From 1966 through 1992, there were eleven attempts to bring Marvel characters to TV animation and no movies. That’s hard to imagine today in 2017. You can find videos of the early attempts on Youtube; you’ll be surprised how different that world was. Hollywood just didn’t get the spirit of the comics. Perhaps that is why it was so difficult (nearly 10 years trying) for Margaret Loesch to get our version of a Marvel title on the air and why there was deep suspicion felt by TV stations and advertisers about X-MEN:TAS until the day our series proved itself.
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.
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.
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.
Last night on a podcast, some nice folks from upstate New York asked us all sorts of questions about X-MEN:TAS. I had answers to most of them, but one eluded me. “Is there an X-Man you hope to see in a solo film one day?” After serious thought, I responded: “No. I always think of them together.” That’s weird, but it’s true. I can enjoy The Avengers in individual movies — Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, etc. — because their stories started with them as individuals. Joss Whedon’s masterful job in the first movie at getting them to work together for a few hours was just that — an effort. They aren’t a natural team (which is half of the fun watching them try to be). They aren’t a family. Does Thor care how Tony Stark’s day is going? The X-Men came into being as a group. They live and work together. In looking back at the team we chose, I believe that losing just a couple of them could have really hurt the stories. I know and enjoy them in relation to each other. I believe that’s why they have lasted, off and on, for over 50 years. So even though I look forward to the “Logan” movie (great trailer), half of the pleasure in that movie will be seeing him interact with Charles Xavier. They have 35 years of books and 76 episodes-plus of TV history together. They “grew up” toegether. That’s why I didn’t have an answer for Tom & Kimber’s podcast. I just don’t think of the X-Men apart — which to me means they have achieved something special.
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.
There’s a little known fact: we were going to change the X-MEN:TAS team. We had written the script where four members left and four new ones came on. It seems hard to imagine now. One of the strengths of the series is that we had found an excellent balance of diverse characters. How would we write stories without four of our team, mixing in four new-comers? The trick is that we were not planning to. Fox Network had decided to end the series at 65 episodes with a big story that concluded with four members leaving and four, who had proved themselves within the story, replacing them. The big four-part story was “Beyond Good and Evil,” and we had finished the four scripts — story laid out by Mark Edens and Michael Edens — with heartfelt farewells included. Then word came down that Fox didn’t want to end the series after all. They wanted another season (season five). Oops. Now I had to go back into “B. G. & E.” and take out all of the story bits that lead to four characters leaving and four new ones stepping in. Not pleasant. What was a really well-constructed 88-minute story now needed to be patched together to be something different. Fast. Oh, well. Below are our original ten X-Men (including Morph), plus some guest stars. See if you can guess which four of our ten was set to leave and who would have replaced them. Two of the replacements are among those shown below.
How do you show compelling evil in a kids animated TV series? We needed some big stakes to make it believeable that these super-powerful people, our hereos, would need to fight for justice for themselves and others. We needed nasty villains — but we had a severe limit on what nastiness we could ever show them doing. When we chose Henry Peter Gyrich during X-MEN:TAS Season One it was because he was in charge of a horrifying “final solution” set up to exterminate our lead characters and innocent others of their kind. We couldn’t depict mass slaughter. But we could make his ambitions clear and reinforce the horror of his plans with images of the weapons — towering sentinel robots (see below) — he had gathered to carry them out. Just below, Gyrich is seen doing nothing worse than simply looking down at Jubilee. But in the image of his lifeless, covered eyes, with his glasses’ reflections revealing Jubilee’s fear, his evil is palpable. (It reminds me of the mirrored glasses of the merciless guard in the movie Cool Hand Luke who shoots Paul Newman.) One of the first storytelling rules we are told, at least out in Hollywood, is that your hero is only as good as the villain you have set up to challenge him. Gyrich and his Sentinels gave us a good start.
Sacrifice is central to being a hero, super or otherwise. Sadly, much of Hollywood has given up on this. All endings, it seems, must be happy. In classic storytelling, the great heroes died or at least suffered great loss. In X-MEN:TAS we had our team face personal sacrifice whenever we could. The first story climaxed with Morph sacrificing his life for his closest friend, Wolverine (see below). In the much later “One Man’s Worth,” Storm and Wolverine sacrifice their undying love to save someone they have never met in this timeline (Charles Xavier). One of the greatest moments in the history of sacrifice in storytelling was the final shot of the movie “The Searchers” (1956). John Wayne’s character has just given five years of his life, struggling, searching for and rescuing his niece. He brings her back and heals the pioneer family that had lost her. One by one the happy family go inside the house, leaving the heroic uncle standing alone in the doorway. The words “Ride away…” are sung on the sound track. John Wayne looks into the house for a moment, seeing something he can never quite be part of, then walks off alone. He did what he had to do; he sacrificed. When I meet people who loved X-MEN:TAS, nearly every one says: “You had me when you killed Morph.” This show, they decided, was different. Mark Edens and I, who made this initial choice, just took it for granted that personal sacrifice was at the center of what it means to be a hero. I guess we’re just old-fashioned.
Think about it. You work on a series for five years — even one as fun as X-MEN:TAS — and drawing the same look for the same characters could get old. So imagine the fun when word comes down from the writers that we’re doing time-travel or an “alternate timeline” episode, either of which requiring new looks for the characters. Below are a couple of alternative designs for Rogue and Scott. Below those are a couple of images from one of my favorite epsisodes, “One Man’s Worth.” The first, a modern-day, idyllic moment bewteen Storm and Wolverine (having a picnic!) suddenly switches to an alternative timeline (created by evil time-travellers) where they are fighting for their lives in dystopic, miserable world. Alt-Storm is designed so much tougher, so punk, that you know her life is diferent just by looking at her. After months of drawing “normal” Storm, it must have been fun to be asked to re-imagine her. The distinctive looks sure worked for us in the story.
Below is the brilliant early poster for the movie “Logan” that will premiere four-and-a-half months from now. The simple image of Wolverine’s battered, clawed hand holding that of an unseen child is perfect. We need to see our heroes fight; we need to see them struggle to prove themselves worthy. Both are exhilarating. But “struggle” to what end, for what purpose. The second hand answers that question. In X-MEN:TAS, as in all super-hero series, personal realtionships, loves, and loyalties are as important as spectacle and victories. Sometimes creators forget the importance of one or the other. We tried never to make that mistake. We weren’t always 100% successful, but we tried. We always wanted to show both hands in the picture.
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.