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.
The single most important creative decision we made was killing Morph in the opening two-part story. Mark Edens and I insisted that we show the audience that what the X-Men do isn’t a game — it has consequences. Larry Houston and Will Meugniot backed us up. The only problem was, you just can’t do that on Saturday morning kids shows. Luckily, Fox Exec Sidney Iwanter lived to make kids shows more real. He was on board. Now the tough part. No TV network censor (Broadcast Standards & Practices department) had ever allowed such a thing. Luckily for us, we had as our censor an enlightened, comics-loving, story-respecting executive named Avery Cobern. My first notes from her were what we expected: you can’t do that! But, as would prove to be the case for four years, she listened. I meant it when I said the killing was all about the X-Men’s grief, not some fun at seeing Morph die. We had it happen off-screen. We experienced it through the eyes of Morph’s friends. Many cried. Wolverine punched somebody (another no-no). But a shared loss brought them together.
The most important moment for me was Wolverine driving off to be alone in his grief. As Mark and I originally wrote it (see script page and storyboard page below), a story act ended with Wolverine quietly alone, his head lowered.
Someone — Larry and/or Will — suggested one more image and a line from Wolverine. They put it in a draft of the storyboard. As you can see by my red marking below, I didn’t like it as well that way. As I remember it, we compromised: We would animate and record the final image. If it didn’t work, we’d end on the quiet shot. Well, it was just my luck that Cal Dodd, who voiced Wolverine, nailed the quiet, emotional last lines: “I’ll avenge you, Morph. I swear it.” So, a combination of director’s eye and actor’s voice won that one (It didn’t happen that often.). I’m still not sure which I prefer.
The first image of the first episode of X-MEN:TAS was of an unnamed mutant on a rampage. Please see the first two panels of Will Meugniot and Larry Houston’s storyboard below. Mark Edens and I chose this initial action for many reasons. First, it established how scary mutants can be to the rest of humanity, a challenge that Charles Xavier and his “good mutant” X-Men would spend 76 episodes trying to overcome. Next, since the “mutant violence” is being watched as TV news footage by Jubilee’s parents, the audience has a living, roaring example of why they are upset that their foster daughter has been revealed to be a mutant — the spark to the entire story. In addition, we were able to, in a few seconds, set up a favorite recurring mutant antagonist (Sabretooth), who would prove to be our number one star Wolverine’s favorite adversary. After a few seconds of Sabretooth’s carnage, no one doubted why Sentinel robots might be sent out to “control” mutants. Our 13 half-hour first season was established.
The sentinels perfectly embodied the human over-reaction to the discovery of mutants. And we could trash them.
Our female X-Men were always the equal of their male partners. This storyboard page – one of perhaps 20,000 drawn and re-drawn over 76 episodes – shows the care with which Larry and Will drew and directed.