Marvel’s TV Head Explains Why Now Is the Time for X-Men’s ’90s Throwback

Marvel’s TV Head Explains Why Now Is the Time for X-Men’s ’90s Throwback

X-Men is a comics franchise defined by its evolution. There are few others like it that can be so defined by multiple foundational eras of fandom-shaping periods, from its classics, to Chris Claremont’s reign, to New X-Men, and even all the way to the gates of Krakoa. But for mutantkind, the ‘90s will almost always be back in style.

A period of great transition after Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-Men came to an abrupt end, the ‘90s reshaped the X-Men not just across comics—where they, with new teams, new styles, and new directions for this bigger, bolder age of x-cess, shot to heights of popularity the franchise had never seen before—but for the first time in mediums beyond the page. Trading cards covered in the artistry of Jim Lee defined the collection for thousands of people, and introduced mutants big and small to new audiences. The franchise took its first hesitant steps to live action mediums, stumbling at first in 1996 with the television pilot Generation X, and then with the transition into the 21st century with 2000’s genre-reshaping X-Men movie. And then, of course, there was one adaptation that still, 30 years later, is reshaping mutants and their fans past and present: X-Men: The Animated Series.

“That era, that ‘70s through the ‘90s era of X-Men, that was the era that spoke to me personally the most and influenced so many others,” Brad Winderbaum, executive producer on the upcoming continuation of that legendary animated series, X-Men ‘97, as well as Marvel Studios’ head of TV, streaming, and animation, recently told io9 over video chat. “That was the Chris Claremont era, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Jim Lee—those styles are embedded in our minds. I would say even the original Bryan Singer X-Men films, even the costumes are a reaction to that style. They were different, they’re still [in reaction to that], it’s part of the cultural conversation.”

This has meant Marvel has returned to this definitive period over and over, in an attempt to entice the legacy of the ‘90s and its various X-Fandoms back to the source material. There have been comic book riffs on the X-Men: The Animated Series team and style, from continuations to an alternate re-imagining of the recent Krakoa era—and now once again in the comics as the X-Men prepare for yet another new age, one of the new teams takes heavy inspiration from the lineup of the classic show. And then there is, of course, X-Men ‘97 itself, directly picking up where the series left off, nearly 30 years after it came to an end.

“It’s exciting to see that stuff on screen [again], and to see those characters come back around in publishing,” Winderbaum continued. “I think it’s because … we stand on the shoulders of giants here at [Marvel Studios]. It takes us three years to make two hours [of TV]—publishing it’s like, 80 books a month. They’re storytelling wizards. And we get to look at this entire history of incredible material, and see what inspires us, to make the projects we make.”

Much has been said over the years about the choices Marvel Cinematic Universe—and adaptations before it in the early aughts, X-Men included—has made while drawing source material from the comics. But Winderbaum believes that neither is beholden to the reach of the other, and that the relationship between comics and other mediums is more holistic, rather than necessarily mandated. “The conversation happens in both directions—they look at we do, we look at what they do, and we we love the same things. It’s certainly ‘One Marvel,’” Winderbaum concluded. “We were just out in New York last week, visiting the publishing team. They took us through all their plans in the next couple of years, and it’s blowing my mind that they’re able to have this level of creative output so consistently.”

“The comics are… I always say to fans of the MCU, whenever they’re like ‘When’s the next—when’s the next project comic out? What’s the next movie coming out?’ My answer is always ‘read the comics.’ Like, it’s in there, you’re going to get that, the stuff is out there that you’re going to love.”

X-Men ‘97 begins streaming on Disney+ with a two-episode premiere this Wednesday, March 20.

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