This article contains spoilers regarding the first two episodes of X-Men ‘97.

Both children of Generation X and Children of the Atom have rejoiced with the early success of X-Men ‘97. The show, now streaming new episodes every Wednesday on Disney+, is a child born out of the nostalgia of the kids who once gathered around box-style televisions on Saturday morning to watch their favorite heroes. More importantly, those young viewers are now grown adults, with several of them a part of this new project.

Among those adults is supervising producer Jake Castorena. Before crossing the tracks to Marvel, Castorena predominantly worked with the tremendously successful animation team at DC, helming direct-to-video films such as The Death of Superman, and Reign of the Supermen. While the DCEU at times floundered in its creative journey, Warner Bros. could almost always count on its DC animated films to be critically and even commercially successful. With that resume, Castorena brought a lot to this new X-Men project.

But as Castorena tells Den of Geek, it really does harken back to the lost decade of the ‘90s, now in a cultural renaissance, where he fostered his love for the X-Men.  

“Two major factors contribute to my love for the X-Men,” Castorena says. “One is definitely the OG show. Like many people in my generation, we were introduced to these characters and [the show] let us know that these characters, and the many derivatives of teams and storylines that they got, existed”. 

Audiences have already seen major swings in the power dynamics of the team. With the death of Professor X, golden boy Cyclops (voiced by Ray Chase) assumed that he would be the successor to Xavier’s vision. Instead, in the conclusion of the premiere, archnemesis Magneto (Matthew Waterson) reveals that in Xavier’s last will and testament, the founder of the X-Men left everything to Magneto. This naturally shifts the order within the X-Mansion, with trust becoming a major issue, and Magneto’s presence causing drama.  

Yet Castorena reveals that if not for outside sources, he may not have ever switched on Fox in the ‘90s to watch the original series in the first place. 

“It was also the original Konami game. That’s actually where I was able to trace back my love of Storm,” he says.

Any kid who grew up in the ‘90s likely remembers this essential side-scrolling arcade game where X-fans could play as Cyclops, Colossus, Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, or Dazzler. While this writer personally always chose the “heavy” in Colossus, Castorena gravitated towards the Windrider, Storm. 

“Her power to just do a tornado that wipes out the whole map… that was awesome”. 

Fans have been reveling over one epic action sequence in the premiere where Cyclops asks Storm (Alison Sealy-Smith) to “give them the forecast,” and the Omega-level mutant single handedly reduces a fleet of Sentinels to scrap. The respect for these beloved characters is palpable within the first few episodes of X-Men ‘97. You can hear it in the writing, and see it in the next-level action sequences. 

Castorena in much of his early career was a storyboard artist. Those particular team members, coupled with the director, utterly shape the action within an animated project like X-Men ‘97. When asked how the team created such dynamic sequences, Castorena offers one word: “Meticulously.”

After a slight dramatic pause, the director does go into more detail, revealing it was truly a team effort. “Meticulously, from all departments, all heads, because one of the things when I was brought on board was we had to establish – what are some of the mission statements? What are some of the parameters I’m going to give to our directors to adhere to the storyboarding process to make sure that we are giving all the wonderful goodness that you see on screen? It’s the reason why I genuinely feel our action scenes slap the way they do. They’re boarded up by our amazing storyboard team and they’re directed wonderfully from our directors, Chase [Conley] and me”. 

Bringing the ‘90s into the 21st century in terms of action and storytelling is an important journey for many of the creative team, but there’s one last source that fans of the show have to thank for Castorena’s personal journey discovering the X-Men. Once again, everyone should bow down to the gods of VHS.

“It wasn’t even the original broadcast. It was the Pizza Hut promo that they did back in the day with the two VHS tapes of ‘Night of the Sentinels’. That was my intro. I watched Morph die over and over and over,” he says. 

“Then in tandem, my local library had a bunch of comic books and old movies and stuff, so I was kind of at the mercy of what I could rent from the library. So, my journey was a little backwards, because that was around the time that [Marvel artist] Jim Lee’s stuff was coming out, and that stuff was hot.”

What Castorena might not realize is many kids who watched the show 30 years ago undoubtedly had that same self-proclaimed “backwards” journey. The show was a gateway to several iconic X-Men storylines and included deep-cuts in terms of character cameos, something the new show has already accomplished as well. 

“At the end of the day, it all comes down to story over everything.” Castorena says. “It all stems from solid scripts that we got from the overall vision of [original showrunner Beau DeMayo]. I genuinely feel our action sequences continue to push the narrative forward. I’m proud of what our team brings to the action scenes. Not just choreography, but keeping you excited, keeping you jazzed, that’s important.” 

Yet as successful as the first couple episodes have been, Castorena promises those who have enjoyed the show thus far that the best is yet to come. 

“I will say, if you love the action, you’ve seen the slowest episodes so far. The show does not let up.”

New episodes of X-Men ’97 premiere Wednesdays on Disney+.

The post X-Men ’97: How Konami and Pizza Hut Inspired the Animated Reboot appeared first on Den of Geek.

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