Tag Archives: saban

Bandai Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Megazord

It was now a couple of weeks ago I posted about some toys I always wanted as a kid, but never got. Shortly after, I rectified some of those decades old injustices by purchasing the Dragonzord with Green Ranger from Bandai’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers line of action figures from 1993. The Dragonzord was my number 2 miss, but number 1 had always been the Deluxe Megazord from that same line. Well, predictably, I have now made peace with the two biggest toy omissions from my youth by securing my own set of Dinozords!

The Megazord was always appealing to me because it was essentially five separate toys that could combine into two additional toys. That’s basically seven toys in one box, and the fact that it was pretty screen accurate made it appeal to me even more. I was just a casual fan of the television show, but those toys were just too awesome to ignore. The demand for the toys was something I couldn’t overcome though, so I learned to go without. As an adult though, I don’t have to.

“We need Dinozord power now!”

I purchased a Megazord secondhand. Unlike the Dragonzord set I acquired, this one did not come with a box, but it did come with all of the parts. In my search for an authentic early 90s Megazord I found it was common to find some missing the sword, shield, and especially the canons that double as feet for the pterodactyl zord. Some also would feature a broken gun on the triceratops zord or missing horns. I assume most of these that were acquired in 1993 were played with and not kept on a shelf so it’s not a surprise that it’s hard to find a fully intact Megazord. It’s also why these things end up being quite expensive. I don’t feel as good about the price I paid for this set as I did the Dragonzord, but it is what it is. I’m actually relieved the seller no longer had the box or else I probably would have had to spend more!

Like the Dragonzord, I had some options when it came to buying a Megazord in 2020. Bandai released two different versions of the Megazord in 2010 as part of the Legacy line of figures. That one, from what I can tell based on video reviews, is very similar to this one. The functionality is virtually identical as both basically transform as it did on television. The standard 2010 version has a pretty ugly sword, but there was an updated version with some diecast parts and a much nicer looking sword. Overall, the 2010 Megazord appears to be a touch smaller, but the thing that bugged me about it is the triceratops zord lost the gun articulation on its tail. It’s a really minor thing, but it irritated me because it’s a clear downgrade. The 2010 version should have been superior in every way to a toy released in 1993! Also like the Dragonzord, there’s a Soul of Chogokin version from Tamashii Nations. It’s fantastic looking and easily the superior Megazord, but it’s also upwards of $300 at this point. There was also a model kit, Mini-Pla, version that’s almost adorably small and still retains the five zords into one (unlike the Build-A-Figure version from the Legacy Collection line that’s just an action figure) that I would have loved to consider, but it’s long since sold out and now fetches around 200 bucks on the secondary market. Ultimately, it was the 93 Megazord that vexed me as a kid so it was the 93 Megazord that I should acquire.

On their own, they’re merely okay, but put them together…

In case you’re not familiar with the Megazord concept, please allow me to present this refresher. The Megazord is the combination of the five Dinozords. Each of the five original Power Rangers was aligned with a prehistoric beast and each Ranger controlled what is essentially a giant robotic representation for each beast. They are: Tyranosaurus, Pterodactyl, Triceratops, Sabre-toothed Tiger (sic), and Mastodon. In nearly every episode, the monster of the day the Power Rangers are fighting grows to roughly the size of a skyscraper, so the Rangers attack via their zords. They can attack separately, though rarely do. Instead, they combine their beasts into one massive robot: the Megazord.

The Megazord actually has two forms: tank mode and battle mode. Tank mode is the less elegant version as it’s basically just the Megazord, but sitting down without a head. The T-Rex serves as the body, and the sabre-toothed tiger and triceratops form the right and left legs respecitively. The mastodon zord loses its head and wraps around the T-Rex to form the arms of the Megazord while the pterodactyl zord just sort of rides on the thing. The feet of the pterodactyl become the canons which attach to the mastodon arms, while the mastodon head sits on the T-Rex chest and the whole thing rolls similar to a tank.

There’s the face you know and love!

