X-Men: The Animated Series Creative Team Had a “Big Fight” With Marvel Over the Show’s First Episode

The creative team behind X-Men: The Animated Series recount having a "big fight" with Marvel over which villains would menace the mutants in the show's premiere episode, "Night of the Sentinels, Part One." The two-part episode pits the X-Men against the Sentinels — mutant-hunting robots created to enforce the Mutant Registration Act — when the machines target super-powered teenager Jubilee (Alyson Court). According to the series developer Eric Lewald and series writer Julia Lewald, the creative team resisted attempts to include popular X-villains Magneto and Apocalypse in part because the show's star, the metal-clawed Wolverine (Cal Dodd), needed enemies he could slice on Saturday morning TV:

"There hadn't been any Marvel movies at the time, and we were told 80 to 90 percent of our audience wouldn't know who X-Men were or what a mutant was because only a couple million people knew the comic book. We needed eight or nine million people to have a good show," Eric Lewald told Polygon. "So the task of the pilot was, besides telling an exciting story, to introduce the strange new world with a dozen characters, all of them are important. You have to get to know them, and you have to deal with what you're seeing. So, yeah, that was really hard."

Added Julia, "When you and your head writer sat down to plot this out, because you didn't know you were going to get more than 13 episodes, you guys just thought, and all of us thought, '13 episodes and we're out.' Because they didn't think it'd work. The decision was made to set Sentinels and human hatred as Big Bad versus mutant-of-the-week kind of fighting, which could have sort of developed quickly into just bad mutant versus good mutant."

The Sentinels, designed by Bolivar Trask (Brett Halsey) and the bigoted Henry Gyrich (Barry Flatman) for the Mutant Control Agency, better represented anti-mutant sentiment as well as withstand being sliced by Wolverine's adamantium-infused claws.

"When we tried to do this episode, [Marvel] said, 'You should completely redo it. You've got to put in Magneto and Apocalypse.' We said, 'No, it's animation, and Wolverine is our number one character, and we need him to be able to slash something.' He wasn’t allowed to slash creatures on Saturday morning," Eric explained. "So you couldn't do an animated show without the Sentinels. They are key. And they were also a better example of human suppression and an embodiment of human fears about mutants, so they worked better than us than any mutant villain. We had a big fight with Marvel about that. That lasted about a week. Luckily we won."

The X-Men's chief enemy, Magneto (David Hemblen), would appear in season 1 episode 3, "Enter Magneto." The ancient mutant Apocalypse (John Colicos and James Blendick) would appear later in season 1 episode "The Cure."

X-Men would go on to feature such fan-favorite comic book characters as Cable, Iceman, the Juggernaut, and Mister Sinister.

"We tried to avoid [creating characters], and we bent over backward to use as many characters in the Marvel universe that were available to us," Eric said.

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