Written by Anthony Michaels & Darrell McNeil
(Originally published in Wizard Magazine)
The uncanny X-Men, America's best-selling comic for the better part of a decade, finally ended a long and winding road toward animation stardom with a weekly animated berth on the FOX Network -- already basking in the glow from the critical and ratings acclaim accorded the network's Batman animated series.
The path to television was an arduous one, involving several dozen program proposals to the at-the-time networks (CBS, NBC, ABC) and even a possible primetime animation berth with ABC...all of which failed to materialize. Finally, in 1987, to interest both the networks and various toy companies, Marvel Animation produced a half-hour X-Men pilot. This episode, "Pryde of the X-Men," introduced a large number of heroes (Professor X, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Storm, Dazzler, Wolverine) and an equally large assemblage of villains (Magneto, Blob, Pyro, White Queen, Toad, Juggernaut). This approach satisfied the purposes of potential toy licenses more than those who wanted to view a cohesive story. As it turned out, this well-animated pilot had no bearing on the Toy Biz company's decision to bring out an X-Men toy line, but it did find success as a half-hour filled in the "Marvel Action Universe" syndicated series (and as a 100,000-selling home video).
Margaret Loesoh, at the time the president of Marvel Productions, was determined to eventually place the band of mutant heroes on television and, a couple of years later -- after becoming the head of the FOX Children's Network -- was finally able to secure a network berth for her former company's top superstars. With an intricate production deal set-up with four international production companies (with major producer Saban International in the lead), the task began as 20 years of X-Men comics were compressed into 13 half-hour episodes.
Among the early questions in dealing with the animated X-Men was which X-Men (among literally hundreds) would be used for the series. Early sentiment ran from the 1970's team of mutants (favored by the series' producers) to the original X-Team. It was decided to meld the old, most established members (Cyclops, Storm, Beast) with the more recent characters who have energized today's fans (Rogue, Gambit, Jubilee) and it's probably safe to say that Marvel would've been hexed by fans if the most popular mutant of all, Wolverine, wasn't in the series...claws, bad attitude, and all.
Another interesting behind the scenes change involved the creation of new X-Man "Morph," who appears in the first two episodes. Originally, the character and his exploits were meant to mirror the "Changeling" character in the early run of X-Men comics and his decision to sacrifice his life for the X-Men. This had to be changed to avoid conflict with rival DC Comics' "Changeling" character which appeared in their "Teen Titans" book.
As for the character's "death"...well, we are talking Saturday morning cartoons here, so they were only able to indicate off-screen that Morph had died. In other ways, however, the X-Men series does tackle harder story lines than previous Saturday morning series have attempted and, after a glut of "disappointments" in previous media adaptations of Marvel characters, finally manages to stay fairly true to its comic book origins and source materials.
The thrilling tradition of action-packed stories featuring the ever-intriguing X-Men continues for a second smash season. These larger-than-life mutants, created some 30 years ago by real-life legendary comic book heroes Stan Lee and co-creator Jack Kirby, have rocketed to even greater heights of popularity since the FOX Saturday morning mega-hit premiered last season. X-Men remains the largest selling comic book line currently in the marketplace.
The secret weapon in keeping the animated series as close as possible to the X-Men comic book has been long-time fan turned animation producer, Larry Houston. Larry is not only in charge of the general look of the series, he is responsible for hiring the artists, making sure storyboarding and storytelling goes well, and even has a vote in deciding which Canadian actors will supply the voices. Larry also tries to sneak as many guest stars into the series as possible to please the comic book fans as well as himself.
Larry noted that it's a long process for the X-Men series to go from type plot to the small screen, and there are a lot of people involved.
Mr. Houston has not been alone in his efforts. He gives credit to ex-supervising producer Will Meugniot, with whom he worked directly. Will has moved on during the second season to produce XO Squad.
Still burdened with all the angst-ridden, interpersonal strife that has made them instant classic figures, our favorite X-Men -- Storm, Cyclops, Rogue, Professor X, Beast, Gambit, Jubilee, an the always contentious Wolverine -- return to battle even greater threats to mutant/human co-existence.
As Professor X and arch-nemesis Magneto are forced to cooperate to survive in the mysterious and unknown Savage Land, the rest of the X-Men must battle all those forces given over to evil, corruption, and closed mindedness. They fight to keep their missing mentor's dream alive: a dream that someday humans and mutants will live together in peace.
X-Men is financed in a partnership between MARVEL Entertainment Group, SABAN Entertainment (whose past hits include Alf Tales and Camp Candy), and Polygram Video company. SABAN sub-contracts the series to GRAZ Entertainment (Conan the Adventurer) where all the preproduction is done. Scripts, models, and storyboards are all put together under the supervision of a director. These are then sent to AKON (production house, Batman: The Animated Series, XO Squad) in Korea for final production, and film is animated and shot. Sometimes it takes as many as twenty weeks to complete a single episode.
Though twenty-six episodes of the show have already been produced, X-Men is far from over. Because of its tremendous success during its Saturday time slot, helping FOX win the ratings race, X-Men has been renewed through (and including) the 1996-1997 season, with promise of another 39 new episodes. In addition, X-Men will become a daily series airing Monday through Friday, being replaced by the new Spider-Man animated series.