again for your continued interest and for telling your friends about us. It seems we have established a basic pace — adding 1000 people about every month-and-a-half. We appreciate the response and will never take it for granted. As we look forward to the publication of the X-MEN:TAS book (currently set for mid-July, with 32 cast and crew interviews completed so far), a little teaser of a look ahead: There’s a sub-chapter about a controversy over Lady Deathstryke’s design. No spoilers. You’ll just have to guess for now.
When Mark Edens wrote the pilot script for me for X-MEN:TAS, there was an X-Man in it that never ended up apprearing on screen as an X-Man. It was the Native American John Proudstar, known as Thunderbird. When the X-Men books were re-started in 1975 (after their suspension in 1970), Len Wein and Dave Cockrum were given the job of coming up with a new team that was far more diverse and international. Fans got a German (Nightcrawler), a Russian (Colossus), a Canadian (Wolverine) and a Native American. In writing stories, they soon learned that they had a problem. To quote Cockrum: “We created Thunderbird as an obnoxious loudmouth, and we already had an obnoxious loudmouth in Wolverine. So one of us decided to kill him off.” Which is why we X-Men newbies (Mark, me, Micahel Edens) decided to use Thunderbird as the character we were going to kill off in our opening story (we were trying to stay true to the spirit of the books). Atop our todo list during the first week was: “Kill off Thunderbird.” Well, somebody somewhere noticed that the only X-Man that we were planning to kill was Native American. Sorry: we don’t care if they killed him in the comics, we can’t do it on Saturday morning TV. Fine. So I dug around and found another character who had died, sacrificing himself for the X-Men: Changeling. Only we couldn’t use the name (long story). So the lone sacrificial X-Man became “Morph.” The rest is history. By the way, to show you how much Thunderbird was in everyone’s mind early on, take a look at an image from the opening credits, on the “opponents” side. There is John Proudstar, next to Juggernaut, angry as ever.
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.