At the Marvel Studios Animation Comic-Con panel on Friday, producer Brad Winterbaum and the rest of his creative team showed off some rough animation (animatics really, like moving storyboards) from the very first Marvel Studios “X-Men” project, “X-Men ’97.” They also showed an entire, fully animated episode from the upcoming “What If…?” Season 2 (even though, as the Watcher says, in the opening moments of the episode, “I don’t do sequels”).
First, let’s discuss “X-Men ’97.” A continuation of the beloved 1990s animated series, which ran for five seasons between 1992 to 1997, this new iteration is meant to be a direct continuation, both stylistically and in terms of tone. “We fell in love of the melodrama of the X-Men. That’s what we’re always talking about and joking about – it’s a big soap opera. Who wants to kiss who, who is looking at who awkwardly in a picture frame,” the new series’ head writer Beau DeMayo explained. “But that is what they are at their core.”
And the footage really connected to the classic spirit of the original animated series.
It’s the original core team, with Wolverine, Jean Grey and the rest, battling some Sentinels that have been unleashed by Trask. A Sentinel is decapitated, Beast climbs inside of a Sentinel and starts to puppeteer it from the inside. And best of all, the music sounds straight of of the 1990s (this new music is done by the Newton Brothers, frequent collaborators of “Midnight Mass” mastermind Mike Flanagan). Even without the finished animation, it definitely feels right.
“X-Men ’97,” which we’re still not totally sure will be the finished name, will debut on Disney+ in the fall of 2023. And what’s more, it will be back for more. As announced at Comic-Con, a second season of this new “X-Men” has already been ordered.
More powerful than the footage, though, was a brief autobiographical detail shared by DeMayo: “As a gay, adopted black kid who survived growing up in Florida, this show taught me who I am. For better or worse, the X-Men are timeless and the world has a lot to learn from their struggles.” He then started to ask questions: “Why do we need the X-Men? Is the dream still alive today?”
Early in the panel, a teaser for “What If …?” Season 2 was shown. It was nuts, but this is what we recognized from the brief clip: Cate Blanchett’s character Hela from Thor. Yondu, Ego, the dragon from Shang-Chi, Quinjets. The arena from “Thor: Ragnarok.” Scarlet Witch. “Things have gotten twisted in the multiverse,” says the Watcher. There’s a “Mad Max”-style road race. Jeff Goldblum from “Thor: Ragnarok” winks at a statue of himself and the statue winks back. Tony in the Iron Man armor falls through space. Red Guardian! “Saving the Multiverse, one universe at a time.” There’s a shot of Steve fighting Thanos from the end of “Avengers: Infinity War.” Shang-Chi using the 10 rings against Odin. And then a scene that writer A.C. Bradley confirmed is an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “1602” comic book series.
After the main panel, though, they went ahead and showed a completed episode from “What If …?” Season 2. Of all the outcomes of the multiverse, this still felt like something of a surprise.
This episode, entitled “What If Captain Carter Fought the Hydra Stomper?,” follows Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell, once again), having to face down Steve, who has returned from the past in the Hydra Stomper, Iron Man-style suit. (It’s very much like the Hulkbuster armor that was introduced in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”) There is a ton of mythology introduced – Black Widow (Lake Bell) and Carter are now BFFs, we get to see an alternate version of the Battle of New York, the Red Room is brought up and Peggy has to contend with having to battle her old love.
Eventually they wind up in a 1950s town in Scotland populated by retro robots who start to attack. It’s like an incredibly violent version of “The Stepford Wives,” and is connected to the training of the Black Widows. The Red Room (the spaceship version from “Black Widow”) appears and Melina (the character played by Rachel Weisz) shows up.
The episode ends with a big brawl between Black Widow and her former friends the Black Widows, plus Peggy going toe-to-toe with Steve in the suit. It’s the kind of big, sweeping, stylish stuff we’ve come to expect from “What If …?” (the first season was delightful) and if anything this new season looks bigger, more visually and emotionally complex. The ending has a giant twist that … is very good.
“What If …?” Season 2 premieres on Disney+ next year.