Until attending the X-Men: The Animated Series 25th Anniversary event two weeks ago at The Perky Nerd in Burbank (LA readers, find this place; you need it in your life), I had no idea that a book on the making of one of the seminal media experiences of my youth was even in the ether, much less written and primed for a November release. And hot damn, was this some of the best news I’d gotten all year! See, I have a very special relationship with X-Men: The Animated Series. I’m sure many others do as well, but in my case the 90s classic served as the most memorable birthday present of my life, what with the series premiering on Halloween 1992… the day after my twelfth birthday.
I don’t know if this is a common experience for other fans, but I remember exactly where I was when certain episodes aired, often because real life got in the way of watching them. I had slept over at a friend’s house the morning “The Cure” aired. I know this because I vividly remember promising my friend with cocksure authority (Thanks, TV Guide!) that we’d be seeing the debuts of Colossus and Juggernaut and found myself eating crow at 11 AM when we got a very different episode. I missed “Nightcrawler” to attend my brother’s Bar Mitzvah. No regrets there, but thank the gods for VCRs. And I have never in my life pedaled home on my bike as fast as I did to catch the first part “The Phoenix Saga,” because I wasn’t used to X-Men episodes airing on weekday afternoons and I’d lost track of time.
Suffice it to say, I love this show. And while I had the first two seasons, most of the third, and bits and pieces of the fourth and fifth on several VHS tapes that I’d kept with me all the way through college and into my 20s, that magnetic tape wears down, degrades, crinkles, and snaps, and I knew I had a finite number of viewings before those episodes were lost to me forever. Remember, this was a time before The Pirate Bay. One ornery VCR, and it was all over. And then… came the DVD releases, and I knew it would all be okay.
Let’s be honest. Those DVD sets were shamefully lacking in the Extra Features department, and anyone who’s read my Sailor Moon Blu-ray reviews can tell you, this is an area where I’m admittedly very demanding. We got all those wonderful episodes, crisp and clear and bursting with nostalgia, but nothing else. No commentaries, no behind-the-scenes featurettes, nothing to add to the experience we’d already had with the show. And that’s where we come to Previously on X-Men: The Making of An Animated Series, which provides for the fans all the insight the DVDs lack.
Previously on X-Men is the only extra feature you will ever need. Written by Executive Story Editor (what, in modern parlance, would be referred to as the showrunner) Eric Lewald, the book provides an in-depth look at every aspect of the making of X-Men: The Animated Series from its conception to the uphill battle of getting it greenlit to the countless and varied obstacles over the course of its production; casting, marketing, personal wars to protect the integrity of the writing, the dick moves of certain executives who do NOT remain nameless and the conflicted feelings of appreciation for and frustration with Stan Lee himself, whose meddling, however well-intentioned, nearly killed the project.
Along the way, however, something else takes shape: the story of a family of writers, producers, actors, and one very accommodating Standards & Practices consultant who all came together, worked their asses off, and in one case staked her entire career on the success of this little show that could and did and became a legend in the world of kids’ programming. See, we writers? We’re not generally the slickest people on the planet. Most of us were not the cool kids in high school. Most of us were the self-conscious, brooding weirdos who sat in the back of the classroom, biting our nails and futzing with our hair. We were the freaks, the mutants. And so, the way this book tells the story of a group of people who came together for a cause they passionately believed in and saw through together, all the while celebrating birthdays, babies, and victory great and small… it’s all too apropos.
Previously on X-Men is a legit page-turner. I read the first half of the nearly 450-page book in one sitting. In addition to an in-depth chronicle of the making of the show, it provides inside memos, production notes, an episode guide, and interviews with the people who were there. It’s a book that, in lesser hands, would have been incredibly dry despite the subject matter. We’ve all read those books. They suck. Instead, Eric Lewald provides the reader with a behind-the-scenes guide that is, well, juicy. It’s compelling, funny, at points a little weird, and most surprisingly… moving. You can feel all the love and dedication that these people put into X-Men: The Animated Series and what a blast they had making it. And it makes one almost as proud to have shared in that journey by reading about it as they are to have lived it.
In one final stroke of serendipity, Previously on X-Men: The Making of An Animated Series will be available for pre-order on October 31, 2017… 25 years to the day from the series’ debut.