When the Power Rangers want to switch to the more memorable battle mode, the tank basically just stands up. The mastodon head is removed and the pterodactyl becomes a chest plate. The T-Rex head folds down and into its chest revealing the Megazord’s head and hands pop out of the arms. The canons from before are affixed to the Megazord’s back and look like boosters or something. The Megazord can attack with its fists, or rely on the power sword. The mastodon head can also be utilized as a shield, though it rarely was used in the show in this fashion.

Both transformations are essentially identical in how they occur with the toy as they do on television. This is probably due to the designer of the Megazord having to account for future toys down the road. At least, that’s what I assume. The show really only takes liberties in that once the models combine on the show, they’re swapped out with a costumed actor and the proportions change slightly. The most notable being the head of the costumed performer is much larger than what ends up on the toy. The only other aspect of the toy that isn’t entirely screen accurate is the T-Rex tail, which kind of just disappears on TV but is folded up the back of the toy. And the actor is able to move in a far more graceful manner than the toy. The Megazord is basically only articulated at the shoulders and hips and they’re just hinge joints. The lack of ball-jointed shoulders and basic elbow articulation really limit the available poses for the toy as it basically can only assume one position on your shelf.

This version of the Megazord is composed almost exclusively of colored plastic. This means there’s less opportunity for paint-slop and chipping over the years. The graphics and highlights are all done with stickers so when buying secondhand you’re at the mercy of whomever originally put these stickers on. Like the Dragonzord, the stickers aren’t 100% screen accurate, but it’s really only noticeable when doing a direct comparison. It doesn’t look like the original toy asked too much of parents and kids when it came to applying them and my unit looks as good as one could expect of a toy from 1993. It was clearly loved and enjoyed by a kid long ago and it shows. The sword is quite attractive as it has a shiny paint-app and is probably the portion of the figure that would be most likely to show ware. Same for the similar chrome portions of the other zords, namely the mastodon tusks and triceratops horns.

Whether you have instructions or not, transforming the Megazord is rather easy since you can basically just watch the show. The individual zords offer limited play. The mastodon and triceratops basically just sit there, though the triceratops has wheels. The pterodactyl also doesn’t do much, but since it’s a flier it doesn’t have to. The little canons can clip to it like feet, but they look stupid and I don’t recall seeing them in the show. The saber-toothed tiger has solid articulation though and it can emulate a running motion while also featuring moveable fangs. It’s a shame Bandai didn’t go the extra step of putting a hinged jaw on this one. The tyranosaurus has about as much function as you would expect, though it’s a little disappointing that it’s mouth has a big, red, wad, of plastic for the throat that makes it look odd. The connections are easy to utilize and pull apart just as easily, but they also won’t just fall off. The only complicated part is the mastodon which basically splits down the middle and clips around the T-Rex. Both of the leg zords are super simple, especially the triceratops which just has to fold its tail in and bend its neck, and even kids should be able to handle it.

In hand, the Megazord has some nice weight to it. It stands about ten and a half inches tall and is noticably larger than the Dragonzord, which is about nine and a quarter inches to the top of the head. Since it’s all plastic, it does get a bit creaky. The joints on mine are still fairly tight and I have no issues getting the Megazord to hold its arms out forward, basically it’s lone pose. On the individual zords, the tails of the triceratops and saber-tooth tiger are loose and getting them to stand in a blasting pose is a balancing act. The T-Rex tail is also a bit loose and doesn’t stay locked in place for very long. That’s also partly due to the toy needing to be bent forward at a pretty extreme angle so the legs don’t interfere with the tail. The little flaps that are the pterodactyl’s wings are also fairly loose, but they also don’t have to do much. All of the connections though are really satisfying and it’s a lot of fun to plug and play. It makes a nice clicking sound when things are put together and it’s really impressive what Bandai achieved since it seems like there’s little chance of forcing something into place at the risk of breaking it.

