If you asked any X-Men fan what drew them to the merry mutants, nine times out of ten, the answer would be X-Men: The Animated Series. The show featured a strong ensemble of fan-favorite X-Men and adapted classic plotlines. It’s inspired more than a few comic series. And alongside Batman: The Animated Series, it opened the door for a new wave of superhero animation. San Diego Comic-Con held a panel with original series director Larry Houston, staff writer Steven Melching and storyboard artist Dan Vessenmeyer.
Getting into said panel wasn’t easy. When I approached the room where it was being held, I saw a line that stretched…and stretched…and stretched around the block. Seriously, folks, this was a line that rivaled Hall H or Ballroom 20 in terms of waiting. But it also speaks to the impact X-Men: The Animated Series has had on fans: you have to really love something to stay that long in line. Thankfully, I was able to get in as the panel was starting and heard some pretty great stories.
Houston began by talking about what led him to do X-Men. He loved comics and always wanted to be a cartoonist but hit more than a few roadblocks. Finally, the late Stan Lee hired him to work on animated projects for Marvel Entertainment, which included G.I. Joe – The Movie and eventually X-Men. Vessenmeyer had a similar story: he slapped together some rough storyboards and sent them off to Houston, who eventually hired him to work on X-Men. “Those were the worst things I ever drew,” he joked.
Talk turned to behind the scenes, as Houston and Melching discussed working with Fox Kids Entertainment and how they thought Broadcasting Standards & Practices would shut X-Men: The Animated Series down. The episode that they thought would be a hot button was the one that introduced Nightcrawler, as the blue furry X-Man talks to Wolverine about God and is attacked by a mob at the beginning of the episode. Houston did admit that it bothered him that BS&P said that he could only use laser guns on X-Men, while Batman: The Animated Series had characters using tommy guns. “They’re deco guns!” Melching interjected, referring to the “dark deco” style that Bruce Timm concocted. He also said that the ‘deco guns’ didn’t look like actual firearms, which is how they skated the code.
Houston expressed his love for the comics on multiple occasions – he even said that he told storyboard artists to “make it look like a John Byrne comic” when working on the episodes adapting the Phoenix Saga. But the biggest revelation was about the Season 1 finale, “The Final Decision.” At the time, Houston didn’t know whether or not the series would be renewed, so he worked as hard as he could on it. He even storyboarded two sequences that weren’t in the script – Wolverine taking on a horde of Sentinels in the dark and Professor X and Magneto joining forces to destroy the Master Mold. The episode was initially supposed to end with Cyclops and Jean Grey watching the sunset until Houston received news of a Season 2 pickup. The team then scrambled to fix the ending, which now teases the arrival of Mister Sinister.
A Q&A session followed, with fans eager to learn more about the upcoming revival series X-Men ’97. While Houston couldn’t say much due to NDA’s and the fact that Marvel Studios is holding its animation panel today, he did say that he was thankful that he could be involved in the new series. Once again, it shows the power of X-Men: The Animated Series – even 30 years later, and with updated stories, the groundwork that Houston and others laid down has had a major impact.
All episodes of X-Men: The Animated Series are currently available to stream on Disney+.
Born and raised in Texas, Collier “CJ” Jennings was introduced to geekdom at an early age by his father, who showed him Ultraman and Star Trek: The Next Generation. On his thirteenth birthday, he received a copy of Giant Size X-Men #1 and dove head first into the realm of pop culture, never looking back. His hobbies include: writing screenplays and essays, watching movies and television, card games/RPG’s, and cooking. He currently resides in Seattle.