X-Men ’97’s Director Talks Mutant Circuits, Morph, and More

X-Men ’97’s Director Talks Mutant Circuits, Morph, and More

From the fastball special to the resurrection powers of the Five on Krakoa, the concept of mutant powers combining in unexpected ways has fascinated X-Men stories for generations. Now, X-Men ‘97 is going back to the ‘90s for a continuation of X-Men: The Animated Series, but it’s bringing with it a modern approach to action and its characters’ powers informed by that long fascination.

We’ve already seen some of X-Men ‘97’s mutant combos—referred to in the comics as “mutant circuits,” the fusion of two or more mutant abilities into a new application, from special attacks to supportive application of non-combat mutations—on display, in the form of the first trailer’s glimpse of Gambit using his kinetic-energy powers to supercharge Wolverine’s adamantium claws as they ride each other into a battle with the Sentinels. For ‘97 director Jake Castorena, that idea, and the chance to explore mutant powers in new ways, was there from the very beginning of his time working on the new show.

“[Wolverine and Gambit’s team-up] wasn’t originally in the script,” Castorena revealed to io9 over Zoom. “That was something that was added in to make canon later on [while making] episode one. But that was an original storyboard in my pitch just to get the job. Part of my mission statement just happened be also the show’s and Beau [deMayo, the recently outsted head writer of X-Men ‘97] mission statement, and the [story] bible’s mission statement was just utilizing familiar abilities and powers that we love, in ways we’ve never even seen before.”

This drive to deliver mutant action in ways the original animated series couldn’t imagine—either through budget or simply from the fact that even the comics themselves were still slowly building and iterating on the idea, beyond the likes of simply having Colossus hurl Wolverine claws-first at an opponent—wasn’t just felt by Castorena and fellow leads, but the whole ‘97 team. “Working in tandem with the scripts, with our directors like Chase Conley, and the board teams—the whole team, just everybody, was like ‘then this happens and then this happens, and what if they did this?’ We all love it,” Castorena added. You can definitely bet there’s more mutant combinations and abilities—some scripted, some enhanced by the board artists or bringing the director, or even just stuff we find in polishing while we’re doing the finishing touches. That’s just part of the show. The creative process is never really done, there’s always an avenue to push and push.”

Screenshot: Marvel

If one character more than any in X-Men ‘97’s roster pushes this idea of showcasing things with mutant powers the original series couldn’t, it’s a surprising one: Morph. Loosely adapted from the shapeshifting comics character Changeling, Morph was introduced in X-Men: The Animated Series’ opening episodes, only to immediately perish in battle. Returned and revived first as a brainwashed agent of Mr. Sinister before rejoining the X-Men, Morph will now be a full-time team member in X-Men ‘97, and their powers have brought with them many new ideas for the show: an overhauled design, a new way to bring in fun usage of mutant powers (and some cheeky, deep-cut cameos), and a new exploration of the mutant metaphor in their nonbinary identity.

“I was already on board [with Morph’s development] from day one,” Castorena said. “It just makes sense—Morph on a molecular level has to change themselves—retinal scans, DNA scans, all that stuff’s gotta work, right? That DNA has to go somewhere. I love how Larry [Houston, X:TAS producer and director], Eric and Julia [Lewald, writers on X:TAS] have put it elsewhere—shapeshifter, nonbinary, they’re just different words, same meaning. It just makes so much sense.”

“As a nerdy comic fan, you [assume] that someone who, especially with all the turmoil that Morph went through in that human form with Sinister—don’t tell me you don’t want to try to make peace with your trauma, and then try to move on from that,” Castorena explained. “What better way to physically represent that in the show where Morph has come [since the original show]. It shows growth to the original show, it shows Morph embracing themselves as themselves: ‘this is my identity, and also my identity is to have multiple identities.’ And absolute shout out to Amelia Vidal and her art and character design team, knocking it out of the park with these characters—honoring what came before but also ushering us into a new age. I couldn’t be happier with the work that they’re doing.”

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

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