It’s happening. Our brand new book – X-Men: The ART and MAKING of the ANIMATED SERIES – arrives this October 13 from ABRAMS BOOKS! It weighs in at nearly 4 lbs. of gorgeous full-color images that haven’t seen the light of day in nearly 30 years. We spent nearly 2 years combing through everything we could find, from high-end art galleries to X-Men: TAS artists’ half-forgotten storage units to cardboard boxes collapsing in the back of hot garages. We’ve pulled together the FIRST and (in our opinion) DEEPEST examination of the art of the show. We are proud to present it to you.
We established the “obscure literary quote” for Hank McCoy in episode 2, during “The Night of the Sentinels.” It was pure indulgence on our part — not from the books, just a natural extension of Beast’s thoughtful, learned character. I have a section in the upcoming “Making of X-MEN:TAS” book dedicated to Hank’s 23 quotes (which is all I found upon review, perhaps you have found more). The greatest of these moments is when in fact Hank says nothing, just listens. In the series finale, he lets a dying Xavier, instead, quote Hamlet to him. The quote is a father-son moment about friendship, one which voice-actor Cedric Smith makes memorable. The fact that Charles Xavier would quote Shakespeare as his final words to Hank is a sign of Xavier’s deep knowledge of and love for his X-Men.
People love the opening titles of X-MEN:TAS. I even have a short chapter in the upcoming book about their creation. In the short time given Larry Houston and Will Meugniot (a few days?) to create the now-memorable opening sequence, Larry’s first storyboard pass was exciting, but it just wasn’t quite right. It, perhaps influenced by Stan Lee’s attempt at coming up with a titles narration, was far more focused on the plight of mutants as hunted creatures than on the X-Men as a team. The opening “Wanted Poster” image below was followed by police helicopter.
Margaret Loesch wisely decided that we needed to focus more on our X-Men characters, so Will helped Larry re-focus the opening titles on our characters (many of whom were newer and less familiar to Stan). The first half of the 75-second sequence now became an exuberant introduction to the family of characters that we would be living with for five years, complete with their names in bold print. It worked. With the new images bonded with driving music, viewers felt the spirit of the series at the beginning of every episode. Between Larry, Will, and Margaret, they found the heart 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.
To quote Joe E. Brown from the movie Some Like it Hot: “Well, nobody’s perfect.” We had a tight schedule and a tighter budget on X-MEN:TAS. Some big animated series (at Disney, Warners, etc.) have the time and money to try all sorts of stories, develop them to script, see which ones everybody likes, then toss the ones they don’t. We didn’t have that luxury. The one-line ideas that were chosen were going to get made — we on the writing staff just had to make sure the 40-page scripts all came out well. Well, 76 out of 77 did. The one exception was a hard-edged episode set in rural Russia called “Bring Me Charles Xavier.” Many note-givers raised concerns early, at the premise and outline stages, like they are supposed to. But I liked the story and bull-headedly pushed it and the writer through to a couple of versions of the script — only to be told that no, many of my colleagues still didn’t like the story. So, after many weeks of trying, it was gone. I appologized to the writer, got him paid, and faced one of the heaviest repsonsibilities that the showrunner has in our corner of the business. Production needed a 40-page script to keep their schedule, so I wrote a completely new one over the weekend. Below are the would-be adversaries and the cast page from the abandoned script. Too bad : looks like it could have been fun.
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.
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.
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.
Staging a character — whether within a camera frame or on a storyboard panel, can be the difference between success and failure. We just screened the recent feature X-MEN: APOCALYPSE. There was all sorts of cool stuff in this movie (way too much — a bit of a “kitchen sink” problem). One of the few things that I felt was mishandled had to do with the title character. Oscar Isaac is a great actor. His lines weren’t bad, and his interpretation had weight and intensity. His costume worked (not a small thing with a “living god”), and he had majestic, scary powers. Why, then, wasn’t I overwhelmed by him as I was by the Apocalypse in X-MEN:TAS? True, John Colicos’s voice was awe-inspiring — but there are many ways to sound formidable, and Oscar Isaac’s was fine. It was something more subtle: it was where the character was placed and how and why he moved. The Apocalypse in X-MEN:TAS was massive, immobile. His opponents “crashed against him” (see just below). In the movie, the filmmakers sometimes worked to keep Apocalypse larger-than-life, but often they neglected to, as in the scene below, where 5’9″ Oscar Isaac (the man can’t help his height) looks like adolescent Storm’s playmate. If Apocalypse is larger-than-life, he can’t be smaller than Michael Fassbender. Also, there are scenes where Apocalypse walks over and interacts with people (including a fist-fight with skinny, 5’7″ James McAvoy). Our Apocalypse didn’t walk over to interact with anyone — they came to him. I doubt we were even aware of this as we wrote him and posed him and drew him. It was just his nature. And in that subtle lack of physical deference (posing, movement) to the character’s stature, the movie lost something for me.
We did a lot of time travel episodes in X-MEN:TAS. Always intriguing, always hard to keep the logic straight. We have all had moments when we wished we could go back in time and change something. Well, I have living proof here that the key hands-on executive of Fox’s golden age of TV animation might have just such a desire. Sidney Iwanter (“I want her!”) personally lorded it over such timeless treasures as Beetlejuice, Batman:TAS, X-MEN:TAS, The Tick, and Spider-Man. Hundreds of half-hours of subversive childhood memories were affected by one addled visionary. We can thank/blame his boss Margaret Loesch for letting him loose on hundreds of millions of impressionable young minds. Despite his impact, Sidney is an elusive creature — little is known about him, and images are few. That’s why, when I discovered a high school photo in a ’90s Fox Kids magazine, I couldn’t resist sharing it. Seeing that haunting adolescent image today, I’m sure Sidney would love to go back to 1967 and change many things. Maybe Forge can build him a time machine. I’d watch that episode.
We all waited. And waited. X-MEN:TAS originally aired from 1992-1997. It ran in syndicated reruns all over the planet. A decade and billions of episode views later, there still weren’t any DVDs available (besides bad pirated ones on the web). Finally, in the second half of 2009, Disney/Marvel came out with the 76 episodes on five separate DVDs. No extras. Minimal production effort. Not in the right episode order (nobody asked us). But because of the level of fan love for the series, the basic DVDs were huge best-sellers. That was seven years ago. You’d think simple self-interest would prompt the studio to put together a nice boxed set of the entire series. The cast and artists and writers that I have been interviewing for the “Making of…” book would be eager to participate in a glorious package of extras material. Outside companies (like the excellent Shout Factory) would love to do all of the work on, say, a 25th-anniversary boxed set. But no. Nothing. I’ve asked. I recently discovered that the company that has the rights to the episodes for the European market (Clear Vision: see below) actually has a full boxed set. But again, no extras. A proper tribute edition wouldn’t need a lot of money (the current DVDs don’t look bad), just a lot of care in its organization. Those of us who worked on X-MEN:TAS are willing to contribute that care. The fans of the show deserve no less.
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.
JEAN SACRIFICES HERSELF: Episode #33
GRIEVING SCOTT QUITS THE X-MEN: Episode #34 (shown much later)