In 1992, “X-Men: The Animated Series” debuted on Fox as part of its Saturday morning programming and 25 years later, it’s still revered as the definitive version of the X-Men and as one of the most successful and faithful adaptations of any comic book series.
However, at the time of its premiere very few had faith in a television show that seemed to break all the conventional rules of success. A serialized program aimed at kids that dealt with mature topics like discrimination based on a comic book popular with the geek crowd but that lacked the widespread name recognition of a Spider-Man or Batman? What should’ve been a recipe for disaster, or at best a cult hit, went on to become a ratings powerhouse and is largely responsible for bringing the mutant superheroes into the mainstream. “X-Men: TAS” paved the way for X-Men feature films which in turn heralded the modern era of superhero films.
At WonderCon 2018 the show’s creative team hosted a retrospective panel in order to celebrate the show’s legacy and also give a preview of the kind of anecdotes that can be found in “Previously On X-Men: The Making Of An Animated Series”, a behind-the-scenes look at the show written by showrunner Eric Lewald and writer Julia Lewald.
The husband and wife team were joined on the panel by writers Bob Skir, Len Uhley, and director Larry Houston. They discussed the many show’s many successes including that iconic theme song, their extremely talented voice cast, and their willingness to tell sophisticated stories that embraced continuity. The show was also beloved amongst longtime comic readers for their multiple cameos of iconic Marvel characters since it mirrored the crossovers found in comics. It was a precursor to the “connected universe” concept that is so prevalent in superhero films and television shows today.
Eric Lewald confessed that the show’s many cameos were all due to director Larry Houston. “Larry went against the rules because Marvel was very restrictive about who you could show anywhere back then,” he said, surely referring to Fox only owning the rights to X-Men characters. However, Lewald says Houston found a loophole and used it with gusto: “He snuck, like, 200 Marvel characters into the show.”
Larry Houston: “Yeah, the first time I tried to, you know, back then Spider-Man was on the same network as X-Men so I tried to put Spider-Man in a cameo in a shot. I put it into the system and it came back “Rejected”. You know, it’s like, “Why can’t I use Spider-Man”? They didn’t really give me a reason, they just said, “No.” It was like, “Oookay.”
Later on what happened is what I discovered is that, there was an episode called Genosha and the writers wrote “Mutant 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6”, you know, into the show. And so what I did was I brought my comic-book collection into work, put it on the Xerox machine and I said, “Okay, make this one Blob, make this Mystique, make this Sunfire, make this Northstar” but I kept the original names: “Mutant 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6”. Put it into the system, came back, no problem, I went, “Oh! Okay! That’ll work.”
And so, from that point forward, you know, all of these characters, I think, Doctor Strange was “Magic Mutant”. Thor was a “Norse Mutant”. The Watcher was “Alien Mutant”.
Bob Skir: Wasn’t there a mutant in Africa at one point?
Larry Houston: That’s right, it was in “Sanctuary Part 1”, Magneto went to Africa so I had created this “African Mutant #3” which was the Black Panther.
The mention of the Wakandan superhero was met with cheers and Houston revealed that he not only took advantage of the cameo loophole to also include appearances from Captain America and Deadpool but he also managed to eventually sneak Spider-Man into the show. Since the cameo only showed Spider-Man’s hand in the iconic “FWIP!” pose shooting a web it was labeled as “Mutant Hand”. Bob Skir quipped, “It was a friendly neighborhood mutant.”
“I got a chance to sneak a lot of Marvel mythology into the show,” said Houston, “the key being don’t call it what it really is.”
Len Uhley then turned to the crowd and asked, “You’ll keep this a secret, won’t you?”
Absolutely. Your secret’s safe with us.
“Previously On X-Men: The Making Of An Animated Series” is now on sale and can be ordered here.