Tag Archives: morph

X-Men: The Art and Making of the Animated Series

A few years ago, I talked about my love of X-Men, the animated series, via a book review of Previously…on X-Men by Eric Lewald. That book chronicled the development of the 92 animated series that helped propel the Fox Kids Network to the top of the Saturday morning leaderboards through notes from the author and extensive interviews with the folks that helped bring that series to life. Now, Lewald is back with his wife Julia with a complementary piece all about the artists and artwork that went into creating that series, X-Men: The Art and Making of the Animated Series.

There are probably a few individuals out there who first wrinkled their nose at the thought of an art book based on the animated series starring the X-Men. That’s because the show was somewhat famously underserved by Saban Entertainment who had little interest in sinking much money into the art and animation that went into the show. It’s not that the show was abysmal to look at, it’s more that it was always going to be compared with Batman: The Animated Series. Both shows launched in 92 on Fox, though X-Men only in a sneak preview with the proper launch coming in January of 1993. Batman was on weekday afternoons, while X-Men was allowed to reign over Saturday morning. The other big difference though was Batman had the might of Warner Bros behind it which produced the series and just licensed it out to Fox. X-Men had the backing of Marvel, which wasn’t what it is today. Marvel was a bit touch and go for many years even when it was starting to take over the news stand with a lot of help from the mutants who starred in this series. Rather than self-finance though, Marvel licensed it out to Saban who partnered with Graz Entertainment. The budget was never going to be the same, nor was the confidence. X-Men was unproven outside of the comic book world, and thus received just a one season order initially, followed by a second, before eventually the big order came in.

X-Men on the front, bad guys on the rear. What does it say about me that I think I prefer this to the cover?

Despite all of that, and a legend who had no idea how the property should be presented (::cough:: Stan ::cough::), the show was a smashing success. It’s interesting to look back on because I think many consider Batman to be the superior show. And yet, X-Men was the ratings champ and my favorite of the two. And when it came to my friends, most liked Batman, all loved X-Men. I don’t know why that is, though I have some theories. Batman was a known property and the show reflected the Tim Burton films. Whenever something goes from the big screen to the small one (especially in the 90s), there’s a feeling that the TV version is inferior. The X-Men may have lacked the recognition of Batman, but it also lacked any sort of baggage. Batman was also quite great at being a moody, superhero, show with a lot of style. It was also mostly rooted in that, where as X-Men was an ensemble with more characters to lean on. Batman was almost devoid of personality as a character by choice, while basically every member of the X-Men (well, maybe not Cyclops) was rather colorful able to display a wide range of emotion and even drop a one-liner or two. Or maybe it was just the prestige of being on Saturday morning? Either way, it was a good time to be alive.

It’s an art book, so expect a lot of artwork!

Both shows were part of a gradual maturation taking place in children’s cartoons. We basically had left the wacky and cheap 80s in favor of something that actually had respect for its audience. Shows like The Pirates of Dark Water and my beloved Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars were quite different in tone from the likes of Thundercats and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Most of those shows still featured a character that could be turned to for comedic relief, and even Batman has the Joker. X-Men didn’t really feature that though. Morph could have been that character, but he was killed off rather quickly. It’s a drama starring people in bright spandex that captivated me as a kid. The serialized nature and some of the nuance of the show asked something of me, and I was willing to rise to the program as a mere 7 year-old. It’s no surprise to me that when I look back on my youth, X-Men is there and always will be as it was far and away my favorite program.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the book is getting to read the descriptions that go along with each storyboard panel.

And despite what you may think, a lot of really talented and devoted artists contributed to this show. Knock the animation all you want, but I’ve always been rather insistent that the show looks pretty great in stills. Sure, pick through it and you’ll find some weird stuff or miss-colored limbs and costumes, that’s true of a lot of shows from that era. Where this book is able to shine is with the stuff not broadcast. All of the developmental art that went into the show; costume ideas, height charts, storyboards, are quite rewarding to look at. When Lewald and his team were handed this property, there were decades of material to cherry-pick for the show and a lot of ideas were cast aside. There’s also plenty of production art, like cels and such, that are quite interesting to look at. Especially some of the backgrounds, like the lair of Mr. Sinister, which featured several layers of artwork to make it right.

