X-Men Show

1992 SIBLING RIVALRY

This blog exists to celebrate an animated super-hero television series that we, with struggling humility and extreme prejudice, believe is among the best ever made; none better.  Were there others that, in their way, were just as good?  Batman:TAS must immediately be included in this discussion.  This is particularly crucial in any cataloging of the merits and failings of X-MEN:TAS since we were in effect “siblings.”  Both series were originally scheduled to premiere in September, 1992, on the Fox Kids Network.  Both were ordered and developed by the same two executives: Fox Kids president Margaret Loesch and hands-on producer Sidney Iwanter.  Both focused on popular comic book heroes.  Many of the same craftsmen (Larry Houston, Will Meugniot, Len Wein) worked, back and forth, on both series.  Hollywood is a small town, and animation is a smaller neighborhood in that town.  So of course we were not only aware of one another, we were competitive.  All that said, all I can conclude after 24 years is that we were different.  Batman:TAS had big budgets and long, comfortable schedules that we, in our low-priced rush to production, would have killed for.  We had an arguably more dramatic and flexible set-up (so many different interesting heroes, so many multi-part stories permitted).  They had superior, stunning animation.  We had slam-bang energy.  In fact Sidney once described his two most successful series as “Cool jazz versus a garage band.”  Amazing visuals versus compelling drama.  Few people know that the constant to the various animated Batman‘s successes is one man — Alan Burnett — who is still there at Warners, assuring the continuing quality of the various TV series and DVD movies.  By chance, Alan and I started out in the mid-’80s at the same place, “Hanna-Barbera III,” a tiny building across from the animation giant’s main offices.  After 30 years, if I were given the responsibility of producing a block of animated programming, my friend Alan would be the first person I would hire.  So it’s hard to think back to X-MEN vs. Batman as a contentious rivalry (though a blogger did, with the recent poll attached below).  For us it was more a case of mutual respect.

xmen-2-batmen

untitled

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

X-MEN: TAS — THE BOOK!!

Yes, there’s going to be a book!  We’ve resisted for two decades telling the story of how X-MEN:TAS struggled to get made and survive on the air.  The 25th Anniversary of our premiere on Fox Kids Television is coming soon (October 31, 2017), and it’s time to get it done.  Thanks to the continuing interest of fans everywhere, when we proposed a “Making of…” book about X-MEN:TAS we received a number of offers from interested publishers.  So I checked them out to see which one might do the best job helping us tell the X-MEN:TAS history.  Julia and I often make references to our fan-obsession with the original Star Trek series (1966-68), now referred to as Star Trek: TOS.  Well, the most impressive behind-the-scenes Trek history I could find was the recent 2000-page trilogy (no kidding) “These Are the Voyages” (see Volume One below) by Marc Cushman.  (And no, you aren’t getting 2000 pages from me — the man is a detail maniac.)  The publishing company is called Jacobs/Brown, and I liked them immediately because they get the joy and magic of popular culture, they’re great folks, and they’re local (to us, anyway).   So if getting a paragraph a day on this blog has been frustrating, your wait is almost over.  Well, about year away (there’s a lot to write).  I’ve already interviewed 30 cast members, artists, and crew, and have just a handful left to go.  You won’t be surprised to discover that for many of them, X-MEN:TAS was the highlight of their long careers.  They loved doing it as much as you loved watching it.  We’ll keep you updated as the book progresses.  Best, ERIC.

voyages-cover

lost-jacobs-brown

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

FAN FRIDAYS: ARTISTS AT PLAY

It wasn’t all work and no play for the excellent designers and storyboard artists that drew X-MEN:TAS.  They would sneak in fun bits when they could.  In what was SUPPOSED to be our big series finale — the four-episode epic “Beyond Good and Evil” (apologies to Nietzsche) — Larry Houston and Frank Squillace needed more incidental characters designed than usual (more about how this story was radically changed later).  So there were two “artists” created for the story, and, in another scene, two members of a “Human Assault Force.”  These pairs of characters look suspiciously like Larry and Frank — just in better shape.  I’ve heard dozens of tales of animation artists that delight themselves in slipping in certain images (Barney Rubble, a hint of a butt crack, etc.) into chaotic scenes when they could.  Why not?  If I could draw I would.  Nothing brings more joy to work that taking mischievous pleasure in the doing of it.

model_48

X-Men Show

FUN FOR THE ARTISTS

Writing for animation is different from, say, poetry (or blogging) because you’re writing for artists.  Graphic artists and actors and sound designers and editors bring what you write to life.  Like composers, animation writers must consider interpreters and performers when they commit a thought to paper.  Creative people like to have fun.  So whenever we considered a story for X-MEN:TAS, one of the first questions we asked was: “Is this good for animation?”  Some stories aren’t.  There’s no reason to animate Twelve Angry Men with its dozen jurors standing around arguing for two hours.  The Phoenix Saga, on the other hand, is bigger than life and visual.  So we felt confident that episode #45 (“Love in Vain”) would be popular with our artists and actors.  Alien life forms were inhabiting and transforming our characters.  Instead of just drawing and voicing Rogue, Larry Houston and Lenore Zann got to re-imagine her as she transformed into an alien creature.  Below are a couple of Larry’s drawings of Rogue — one standard, one half-transformed.  Challenging your colleagues is always a good idea.

100-56_01

100-56_02

 

 

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

DEADPOOL GETS HIS SCREEN DEBUT

This year’s Deadpool feature movie was a fun mega-hit.  Ryan Reynolds nailed it.  What few fans realize is that the character Deadpool got his first bits of screen time on our series in 1993 and 1994 in cameo appearances in episodes #4 (“Deadly Reunions”), #16 (“Whatever it Takes”), and #30 (“The Phoenix Saga: Part 2”).  Liefeld and Nicieza’s unique self-aware, dark-comic hero was created only months before we started working on X-MEN:TAS.  Obviously his first books made quite an impression on producer-director Larry Houston.  When, in episode #30, Charles Xavier was having hallucinations, one of the scariest had Wolverine being attacked in a subway train.  Enjoy a panel from Larry’s storyboard, inked by Mark Lewis.  X-MEN_OddsAndEnds_11

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

ARTISTIC INSPIRATION: LARRY CONJURES UP AN ALIEN QUEEN

Many X-MEN:TAS characters were set in stone.  No fan wants to see a blond, willowy Wolverine.  Often the creation of guest characters allowed our artists more room to personalize their designs.  Late in the series run, in episode #45 (“Love in Vain” — thanks for the correction, Nathan), Larry Houston had the fun challenge of coming up with a look for a race of threatening aliens (“The Colony”) and their ferocious Queen.  For some reason, Hela, the Asgardian Goddess of Death from the Thor comics stuck in Larry’s mind as a starting point.  First drawn in the 1960s by the immortal Jack Kirby (below), Hela had recently been modernized by artist Bruce Timm (next below).  Larry gave the two images of Hela to artists Mark Lewis and Frank Brunner as inspiration for our rapacious alien “Colony Queen.”  You can see the final result — original, yet a respectful nod to the early work that had inspired Larry since his childhood.

hela01

Hela02100-56_08