X-Men – which series might they adapt for TV?

With Fox planning to bring X-Men to the small screen, we look at a few possible comic series that could be adapted...

We’re having another party and screening an assortment of lesser-known Marvel weirdness at Den of Geek Presents…Marvel Oddities on June 27th. Click here for details on how you can join us!

Fox’s plans for a live-action X-Men series gives the fans of Marvel’s mutant superheroes a reason to be excited. Not just because it promises more screen X-Men than most of us ever thought possible, but also because there’s a chance they might delve into a few areas of the license that, realistically, aren’t ever going to make it to the movie screen.

The core concept of X-Men has lent itself to hundreds of different takes over the years. Assuming that they don’t want to simply recast the big names and run two competing franchises based on the same core team, where else might they go to find the basis of the TV show?

Some of the more obvious choices for X-Men spin-offs – New Mutants (X-Men in training at the school) and X-Force (a black-ops mutant strike force) have movie adaptations in development, so we can cross those off the list – but there are still more options out there. Some you may be expecting, and some you may not…

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X-Factor (2004)

If you can get anything from modern TV shows, it’s that audiences love watching TV shows where people solve crimes. And there’s at least one X-Men book where that was the premise. Written by Peter David with a succession of artists, X-Factor‘s most recent incarnation starred a bunch of low-level X-Men characters spun off into their own book, working as private detectives for the mutants of the Marvel Universe.

The lead characters of the book include Madrox (who splits into copies of himself), Strong Guy (who gets stronger the more he’s punched), Siryn (daughter of Banshee with similar sonic powers), and Wolfsbane (a mutant werewolf). They also team with Layla Miller, a precocious tween girl who simply “knows stuff” – usually just enough to manipulate the rest of the team into doing the right thing for her agenda without them realising.

Only Madrox has made any appearance in the movie franchise (as a bit-part in Magneto’s mutant army in X-Men: The Last Stand) but Siryn’s father being a former X-Man provides a clear link to the franchise which could be exploited.

Crucially, the powers aren’t that expensive and the tone is miles away from anything that would get too close to the core X-Men series. This team is more likely to be tracking down a lost child than punching it out with Magneto, and more likely to be riding the subway than hopping in an X-Jet. It’d be perfect for a TV adaptation.

The only problem? It’s maybe a little too far from the X-Men’s core concept to really entice fans of the movie franchise.

X-Man

It’s not really what you’d call a fan-favorite (though it did have its fans), but this lukewarm comic could quite easily be adapted as a TV show in the X-Men universe. The titular X-Man is Nate Grey, a super-powerful telepath and telekinetic who arrives in our universe after escaping an alternate reality torn apart by mutant violence. If that sounds familiar, it’s because he’s an alternate universe version of Cable. Though you wouldn’t necessarily have to mention that on TV, especially since Cable hasn’t made it into the movie franchise yet (though we’re sure he will eventually).

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Mistrustful of the X-Men (which is full of members who were villains in his universe), Nate knows that his incredible powers will kill him before he gets out of his 20s and must find a cure for his problem while trying to make a life for himself in a new reality – and trying to stop this universe ending up like his own.

It’s complicated, yes, but not completely unworkable in an age where X-Men: Days of Future Past did big business. The link to the X-Men franchise is obvious – genetically speaking, he’s the child of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, and he was created in a lab by Mr. Sinister, probably the biggest X-Men villain who hasn’t yet appeared on screen in any capacity. The comic itself plummeted in quality as it moved further and further away from its original concept, though a late-period Warren Ellis re-imagining of Nate as a sort of Mutant shaman (helping those who come to him with their problems) could provide plenty of material for a TV series setup.

The main problems with doing an X-Man movie is that it’d be hard to get people excited about a concept which was demonstrably done quite badly once, and has about as generic a name as an X-Men spin-off could imagine. It’d also mean that at some point you’d need to do a Cyclops and Jean Grey cameo, which could prove prohibitively expensive. AND it’s likely that they’ll want to save Sinister for the big screen, partly due to his association with Apocalypse.

Still, if you wanted to do a solo protagonist rather than a spin-off team, this would actually make some amount of sense. But we’ll consider it an outside contender for now.

Weapon X

Given that Wolverine has been central to about 90% of all X-Men adaptations (not unreasonably so, we hasten to add) the Weapon X portion of the mythology has come up a lot. That makes it ripe to provide the basis for a spin-off – not least because Deadpool (due to appear in his own film next year) is also a product of the program.

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The concept is one you probably know: Weapon X takes mutants and turns them into brainwashed government assassins, with mixed results. Usually the guy you’re calling Weapon X escapes and goes on the run working to bring the organisation down.

The good thing is that this series could star almost any mutant, even an original one. The Weapon X program has been involved with lots of different characters over the years, so it’s quite fertile ground to choose from. The main difficulty is that the best ones – Wolverine, Deadpool, and Sabretooth – have already been used on screen, and for that matter so have some of the more memorable worse ones (like Kestrel and Maverick/Agent Zero). If you had to pin an unseen one down as a lead character, it’d have to be either Fantomex (who is a slightly ridiculous mutant-based parody of French pulp hero Fantomas) or X-23, the teenage girl clone of Wolverine, neither of which seems like a particularly safe bet.

