May 16, 2015

PRYDE OF THE X-MEN

AVENGERS ROLL CALL: Wolverine joined the Avengers in New Avengers #6, 2005 and became part of their mixed Avengers/X-Men Unity Team in Uncanny Avengers #1, 2012. Storm was recruited in Avengers vol. 4 #19, 2012, but quit during the Avengers vs. X-Men event. Dazzler joined an all-female Avengers team called A-Force in A-Force #1, 2015.


PRYDE OF THE X-MEN
(Syndicated, September 16, 1989)

Marvel Productions, New World Television, Toei Animation, Baker and Taylor Entertainment, Metrolight Studios



MAIN CAST:
Michael BellCyclops/Scott Summers, various
Patrick PinneyWolverine/Logan, Juggernaut/Cain Marko, various
Neil RossNightcrawler/Kurt Wagner
Kath SoucieShadowcat/Kitty Pryde
Andi ChapmanStorm/Ororo Munroe, various
Dan GilvezanColossus/Piotr “Peter” Rasputin
Alexandra StoddartDazzler/Alison Blaire, various
John StephensonProfessor X/Charles Xavier
Earl BoenMagneto/Erik Lehnsherr
Frank WelkerToad/Mortimer Toynbee, Lockheed
Pat FraleyPyro/Saint-John Allerdyce
Alan OppenheimerBlob/Fred Dukes, Col. Chaffey
Susan SiloWhite Queen/Emma Frost
Stan Lee - Narrator

For the history of the X-Men, check out the post here.




            The Marvel Action Universe was a programming block that ran from 1988-91 with programs by Marvel Productions, a subsidiary of Marvel Comics, intended to be a five show-long block of weekly programming. Unfortunately, animation delays and picky markets reduced the block to being only 60 or 90 minutes. Amongst the featured programs were Dino-Riders and RoboCop: the Animated Series, as well as reruns of Defenders of the Earth, Dungeons & Dragons, Spider-Man (1981), Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, The New Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk (1981) and Spider-Woman. The most notable thing to emerge from the block was the half-hour X-Men pilot, Pryde of the X-Men.


The X-Men's first animated appearance in 1966.

            The original X-Men (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Beast and Angel) first appeared as part of the limited-animation series The Marvel Super Heroes in 1966, and also briefly appeared in the Iceman origin episode of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. The new X-Men, first seen in 1975’s Giant-Size X-Men #1, made two appearances on Amazing Friends. The second appearance, “The X-Men Adventure,” was intended to be a backdoor pilot for an X-Men spin-off series featuring not only the established X-Men of the episode, but also Amazing Friends original character Videoman and a Ms. Marvel copycat called Lady Lightning. That series was never produced.


Character model sheets for Pryde.

            The second attempt came in 1989. After seeing the success of Hasbro’s toy-based shows, Transformers and G.I. Joe, Marvel Productions wanted to try and experiment with a similar business model as well as distribution of content they owned outright. They took the funding for the 13th episode of RoboCop and redirected it into the making of the X-Men pilot by Toei Animation. Written by Larry Parr with direction from Ray Lee and voice direction by Stu Rosen, the pilot focused on the master of magnetism Magneto (Earl Boen) being freed from capture by his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants: the high-bouncing Toad (Frank Welker), the telepathic White Queen (Susan Silo), the massively large immovable object called the Blob (Alan Oppenheimer), the unstoppable force Juggernaut (whose powers are actually mystical in nature in the comics, played by Patrick Pinney), and the fire-controlling Pyro (Pat Fraley).


Magneto escapes!

Magneto planned to have mutants dominate the world by causing a comet to collide with the Earth. The resulting dust cloud would block out the sun, creating the next Ice Age that only mutants could survive, allowing them to conquer humans effortlessly. To accomplish this, Magneto stole a piece of Professor X’s (John Stephenson) mutant-detecting device Cerebro and kidnapped his newest student, Kitty Pryde (Kath Soucie), in the process. Professor X called on his X-Men to stop them. The program was narrated by X-Men co-creator Stan Lee.


Kitty Pryde and Lockheed making their animation debut.