And it’s not just art! The books is broken out into six chapters, plus an intro and an afterword, with each containing a detailed breakdown of what went into each section. Some of this stuff is lifted from the prior book, so it will be a bit familiar for those who read it, and some of the details are new. Since this book is focused on the art of the series, you’ll hear additional nuggets about what went into a character’s look or a particular background. There’s a lot of ink spent on the various cameos that occurred throughout the series and some of the other details may surprise and amaze. One such nugget came from Director and Storyboard Artist/Supervisor Larry Houston who pointed out how difficult it was to animate a character like Mr. Sinister. His irregular cape basically forced Houston to storyboard the character with as little motion as possible. Basically, the camera was either directly in front or behind him and he was basically never allowed to rotate. It’s fun to go back and watch the series with such information in hand and it gives some newfound appreciation for all of the work Larry and his team had to do before sending an episode off to Korea for animation.

When the X-Men ruled the world!

There’s a lot to unpack in this book and I don’t want to reveal too much since a lot of the enjoyment I had was uncovering things I either didn’t know or really paid little attention to. There’s also some nice additions to this one like a collection of all of the episode logs and a picture to go along with it. Some time is spent on looking back at the X-Men craze, like the Pizza Hut promotion and the action figure line from ToyBiz, which might make you wish for a third book that covers all of that tie-in merch. The book itself is also quite lovely. It’s hardbound with new cover art from Houston, I think. There’s no explicit “Cover” credit, just a case credit to Houston with ink by Rick Hoberg and colors by Laura Martin. It’s a bit confusing as the inside of the front and back cover are storyboards which were definitely done by Houston, so the credit may be referring to that. Regardless, the cover, featuring the main team including Morph and Bishop, and the rear cover featuring the villains of the series look great. Pages are nice and thick and the whole thing totals 288 pages. Since it’s mostly artwork, it’s not a tremendously long read, but it’s hardly brief. I mostly read it while sipping a morning or afternoon coffee (first starting my read, appropriately enough, on a Saturday morning) over the course of a week. It was a wonderful, leisurely, trip back to the 90s and my youth that not only left me wanting more, but also with a desire to go back and revisit the show once again.

One of my favorite inclusions in the book is the visual episode guide with accompanying logs, a tremendous resource to have on-hand.

X-Men: The Art and Making of the Animated Series is a great companion to Previously…on X-Men. It’s a book intended to satiate fans of the show, but would also probably entertain casual fans as well. I had a great time engaging with the art from the property, and while I already had a pretty terrific appreciation of the art that went into the show, I think those who might not have that same level of appreciation will likely leave with a bit more. Eric and Julia Lewald do a great job of recounting their time with the show and the various artists and executives they speak with bring a lot to the table. It’s my assumption that anyone with a love for this old show will be delighted by this book and it’s something I plan to flip through again.


Take My Money, Hasbro, Give Me X-Men Animated Series Legends!

 

x-men animated group shot

Let’s talk some X-Men!

It’s been probably 13 or 14 years since I’ve purchased a Marvel-branded action figure. This is somewhat shocking to me because from the age of 7 to around 25 I spent who knows how much money on Marvel action figures. I was there for the inaugural Toy Biz line of Marvel Superheroes and X-Men action figures and I continued buying Toy Biz figures well past the age of when it was considered “appropriate” by my peers. And even after I stopped actually playing with my toys I still kept them on display in my room. Two pieces of old countertop on milk crates served as my makeshift shelves. Good guys on one side, bad guys on the other. As characters changed allegiance in the comics, so did their placement on my shelf. Aside from that, I didn’t like to mess with them and the dust would grow thicker and thicker and probably contributed to my constant sneezing. I didn’t care though, because I really loved my toys.