And of course, the big problem with doing Weapon X? You wouldn’t be able to just ignore Wolverine, but it’s unlikely he could appear much, if at all – especially since Hugh Jackman’s about to quit the role and we doubt they’d want to replace him on TV before a movie. But other than that, it’s a strong piece of X-Men lore that’s ripe for adaptation.

Excalibur/Captain Britain & MI-13

Can’t do the normal X-Men? How about the REGIONAL X-Men? We imagine it’s very unlikely a US studio would want to make a series set in Britain and starring (of all people!) Captain Britain. But this mutant-based team has a perfect setup for adaptation.

On one side, you’ve got Captain Britain, the brother of Psylocke (who is due to appear in X-Men: Apocalypse) and all-round superhero good guy, with a costume and everything. On the other, you’ve got Pete Wisdom, the hard-drinking trenchcoat enthusiast who does the dirty work as a member of British secret ops team MI-13. Chuck in a few of the other mutant characters from their most recent incarnation (written by Doctor Who scribe Paul Cornell) and that’s a workable cast right there.

While the duality of a team that’s half public-facing superhero, half underground covert ops would be interesting (and wouldn’t necessarily have to be restricted to Britain) we do think the heavy emphasis on Britain and specifically mystical British threats typically seen in the series would move it a little too far from standard X-Men territory.

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It’s also highly debatable whether Captain Britain is actually included in the X-Men license or not. He didn’t first appear in any X-Men comics and Lance Hunter (who first appeared in Captain Britain Weekly) is in Agents Of SHIELD. But then, Captain Britain was also in Excalibur for a solid decade before the rights were sold, so he might have made the list.

The real problem with the Excalibur concept is probably that its main distinguishing feature is its geography. Much like the way the West Coast Avengers struggle to justify their existence in a world where the main Avengers aren’t exclusively stuck in New York, there’s not a huge amount to distinguish Excalibur from the X-Men other than their location – and what little there is makes it less interesting to X-Men fans, rather than more.

Alpha Flight

But wait a second! If you can’t do the British X-Men… how about the Canadian X-Men? TV series are filmed in Canada all the time anyway, and you’ve got a decent spread of characters with fairly iconic powers created at the same time as many of the X-Men’s heavy hitters. Sure, Guardian, Vindicator, Snowbird, Sasquatch and Shaman aren’t quite as recognizable as Wolverine and Colossus, but they’re well established and quite likely to be part of the X-Men franchise, if only because they’re important to Wolverine’s backstory as the team he joined between Weapon X and the X-Men (in the comics, at least.)

And of course, Alpha Flight does have at least one character going for it: Northstar, the first mainstream gay superhero. For a franchise that’s all about embracing diversity, the X-Men franchise (on screen, at least) has stayed a considerable distance away from any queer characters, which is a shame, because they have a huge LGBT fanbase for what should be obvious reasons. If nothing else, including Northstar in an adaptation would be a good first step towards rebalancing the scales.

The problem with Alpha Flight, though, is that they’re not actually the X-Men. They’re just mutants who are employed by the Canadian Government. They’re more likely to be fighting the X-Men than teaming up with them. Personally I think there’s a good series in a team of superheroes being rubbed the wrong way by their shady masters at Department H, but again, you’d need to use Wolverine to really legitimize it, and that’s not something that’s likely to happen.

Exiles

A series about a dimension-hopping team of mutant, the Exiles elevator pitch is easy: it’s Sliders with superheroes. Only in this case, those superheroes are minor X-Men.

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The appeal of the concept is pretty obvious, in that it would allow the TV show to feature the big-name characters without technically featuring them. After all, there’s no reason why an alternate version of Cyclops, Storm, and Wolverine would have to be played by their movie actors. If anything, it might be more helpful if they weren’t. And it’s not like the X-Men franchise has any shortage of alternate universes which will probably go unexploited in the movies.

The best reason it might not happen is that skipping to a new universe every week would, one imagines, involve a lot of production design and special effect work that would be unfeasible on a network TV budget. Similarly, it’d be a version of X-Men franchise that by definition isn’t even taking place in the same universe as the movies, which could hinder its appeal to fans. Ties could be strengthened by picking a fairly minor character from the movies and thorwing them in the cast as a representative of the ‘real’ X-Men – Blink, after all, did appear in the future from Days Of Future Past, and she’s usually the central figure in the team – but it’d be a long shot (not Longshot, thankfully).

Still, whatever Fox decides to use as the basis for a spin-off, we’ll be interested in seeing it. The X-Men was always too big a franchise to limit to one movie series, and if nothing else, we can be glad that Marvel’s cross-media success has convinced Fox that it’s time to start looking at the full potential of what that license can offer. Who knows which of the many X-Men books or characters they’ll put on TV?

We’re having another party and screening an assortment of lesser-known Marvel weirdness at Den of Geek Presents…Marvel Oddities on June 27th. Click here for details on how you can join us!

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