            As the production crew had worked on the previous Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends series, the X-Men chosen for the team were largely comprised of those who had appeared before: original X-Man Scott Summers, aka Cyclops (Michael Bell), who could fire optic blasts of concussive force from his eyes; Kurt Wagner, aka Nightcrawler (Neil Ross), who has the appearance of a demon and the ability to teleport; Ororo Munroe, aka Storm (Andi Chapman), who could manipulate weather; Logan, aka Wolverine (Pinney), who possessed animal-keen senses, rapid healing powers, and an adamantium skeleton and claws; and Piotr Rasputin, aka Colossus (Dan Gilvezan), who could transform his skin into organic steel. Kitty Pryde, better known as Shadowcat, possessed the ability to phase her body through almost any solid surface. She served as the gateway to the audience to allow the producers to introduce and explain the characters and situations without needing to tell an origin story if at all avoidable. Also present was her pet dragon Lockheed.



The X-Men: Dazzler, Wolverine, Colossus, Cyclops, Storm and Nightcrawler.


Along with Kitty, marking her animated debut was Alison Blaire, aka Dazzler (Alexandra Stoddart): the singer-turned-hero who could turn sound waves into various forms of light energy. New World Entertainment, then parent company of Marvel, wanted to explore the potential for a Dazzler movie or recording contract. Her creation in the late 70s was devised between Casablanca Records, Marvel and Filmworks, but the plans for her eventually fizzled out. Eventually, the character was saved and placed in her own monthly comic and graphic novel. Similarly, New World was looking into the possibility of a Wolverine movie. Wolverine, as he was in Amazing Friends, was given an Australian accent because of the growing popularity of all things Australian at the time, thanks initially to the Mad Max movies starring Mel Gibson and Crocodile Dundee starring Paul Hogan. According to voice director Rick Hoberg, there were also plans to make Wolverine an expatriated Australian in the comics rather than Canadian. Those plans never saw fruition and the entire notion was dropped by the time Wolverine made his next televised appearance.


Some mutant shenanigans.
 
The pilot sought to ambitiously cover a lot of ground in its meager 22-minute runtime with its heavily involved plot and dense cast. Originally it was intended for the mutant-hunting Sentinels to be the villains, but with a desire to base a toy line around the show Marvel wanted as many characters as possible represented. It was praised for its high quality animation, but the low regard of comics at the time in other media ultimately proved its undoing in finding a network to pick it up and run it as a series. Network executives felt that not only could comics not translate well to animation, but they would not attract the 6-to-11-year-old demographic they coveted for their Saturday morning programming. 

VHS box art.

            Although the series was never picked up, Pryde found life in occasional syndicated reruns and a video release prefaced with commercials about upcoming Spider-Man video games (which used footage from 1981’s Spider-Man and Pryde) and a live-action message of Spider-Man encouraging people to register to vote. In 1989, Paragon Software released a video game called X-Men: Madness in Murderworld for Amiga, DOS and Commodore 64. The game came with a limited edition comic and featured the same character line-up as the pilot (although Wolverine was given his classic blue and yellow costume in the actual gameplay rather than his brown one). LJN also released The Uncanny X-Men video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System, swapping out Dazzler with Iceman and featuring Storm in her 1980s look. In 1990, Marvel Comics produced an adaptation of the pilot in their over-sized graphic novel format utilizing screen captures instead of original art.





Konami’s 1992 arcade game X-Men was a loose adaptation of the pilot. The game added the boss characters of the mythical forest creature Wendigo, the futuristic Sentinel Nimrod, and the shape-shifting Mystique to Magneto’s Brotherhood, and also gave Magneto an army of present-day Sentinels under his control as the primary minions players fought through. Also of note was that the designers chose to give Storm a cane that she never had in either the comics or the pilot. The unique aspect of the game was that three different cabinets were produced, allowing 2, 4 or 6 players to play at one time. The game was later made a digital download for Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade by Backbone Entertainment with Kyle Hebert and Mela Lee re-recording all the male and female roles respectively using the original script. The following year, it was made available for portable devices until the licenses were cancelled in 2014.


 
X-Men arcade game opening titles image.

            After the pilot was produced, Marvel entered into financial issues when parent company New World sold Marvel Entertainment Group to the Andrews Group in 1989, retaining Marvel Productions until Andrews bought up the rest of New World the following year. Every production being made by the company except Muppet Babies was scrapped, ending the Marvel animated universe that began in 1978. The company would be renamed New World Animation in 1993 and produced three new Marvel projects—Fantastic Four, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk—before being sold to News Corporation/FOX in 1996. Margaret Loesch, President and Chief Executive Officer of Marvel Productions, left the company in 1990 to become the head of FOX Kids. Loesch, who had tremendous faith in the project, used her new home and position to finally bring the X-Men to the air in X-Men: The Animated Series.

 

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