While the acclaimed X-Men: the Animated Series was still running, Marvel Comics’ merry mutants made their first leap into live action in the failed 1996 TV-pilot movie Generation X, starring the next generation of mutants from the comic series of the same name. Two years later, Marvel made the first push towards the respect comics films currently enjoy with the release of the first Blade movie from New Line Cinema. Blade, unlike previous attempts, was a serious and grounded film about the little-known vampire hunter (by general audiences, that is) who got his first exposure to non-comic audiences courtesy of Spider-Man: the Animated Series. It showed Hollywood that comic-based films need not be cheesy neon-colored fare, as Batman & Robin had regressed the genre into.
With that in mind, and the success of the recently-concluded X-Men on TV, 20th Century Fox began production of the first X-Men movie. Executive producer Avi Arad, who was also working on the film as head of Marvel Films, shopped around the idea of bringing X-Men back to television in the meantime. Kids’ WB snapped up the rights and production was underway, handled by Film Roman Studios as Marvel no longer had an animation division following the end of Spider-Man. However, since Kids’ WB was geared towards a particular age demographic, the show had to undergo some drastic changes from previous incarnations of the X-Men.
For one thing, a lot of the drama and violence needed to be extremely toned down; especially with then-current Federal Communications Commission rules that were particularly strict for Saturday morning programming. This forced the crew to come up with various ways to circumvent those restrictions while telling compelling stories and keeping up the standards they set up on previous projects. In order to better connect with their intended audience, many of the familiar X-Men characters were reduced in age from adults to teenagers, and much of the focus was placed on the students (and mostly in life out of costume) rather than the remaining adults. Although, despite the fact that the characters were teens, when it came time to portray romances on the series the network made sure to quash any overt depictions in order not to scare away their younger male audience (because, y’know, girls are icky at that age). In order to get any romance into the show, producers would slip in little things like an arm around the shoulders while the show was being animated overseas, as the network only oversaw all aspects of production from script to storyboard.
|Xavier's School: Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine, Professor X, Shadowcat, Spyke, Nightcrawler, Rogue and Storm.|
While the crew of the series was not allowed to see much of anything in relation to the movie, Arad kept pushing for elements of it to be included in the series. As a result, the Xavier Institute began with the same core cast as the film. Powerful telepath Professor Xavier (David Kaye) and his fellow teachers, the weather-controlling Storm (Kirsten Williamson) and quick-healing Wolverine (Scott McNeil), oversaw the daily training in the use of the powers of teenagers Cyclops (Kirby Morrow), who fired optic blasts from his eyes, and Jean Grey (Venus Terzo), a telepath and telekinetic. Besides the ages of two of the founding X-Men (depicted as teens for the first time since the original run of the comics in the 1960s), the biggest change was the fact that their primary education happened not at Xavier’s, but in a nearby public high school in the town of Bayville, New York (changed from Salem Center in the comics) in order to truly demonstrate Xavier’s dream of co-existence. However, their human classmates had no idea they were mutants, or that mutants even existed—at least, not at first. That was a secret Xavier struggled to keep until the timing was right to announce their presence to the world.
Bayville High wasn’t without its own share of secrets. The principal, Raven Darkholme, was actually the shape-shifting Mystique (Colleen Wheeler), an associate of their arch-villain Magneto (Christopher Judge), the master of magnetism. She kept an eye out for potential new mutants to recruit to her own team, the Brotherhood, while watching the young X-Men. Her Brotherhood consisted of their seismically-powered leader Avalanche (given the name Lance Alvers instead of Dominikos Petrakis, voiced by Christopher Grey), who started out as a thug with an intense rivalry with Cyclops; Toad (renamed Todd Tolansky from Mortimer Toynbee, voiced by Noel Fisher), a slacker with the ability to leap great heights and poor physical hygiene; Blob (Michael Dobson), a bully whose increased body mass made him super strong and resistant to injuries; and Quicksilver (Richard Ian Cox), the self-serving, arrogant speedster who was the son of Magneto. The Brotherhood was little more than a plot device in the first season, a reason for the X-Men to suit up and fight, and Magneto himself was barely seen; played as more of an ominous presence with a hand in events as they unfolded.