When action figures grew up with me I grew extremely excited. There were a few dedicated collector lines, most memorably one based on the Onslaught mini series, but things really changed with Marvel Legends. I was a bit tepid at first with them, mostly due to the absence of X-Men, but eventually I got into it. I started with just a figure here and there, and soon enough I found myself buying entire waves. I also added the occasional Diamond Select figure which at the time prioritized sculpt over articulation making some of the toys little more than glorified statues. I even got into Mini Mates for a period, since they initially focused on the Ultimate X-Men which was a comic I grew attached to pretty quickly.

Eventually, I stopped collecting. Part of that coincided with the dissolving of Toy Biz by Marvel which chose to instead license its properties to Hasbro. Those first few Hasbro waves weren’t very strong, and with the build-a-figure shrinking down to more normal proportions it failed to really motivate me. I think the last wave I bought to completion was whichever one featured The Blob. And even with that, I think I had to buy some figures based on X-Men: The Last Stand which did not sit well with me. That also happened to coincide with me moving out on my own trading the confines of my old bedroom for a small apartment. I didn’t want to have to lug a bunch of toys around with me every time I moved, and once I got settled into my own home that I purchased the itch had passed. I had moved onto other hobbies and comics just didn’t appeal to me like they once did. Sure, there have been a few figures over the years that tempted me, but the rising cost in standard toys makes it pretty easy to just focus on the things that really bring me joy.

That could change though, and if Hasbro wanted me back (and who wouldn’t?) there is one thing the company could do that would guarantee it many of my dollars and it has to do with my favorite show as a child:  X-Men.

xmen three pack

This recent action figure three-pack is what put my brain into this mode. These almost work as animated versions, but they’re different just enough to not be perfect. And I’m not just referring to Wolverine’s bone claws.

Nostalgia currently has me hooked via NECA’s line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys based on the old cartoon series. That show may not be particularly good, but I loved it as a kid and it’s something I can’t let go of. Similarly, I have a huge amount of affection still for X-Men. That show was my life for a few years and unlike TMNT, the show is still watchable today even if it doesn’t hold up as well as Batman or possibly even Gargoyles. And I know I am not alone. There is a lot of love out there for that show and that has been preyed upon via action figures based on the costume designs of the Jim Lee era X-Men from the comics. There was a recently announced three-pack featuring Wolverine, Jean Grey, and Cyclops which is what really got my juices flowing. Those characters bare a strong resemblance to their animated counterparts, but the figures are also clearly aiming to capture the look of the comics and not a cartoon.

What gives me hope that such a line could work is because animated versions of these characters are not far off what is already out there. Take your standard Wolverine action figure, for instance. To make him better resemble the cartoon, Hasbro basically just needs to reduce detail. No stubble on his face, not much hair on the arms, and less muscle definition. DC has done a great job bringing Batman: The Animated Series to plastic form in terms of aesthetics, so why not do the same, Hasbro?

Because I’m such a generous guy, I’m even going to provide a road map for Hasbro. I envision six figures per wave with a build-a-figure bringing the total to seven. Adhering to modern times, the extra buildable figure is not some titanic character, but something closer to a standard sized figure. It would be a good fit for those figures that would need to be 7 or 8 inches as opposed to 5-6, which is what I imagine most figures would fall into. They could be done, and really should be, in scale with Marvel Legends and I would prioritize characters from the first two seasons. If the line’s a success, then sure go for more. If the series happened and worked out as outlined below, then I would definitely buy every figure and really annoy my wife as I hunted for more space to display them.