Of course, the fun doesn’t end here. If you have the Dragonzord, you can take advantage of that as well. The Dragonzord has a battle mode in which it basically assumed the role of the T-Rex zord in the Megazord construction. The mastodon becomes the arms as the chest piece is removed and the Dragonzord arms fold in to make a new chest piece. A face can then fall down from the Dragonzord head while the legs of the Megazord serve the same purpose here. The T-Rex and pterodactyl are free to do whatever they wish, and in the show the T-Rex would often fight alongside the Dragonzord in this battle mode, though in toy form the scale is way off. The Dragonzord’s tail also combines with the former chest piece and the included shaft to make the Power Lance, or Power Lazer Drill (as the box refers to it as). It’s pretty neat to behold, and like the Megazord the transformation process is really satisfying. The only thing I don’t like about it is the drop-down face on the Dragonzord has nothing behind it so it kind of just swings there. And while the lance is pretty cool looking, it’s functionally useless since it’s so huge. It has a handle that basically just rests in the hand of the zord, but the zord itself can’t actually wield the thing. Modern iterations make this aspect work better by fudging with the scale just like the show does by including an extra lance for play purposes.

If you wish to leave your Megazord intact though, you can still combine it with the Dragonzord to from the Mega-Dragonzord. This one is a bit less interesting as it’s basically the Dragonzord with the chest and tail removed and draped over the top of the Megazord. The tail can clip onto one of the sides, as can the discarded chest piece of the Dragonzord, though it basically just looks cool. This version of the character was deployed more like a tank in the show as it would just shoot a giant laser at the enemy as opposed to battling with fists and sword or whatever. It’s also this version that can combine with the unfortunately named carrier zord, Titanus, to form the Ultrazord. It’s another tank-like mode and the only change is the chest of Titanus is clipped onto the chest of the Mega-Dragonzord as it’s placed inside the carrier zord. I never really cared for the Ultrazord as a kid, so I have little compulsion to go after a Titanus so you probably shouldn’t expect a review of that one to come.

I don’t see myself getting a Titanus to form the Ultrazord.

There’s no doubt in my mind that had I been able to collect this line as a kid I would have loved the hell out of it. These are some of the best toys of the early 90s and it’s no surprise they ended up being incredibly popular. I could see myself transforming and de-transforming these things constantly and swapping in all manner of other action figures I had laying around as bad guys, maybe even big stuffed animals. I was also the type of kid that could busy himself for long stretches of time just playing with my action figures so imagination was never an issue. Not that these toys even require much since they’re so similar to what was presented in the show.

Acquiring both the Megazord and the Dragonzord has certainly scratched an itch for me. I don’t think it’s going to lead to much more from me where Power Rangers are concerned, but who knows? My kids have really taken to it, and I read Hasbro is looking to release a Megazord later this year so I may need to keep an eye out for that if my kids remain interested. In looking at the other iterations that have come, I’m certainly tempted to by the Soul of Chogokin version, but I likely won’t be able to justify the expense and take on another line of collecting. That’s fine though, because I have what I always wanted. It may have taken nearly three decades, but I finally have a Megazord!


Dec. 8 – Mighty Morphin Power Rangers – “I’m Dreaming of a White Ranger”

 

dreaming of white ranger

Original air date November 25, 1995.

Late in the summer of 1993 the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (MMPR) were unleashed upon the world. The build-up had been going on all summer with the Fox Kids Network running promos and print ads steadily to build-up momentum, and like a good little consumer, I was there for the premiere. The show became an immediate hit and soon supplanted X-Men as Fox’s highest rated children’s program. In my network, it first started airing weekday mornings which was a trying time to watch television as getting ready for school took precedent over everything. It eventually was moved to afternoons in the coveted after school timeslot and would also be shown Saturday mornings as well.

At this point, the story of the Power Rangers is probably well-known, but lets recap, shall we? Haim Saban is known for being notoriously cheap when it comes to television production, but he’s also been incredibly successful when it comes to children’s programming. Power Rangers is like the perfect Saban show because he owned the property and was able to create episodes on the cheap by splicing in footage from the Toei produced Super Sentai series, as well as other Japanese productions. Basically, there was footage of characters battling monsters in brightly colored costumes which was largely the domain of the Super Sentai program. And then you had the teens portrayed by American actors who were canonically the heroes under the masks. Except they weren’t. Their stuff was newly shot in the US and done on the cheap. It was so bad that three of the original cast members were let go when they stood up for higher wages with the original Red Ranger, Austin St. John, winding up homeless for a time shortly after leaving the show.

