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X-Men: The Animated Series writer Len Uhley talks X-Characters

Len Uhley's first memory of working on the X-Men: The Animated Series episode "Bloodlines" isn't exactly fond.

"My biggest memory of 'Bloodlines' is that it was a bit of a rush job due to a tight production schedule," he said. "I'm just glad we didn't make a total mess of it. I think it works well enough as an adventure, but in retrospect, the emotional content feels rather heavy-handed. Another draft would have been useful."

As was the case with the X-Men: The Animated Series episode "Nightcrawler," censorship didn't seem to play a large part. Uhley doesn't recall that Fox, the network which originally broadcast the series, interfered a great deal. "It's like what you and I discussed about the Nightcrawler episode that just came out on DVD," Uhley said. "I don't remember any difficulty with censorship. But then again, I was just a freelance writer on the series, and, as such, was not privy to memos from Broadcast Standards. I'm sure there were concerns about overt on-screen violence, the use of real-world weapons, and so forth. But that's standard procedure. We all know the rules, so nobody's going to try to put a revolver to somebody's head on camera."

Nor did the network cause much difficulty over Mystique's "sordid past" or "questionable maternal instincts." "The folks at Fox were not heavy-handed with the blue pencil. After all, this was a fourth-season episode of a hit series."

When approaching the episode "Cold Comfort," Uhley decided to play up the triangle between Cyclops, Iceman, and Professor Xavier to create dramatic tension.

Eric Lewald had already set up Cyclops as kind of a rigid, by the book, toe-the-line guy," said Uhley. "We talked it through and said, 'What if Bobby were the opposite, a bit of a goof-off and, in spite of that, one of Xavier's favorites? How would Cyclops react?' It was just a good choice, dramatically speaking. Besides, this 'wayward son' approach also gave us a chance to delve into their history, do a little flashback of the original team, and so on.

"In the same way that I look forward to seeing Nightcrawler in X2: X-Men United, I'll be interested to see what kind of personality they give Ice Man. See if I came close."

Meanwhile, the surprise appearance of the mutant group X-Factor in "Cold Comfort" gave fans an animated take on the mutant group.

"The X-Factor cameo was part of the original premise I pitched," said Uhley. "But it's not like I was being so clever. As I said before, Eric Lewald had given me reams of research material. There was so much information available. It was easy to suggest, 'Oh, let's show X-Factor,' or, 'Let's put in a flashback of the X-Men in their old uniforms.' It was more difficult to decide what to leave out."

Uhley also praised Lewald, who was executive story editor on the series, for helping make the show such a success. "You know, I don't think Eric has received enough credit over the years for the way the show worked," he said. "He had free reign to use the Marvel cast of characters any way he saw fit -- with a few exceptions. I vaguely remember that he couldn't use the Hulk or Fantastic Four or Spidey, but I may be confusing that with the time I wrote for him on The Avengers series. But he always worked hard to tell emotional stories that would engage anyone, whether or not they read the comics. Showing X-Factor was simply one of those opportunities that made story sense and was a fun wink to the core fan base."

And it's the "core fan base" that Uhley believes supports the animated incarnations of these characters so much. These characters may relate to their audience more than anyone realizes. "The X-Men saga probably has the most passionate supporters because it articulates every adolescent's feelings of alienation," said Uhley. "It's a wonderful fantasy, in which all of the odd ducks and outcasts become empowered. The stakes are enormous, the emotions writ large -- yet, at the same time, there is a sense of community. That's very powerful stuff."

Uhley has written for many animated series and for many animated superhero teams. "I grew up on Justice League of America, so I have great fondness for those characters," said Uhley. "I wrote a couple of The Avengers episodes, and that was fun because in one instance I got to do a Sub-Mariner story -- He's a hero. He's a villain. He's both! And I've been fortunate enough to write for both X-Men series, three episodes for the Fox version and one for X-Men: Evolution. They were all excellent experiences."

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