Over the course of the first season, new mutants were introduced and a competition emerged between the X-Men and Brotherhood to recruit them. Amongst them were the teleporting Nightcrawler (Brad Swaile, retaining the character’s German accent), who enjoyed goofing around and used an image inducer to hide his blue-fur and tail to appear normal; and Shadowcat (Maggie Blue O’Hara, who had a Valley girl accent during the first season), a sheltered young girl who could phase her body through solid objects. Rogue (Meghan Black), who could absorb a person’s memories and abilities with skin-to-skin contact, received the most drastic reimagining. She was portrayed as a reclusive and paranoid Goth girl who had an understandable angst about her powers keeping her from any kind of physical contact. She was initially tricked by Mystique, later revealed to have been her adoptive mother, into joining the Brotherhood until Rogue learned the truth and joined the X-Men. She also had a crush on Cyclops and showed an open resentment towards Jean and their affections for each other (replacing the traditional Wolverine-Jean-Cyclops love triangle due to the new age difference).
Created specifically for the show was Evan Daniels, aka Spyke (Neil Denis). Storm’s nephew, he had the ability to produce bone-like spikes from his skin. He was introduced with a quickly-dropped rivalry with Quicksilver after the speedster framed Spyke for a robbery. Of Spyke’s creation, supervising producer Boyd Kirkland had stated that they needed more diversity in their cast, and none of the pre-existing mutants fit the bill. He was originally going to be called “Armadillo” and featured a cornrow hairstyle, but they ultimately went with the different name and took inspiration from skateboarding magazines to give him a hip contemporary style. When the underground mutant outcasts known as the Morlocks debuted in the third season, Spyke eventually left the X-Men to join them and become a vigilante. The Morlocks themselves, while featuring familiar faces, also had several new mutants created for the series.
In the second season, the producers wanted to show that some time had passed while the network liked how populated Xavier’s school appeared in the film. As a result, a horde of new recruits--dubbed “New Mutants” by fans after the original comic spin-off featuring a second class of rookie X-Men--were introduced. They were a mixture of characters that had previously appeared in animation before, along with some new blood. Amongst the veterans were the genius scientist Beast (Michael Kopsa), who was a teacher at Bayville and later at Xavier’s following his acquiring his more bestial appearance; the ice-manipulating Iceman (Andrew Francis); the rocket-powered Cannonball (Bill Switzer); the plasma-blasting Jubilee (Chiara Zanni); Multiple (Multiple Man in the comics, voiced by David A. Kaye) who could generate duplicates by absorbing kinetic energy; and the wolf-girl Wolfsbane (Chantal Strand). New characters included the volcanically-powered Magma (Alexandra Carter), who was changed from her blonde hair, blue eyed comics version to truly Brazilian with brown hair and eyes, and Berzerker (renamed Ray Crisp from Ray Carter, voiced by Tony Sampson), one of the Morlocks from the comics who could harness electricity. These new recruits were generally background characters, with very few of them playing any significant role in an episode and relegated to just scenery or background gags. Another new recruit was Risty Wilde (Nicole Oliver), a purple-haired girl from Britain that many believed to be the Evolution version of Psylocke. It was actually an identity assumed by Mystique in order to stay close to Rogue and steal information on the X-Men. Mystique dropped the persona after a single appearance in the third season. The new recruits all wore black suits with gold accents.
The villains received new recruits as well. Boom-Boom (Megan Leitch), a girl with a troubled past who could generate explosive energy “time bombs,” was originally at Xavier’s until deciding the Brotherhood was a better fit for her. They also rescued Quicksilver’s sister, Wanda (Kelly Sheridan), from the asylum that Magneto placed her in out of fear of her reality-altering powers. She was introduced as an unstable and angry individual, until Mastermind (Campbell Lane), a telepath, altered her memories at the behest of Magneto to make her more pliable to the cause. Mastermind was also a member of Magneto’s other team, formed upon a falling out between himself and Mystique, unofficially known as The Acolytes after his second team in the comics. The other members included the savage Sabretooth (Michael Donovan), the Cajun thief and mercenary Gambit (Alessandro Juliani), the flame-wielding Pyro (Trevor Devall) and the organic steel-skinned Colossus (Michael Adamthwaite) who, unlike the others, was forced into Magneto’s service with his family held hostage.
Seemingly in keeping with the name, the show continued to evolve. By the end of the second season, mutantkind was revealed to the world. The third season was spent dealing with the fallout of the revelation, leading to the standard hatred from ordinary humans. Several of the new recruits disappeared in the third season, many of them said to be as a result of their public outing. Mystique left her post as Bayville High’s principal after her differences with Magneto, being replaced by Edward Kelly (Dale Wilson), who in the comics was an anti-mutant Senator named Robert with presidential aspirations as well as a minor antagonist in the film. Kelly did eventually exhibit political ambitions when he tried to run for mayor of Bayville. He also expelled the Brotherhood from the school. Shadowcat and Avalanche began a forbidden romance, which made Avalanche try to unsuccessfully switch sides. The biggest bad of all, Apocalypse (Kaye), was gradually introduced beginning in the second season, culminating in his appearance for the final battle in the series finale and with a changing form to match.
