The X-Men are back — just not in live action.
After Disney purchased 20th Century Fox in 2019, and the “X-Men” movie franchise was on its last legs with the poorly received “Dark Phoenix” and “The New Mutants,” many observers expected Marvel Studios to reboot the X-Men and reintegrate the characters back into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Instead, for its first swing at the team of powerful mutant superheroes, the company is reaching back to its own origin story: “X-Men ’97” will be a continuation of the beloved 1990s “X-Men” animated series that ran for five seasons on the Fox network from 1992 through 1997. The show — which debuted in primetime before moving to Saturday mornings — was such a sensation that it’s widely credited for convincing 20th Century Fox to make the live-action “X-Men” movie, which launched the modern era of superhero cinema when it premiered in 2000. One of the associate producers on that film was current Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige. Effectively, without the “X-Men” animated series, Marvel Studios probably wouldn’t exist.
Beau DeMayo, who wrote Netflix’s animated “The Witcher” spin-off “Nightmare of the Wolf,” will serve as head writer on “X-Men ’97.” The show is set to premiere in 2023.
“Spider-Man: Freshman Year,” meanwhile, will be tied to the MCU while also evoking Marvel’s deeper history, with an aesthetic approach that, according to a press release, “celebrates the character’s early comic book roots.” This show will follow Peter Parker on his journey to becoming Spider-Man within the MCU, suggesting the show might dramatize this Peter’s origin story — something the live-action movies with Tom Holland bypassed entirely.
Jeff Trammel, writer and actor on the Cartoon Network series “Craig of the Creek,” is the head writer.
As for “Marvel Zombies,” it also connects to Marvel comics, specifically a limited series written by Robert Kirkman with art by Sean Phillips that launched in late 2005 in which pretty much all the Avengers become, well, zombies. That comic series was already loosely adapted in an episode from the first season of Marvel Studios’ inaugural animated series “What If…?” The alternate universe premise of the episode involves a virus which quickly infects most of the Avengers and causes a zombie apocalypse, and concludes with Spider-Man (voiced by Hudson Thames), T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), and the artificially preserved head of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) traveling to Wakanda with the Mind Stone to create a cure for the virus — where zombie Thanos awaits them with the Infinity Gauntlet.
It’s unclear if “Marvel Zombies” will be a spin-off of the “What If…?” zombie episode or chart its own course, but “What If…?” director Bryan Andrews is also set to direct the new series, with “Robot Chicken” alum Zeb Wells serving as head writer. (On the other hand, in an interview with Variety in October, “What If…?” head writer A.C. Bradley indicated that the zombie storyline for her show was already on its way to a conclusion. “They have the stone,” she said. “The have the cure. They’ll figure it out.”)
The three new series, along with Season 2 of “What If…?” and the “Guardians of the Galaxy” spin-off “I Am Groot,” mark the first wave of animated shows from Marvel Studios. In August, “What If…?” executive producer Brad Winderbaum told Variety that “multiple” animated series for Disney Plus were “in various phases of development,” spurred by the discovery that animation afforded the company a wider array of storytelling opportunities not possible in live action.
“Any project that we create is going to be something that needs to be animated in order for the story to be told,” Winderbaum said. “There’s very little desire to take a piece of IP that’s popular because we’re coming out with a movie and just make an animated show about it. We’re not going to do that.”