I don’t trust movie trailers. I’ve been tricked too many times by 90 seconds of images, cleverly cut together, that hide/sell a mediocre or bad movie. Telling a compelling 100-minute story is hard, and most fail. I just saw the trailer for the new Wolverine movie “Logan.” It had the great Johnny Cash singing “Hurt” under it. It showed a bruised, aging, weary Logan, struggling with personal loss. It looks like an intense, personal movie with only the minimum of required superhero action. It looks like a tough movie that I could love. I am hoping that this time my fears are unfounded. The word is that in 2017, in the 18th year of the X-Men movie franchise (2000-2017), this will be Hugh Jackman’s final performance as one of pop culture’s greatest characters. Logan meant a lot to us as we worked to build the stories for the 76 X-MEN:TAS episodes. He was so raw, so much the beating heart of the team, that we had to struggle not to over-use him. The movies could have screwed up Wolverine’s character . In large part thanks to Hugh Jackman, they got it right. (Few remember he wasn’t even the first choice for the role.) So I’m looking forward to next March when we get a chance to say goodbye to Jackman’s Logan. I’m hoping that he gets his farewell in a great movie.
I have been asked this question one way or another by TV executives for 30 years: “Why can’t you write younger?” I don’t know why. It could be that I believe in making action-adventure storytelling as believable as possible. (I happily wrote “younger” on Winnie-the-Pooh — I can do childlike and whimsical). But teens or little kids fighting city-destroying villains are less real. I also never bought the idea that young audiences need or prefer young heroes. If you were eight-years-old, who would you rather aspire to be: Batman or Robin? I always believe that a “younged down” version of a hero or team (for example “Young Indiana Jones”) tends to be a weaker, watered-down, more timid version of the original. Why do that? I understand making sure that the X-Men have a teen along — Jubilee or Kitty Pryde — for contrast and a different point of view among the team. But imagine if she were the oldest X-Man, that her colleagues were “extraordinary youngsters” like the original book envisioned. I truly believe that one reason the first book (’63-’70) failed was that the team was made up of secondary-school students, not adults. When the far more successful ’75 book was launched, everyone was an adult, led by a 75-year-old with claws. Adults have broken hearts, a sense of responsibility, regrets, long-time friends and enemies. They have love affairs. They have a sense of cities or countries or even planets at risk. Adolescents don’t tend to. (I know I didn’t.) Below are three of the youngest characters we wrote (Larry Houston designs for Mjnari, Jubilee, Longshot), and then a clever imagining of severely “younged down” mutant fighters. In one episode, Jubilee got to giggle and blush a little at Longshot’s attentions. It was a nice moment. In “One Man’s Worth,” Wolverine got to tell Storm (his wife in the future — few remember this) that he would damn the whole world to chaos and misery before he would give up their love. That is drama, and it’s adult.
The “Heroic Double Issue” of Entertainment Weekly magazine arrived today, claiming to feature the “50 Most Powerful Superheroes!” Okay… Nothing gets fans going more than superhero-power comparisons. You think The Thing can beat The Hulk?!! C’mon… Anyway, EW, to their credit, didn’t just do the traditional combative power comparisons. Their “scores” had nine categories, like “Cultural Impact,” “Nemeses,” and “Personality.” The traditional measure, “Powers,” only counted 10%. So this was twist on the traditional fan stand-off: less who is toughest than who has been more influential in the past 80 years of storytelling — comics, TV, and movies. We were gratified to discover that NINE of the 50 Hall-of-Famers were from the X-Men universe, seven (Logan, Jean, Scott, Prof X, Beast, Rogue, Storm) directly from our core, nine-member X-MEN:TAS team. That’s quite a statement. Sometimes-X-Men Nightcrawler and Kitty Pryde are there as well. As a bonus, X-Men adversary Magneto was voted as the greatest super-villain of all time. Finally, nothing challenges a character like time. If he or she can find favor across generations, then there is surely something there to be treasured. It is a popular idea that the nine X-Men honorees grew, from more humble beginnings, to their fullest incarnation in the two decades after the book’s reintroduction in 1975. Thank you Len Wein and Chris Claremont, first contributors among many. We at X-MEN:TAS hope that we were able to add to this lasting legacy.
