Boyd Kirkland Talks X-Men: Evolution Season Three
A veteran of animation for over two decades, Boyd Kirkland in various roles throughout his extensive career and gained critical acclaim for his outstanding work on Batman: The Animated Series, directing episodes such as “Harley And Ivy”, “I Am The Knight” and “Second Chance.” To celebrate the release of X-Men: Evolution Season Three on DVD, the Marvel Animation Age recently spoke with Boyd about his work as producer on the wildly popular series that aired on Kids WB! a few years ago.
TOON ZONE/MARVEL ANIMATION AGE: The beginning of the season followed a serial style of storytelling that was sparsely used in the previous seasons. If given the choice, would you have liked to do this from the beginning of the show?
KIRKLAND: There are pros and cons to serial style storytelling. The network felt the cons outweighed the pros, so they didn’t allow it except for the season finales. By season 3, they loosened the reins on us a bit, so we pushed more into stories with continuity. Many of my favorite TV shows are serialized. I like the format, because it allows you to tell bigger stories, and feels more believable because life is lived in a continuum, not in self-contained episodes. Once we started doing it, fans were frustrated when we did “stand-alone” stories because they usually didn’t contribute to the overall story arcs in a meaningful way. But as I said, that was the preferred format of the network.
TZ/MAA: The second season finale brought several new characters to the front of the stage, mainly Magneto’s new Acolytes and the returning Mystique. Did you ever feel that there were too many characters and too many stories to use and too little time to tell them all in?
KIRKLAND: This was just a natural result of our series and the large world of the X-Men universe. Introducing new characters allowed the stories to get bigger, with higher stakes, more interesting plot twists and greater character development. It was more of a challenge from a production standpoint, but we really wanted to keep topping ourselves. Of course, the danger was that things would get too complicated and lose focus, but I think we did a pretty good job of avoiding that. Many stories remained to be told, however, when the series was cancelled, and it was sad that we didn’t get the chance to tell them.
TZ/MAA: Speaking of The Acolytes, what made you decide to mix it up a little and have them appear as villains, when some of their members were originally heroes in the comics? Also what made you decide which characters to bring in at this stage?
KIRKLAND: The Acolytes provided new, bigger challenges for our heroes to face. The theme of the series was growth, beginning with these guys first discovering their powers, and then learning how to use them while still trying to get along with the “normal” world. By season 3, we knew we had to up the stakes. The Brotherhood hadn’t really developed into the kind of team Magneto wanted, so he recruited Gambit, Colossus and Pyro. The first two were very popular X-Men characters in the comics, and we wanted them in our series. But we already had many more heroes than villains, so we thought it would be fun and more surprising to break with convention and introduce them as bad guys. However, they would be conflicted about what they were doing, and would eventually join the X-Men (one of those stories we never got to tell). The best kind of storytelling keeps the audience guessing and surprised, with complex characters that grow and change. That’s really what we were after.
TZ/MAA: One of the episodes featured the original 5 X-Men from the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby days. Whose idea was it to have the originals appear?
KIRKLAND: I don’t remember specifically how that came about, but I had been a fan of the Kirby era X-Men, and thought it would be cool to pay tribute to that. Having Iceman among the new recruits, and having already introduced Angel to the series gave us that opportunity.
TZ/MAA: Iceman really came to the front of the viewers’ attention more in this season, rather than just being one of the New Recruits. Any reason why he was used more?
KIRKLAND: He was always a fan favorite, and his personality helped us lighten things up a bit. Also, we needed someone to take the place of Spyke.
TZ/MAA: Spyke left the team after taking much abuse from the fans of the show in the previous seasons. What made you decide to have the character leave the show, and what did you think to his comeback in the final season?
KIRKLAND: I had always intended for Spyke to play a “tragic” role, in that his powers would disfigure him and prevent him from blending into normal society. The network didn’t want us to go there the first couple of seasons (the theme was too dark for them). One of the recurring themes in Stan Lee’s Marvel stories that appealed to me as a reader in the 60’s was that great power often came at great personal cost. I wanted to show that in our series, and Spyke’s story was a powerful way to do that. It also gave his character more depth, and he was far more interesting when he returned.
TZ/MAA: This season featured a lot less of the kids in school, and more of the rivalry between humans and mutants. Having the younger X-Men in school appears to have a command from Kids WB, what were your feelings towards having the kids in Bayville High?
KIRKLAND: I liked the idea, because it played into several themes of the show. Teenagers go through many changes, and struggle to find themselves and socially fit in. High school, with its social cliques, pressures to perform, be accepted, etc., is often the seminal experience where these conflicts come together in dramatic and sometimes traumatic ways. It’s a great metaphor for the X-Men, who are different and are outcast because of those differences. They don’t really want the responsibility of saving the world – they just want to get a date for the dance and live normal lives! And yet, they face terrible prejudice and fear because they are different. The whole mutant theme is just a greatly exaggerated version of what all kids go through on some level, usually in high school. That’s why the theme is so powerful, and is something we can all relate to.
TZ/MAA: Later in the season, a new original character, X23 debuted. What was the story behind bringing her into the show and what are your thoughts on the character?
KIRKLAND: X23 was the brainchild of Craig Kyle, Marvel’s producer over the show. One day he told us about his idea, and asked us to work her into the series. It was interesting and poignant to see a young girl who had been raised without any sense of family or love, respond to the family relationship of the X-Men. It was also interesting to see how a gruff loner like Wolverine would respond to the idea of being a “dad.”
TZ/MAA: With X23 taking up the one episode a season usually allocated to Wolverine, this left a lot of unexplored territory with Logan. Is there any Wolverine stories that you would have liked to have told but were never given the chance?
KIRKLAND: No specific story, but our hands were always tied with Wolverine because of the violent aspect of his power and nature, and because he was an adult (the network wanted all of our stories to focus mainly on the kids). That’s why X23 was a clever way to involve him in the storytelling.
TZ/MAA: Fans of the show have often loved the much-anticipated two part season finales. With Dark Horizons, the main aim of the episode was to establish Apocalypse as a threat that required everyone working with each other in order to defeat him, and the build up to Apocalypse’s eventual arrival was a long one. How far in advance was the final battle with Apocalypse in the series finale planned?
KIRKLAND: It was story editor Greg Johnson’s idea to introduce Apocalypse as a big, behind-the-scenes threat in the Mindbender episode. At the time, we had no overall plan of where that would lead, or how long it would take us to bring him out into the open. A lot of our story planning had to be done on the fly, as we never had much lead-time once the series got picked-up each season, and our production schedule was always very intense. But once Apocalypse had been introduced, it just seemed natural to make him the big threat for the 3rd season finale. We tried to do that in the most interesting way possible that would hold dire consequences for our heroes.
TZ/MAA: Have you been consulted for any DVD features concerning a possible release of season four? What do you think of the shows current DVD treatment?
KIRKLAND: No, I haven’t done any interviews beyond what was shot for season 3, so have no idea when they plan to release season 4. I didn’t think it would take them this long to release season 3, as I did the interview for that a year and a half ago. But it makes sense that they would want to time the release with the X-Men 3 movie. I’m very happy that it is coming out as a season set, instead of just a few episodes at a time as they’ve done previously.
This interview also appeared on Marvel Animation Age. For more on X-Men: Evolution, check out MAA’s X-Men: Evolution site.