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LOGAN: Two Farewells

We just saw “Logan,” and I left it with mixed emotions.  My main feelings were those of gratitude and loss.  When the first X-MEN movie came out 17 years ago, we were only a few years past having lived with these characters inside us for five long television seasons. Our series’ voices were the voices in my head, so I knew that the movie versions would take some getting used to.  I believe that I can say with confidence that my favorite two feature casting decisions were Logan and Charles.  When we had cast X-MEN:TAS in 1992, I had listed Patrick Stewart as a reference point for the voice of the professor.  Relative newcomer Hugh Jackman was a stunning surprise as Wolverine.  He kept our actor Cal Dodd’s spirit while having his own unique sound and physical presence.  So of course saying farewell to these two was difficult today.  It was an intimate, personal story, the kind we liked to tell on the animated series.  The actress playing the girl was marvelous.  And it is it important that our heroes’ journeys end, well, heroically, so in that sense we have given these two a proper send-off.  Whatever you think of the movie, it was good to be able to say our proper good-byes.

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the book, X-Men Show

BEAST’S FAREWELL FROM CHARLES

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.

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X-Men Show

GAMBIT: Man of Mystery

I’m not sure that we did Gambit justice.  I feel like I know Logan and Scott and Jean and Hank and Rogue and Jubilee and Prof X, but I’m not sure I know Remy Le Beau.  Part of that is because for X-MEN:TAS we needed Gambit to be mysterious.  Twice in the first season we had the team seriously doubt Gambit’s loyalty: on “Slave Island” and during our version of “Days of Future Past.”  If our audience didn’t truly believe that Gambit might be guilty of betraying his friends the stories wouldn’t have worked.  We could have never tried that with Cyclops or Beast — no one would have bought it.  Gambit was a  recent Marvel addition and started out with a mysterious background: semi-mystical backwoods allegiences, semi-hidden past.  The mystery made him distinct from all of our other heroes.  It also fit with his overt sexiness (Gambit was recently voted near the top of this category in pop culture history).  Little sexuality is allowed in kids’ TV — we gave most of our allotment to Gambit (and Rogue).  A movie has been in the works for quite a while, starring Channing Tatum (below, right).  Our Gambit, Chris Potter (below, left), would have actually had the right look for the character during the years we recorded him.  Word has been that the feature movie has been a tough nut to crack.  I symptathize: it’s tough writing for a man of mystery.

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CHRIS POTTER                                                                     CHANNING TATUM

X-Men Show

OUR WISEST, KINDEST SOUL: The Beauty of the Beast

Hank McCoy is the most thoughtful superhero character I know, anywhere.  He didn’t start out that way.  In the first dozen books in 1963, he’s just one of the the guys, a big lug who wisecracks and leers right along with the other regular-guy, street kids taken in by Dr. Charles Xavier.  Then, to someone’s credit (Stan’s?) Hank McCoy started sounding distinctly more well-read.  Not wise or thoughtful yet, but he started to conspicuously use “big words,” a fancier vocabulary that set him apart.  The idea evidently was to contrast the fact that he was “the Beast,” erudite despite his appearance.  When years later he gained acutal fur the contrast increased, and as he and the other X-Men became accomplished adults rather than mouthy teens his wisdom and eloquence gradually increased.  We at X-MEN:TAS ran with this idea, supercharged it.  Our constant method was to differentiate our characters as much as we could, so we wrote Hank to be as thoughtful and considerate as we could make him.  Wolverine cared deeply about people but, in true rebel-hero fashion, he’d be damned if he’d show it.  Our Beast was so confident, so at home in his own blue skin, that he openly displayed his kindness and compassion with no fear of diminishment or ridicule.  He was big, strong — and kind.  He loved to read, as did we on the X-MEN:TAS writing staff.  Below is an image of Beast, at the end of “The Phoenix Saga” when the team has just realized that Jean Grey has decided to sacrifice her life.  Moments later he manages to conjure one of his most heartfelt poetic quotes, from Emily Dickinson: “Parting is all we know of heaven and all we need of hell.”  Thank you Hank, and flawless voice-actor George Buza, for giving us that moment.

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X-Men Show

APOCALYPSE: Needing to Stage Him as Larger Than Life

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.

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X-Men Show

FAN FRIDAYS: WORLD-WIDE LOVE

The whole world loves X-MEN:TAS. It was our good luck to come out in the 1990s when television networks around the world were starting to open up and feature American shows. Margaret Loesch at Fox Kids Network and producer Haim Saban, salesman supreme (of course his company is named after him) were good at getting series shown in every corner of the globe. Animation “travels well,” action-adventure animation best of all. (Comedy, especially word-play, is tough to translate.) So it was our good fortune that the whole world got to see X-MEN:TAS. How do we known we got through to fans thousands of miles away? Well, the internet has made international contact easy. We will benefit today by enjoying an inspired fan video from Russia. This week of posts, featuring God and Apocalypse, has been kind of heavy. Let’s have a little fun.