Series 1

  • Wolverine
  • Cyclops
  • Rogue
  • Morph
  • Mystique
  • Magneto
  • Build-a-Figure:  Sabretooth

This mix would get some fan-favorite good guys out early and also a few villains to pose them against. Wolverine is an obvious must for the first series as he was the most popular character. He should come in his standard uniform and additional hands, some with claws in and some with claws out. A second, unmasked, head would complete the look. Cyclops should also just have his normal look. If a removable flight jacket could be added without harming the sculpt, then all the better, but not necessary. Similar to modern Cyclops figures, he should have a second head with a blast effect and probably an extra set of hands including one with two fingers extended on his right hand to activate his “X” communicator. Morph, on the other hand, should have his flight jacket since he was most often depicted wearing it. He should also have black hair as he did in seasons one and two and an alternate “evil” head. Mystique would need few additional accessories, making her the likely landing spot for a larger piece of the build-a-figure. Magneto would need a helmeted and un-helmeted head to properly capture his long hair. A nice, heavy, fabric cape would also look great, but soft plastic wouldn’t be bad either. Sabretooth, being featured in episode one, makes for a good choice as the first build-a-figure given his size relative to the other characters.

X-Men (FOX) [1992-1997]Shown from left: Wolverine, Morph, Beast

That’s how I want my Wolverine to look, bub.

Series 2

  • Gambit
  • Bishop
  • Storm
  • Cable
  • Pyro
  • Avalanche
  • BAF:  The Blob

Wave Two would be anchored by the next most popular character after Wolverine, Gambit. He’d just need various hands and his bo staff to be authentic. Storm would be the other character from the team, and in the interest of “keeping them wanting,” would be the only other from the main team. Bishop and Cable both played large roles as guest characters and lend themselves well to action figure form. Cable should probably have his season two look which featured a metallic left arm, a more common look than the season one version. Bishop should also feature a removable time bracelet to go along with his really big gun. Pyro and Avalanche would serve as the villains with the BAF being their comrade Blob. A desire to assemble Mystique’s troop would hopefully help drive sales.

x-men_L48

Everyone can relax, Gambit is in series two.

Series 3

  • Beast
  • Jean Grey
  • Archangel
  • Civilian Wolverine
  • Graydon Creed
  • Mr. Sinister
  • BAF:  Apocalypse

Series 3 would be the one that nearly completes the main team. Beast, unlike most figures based on the character, should have a cheerful disposition as opposed to an angry one. Jean Grey would need her cartoon-accurate costume, something Toy Biz never delivered on when the show was popular, which was blue and orange as opposed to blue and yellow. She should also probably come with a Cerebro helmet. This would also be a good time for a second Wolverine figure. Since he was so often featured in plain clothes (yellow flannel with a brown jacket), a figure based on that look makes sense. He should have two pairs of clawless hands, ones that look like normal fists and ones that have the steel ports on his hands as he was incorrectly portrayed in season one. Diehard fans of the show, such as myself, really appreciate little details like that. Creed was a big player in season two, and he warrants a figure as a result. Of course, Sinister was the main big, bad, guy of that season and series three feels like a good spot for him. Lastly, Archangel should be included (with a masked head and unmasked head) to pair with the BAF Apocalypse who would be depicted in his animated purple and blue color scheme.

apocalypse cartoon

I don’t know why they made him purple, but the toy better follow in the same footsteps!

Series 4

  • Jubilee
  • Colossus
  • Omega Red
  • Forge
  • Civilian Cyclops
  • Professor X
  • BAF: Juggernaut

Series 4 would finish the main squad by including Jubilee and Professor X. Xavier would be the tough one to include as he would need his hover chair. Recently, Hasbro did a Professor X that I think retails for more than a standard Legend. The company could save money by retooling it and if it has to retail for more then so be it. Colossus guested a couple of times and is deserving of a figure himself. He should be clad in his blue pants and white tank top to match his appearance in the show. If a second, non-transformed, upper torso could be done then that would be really neat. Omega Red is a villain with a great, 90s, design, and even though he’s a bit bigger than other characters, I don’t think he’s so large that he would need to be a BAF. Cyclops had enough non-costumed appearances to be the second main cast member worthy of a civilian look. And Forge had multiple appearances as well. He should come with an alternate head so he could be depicted as main timeline Forge and future Forge. The Juggernaut is the last character that serves as an obvious choice for a BAF and would be a sought after one helping to make sure fans buy the entire wave. That only challenge with him is I think he would need two heads as well, one masked and one unmasked, because it’s hard to make a good-looking Juggernaut figure that features a removable helmet.

colossus 92

Colossus proved you didn’t need a real costume to be a hero.