Steve Gordon, showrunner Kirkland and Frank Paur designed most of the characters, giving them new and simple-to-animate looks that also paid homage to their long history and remained true to their original characterizations. Several characters underwent changes as the series progressed. Wolverine, originally wearing an homage to his brown comics costume, was given his costume from the Ultimate X-Men comics beginning in season 3. In fact, the other Ultimate costume designs for the rest of the X-Men were used for Xavier’s vision of the future in the series finale. If they could have gotten away with it, Mystique would have been designed in her “nude” form as she appeared in the film, but as that was too risqué she instead was depicted in a version of her classic white dress from the comics. Never happy with that “dated” design, Gordon gave her a smaller black two-piece dress, boots, and a covering on one wrist beginning in season 2 (he also wanted to make her be more imposing by resembling a female weight-lifter, but that idea wasn’t received very well). Also in season 2, Boom-Boom shaved off Blob’s Mohawk as a joke, and Blob maintained the look until the series’ end. Several characters, in an unusual move for an animated series, had different civilian outfits. While they didn’t change every episode, it did defy the usual practice of a character wearing the same clothing for the duration of a show.
One of the lasting contributions from the series was the creation of the character X-23 (Andrea Libman & Britt Irvin). Conceived by producer Craig Kyle and appearing in episodes written by Kyle and his writing partner Christopher Yost, she was the female clone of Wolverine, the 23rd in a series of failed attempts (hence the name), possessing all of his powers, two adamantium claws inside each forearm, and one that came out of each foot. As told to iF Magazine, there was a push to get the younger audience to connect to Wolverine, but fearing they wouldn’t be because he was one of the adult characters, Kyle created X as a younger surrogate. Unlike the character of Spyke, X-23 proved immensely popular and she was soon integrated into the official Marvel Comics universe like Firestar and Morph before her (although Spyke was possibly recycled into the character that appeared in X-Statix, whose name was spelled with a proper “i”). Whereas in the cartoon she was created by the terrorist organization known as Hydra, in the comics she was made the product of a new version of the Weapon X Program that created Wolverine. She first appeared in the 2003 mini-series NYX before making her presence known to the X-Men in Uncanny X-Men #450. Her slightly-tweaked origin was fleshed out in two mini-series, she eventually gained her own ongoing, and briefly became the all-new Wolverine.
Toy Biz produced a line of action figures, including the standard 5” variety, 8” figures with interchangeable cloth outfits, and 9” talking figures. In 2000, Taco Bell offered clip-on mini-busts of Mystique with a changing face, Wolverine with extending claws, Storm with sparkling eyes, Cyclops with disc-firing eyes and Toad with a darting tongue in their kids’ meals. In 2001, Burger King was set to offer 28 figurines as part of their Big Kids’ meal with a hero and villain being offered in each set. However, the plan was scrapped and scaled down to feature only 8 figures (Wolverine, Rogue, Magneto, Quicksilver, Nightcrawler, Mystique, Toad and Cyclops) on a base with a character bio visible through a small viewing window, and a miniature CD-ROM disc with some show-related content. Hard Hero released a line of limited-edition maquettes, featuring Juggernaut, Magneto, Xavier, Colossus, Storm, Wolverine, Cyclops and Captain America from his guest-appearance.
In 2002, Marvel published nine-issues of a comic based on the series, presenting original adventures by Devin Grayson, Jay Faerber and UDON. A 10th issue was planned, but the series was ultimately cancelled due to low sales. The series remained out of print until 2020, when a collection was released in time for the show’s 20th anniversary. The comic would introduce the Morlocks before their appearance on the show, however it was a radically different interpretation. They also featured characters that didn’t appear, including Mimic and Mr. Sinister in the cancelled issue. Three seasons of the show had been released to DVD between 2003 and 2006. The first two seasons were broken up across four volumes each, while the third was released in its entirety. The fourth has yet to be released. The series was made available on various streaming sites, including iTunes, Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and Google Play. In 2019, it became one of the launch titles for the streaming service Disney+.
Originally posted in 2015. Updated in 2022.
Juggernaut should've been used more.
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