We're less than two weeks away from the start of an exciting new season of the hit animated show X-Men: Evolution. James Harvey of Marvel Animation Age talked with the show's producer Boyd Kirkland about what fans can expect from the coming season.
Boyd Kirkland (BK): Knowing they had the X-Men movie coming out shortly, Marvel shopped the idea of a new X-Men animated series around to the various networks, and Kids' WB picked it up. I'd heard they were looking for a producer, so I arranged an interview with executive producers Rick Unger and Avi Arad. Although I had worked for Marvel years earlier, it was before their involvement with the company so they didn't know me. They also had me interview with the network to get their approval. Marvel no longer has an animation production facility of their own, so they sub-contracted the show to Film Roman, and I had to make my final deal with them. Once there, I began gathering the core crew to develop and make the show.
JH: What do you find most interesting, most appealing about this series?
BK: Many things, actually: the core concepts of the X-Men comics which have had an enduring, immensely popular appeal; and the fact that it has a great combination of action and social drama within in a high school setting, where social acceptance and coming of age are seminal experiences everyone goes through. I'm glad we're not just re-treading ground already covered by the old X-Men animated series. I'm also enjoying the overall quality of the show. It looks and sounds great thanks to the talents and dedication of many people who are a pleasure to work with.
JH: What is the main focus for X-Men: Evolution?
BK: Well, in addition to what I said above, the network was adamant in the beginning that this series appeal to a young audience (their target demographic is kids ages 2-11). They requested that we generally keep the focus on the teens in the group, rather than on the adult mentors. They also wanted us to avoid making it too dark, full of angst and violence, etc., as it often is in the comics. So, we temper these things, and balance the action with character drama and humor. It makes for a very nice blend, actually, engaging the audience on many different levels. It ends-up being more mature and thoughtful, with characters having internal and external conflicts we can all relate to on some level, rather than just being about super-heroics.
JH: In the show's two year (soon to be three year) history, have you been able to maintain the show's focus, despite a slight shift in tone for the second season?
BK: Any time a new series starts up, it takes awhile for it to shake out the bugs and find its tone. This is especially true of a show like this, which had many different expectations for it from everyone involved. Eventually, you find out what's working best and go with it. Even though the cast and canvas have grown, we still have maintained the focus on our core teen characters. That won't ever change.
JH: Since the inception of the series, what problems have you run into with the broadcast censors?
BK: For some reason, network Saturday morning kids' programming has more stringent standards and limitations than any other venue such as weekday afternoons, syndication, cable, etc. Absolute no-no's include: death, blood, blows to the head, conventional handguns, dangerous imitate-able stunts, breaking glass, people in extreme pain, provocative dialogue, clothing, or situations, child endangerment and so forth. Since the 9/11 tragedy, there has been additional sensitivity about destruction of buildings, fire and explosions, jeopardy that involves falling, having disrespect for authorities, etc. Of course, all of this stuff is pretty routine in the X-Men comics, in fact in all super-hero comics, which are usually aimed at an older audience. It seems kind of ironic that most G-rated classic animated movies could not be aired un-edited on Saturday mornings. We therefore have to be very creative in depicting conflict and actionto keep the show exciting while avoiding the ire of the censors. The network reviews everything at every stage of production (scripts, storyboards, designs,color, rough cuts, sound mixes, etc.), often asking for revisions. Sometimes it can be pretty frustrating, but it goes with the territory.
JH: Going into its third year, do you think the show has matured since it's initial conception?
BK: There has been a very natural progression in the series. We started out small, without the whole team assembled, telling several "origin" stories about these guys getting their powers for the first time and dealing with the trauma and confusion that caused. As the cast grew, we gradually escalated the stakes, and progressed the various character relationships. We've tried to keep itinteresting and real by having allegiances sometimes vary, and by exploring character back-stories and motivations. There's still much more of this to do. We also made a natural progression in the mutants' desire to keep their existence a secret, fearing negative public reactions and prejudice. Now, inseason three, they have been exposed, and will have to learn to deal with that.
JH: Season three has arguably been one of the most anticipated premieres for the coming season, mainly due to five main points - Professor X's disappearance, Apocalypse, The Sentinels, Magneto's new henchmen (particularly Gambit and Colossus), and the recent 'outing' of the mutants. How do you plan to juggle these storylines?
BK: Wow! Seeing it laid-out like that, it looks like season 3 will be great! I can hardly wait to see it! Seriously, we have some very cool episodes coming up this season. I really wish we had feature-length formats and budgets to tell these great stories! There will be follow-through on all of the things you've mentioned,as well as introducing other new stuff. Fans will just have to be patient and watch everything unfold one step-at-a time over our thirteen episodes, as you can only cram so much story into each half-hour!
JH: What can fans expect this season from X-Men: Evolution? (i.e.: in terms ofstoryline, drama, action, intensity, etc.)
BK: This question sounds a lot like the last one - I have a sneaking hunch you are really looking for some inside spoiler stuff here! Without being too specific, let me just say that we will have some really big stories, involving many characters with lots of action, as well as several more personal stories focused on individuals in dramatic situations. There's some really funny stuff mixed in there, too! Characters from past episodes will be making return appearances (such as Angel, Mesmero, and others), and some new characters will be introduced as well. You'll gasp, you'll laugh, you'll cry! What else could you expect from X-Men: Evolution?!