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Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was inescapable in 1993.

As the show became hugely successful, the budget expanded, though still few extra dollars went to the non-union, agent-less, young actors playing the main characters. Instead, they were able to reshoot some of the stuff produced in Japan so that characters like the villainous Rita Repulsa could appear alongside the American actors and even have her mouth movements better sync with the English dub of her voice. The main series ran for three seasons and included a brand new feature film as well before the show spun-off into new iterations like Power Rangers Zeo and Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue, among others. It’s still ongoing with over 800 episodes produced thus far.

When the show arrived, it largely caught my attention due to the intense marketing. Leading up to it, I had formed expectations for the show which it did not meet. I remember thinking the main characters, who received their powers via dinosaurs, would be part dino when in their ranger form. I had visions of a Power Ranger losing his or her helmet at some point to reveal some hybrid dino-human visage beneath it, so I was a little disappointed to see the show was just a campy martial arts thing. I still found it captivating, especially the Green Ranger arc. More than the actual show though were the toys. Produced by Bandai, the Power Rangers action figures were huge at about 9″ tall. They were the first toys I ever saw with finger articulation, and the assortment of monstrous bad guys were pretty fun too. Best of all, was the Megazord which consisted of five prehistoric robotic beasts that combined into one robot, similar to Voltron.

Liking the Power Rangers quickly became taboo in my age group. It’s rather funny to look back on because the show was hugely successful and likely everyone at school claiming the show was for losers were all going home and watching it. As a result, I rarely discussed the property with friends in a sincere fashion and did so only to make fun of it. And for kids that didn’t watch it, my friends all had strangely specific critiques and jokes to make at the show’s expense.

The toys were so popular they were nearly impossible to find. I know I requested a bunch for Christmas of 1993, but ended up with nothing. Not that I’m complaining, as that was the year I got a Sega Genesis and Mortal Kombat, but I never did get much for Power Rangers stuff. I remember being immensely excited when I found one, lone, villain at Toys R Us. It was some kind of mouse-rhinoceros hybrid. It was pretty lame, but being the only toy I saw in person I had to have it. Eventually, I would have luck finding the morphing action figures (which have been re-released recently) which were neat, but not as cool as the large-scale figures. I never did get that Megazord, or the Dragonzord, which is what I really wanted. I carried around a clipping of an advertisement for it from some catalog for months, but it was to no avail.

As for the show itself, I actually was somewhat honest when I told my friends I wasn’t into it. I didn’t watch it regularly, but certain arcs would pull me back in like when the show introduced the White Ranger. I think I rented the movie, which was probably my last real experience with the show. It was usually on a little early on Saturday, and I liked my sleep.

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Tommy calls upon the power of Christmas to make this little girl happy.

“I’m Dreaming of a White Ranger” arrived as part of the show’s third season when I wasn’t a regular viewer. I’m pretty sure I never saw it before watching it for this post, but I was looking forward to doing so very much. MMPR is super campy and corny with fun martial arts sequences and some pretty kick-ass costumes. I was willing to embrace the corn and was looking forward to just going with it, but unfortunately the Christmas episode is apparently not the best way to jump back into the show. I suppose I should have seen it coming since Christmas tends to bring out the side of a children’s show that is extremely cheesy. Sentimental, sweet, with usually some sort of lesson to impart – that’s a Christmas episode in a nutshell.

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A hopeful misery has taken over the group at the start.

