Fans the world over know the film and TV rights to the X-Men are now in the hands of Marvel Studios, bringing them closer than ever to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But it’s likely going to be a while before Marvel’s merry mutants grace the silver screen after the June 7 release of Dark Phoenix closes the pre-MCU chapter of their movies.
So how to get the X-Men back in the Marvel Universe – and in the hearts of fans – full time, without a years-long wait?
We say there’s no better way than the same thing that led many fans to the X-Men to begin with – X-Men: The Animated Series.
That’s right. We’re looking for a full-on return for one of the most classic comic book adaptations ever.
In the age of reboots, revivals, relaunches, and more, dozens of beloved shows and movies are getting new seasons and sequels – sometimes decades after they were last seen. So why not X-Men: The Animated Series?
The X-Men were just about the biggest gateway to superhero comic books in the 1990s, and the gateway to the X-Men, for many fans, was their vaunted animated series. X-Men: The Animated Series didn’t explore the origins of the X-Men as much as it captured the spirit of the team in a brand new way, bringing the soap opera dynamics and bold superheroics of the X-Men to life in ongoing, connected stories that put the most popular characters of the franchise front-and-center.
And, in the true spirit of serialized fiction, X-Men used its episode-by-episode format to directly adapt some of the biggest stories from comic books with admitted changes, but also with surprising depth and deference to the original tales, providing a pathway for viewers to follow directly to the show’s source material.
What's more, Marvel Studios has used animated series to test the waters for its take on bringing classic Marvel heroes into the MCU before. Years before Sony and Marvel struck a deal to bring Spider-Man into the MCU, Ultimate Spider-Man established a take on the wall-crawler where Peter Parker was accustomed to working alongside other heroes, and in which he was tutored by adult superhero mentors - hallmarks of his current big screen incarnation.
X-Men: The Animated Series ran for five seasons – but the show’s creators actually came up with plans for one more, which would have involved the X-Men visiting the Shi’Ar empire to retrieve Charles Xavier.
"I had honestly never thought about it for all these years, but now that you mention it, an idea for a season just came to me,” X-Men showrunner Eric Lewald said in 2017. “The five-season series ends with a dying Charles Xavier being whisked away to space by Lilandra, where she can maintain his fragile body, but where it seems he will be gone forever from his beloved X-Men. It's like a death.”
"Season Six could open, months later, with the X-Men in disarray – a few gone, the ones remaining at each other's throats," Lewald suggested. "They miss their leader. Then somehow they are called to – and transported to – an existential crisis on Lilandra's distant world. The team grudgingly reunites 'for Charles,' heads off to space, solves the crisis, and a somehow-healed Charles Xavier is either able to return to Earth with them or, if he can't, his heroic final sacrifice heals the team's wounds and they return to Earth as the proper X-Men again."
As for whether he and the other key cast and crew of the show would be on board for a sixth season return, Lewald was succinct, saying "If you've got some financing, I know where to find the cast and crew.”
From there, we've even got some ideas for further comic book adaptations - perhaps Grant Morrison's New X-Men could form the basis of a story, for example?
Since it’s been decades – literally – since X-Men: The Animated Series last aired new episodes in 1997, we’re prepared for the updates to the animation style (but we’d have to keep the classic designs and still capture the comic book feel) and likely the cast (but we’d have to keep as many of the original, iconic voices as possible). On the other hand, there's never been a better platform for such a revival, with Disney+ providing a direct line from Disney/Marvel to viewers - the perfect low risk/high reward way to present an X-Men return.
Speaking of those decades, Marvel Animation & Family Entertainment's Senior VP Cort Lane tells Newsarama Marvel Animation has some currently in-the-works projects featuring characters that haven’t been the focus of a Marvel animated series in at least that long.
“There are new shows in the works about characters and properties we haven’t done series for in decades,” Lane told Newsarama, promising announcements later this year. “That’s all I can say for now.”
But how about a direct revival of the series – similar to how DC’s Young Justice received a much anticipated return season on the DC Universe streaming app - perhaps even on Disney+?
“It’s a really interesting question because the answer is yes, we have looked at that a bit, but at the same time, those series live on for kids and adult fans on many platforms now,” Lane explained. “So if you’re gonna do something like that, you have to do it in a way that really has a purpose, that really adds something and differentiates itself from the original version, because that original version is still out there.”
“When you and I watched those shows when we were younger, there were huge gaps where that content wasn’t available to us afterwards. But that’s not necessarily true anymore, so you have to be careful,” Lane continued. “Do you want to tell stories that are very accessible in publishing and collected editions? Do you want to tell stories that have been told very well in animation and films that people still have access to? It’s a difficult question because we love those stories, and there are elements of those stories we can connect to our new ideas, but retelling stories that are still out there being enjoyed is hard for us to justify.”
Still, it’s a question that is often posed by fans at convention panels and live events, indicating there’s interest. Marvel Comics even revived the continuity of the show for an X-Men '92 comic book. And what better way to signal to fans who first fell in love with superheroes through X-Men: The Animated Series that their favorite characters are back at Marvel in full – and at the same time bring in new X-fans with the same dedication to storytelling and to capturing the magic of X-Men comic books that brought in fans by the droves in its original run?
All we have to say is … To me, my X-Men.