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Previewing X-Men: Evolution

The buzzwords in the comics industry these days seems to be 'Let's Reboot!' With Marvel Comics currently relaunching 'from scratch' Ultimate books for Spider-Man and X-Men, this activity has extended to Marvel's animated series such as Spider-Man Unlimited, now appearing on Saturday mornings on Kids WB. That series' premise is completely apart from any previous or current comic titles, although initial inspiration was the Spider-Man 2099 book series.

With X-Men Evolution, Warner Brothers and Marvel Films have collaborated to reboot not just the X-Men comic characters, but from their previous, highly successful five-season animated series as well. To distinct Evolution from any previous incarnation of The X-Men, the series characters have undergone a serious age and personality makeover.

Think of Evolution as 'The Young X-Men Chronicles.' This time 'round, the X-Men are just teenagers attending the local Bayville high school. Ororo, aka Storm, assists Professor Charles Xavier as the veteran hero and instructor at the Xavier Institute where giften mutant children attend to learn and practice with their new-found powers.

Meanwhile the rest of the gang are high school seniors and sophomores. The cast is similar to the core group of characters that we've all come to know well. Scott Summers (Cyclops) is a confident and assured senior at Bayville, Kitty Pride (now code-named Shadowcat) is an idealistic freshman, Jean Grey is the popular redhead cheerleader at the school, Kurt Wagner (Nightcrawler) is a bright, practical joker sophomore who is able to attend school free of prejudice from his blue-skinned mutant appearance with the help of a holographic device. However, the most complicated of all characters on the team is a 15 year old Rogue who will experience the traumatic (and normal) trappings of a being teenager.

Joining the team is a brand new character, Spyke, who just happens to be Ororo's nephew, Evan. He, too, is a student at Bayville High. His mutant ability is to grow 'spikes' from his skin which can be launched at will as deadly weapons against an enemy. In his introductory episode, 'Speed and Spyke,' we witnessed Evan's skirmish with another mutant student who possesses a remarkable super-speed ability. Pietro is another famed super-hero also reduced in age. Comic fans know his older alter-ego as The Avengers' teammate Quicksilver.

We've Only Just Begun

The 'save the world' quality that we've come to know from previous incarnations is not here. In this depiction, the X-Men are just learning and growing to deal with themselves and their powers.

Meanwhile, lurking in the shadows is a villainous Principal and ... the master of magnetism himself - Magneto!

For an upcoming episode titled 'Spykecam' veteran animation screenwriters Christy Marx and Randy Littlejohn pitched and developed a storyline to executive producers Rick Ungar and Avi Arad that cast a spotlight on the X-Men's newest teammate.

'We worked with [executive producer] Bob Forward via phone and email,' says Christy Marx, who has adapted Journey to the Center of the Earth for the BKN Network. 'Bob sent us the bible. Randy and I brainstormed together and we each came up with a batch of premises. A premise in this case meaning a one paragraph description of an idea. We emailed the premises to Bob. He liked two of them, so he had us flesh them out to a premise, one page in length for each. He submitted them for approval and the idea about Spyke was chosen.'

As written out, the selected idea that would become the basis for an episode was this: 'A Day in the Spyke: [Teacher] Mr. Vandermeer arranges for Evan to participate in an NPR [National Public Radio]-style 'day in the life' visual journal. Evan gets a cool camcorder and is told to record every aspect of his life for a few days for a tv show on today's American teenagers. A new Spielberg is born! Evan thinks this is the coolest thing ever, but his constant in-your-face camera is driving his teammates and friends crazy. And it gets pretty tough trying to do a documentary on a 'normal' teenage life when your friends have a tendency to phase through walls, shoot eyebeams, have chance encounters with Juggernaut or Sabretooth, have to deal with the Blob or Toad. Poor Evan - he has the most fantastic footage in the world ... but what can he actually turn in?'

From that description, an outline and script was crafted and submitted, as well as incorporating notes provided by Forward and the network.

'It was interesting to work on this with my writing partner, Randy, who had no familiarity with the X-Men other than seeing the movie,' says Marx. 'He helped keep me straight in concentrating on this batch of characters and coming up with ideas that worked within these parameters. The trick for me was combine my years of knowledge and love for the X-Men I know with this new take on them and not get hung up on thinking 'Oh, that's not the real Cyclops.' It offers the same opportunities as any other series: you look at the setup, you look at the characters and you try to come up with interesting stories for the material that's in front of you.'

Marx describes Spyke as 'a boisterous outgoing sort, gets along with others pretty well, but is bound to ruffle feathers from time time.'
When the X-Men first approached him in 'Speed and Spyke' it took some persuasion for the team to convince Evan to join them for training.


Ironically, although they wrote the episode, Marx says that she and Littlejohn have not yet seen the final product. Once the script is written and approved, boom, it leaves their hands and goes into the animation process where more changes and modifications can take place. 'We'll get to see it when it airs like everybody else!' Marx says wryly. 'As for what we'll think of it...that remains to be seen. Due to the time and scheduling pressures of the show, like so many shows nowadays, there was no time for Bob to send the script back to us for revisions after we turned in the first draft. So we have no idea what sort of changes were implemented after we turned it in.'

A familiar name to genre television fans, Christy Marx has made a career for herself as a writer, story editor and series developer. She swings with ease between live-action, interactive gaming, comics and animation.

She wrote episodes for Babylon 5, Twilight Zone and Captain Power. Marx also developed and story edited the short-lived, but highly acclaimed Hypernauts and wrote 'Wolfrider' for Wendy Pini's Elfquest comic series. Coming soon in the spring of 2001 is another collaboration with Randy Littlejohn, a Journey to the Center of the Earth animated series that is not related to the Jules Verne novel for BKN Network.

You Gotta Have Faith

Gaining satisfaction in watching the results of her work play out for the first time, says Marx, can often vary according to how faithful the final product has been to the submitted script. 'Sometimes you're delighted. Sometimes you wish your name wasn't on it. This is a very collaborative process, so what ends up on the screen is some percentage of your work, unless you're amazingly lucky. With television, if you can see 50% or more of your words surviving to the final version, that's pretty good.'

X-Men Evolution, says Marx, is a fun show and that 'The animation is a little better than usual for limited animation. I'm not a big fan of limited animation, I have to say. But we're stuck with it, so we have to make the best with what we can get.'

A fan of The X-Men from when she was a little girl, Marx feels that readers have consistently followed these characters over the last 30 years for a very simple reason. 'It was a new and original approach to doing 'superheroes' who were real people,' she says. 'The notion of someone being special because of a mutant ability was a fresh concept that has been cleverly built upon and expanded into a larger concept dealing with prejudice and 'differences.' I suspect that most of us who read comics knew what it felt like to be an outsider, to be different, perhaps to be considered 'weird' and not within the norm. That element of the X-Men can speak to any gender and any age. Then there is the wish fulfillment angle. I will admit to a secret desire to suddenly wake up and have an extraordinary gift, some power -- flying, telekinesis, telepathy -- whatever it would be. We all want to be special, to be unique. The X-Men provide a vicarious way to achieve that.'