It’s no longer a secret that Fox is looking to bring a live-action X-Men series to television. The success of series like Flash, Arrow and Gotham have proven to studios that the demand for live action superhero programming on television exists. For the 15-years the only live action tales to be had featuring Wolverine, Magneto and Nightcrawler were on the silver screen. So far, the experience that the X-Men films deliver in 2-hour movie installments is entirely different than what I got from the X-Men comics that I grew up reading. For every detail that the films get right in terms style and Hollywood bombast, they miss the mark on integral elements of the best X-Men stories. Aside from the action, fans love the X-titles for their heartfelt family dynamics and soap opera style plot twists. You know… the actual stuff that held fan’s interest for the 35-years before the films. I’ve mentioned before that X-Men stories are ripe for television’s long-form narrative delivery. Unfortunately, in 2015, putting an X-Men series on network television is a terrible idea.
When looking at the current batch of superhero shows on television, it’s clear that there is more emphasis placed on hero than on super. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Arrow exist in worlds littered with super powered meta-humans. Each series minimizes the involvement of these characters because super powers are expensive to render on television budgets. Relative to their big screen adaptations, comic book televisions series have extremely tight budgets. For every action set-piece on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the producers have to plan smaller episodes with fewer effects to balance out the season’s budget. Now that we’ve seen Magneto levitate an entire football stadium in X-Men: Days of Future Past, will fans be content with TV budgets? Do fans want a television series in which Cyclops spends more time being “emo” than using his optic blasts? Fans have asked for an X-Men series that strikes an improved balance between action and characterization for years. The trade off is that a television budget means an X-Men series would lean too heavily upon dialogue. Fans don’t want a series where it is too expensive to have superheroes use their powers more than once an episode. Heroes (Heroes Reborn) is returning to the air to fill that void.
Fox intends to take the series in the same direction as their other comic-adaptation series Gotham. The show will take place in the X-Men’s world and center around one of the team’s bit players. The most likely story will focus on Multiple Man as he operates a detective agency. Despite Gotham’s ratings success, Fox’s Batman series has yet to strike a chord with fans of the Batman movies and comic books. Gotham has turned off fans by serving up shallow versions of familiar characters and introducing plots that disrupt the Batman mythology. Gotham doesn’t work for Batman fans because it doesn’t offer well rounded versions of their favorite heroes and villains. Gotham acts less like a prequel and more like a placeholder. Giving X-fans a show based in the world of their beloved mutants and only providing fleeting glimpses of those characters is not the way to go. If Fox uses the Gotham approach they will just be cashing in on the X-Men’s name recognition by tantalizing fans with a long season of teases.
Before making it to air, Gotham’s initial premise was much different than the current iteration. Early drafts of the series focused on the Gotham City Police Department solving street level crime. The difference from the draft and what is currently airing is that the show did not involve a litany of Batman’s deadliest adversaries. In theory, a Gotham show offering stories about cops chasing crooks who are the guy who works for the guy who works for the Joker or Penguin is an interesting concept. It is unrealistic to expect a network not to pressure show-runners into emphasizing the most marketable aspect of their show (the famous characters). The first several episodes of Gotham felt as though the show’s writers were on pace to introduce every Batman rogue under the sun. Fans were put off by how contextually inappropriate most of these appearances were. In keeping with the Gotham model, X-fans can look forward to a series that offers “D”list X-men villains and watered down adaptations of Mr. Sinister and Apocalypse. Gotham isn’t the only show guilty of forcing villains into the hero’s timeline far too early.
Despite the lower production budget, TV’s long-form storytelling model makes it the perfect medium for telling X-Men stories. HBO and Netflix are examples of ambitious televison done right. HBO’s Game of Thrones and Netflix’s Marco Polo are both programs that are too expensive and ambitious to work on network television. A 10-13 episode season of X-Men gives writers roughly a dozen hours of television to create expansive stories. 12-hours is enough for talented writers to fit in well-rounded versions of the X-Universe’s large roster of heroes and villains. Disney-Marvel beat Fox to the storytelling sweet spot with their 5-series (Daredevil, A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Ironfist, Luke Cage and The Defenders) mega-deal. Without factoring in inflation, Netflix’s Marco Polo series budget of $90 million is $15 million higher than the budget of Bryan Singer’s original X-Men film. As of 2015 the X-Men brand has proven its global appeal (Days of Future Past earned $116,490,000 in China alone). Wouldn’t a Netflix “X”-series have been a safer bet than the untested and poorly received Marco Polo? A $90 million, 10 part X-men Netflix series would give X-fans the series that they deserve. An X-series requires a large cast of characters, reliance on special effects and epic battles. A proper representation of the X-Men must have more in common with Game of Thrones than Gotham.
When it comes to creating television series, the fantastic, over the top sci-fi and fantasy elements offered in comic books present a challenge. Now that Hollywood understands that putting super heroes on TV is lucrative, market over-saturation is inevitable. Studios love the guaranteed dollars that come with tapping into pre-existing markets. Gotham’s success means that we can expect a flurry of prequel and spin-off television shows about comic book characters that no one asked to see. The television model that Gotham offers is relatively cheap, easy and most importantly, it works. Comic book fans looking to get their live action super hero fix on TV must temper their over-zealousness and not ingratiate themselves to the networks with the keys to our comic book television kingdom. There was a time not too long ago that studios and networks won us over by just pandering to our nerdy niche tastes. In 2015, comic book fans are far past the point of getting excited because their childhood heroes are finally receiving mainstream recognition. So far, slavish gratitude resulted in the hollow fan service that we call Gotham. Comic book fans are at the point where they can demand quality over quantity. The next time you are perusing your favorite blog and see a tasty little tidbit about Fox bringing an X-Men series to television, ask yourself if you believe they are capable of creating the show that you want to see. If not, don’t feel like you are selling out your comic book loving brethren and sistren when you leave a reply in the comments section exclaiming, “No thank you!”