Series 5 and 6

  • Phoenix
  • Gladiator
  • Nightcrawler
  • Dazzler
  • White Queen
  • Sebastian Shaw
  • Henry Gyrich
  • Bolivar Trask
  • Dark Phoenix
  • Banshee
  • Fabian Cortez
  • Empress Lilandra
  • BAF:  Sentinel

I’m grouping these two together because I have a radical idea for the BAF. It would be a sentinel and the pieces spread between both waves. The piece loadout would be like Giant Man from the Toy Biz days which did an oversized wave of Marvel Legends as a Wal-Mart exclusive. This would allow Hasbro to do a bigger figure to do the sentinel justice, because we need a sentinel for such a series since they were so important in that first season. The desire to have a cartoon sentinel would help move some of the less exciting, but still essential, characters contained in this wave. Trask and Gyrich, specifically, would be unsexy figures, but they had such a large presence over the first season that it feels wrong to exclude them. Much of these waves would also be devoted to the Phoenix and Dark Phoenix Sagas. Doing both regular Phoenix and Dark Phoenix would also save Hasbro money since they’d basically be the same figure, different head. For Lilandra, I’d also go with the Empress version of the character as that would just make for a more striking visual. Cortez is the only character from a later season, but I see more opportunity for villains and I just happen to like him more than someone like Erik the Red or D’Ken.

sentinel 92

I don’t see how you could have a toy-line dedicated to the X-Men cartoon and not feature a sentinel somehow.

If the line was a success, it wouldn’t have to end there. I completely ignored Sinister’s Nasty Boys and all of the mutates from the Savage Land. They would really help to bolster the ranks of the villains, but it might be hard to convince people they’re more deserving of plastic than some of the others. An entire Savage Land wave could even be done, though I don’t know if that would be a big seller. Another big bad guy I left out is Mojo who would probably work best as a BAF. If he was done, then he would need to be paired with a Longshot.

As for heroes, there are alternate versions of other characters that could pad things out. Civilian versions of Storm, Rogue, Jean and Jubilee (or her in a flight suit) could be added. Beast and Gambit had other looks as well, but nothing really drastic (though Beast with his Howard the Duck shirt is pretty tempting). Archangel also briefly appeared as Angel in season one and returned in season four sporting his white and blue Angel costume. Wolverine had other looks as well, though my personal favorite would probably be the alternate timeline Wolverine from “One Man’s Worth” which also featured a mohawked Storm. Other guest heroes included Iceman, Psylocke, Alpha Flight and X-Factor so there are certainly more characters to mine from, I’m just not sure any really need a dedicated figure based on their look in the cartoon.

Hasbro missed its chance to honor the cartoon with a line of figures to celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary. There’s still time though to recognize the 30th in 2022 and a toy-line near then would be an appropriate way to do so. If 2022 seems too far away right now it could be timed to end that year. The show is also about to gain new exposure via Disney+ where it and other X-Men cartoons will be available day one. And with Disney acquiring 20th Century Fox it stands to reason that the X-Men will soon join Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe bringing even more of a spotlight to the brand. The time is right, Hasbro, make it happen!

 

 


Previously on X-Men: The Making of an Animated Series

previously

by Eric Lewald, published by Jacobs Brown Media Group LLC

A lot of cartoons made an impact on me as a child. My first love was The Real Ghostbusters. Its goofy cast of characters and excitement were plenty of fun and there were interesting toys to supplement the series with, which was pretty much the goal of all cartoons in the 80s. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would come along and supplant Ghostbusters for me. For several years I was all about the Turtles, with a flirtation with Bucky O’Hare mixed in, though sadly the funky fresh rabbit never made it past 13 episodes.

