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.
It has begun. Our celebration of the 25th anniversary of X-MEN:TAS kicks off in nine days at COMICFEST in San Diego. Mike Towry and his crew have been nice enough to set up FIVE panels that in some way honor our series. Julia and I and Producer/Director Larry Houston (see photo) plan to attend ALL of the panels. The specific guests and topics follow.
SATURDAY, FEB. 18
11:00am: “X-Men, Lies, and Videotape” — writers Dave McDermott & Steve Melching
2:00pm: “X-MEN:TAS – Creative Round Table” — ALL OF US
3:00pm: “X-Men Mock Trial on Human Rights” — Legal Geeks & Some of Us
SUNDAY, FEB. 19
10:00am: “Nightcrawler” — writer Len Uhley
3:00pm: “Days of Future Past” — writer Julia Lewald
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.
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.
X-MEN:TAS has a complex relationship with the many series of X-MEN comic books that we respectfully mined as source material. Many fans have made lists of the connections they see, where adaptions may have been made from book to screen. Some are easy: the “Phoenix” sagas and “Days of Future Past” were direct, intentional, adaptations of well-known comics stories. Few others were. I had no agenda in adapting or not adapting stories from the books. Some of the TV writers knew and loved the books; others didn’t know them at all. There was only one rule for choosing which stories got made: which would play the best in series TV animation. The result was that only a handful of stories, like “Days,” originated with a writer saying: “We gotta do the —– book!” Far more often a writer would have a character or idea from a book, or of his or her own, and we built an original TV story from there, using names and places and characters from the books to suit our stories. Or in today’s case — the four-part “Beyond Good and Evil” — an original story was “tied in” to the Marvel Universe, late in the process, by the cameo appearance at the end by an established comics character. Writer Mark Edens created a new character, BENDER, a Robin-Williams-like, Lear-foolish jester, to hold the time-bending story together. Super-fan producer Larry Houston came up with the tag at the end, where Bender morphs into Immortus, an appropriately larger-than life Marvel character. Fans might imagine that Mark and I were trying to tell an Immortus story from the beginning. We weren’t. But Larry’s insertion of Immortus was a perfect example of X-MEN:TAS bringing the Marvel Universe into our stories in every way we could.
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.