X-Men Show

DVDs: APOCALYPSE, X-MEN:TAS

Today is an X-MEN fan day.  The feature movie X-MEN: Apocalypse will be joining our DVD libraries.  Of course we buy them all.  I spent four years living with these characters, so I have to keep track of them as they try new things.  This is a day to celebrate the villain Apocalypse, only recently created in the books (1986, Simonson, Guice, Harras), but who seems a timeless presence.  We loved writing for him because of the world-class voice we got (the late John Colicos) and because we so enjoyed giving depth, doubt, and introspection to a larger-than-life creature who was originally conceived as the incarnation of ruthlessness and destruction.  The character Apocalypse has experienced 5000 years of humanity. What a vantage point to ponder the nature of existence!  There will be arguments about the movie version of the character versus our X-MEN:TAS version.  They are different art forms.  There is room for both.  Before you slip your new disc into the blue-ray player today, however, we thought you might enjoy a fabulous YouTube video that a fan (maninthemask) threw together using highlights of our Apocalypse from the show.

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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.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

SHAPESHIFTERS

Mystique.  Morph.  Shapeshifters are fun in TV and movies.  They’re kind of static in comics and nearly useless in print books, where there is no visual shape to shift.  But in animated television they are irresistible.  The X-Men character of Mystique has had an involved history in the comic books: She was everywhere, personally connected in some way to Rogue and Nightcrawler and Jean and most of the mutants who came to form our cast.  In X-MEN:TAS, we used her even more.  Transformations are fun, and action storytelling loves the misdirection of letting you see one character do something, then later revealing that it was someone else.  Morph was different.  He was new, introduced specifically to be fun and funny and loved by all, especially Wolverine, so that when he was killed in our very first story he could be grieved for by our entire X-Men team.  His transformations were playful, not deceitful.  Well, then after our first season, our audience spoke: bring back Morph!  So back he came, now PTSD-damaged by his near-death experience.  Luckily we had versatile actors to voice characters who had to take so many guises.  Jennifer Dale (Mystique) and Ron Rubin (Morph) were not thought of as the “core cast,” but there were a surprising number of episodes that featured one or the other as a crucial, central character.

MYSTIQUE                                        JENNIFER DALE

 

MORPH                                                RON RUBIN

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

X-MEN:TAS ROMANCES

Who would have thought that a “boys action” superhero series played on Saturday mornings would be full of romance?  Yet it was.  Everyone knows that Scott and Jean were engaged to be married — and that Wolverine had to struggle with his feelings for her.  Wolverine was old enough (95) and sufficiently romantic that he had former lovers littered across the globe.  Professor X and Dr. Moira McTaggart had cared deeply for one another, and surely Gambit felt some true affection underneath his non-stop flirting.  Beast fell for a blind girl whose sight he restored.  And Rogue yearned for a man’s touch that forever eluded her.   Even Jubliee had a short flirtation (Longshot).  Saturday morning cartoons aren’t supposed to showcase adult love and heartbreak.  Few ever have or ever will.  But we insisted that X-MEN:TAS was peopled with intense adults who would have these feelings.  And much to the surprise of the endless experts who constantly told us and still tell us to make shows “age appropriate,” our audience loved these moments.  Five-year-olds may not know what adult love and yearning entail, but they understand personal attachment and caring and the drama inherent in threats to both.  There was some basis for the Scott-Jean-Wolverine love triangle in the books (though X-MEN:TAS writer Bob Skir takes some credit for highlighting it — let the debate begin).  But I’m pretty sure the Wolverine/Storm kiss in our time-travel story “One Man’s Worth” is our original.  Time travelers tell future Wolverine and Storm that they must go back in time to change the world.  But this would mean that they wouldn’t have each other.  Wolverine says screw it — he’s not going to give up their love, even to save the whole world.  To paraphrase Casablanca: “Yes, he loves her that much.”  But Storm is more clear-headed: they must do their duty.  She gives Logan a heart-felt kiss, and the adventure to save the planet begins.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

GREAT VOICES: “OUR APOCALYPSE”

X-MEN characters exist in the books and the animated shows and the live-action movies.  In the books, their voices exist in our imaginations.  In the various animated series and the movies, the characters live concretely in the voices of their actors.  Everyone hears them the same.  The current live-action movie guest-stars one of my favorite X-MEN characters: Apocalypse.  The actor portraying him is among the great performers of our time, Oscar Isaac.  He does a fine job.  Yet, for me, and for millions of fans around the world, “our” Apocalypse will always possess the uncannily resonant voice of the late John Colicos.  One of my great regrets while making X-MEN:TAS was never having a chance to meet John.  This was not only because he contributed so much to our show.  I was stunned to discover that he was my single favorite Star Trek villain, KOR (“koor”), the first Klingon commander ever portrayed.  John’s performance as Kor was first broadcast 49 years ago.  I’ve enjoyed it many times since, but it burned into my memory in one viewing.  He promised to turn Mr. Spock’s mind into a “ve-ge-ta-ble,” and I never pronounced the word the same way again.  On our series, he was the single most larger-than-life villain we had.  John made Apocalypse’s ancient soul believable.  He made a horrifically powerful villain vulnerable as he pondered the Sisyphean of his existence.  He made us feel for him. (Oscar Isaac was quoted as saying he “Went to the cartoons for a deeper take on the character.”)  So when we leave the theater after enjoying the craft of X-MEN: APOCALYPSE,  let’s remember the man who made the character immortal.

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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.

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