In 1992 things changed, in more ways than one. My family had just been uprooted moving from the cozy confines of New Hampshire to what felt like a different world down in Virginia. For the first time ever, I was a fish out of water. As I was gearing up to start 3rd grade in a new state, a new town, a new school, I would be tasked with forming all new friendships either at school or in my new neighborhood. It’s not a task I’ve ever been particularly good at. Shy and a tad awkward, I wasn’t outgoing, nor was I particularly talented in anything so I had few ways of attracting people. As a result, my television was sort of my best friend for a time and thankfully I had a new friend in Batman who had just debuted on week day afternoons on Fox Kids, a network I really only knew of thanks to The Simpsons. Batman was all fine and good, and I consumed every episode as it aired (and have since gone on to write about, if you hadn’t noticed), but it never hooked me like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, even though that was a program I found myself outgrowing. What did resonate with me almost immediately though was the cartoon that premiered not long after Batman, I’m talking about X-Men.

The X-Men were known to me in basic terms before the animated series premiered on Fox. About a year prior to the show debuting Marvel had launched a toyline complete with TV spots, even though there was no companion television series to pair it with. I suppose the toys could have been developed in conjunction with the Pryde of the X-Men pilot that had premiered and failed in 1989. The roster was pretty similar, though then relative newcomer Archangel replaced Dazzler in that initial run of toys. Aside from that though, I don’t think I had ever picked up an X-Men comic book and I may or may not have played the side-scrolling beat-’em-up arcade game that was also based on Pryde of the X-Men. And I didn’t even actually catch the sneak peek preview, which aired on Halloween of 1992. I had seen all of the television spots leading up to it and was very interested in the show, but I had tricks or treats to get and wasn’t good at working a VCR.

X-men_pryde_of_the_x-men_cover

The first attempt at bringing the X-Men to television did not go very well.

At school, I would hear about it though. They had cool powers, but people hated them. Why? It seemed like such a foreign concept. One character got arrested and another died! Wow! Perhaps morbidly, I really wanted to see that character death, whom I’d come to know as Morph. Frustratingly, it would be awhile before I finally saw it. Somehow, whenever “Night of the Sentinels:  Part 2” was aired on television I would miss it. I wasn’t allowed to stay home alone, since I was only 8, so if my family had plans on Saturday morning I had little say. My mom even enrolled me in CCD, or church school, which convened at 11 on Saturdays, much to my horror. I think I only went to two of those classes before my mom got sick of the revolt each Saturday, finally freeing me to enjoy my new favorite program in relative peace.

In no time I was obsessed, and X-Men was my favorite show for basically as long as it aired. I still have the many toys I amassed during that period in my life, and though I no longer read the comics, I still enjoy revisiting this cartoon. It’s why when I heard that showrunner Eric Lewald was releasing a book all about his experience in making the show and bringing it to television that I had to get a copy. I received a copy last November, and I’m a bit disappointed in myself since it took me this long to finally finish it and get to writing this post, but life is hectic.

Previously on X-Men is an account of how this unlikely hit came to be. When Fox premiered X-Men and Batman it was still a fledgling network. The Tracey Ullman Show and Married… With Children got the network its initial audience, and The Simpsons would then establish it as a viable alternative to the big 3:  ABC, CBS, and NBC. It was still struggling during the other parts of the day with programming often ending before 11 PM. Recognizing that there was a place for children’s programming, Fox brought together a web of studios and producers in a mostly haphazard manner that somehow led to network dominance. Shows like Bobby’s World and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes were filling out the kids portion of the programming early on, and while it sounds like they did okay numbers, they weren’t going to raise the network’s profile much. It would fall to the superheroes to do that.

