We were pleased to be two of the guests on a panel this year at WonderCon titled: “The Psychology of Animated Series.” The hosts of the long-running “Arkham Sessions” podcast, Dr. Andrea Letamendi and Brian Ward (pictured left), hosted. We and two other, uh, veteran writers (Henry Gilroy and David Wise) were asked to discuss the psychology of some of the characters for whom we had written. Our hosts specialize in the original Batman:TAS, for which Henry and David have both written. Henry has many credits within the Star Wars animated universe, and David was the heart and soul behind the original Mutant Ninja Turtles. Since the four of us together must have a thousand produced TV credits, there was lots of superhero psychology to discuss. One simple distinction that came up was that writers for Batman:TAS tended to focus on the inner workings of the guest villains (the famous “Rogues’ Gallery”), where on X-MEN:TAS we focused on the psyches of the team members. It makes sense: there only a single Batman to figure out; we had nine X-Men, complete with extended families, old friends, and spurned lovers. Some episodes we had enough going on with our core cast that there wasn’t a villain at all. It is always gratifying to meet fans and answer questions about what went into the making of X-MEN:TAS. Now back to the book….
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
According to Stan Lee, the Danger Room was created for the very first X-MEN comics issue by Jack Kirby (see Beast working out in it below), then given its official name in issue #2. So it has been around from the start (and preceeds by a decade the similar “Holodeck” used in later Star Trek incarnations, actually first seen the ST cartoon!). In X-MEN:TAS we used the Danger Room sparingly for a few reasons. First, action in real crises is always preferable to “training problems.” But more importantly, since the Danger Room can create spectacular but unreal dangers, it is tempting to trick the audience by creating big pretend fights or jeopardy (like in a character’s nightmare) which are then revealed to be “only projections” or dreams. We did allow ourselves the luxury of intense Danger Room imagery once, to great effect. That was in the episode (#14: “Till Death Due Us Part”) where Jean is about to marry Scott. Broken-hearted Wolverine takes out his unhappiness by obliterating some Scott-like projections, some of which end up looking like Scott-Sentinels (second image below). It provided a dramatic physical manifestation of Wolverine’s tortured inner struggle. By choosing not to overuse the Danger Room throughout the series, the few times we did it proved effective.
There is an endless fascination of “who would beat who” in the immense, ever-expanding world of superheroes. I can’t imagine a more classic (and over-used) comic-book cover than the pairing of one beloved character or team against another. It’s also a no-brainer for 2-D or 3-D-Fighter video games: combat is their essence. Feature movies have tried “A vs. B” with mixed success (Alien vs. Predator, The Avengers: Civil War). It doesn’t even need to make any sense — it just sets up a challenge, a deeply human competition complete with a satifying mix of spectacle. It compels us: we gotta know who wins. I was reminded of this yesterday when I saw the announcement of the most recent Capcom-vs.-Marvel game, “Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite,” specially featuring characters from X-Men and Street Fighter (see below). This spoke to me since I and producer Will Muegniot and my wife Julia and writer Michael Edens were part of the core creative teams on both of these animated series, nearly back-to-back. Their worlds were so different that it never would have occurred to any of us to pit one set of characters against the other. But that didn’t stop a more imaginative Capcom from creating a 20-year run of incredibly successful games. Powers and fighting were an essential part of our stories on X-MEN:TAS and even more so on Streetfighter:TAS. But the human side of the characters was even more important to us. We could tell a good story with very little fighting, but we couldn’t tell a lasting story without the humanity.
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.
CHRIS POTTER CHANNING TATUM
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.