The episode opens at the youth center or whatever the main hangout is referred to as. Kimberly (Amy Jo Johnson) and Aisha (Karan Ashley) are leading a bunch of children in singing Christmas carols. Aisha is the choir coach while Kimberly plays guitar. It’s a nice way to kill some time for a Christmas episode. When the song ends, we get all of our plot setup in rapid succession, while also making time for some Hanukkah music too. Kimberly is sad she isn’t spending Christmas with her mom while a little girl named Becky (uncredited role) is blue because she misses her dad. Tommy (Jason David Frank) tries to raise her spirits and everyone wears looks of concern. Our other Power Rangers, just to get it out of the way, are Billy (David Yost), Rocky (Steve Cardenas), and Adam (Johnny Yong Bosch). Of which, only Billy is really called on to deliver much in the way of lines. Poor Rocky hardly gets to say or do anything.

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These are definitely the kind of cops that will help you finish a six-pack rather than confiscate it.

Bulk (Paul Schrier) and Skull (Jason Narvy) enter the scene and they’re now police officers. I vaguely recall this being a development on the show as the two first started off as a dimwitted duo of bullies. They’re still pretty slow and everyone should probably be terrified they’re able to meet the standards of Angel Grove’s police force. They’re here to supervise and apparently play Santa and helper later.

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Zedd be scheming because villains never take off at Christmas.

Elsewhere, the evil Lord Zedd (Ed Neil, Robert Axelrod as the voice) has decided he hates Christmas (I assume this isn’t a new development for him). He and his minions have a crazy new plan to ruin Christmas for everyone that involves sending the evil Rito Revolto (Danny Wayne, Bob Pappenbrook voice), who looks like he was ripped from a Megadeth album cover, to Santa’s work shop and take it over. Meanwhile, the rangers are all farting around and being mopey about their situations. Tommy helps Kimberly hang some mistletoe, and Skull takes the opportunity to smooch her. That’s some pretty shitty behavior for a cop.

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Santa has been laying off the cookies this year.

Revolto does as he’s commanded and storms the North Pole. There, a rather skinny Santa (Robert von Fliss) is the overlord to a bunch of little people, only one of which gets any lines (Romy J. Sharf, though dubbed by Wendee Lee). They meet virtually no resistance from Santa and his followers, aside from the customary pointing out of their presence on the naughty list. Zedd apparently intends to have the gifts switched and this will somehow lead him to gain control of the world’s children. He doesn’t go into great detail and he really doesn’t need to.

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It’s nice to see Alpha decorated the place for Christmas.

Tommy gets a notification from Zordon (David J. Fielding, Robert Manahan voice) that something is up, and everyone gets to look serious and dramatic. They head to Zordon’s base where Alpha 5 (Donene Kistler, voiced by Richard Steven Horvitz) is busy getting all flustered and the floating head of Zordon gives the rangers an update on what Zedd has done at the north pole. He also introduces an interesting wrinkle. Santa’s workshop possesses some kind of magic around it that will negate their ability to use their morphing powers. If you think something like that is going to stop the Power Rangers though, you’re sorely mistaken.

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A real convincing looking north pole.

The plain-clothed rangers head to the north pole and scope out the situation. Amongst a set that looks like something you would find at a mall, they spy from the door way Revolto and his forces. They reason that since their powers won’t work here that Revolto’s probably won’t as well. Even assuming that, they still reason storming the work shop could put Santa and the elves in danger so it’s agreed that stealth is probably the way to go.

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All right, so stealth isn’t their strong suit.

Kimberly and Aisha are then shown to have snuck into the work shop and are hiding behind some presents. They get the attention of the head elf and pull her aside to let her know help is here and to get the lowdown on the operation. They then just throw themselves out there and get Revolto to chase them outside. There they join up with the rest of the Power Rangers and gang up on Revolto, who is disappointed to find his powers aren’t working. Zedd sends Goldar (Kerrigan Mahan) to assist, but he just walks into an ambush. No powers, no problem, as the Rangers demonstrate they are true ninjas and a master of their environment, so naturally they turn to snowballs. Goldar and Revolto are forced to retreat, but the elves have some Home Alone-inspired traps awaiting them as they trip on some trimmings. The weird bird monsters Revolto brought with him are felled by marbles and the elves seem quite proud of themselves to have contributed in some way.

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Take that, evil-doers!

