X-Men: The Animated Series Writer Len Uhley on "Nightcrawler"

The new X-Men: The Legend of Wolverine DVD, from Buena Vista Home Video, is scheduled to hit shelves on April 29, 2003. The DVD, a compilation of various X-Men: The Animated Series episodes, features one episode focusing on a certain furry elf called Nightcrawler.

Marvel Animation Age, hosted by Toon Zone, caught up with Len Uhley, the writer of "Nightcrawler," an episode featured on the DVD. Uhley says he made sure that the animated version of Nightcrawler stayed close to the comic book version, something he was interested in.

"I was more of a DC guy when I was a kid and reading comics," said Uhley. "However, then I started doing research in order to write for the X-Men animated series, and I was immediately taken with Nightcrawler's back-story. I campaigned shamelessly with Eric Lewald, the executive story editor, to get a crack at him."

The topic of religion is always a controversial subject matter for any series, whether it be live-action or animated. It turns out that dealing with such subject matter wasn't the difficult part for Uhley, but finding enough time to fully explore it.

"Writing it was hard, not only because it is a highly personal and delicate subject, but also because of the time constraints under which most TV animation is written," said Uhley. "I felt this one was a Big Deal, and I didn't want to blow it, you know?

"As for censorship, I don't recall any at all," said Uhley. "In fact, it was quite the opposite. When Lewald turned in our first draft of the outline, the Fox creative executive on the show, Sidney Iwanter, was adamant. Iwanter said 'Don't beat around the bush. Where's God in all this? I want to see them talking about a living, caring God!'

"I also heard from Lewald that Avery Coburn, in broadcast standards, told him, 'As long as you've handled the topic with respect, we have no problem with it.' Of course, we were thrilled," said Uhley. "This all flew in the face of our usual jaded expectations, you know, that the networks want to take the edge off everything. I will always be thankful to Iwanter for his support and encouragement. And to Lewald, who let me have my head on the religious content. He also did his usual skillful job amping up the action sequences, so hats off to him there as well."

One aspect of the episode that raised eyebrows was Wolverine's views on religion. Stating that he abandoned religion because of what happened to him in his past, Wolverine learns a powerful lesson when he meets Nightcrawler and experiences his unique point of view.

"I don't think Wolverine 'found' religion, I think he was just reminded of the faith he'd abandoned," said Uhley. "Remember, earlier in the episode, he said that he used to believe in God, but no more, thank you very much, after all the horrors he had seen. And yet, there was Nightcrawler, who certainly had cause to be bitter, looking at the world from a very different, hopeful, faithful perspective.

"Kurt's extraordinary perspective gets to Wolverine, scrapes away some of his emotional scar tissue, and opens him up to the possibility of a relationship with God," said Uhley, "His ending up at a kneeling rail was just a 'baby step,' that's all."

Given the subject matter of the episode, it was expected a healthy amount of feedback would arise. But when the "Nightcrawler" episode aired, the issue didn't garner as much attention as anticipated.

"Most of the feedback was positive," said Uhley. "In one chat room, one fan objected to Wolverine praying in a church, because he'd become a Buddhist in the comics or some such thing. Otherwise, the show got very little attention outside of the core fan base. I even did a search on the Internet, and came across one article in a tiny Christian magazine called Cornerstone. Oh, and I gave a copy of the tape to some clergy I know, and they thought it was well done. Otherwise, there was no publicity, no outcry, no anything. Maybe the DVD release will stir up a little discussion, but I doubt it."

Looking back on the episode, Uhley is incredibly proud of "Nightcrawler." The episode did what it set out to accomplish and turned out better than he could've imagined.

"I've always been proud of "Nightcrawler," because it was, I think, the first time that belief in God had been openly discussed in a mainstream, Saturday morning animated series," said Uhley. "I think that the production crew in this case did an especially fine job -- I remember that the director, Larry Houston, really took extra care with it. They even got Nightcrawler's 'Bamf!' right." "I later wrote another X-Men episode with a Nightcrawler guest appearance, called 'Bloodlines.' It also made passing reference to Nightcrawler's faith," said Uhley. "But it was more of a traditional Marvel Universe tale detailing the tortured family ties among Nightcrawler, Rogue, Mystique and, apparently, the entire defensive line of the Green Bay Packers. I don't know if that's slated for release on DVD or not."

Uhley is currently working on the new season of the hit Kids'WB! series Ozzy & Drix, a series which has garnered him some nominations.

"I recently finished the last of three assignments for Ozzy & Drix's second season," said Uhley. "And I think I can share with you some exciting news. Both of the Kids' WB!/Warner Bros. Animation series I wrote for last year, Ozzy & Drix and Static Shock, are nominated for Outstanding Special Class Animated Program at the Daytime Emmy Awards. Everybody involved is pretty excited.

"Oh, and one of the Ozzy & Drix episodes I wrote in the first season, 'Where There's Smoke,' is nominated for a Prism Award, which is given by the Entertainment Industry Council for the accurate depiction in the media of drug, alcohol and tobacco use," said Uhley. "So, wish us luck!"

Besides "Nightcrawler, X-Men: The Legend of the Wolverine includes the two-part "Out of the Past," "The Lotus and the Steel," and the bonus episode "The Final Decision." It will hit shelves on April 29.

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