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.
When Mark Edens wrote the pilot script for me for X-MEN:TAS, there was an X-Man in it that never ended up apprearing on screen as an X-Man. It was the Native American John Proudstar, known as Thunderbird. When the X-Men books were re-started in 1975 (after their suspension in 1970), Len Wein and Dave Cockrum were given the job of coming up with a new team that was far more diverse and international. Fans got a German (Nightcrawler), a Russian (Colossus), a Canadian (Wolverine) and a Native American. In writing stories, they soon learned that they had a problem. To quote Cockrum: “We created Thunderbird as an obnoxious loudmouth, and we already had an obnoxious loudmouth in Wolverine. So one of us decided to kill him off.” Which is why we X-Men newbies (Mark, me, Micahel Edens) decided to use Thunderbird as the character we were going to kill off in our opening story (we were trying to stay true to the spirit of the books). Atop our todo list during the first week was: “Kill off Thunderbird.” Well, somebody somewhere noticed that the only X-Man that we were planning to kill was Native American. Sorry: we don’t care if they killed him in the comics, we can’t do it on Saturday morning TV. Fine. So I dug around and found another character who had died, sacrificing himself for the X-Men: Changeling. Only we couldn’t use the name (long story). So the lone sacrificial X-Man became “Morph.” The rest is history. By the way, to show you how much Thunderbird was in everyone’s mind early on, take a look at an image from the opening credits, on the “opponents” side. There is John Proudstar, next to Juggernaut, angry as ever.
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.