lewaldscelebrating_orig

Julia and Eric Lewald

Lewald’s book does a great job in capturing those early days while also contrasting X-Men with its daily counterpart Batman. Batman was a show with tremendous financial muscle behind it in the form of Warner Bros. and DC. It was coming off two successful Tim Burton movies and featured a character recognized around the globe. As a result, it was largely an internal production at Warner and Fox got to enjoy the benefits. And then there was X-Men, the troubled property that seemingly no one believed in. Thanks to so many television failures by Marvel in the past, there was almost zero enthusiasm for a show based on the property. Margaret Loesch, who formerly headed-up television at Marvel and was hired away to run Fox Kids, was one of the few who believed in it. Having failed to get the show going while at Marvel, she knew a producer who she had hired and fired on more than one occasion that could handle the task. That man was Sidney Iwanter, and he produced the show along with many others for Fox Kids. Citing a belief that kids were smarter than network executives gave them credit for, he demanded excellence from the writing staff of X-Men, who were overseen by Lewald. These three probably deserve the most credit in getting X-Men to television and for it being the number one kid’s show when it finally did get there.

haim-saban

Haim Saban, who is both a hero and a villain in this story.

The first 200 pages of the 400 page book are devoted to the development process and it’s a fascinating read. Lewald, who had no experience with the X-Men before getting hired to run the show, was entrusted with those initial 13 episodes. He had people at Marvel he could go to with questions, but in a pre-internet world that meant a phone call, fax, or worse. It wasn’t like there was a Google equivalent in 1992. Artist Larry Houston is credited with the look of the series, as he was one of the few onboard who was a fan of the comic. Also the Edens brothers, Michael and Mark, were Lewald’s main contributors in the writing department. Lewald’s wife Julia was also a part in the initial season and contributed to the book as well. It’s very interesting to read as Lewald takes the reader through that initial writing process, and it’s easily the most captivating section of the book. Their approach to character showed in the episodes, so a lot of what is said here was previously assumed. Such as the belief that killing off poor Morph in the second episode would create stakes and pull the viewer in.

fox kids

The early days of Fox Kids.

If there is an MVP character for the book though it just might be Haim Saban. Saban was a newcomer to television when Fox Kids partnered with him to bring the X-Men to air. Saban collected a fee for those first 13 episodes, but then it was on him to pay the writers and editors. Graz handled the art, while AKOM was contracted to do the animation. Saban is a notoriously cheap man, and reading about all of the accounts of his cheapness is both hilarious and frustrating. It’s well known now, but bares repeating to emphasize how cheap he was that Saban docked the pay for all of the returning writers for season 2. His reasoning? The show was a success, so now more people would want to write for it and therefore he could pay them less. The man is now a billionaire, so obviously he’s pretty good at making money, though he’s also a reminder of a lot of what’s wrong with modern capitalism. The second half of the book is comprised of interviews with the cast, writers, producers, and other executives and almost all of them have a comment about how cheap Saban was, and likely still is.

Many battles took place to bring X-Men to Saturday morning. Some I knew about before reading this book, and others I did not. It’s probably common knowledge that the first episode from AKOM was utter garbage in terms of animation quality. It’s a big reason why the show had to premiere as a sneak preview because the studio couldn’t get the episodes ready to premiere in the normal Fall window due to all of the animation fixes that needed to take place. A lot of money was spent getting it right, and it almost blew everything up. The original voice cast also had to re-do the initial episodes because the first takes were so bad. Saban, in order to save money, hired Canadian actors to voice the show because they were famously non-union, so casting, supervising, and ultimately editing the audio for the show was cumbersome. Having to send individuals up to Canada in order to re-dub the initial episodes was obviously time consuming as well.

X-Men (FOX) [1992-1997]Shown from left: Wolverine, Morph, Beast

Oh Morph, I still mourn for thee.

