Sunday, October 18, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Mutant X -- Marvel's X-Men Minus Marvel's X-Men

Not the X-Men: (L-R) Victor Webster, Lauren Lee Smith, John Shea, Victoria Pratt, Forbes March
This week we got word that Fox and Marvel have agreed to develop a couple of TV projects based on the comic publisher's X-Men library of characters. Whether anything substantive emerges from that agreement or not, it got me thinking about the last time Marvel developed a show ostensibly connected to its X-universe -- but couldn't actually connect it to its X-universe. I'm talking about Mutant X, a syndicated series that aired for three seasons between 2001 and 2004.

The behind-the-scenes backstory (as many of you already know, I'm sure) is that Marvel signed a supremely idiotic contract with Fox back in the mid-'90s that gave the movie studio essentially carte blanche to exploit the X-Men in movies and on TV, and they could keep exploiting them as long as they continued to crank out content. These rights were first leveraged in 2000, with the first X-Men flick, which did remarkably well (and arguably led to the age of nonstop comic flicks we're currently in the midst of).

However, in 2000, after X-Men lit up the summer box office, Marvel Comics, having just emerged from bankruptcy a few years earlier, was already busy thinking about ways to exploit the brand's new awareness. Then-honcho Avi Arad arrived at the idea of Mutant X, a syndie skein entirely unconnected to the larger X-Men film franchise (still controlled by Fox), but which contained enough wink-wink-nudge-nudge similarities that they figured/hoped the general public would connect the dots. Here's the first season intro from October of '01:

The gist is that a genetic research firm Genomex's experiments have resulted in a generation of children with a variety of extra abilities (mutants, natch). Some of these mutants are good, some are bad. Sound familiar? Keep going. One breakaway group, Mutant X, is led by Adam (John Shea, Lex Luthor on Lois & Clark), a former researcher for Genomex who now wishes to make amends for his past by helping mutants use their abilities for good while fighting back against Genomex. It's like X-Men meets Misfits of Science, without the budget of the former or the quirkiness of the latter.

Naturally Fox (who had nothing do with this at all) took one look at that premise and dispatched the legal hounds, accusing Marvel and producer Fireworks Entertainment of infringing on their rights. And between "Mutant" and "X", I'd say they had a pretty good case! But while Mutant X did eventually proceed, it was only after compromises like changing Adam's last name from "Xero" to "Kane," and divesting the mutant characters (played by Victor Webster, Lauren Lee Smith, Victoria Pratt, among others) of superhero-y "code names."

Now, all of this would be academic if the series was any good, but it kind of wasn't. The writing was passable, but the effects and acting were exactly the level of terrible you'd expect from a '90s-'00s first-run syndication. Still, speaking to the relative bareness of the syndicated cupboard during that era, Mutant X actually lasted for three full seasons, and probably would have gone longer if Fireworks didn't fold in '04. In fact, the final episode was a cliffhanger which they had every intention of resolving.

Today, Fox's X-Men feature franchise is plugging right along, cranking out seven movies since '00, with three more on tap for just next year. Mutant X, meanwhile, disappeared entirely from the conversation other than as a legal footnote. And really, it's not hard to see why. Though it was from Marvel and thus technically "official," in practice it was to the X-Men what Filmation's Ghostbusters was to the "real" version: A generic substitute that's no patch on the original. Maybe they should've called it "Brand X".

One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Double Dragon -- Good Game, Terrible Cartoon, Worse Movie

Two Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Street Hawk -- A Man Named Mach and his Magic Motorbike

Three Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Misfits of Science -- TV's X-Men Before TV's X-Men

Four Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Captain America Edition

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