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.
Yes, there’s going to be a book! We’ve resisted for two decades telling the story of how X-MEN:TAS struggled to get made and survive on the air. The 25th Anniversary of our premiere on Fox Kids Television is coming soon (October 31, 2017), and it’s time to get it done. Thanks to the continuing interest of fans everywhere, when we proposed a “Making of…” book about X-MEN:TAS we received a number of offers from interested publishers. So I checked them out to see which one might do the best job helping us tell the X-MEN:TAS history. Julia and I often make references to our fan-obsession with the original Star Trek series (1966-68), now referred to as Star Trek: TOS. Well, the most impressive behind-the-scenes Trek history I could find was the recent 2000-page trilogy (no kidding) “These Are the Voyages” (see Volume One below) by Marc Cushman. (And no, you aren’t getting 2000 pages from me — the man is a detail maniac.) The publishing company is called Jacobs/Brown, and I liked them immediately because they get the joy and magic of popular culture, they’re great folks, and they’re local (to us, anyway). So if getting a paragraph a day on this blog has been frustrating, your wait is almost over. Well, about year away (there’s a lot to write). I’ve already interviewed 30 cast members, artists, and crew, and have just a handful left to go. You won’t be surprised to discover that for many of them, X-MEN:TAS was the highlight of their long careers. They loved doing it as much as you loved watching it. We’ll keep you updated as the book progresses. Best, ERIC.
Your first thought when watching (or writing) a televised cartoon is rarely: “What would the government think of this story?” That’s good. Countries where governments completely control the content of the media are sad, miserable, oppressive places, cultures where, at the extreme, you can get fired or even shot for what you write or say. The Spain of the Inquisition, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s China — these were not places to question authority and consequently, not hotbeds of creativity. So the idea that there have been people pushing to control the content of American television, especially kids’ TV, since the medium’s inception has always been a concern. Today few young people remember how restricted television programming once was. On the biggest hit show in the world (“I Love Lucy”), the lead actress, who has married and having a baby, couldn’t sit on a bed with her husband or say the word “pregnant” out loud. Warner Brother’s gloriously anarchic theatrical cartoons from the 1930s through the mid-’50s were, when screened in the 1970s, censored for violence (sorry Elmer Fudd). Censoring Bugs Bunny… The height of this frenzy for “pro-social control” of children’s media was reached in the mid-’90s during our run at X-MEN:TAS. The “Children’s TV Act” cast a pall over future programming. Much of what we were “allowed” to create in the following years had to be “educational.” Our most important notes started to come not from creative colleagues but from child psychologists. Luckily for those of us who like to create or enjoy quality animated television, the explosion of cable TV channels (looser rules) and the internet (loosest rules) broke through the artificial constraints of the well-intentioned protectors of our young people. Nowadays you can animate nearly anything you can imagine and find a place for it. Be grateful. This is not the norm in the history of artist expression but a rare exception. Government is important; life without it can be anxious and deadly. But government is never good at directing artistic creation; though it will never cease trying, it really should.
When we all signed on to do X-MEN:TAS in February, 1992, new colleagues Larry Houston and Will Meugniot introduced me to “The Marvel Universe.” At first I believed it simply meant “the Marvel family of characters and locations,” which it definitely does. But I soon discovered that this “universe” included, well, the universe. Just mastering the X-MEN characters was challenge enough. Soon I was made aware that many of the Marvel books overlapped so extensively, like an intricate weaving, that our series might in fact stretch out beyond our galaxy (Scott’s dad and Xavier’s lasting love were both soon revealed to live “in outer space”). Marvel was not pushing this overlap to us (as they do now with cross-marketing of titles). This was all the doing of the fans within our production ranks, led by Larry. In fact Marvel often wouldn’t allow us to use most characters “outside” the X-MEN books. But Larry persevered. Here are three of his beloved “Easter Eggs” from episode #42, part of the Dark Phoenix Saga. Since Phoenix was threatening life on a planetary scale, it made sense to show a series of concerned characters from around our world and beyond. Advertisements for Dr. Strange’s first big movie have just come out, and they made me think of this storyboard page Larry recently sent me. As with Deadpool before him, Dr. Strange got early exposure in our series thanks to fan Larry’s attention to detail.