The bad guys get warped back to Zedd and Rita (Carla Perez, Barbara Goodson voice) by Alpha 5 in a pretty bundle for him to get upset over. At the youth center, Bulk and Skull have taken on new personas as Santa and his reindeer helper. Bulk, who’s fake beard is full of candy canes, is thoroughly miserable while Skull doesn’t seem to mind the gig too much. He hauls the next kid to Bulk over his shoulder and it gives me a real A Christmas Story vibe given how rough the two are with these kids. The kid unfurls a comically long list for “Santa,” and it’s a bit funny because all of the stuff he’s reading aloud to Bulk is clearly not written on the list. Zedd and the gang also partially get into the spirit when a gift shows up from Santa. It’s filled with old junk he had either withheld from them years ago, or stuff he took from them? I don’t know, but Revolto gets into the spirit by giving Goldar a present. They seem to be enjoying themselves, but Zedd and Rita react as if they’re about to get violently ill.

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A neat little package to wrap things up.

At the north pole, Santa needs some help to avoid a full-blown Christmas catastrophe. The rangers are happy to pitch in wrapping toys and everything seems to have come together in time. Santa then gives the rangers a big old sack of toys to bring to the youth center. They warp in, which is pretty bold of them if they’re trying to conceal their identities. The kids descend upon the sack of toys like a pack of wild animals. Becky is cheered up to see Kimberly has returned and didn’t abandon her. We then get to wrap up those plots from earlier in predictable fashion. Becky, who just wanted her dad for Christmas, gets her wish as her dad shows up. And as a result, she wants nothing else from Santa so she gets to thank him (Bulk, that is) instead allowing Bulk to finally understand the meaning of Christmas. Kimberly’s family shows up too, because Christmas, and she and Tommy finally get to share a kiss under the mistletoe. The choir is reconvened for some more singing, and the whole gang delivers a hearty “Merry Christmas!” to end the episode. And then during the credits, a bonus scene between Revolto and the elves is shown where it’s questioned if he has the capacity for goodness inside of him, and it’s determined he does not.

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How cute.

“I’m Dreaming of a White Ranger” is a pretty by the numbers Christmas special for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Despite the pun in the title, there is no White Ranger, or any actual ranger, in this one at all. This episode was possibly entirely shot for the show and perhaps that’s why the morphing powers were explained away since they didn’t have a good chunk of battle footage to drop in that would make sense given the different settings included here. Which is disappointing for someone like me who wanted to just jump-in for a nostalgic blast of MMPR, but all I got was the corny stuff and none of the action.

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These kids are monsters.

It’s not a total loss though. I found the character of Rito Revolto to be pretty entertaining. He also looks cool as his costume is pretty interesting, though I don’t know why half of him is camouflaged. The stuff with Zedd and the villains was also amusing in a silly sort of way. They’re classic inept villains that revel in doing evil which rarely fails to amuse me on a surface level. Everything involving the actual Power Rangers is pretty dull though. It’s clear to me that they’re the worst part of this show. Bulk and Skull are fine and I didn’t mind my time spent with them, but the kids add nothing.

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This thing wraps up with the only way it can.

In spite of that less than glowing review, should you still wish to partake in this one you have quite a few options. By far the most accessible is via Netflix which has the entire MMPR era of the show available to stream. The quality isn’t very good, but this is a show that’s never been known for having much money spent on it. The series is also available via physical media DVD and a cursory look online suggests getting Season 3 used won’t set you back much. If you want it new, then you’ll have to pay a bit. You can also buy the individual episode on Amazon for 2 bucks. If you just want to indulge a bit in the show though, I wouldn’t recommend this particular episode. There are also free means out there as well that aren’t hard to find, and serve as a nice way to take some screen captures since Netflix makes that hard. If you’re a big Power Rangers fan, you’ll probably watch this during the holiday season, and if you’re not then you probably won’t and you won’t be missing out on much if that’s the case.


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. It’s 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.

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The first attempt at brining 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 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.

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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 reap in 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 formally 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.

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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.

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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 know 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 them right to premiere in the normal Fall window. 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.

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 development 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, even proposed the premise of the show should be a few members of the team driving around and solving mysteries. 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.

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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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