And then there was Stan Lee. Stan Lee is a pretty famous guy. I’m not sure if he’s today more known for all of the comic characters he had a hand in creating or if he’s more famous for being that old guy who cameos in every Marvel film. Stan Lee created the X–Men alongside Jack Kirby in the 60s, but after that initial unsuccessful run, he turned it over to other writers and artists so he could focus on other things. As a result, come 1992 he basically knew nothing about the modern X-Men and yet he insisted he knew what was right for the show. Lewald and Iwanter had to fight with Stan on everything in those developmental days. He insisted on narrating the episodes, as he had done with previous Marvel television shows, and his approach was entirely wrong for the show they were trying to create. Supposedly, he even proposed the premise of the show should be a few members of the team driving around and solving mysteries. Imagine Wolverine in the role of Scooby Doo? Who would Shaggy be – Gambit?! They somehow managed to placate him, without really giving him a voice in the show, and eventually he went away as the show moved along through its first season and became a smash hit. The frustration in having to deal with Lee, and the many other challenges, is felt in reading this and I ached for Lewald even though he’s more than 25 years removed from this aggravation.

spiderman 94

The success of X-Men helped pave the way for more Marvel cartoons like Spider-Man.

That first season was only 13 episodes, a far cry from the 65 episode order Batman received. Fox was so unsure about the property that it wouldn’t commit beyond that, forcing basically everyone involved to move onto other shows. Lewald went on to helm Exosquad with the Edens, and thankfully that too only received a 13 episode order so he was available to return to X-Men when it finally received the full episode order. Others did not, because that’s how television works. If a show isn’t in production, you’re not getting paid. That first season’s decision to present itself in a serialized fashion also presented problems for the network, as production delays on one episode messed up the order of everything. As a result, the network demanded that season 2 be more episodic, but Lewald and his talented team of writers still managed to give it a serialized feel with The Savage Land segments and reoccurring villains like Mr. Sinister and The Friends of Humanity. A wise move, since the serialized nature of that first season is a big reason why it’s so special.

Nightcrawler (1)

“Nightcrawler” is frequently cited as a favorite episode of many of the creators involved with the show. The book also contains a deep dive into its creation.

Like the show itself, which I think produced its best work in those first two seasons, the book somewhat suffers from a strong first half that isn’t matched by the second. The many interviews that span roughly 200 pages are informative, but some more than others. The voice cast mostly repeats itself with remarks about how it was fun to work on something that felt different and how they came to understand their roles. The actual writers and producers offer the more interesting nuggets. There’s a lot of praise thrown around which might get tiresome for readers, though they all have reason to praise each other since it’s easy to forget how successful this show was. Especially when taken alongside the production and development hurdles. Of the interviews, I think I actually enjoyed the executive ones the most. Loesch and Iwanter were candid and did a great job of transporting me back to the early 90s and the hurdles they faced in backing this show. It’s fun to read about how close these people were with these characters that meant so much to me as a child. They cared about them, which is ultimately why the show ended up being as successful as it was.

X-Men-92

Marvel has resurrected the 92 X-Men for its comics line, but the results weren’t enjoyed by this blogger.

It should come as no surprise that, as a longtime fan of the show, I fully recommend Previously on X-Men to other fans of the show. Even if you were only a casual fan, but tuned into the animated scene at the time, you might enjoy reading this one. It’s fun to read the comparisons of how this show came to be with the experiences these people had with other shows. X-Men was a production mess, a wonderful, beautiful, mess. It was still garnering good numbers when it was cancelled, and one has to assume it was due to costs. By then, Saban had Power Rangers and was able to bring more stuff in house. X-Men had all kinds of hands on it so a lot of people had to get paid, and as we already covered, Saban wasn’t a fan of paying people. Even so, it’s hard to argue that the show was cut-down in its prime or anything, but reading this book and revisiting the show really made me realize how much I’d love to come back to this world. Marvel did launch an X-Men ’92 comic, but it did not satisfy me nor did it read like an episode of the beloved cartoon, rather it felt more like a parody. Marvel is now under the gigantic Disney umbrella and its films basically print money. With the Fox acquisition though, suddenly the X-Men are back in play. Marvel hasn’t bothered with animated films in awhile, though it’s sort of bringing that back with Into the Spider-Verse. Maybe a direct to video follow-up for the 92 X-Men could one day be in play. Pretty please? At the very least, how about a Blu Ray collection with episode commentaries, Disney? The people who created this wonderful show obviously wish to talk about it and they still have a lot to say.


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