A while back there were rumblings of an X-Men TV series in the works. At the time, it was merely an idea floating around – Fox wanted to make a series, but said they had to ask Marvel’s permission first. And with good reason… There are developments on this, but prepare for a brief(ish) history lesson first.
Rewind a few decades, Marvel Comics was not in the best financial position. In order to avoid bankruptcy (and the prospect of having their company owned by Michael Jackson who wanted to star as Spider-Man), Marvel sold off the film rights to most of their best known franchises. The cake was cut up and handed out. Everyone got a slice. Sony, Fox, Universal, Paramount, New Line Cinema, and so on, each got the film rights to certain characters in exchange for money, which would save Marvel. Some of these rights have reverted back to Marvel, some of them remain with whoever bought them.
When Marvel decided they would make their own movies, they partnered with Paramount who held the distribution rights to the characters who would eventually form the Avengers. (Distribution is the part of the filmmaking process that actually gets the film into cinemas.) After the solo films proved successful, Marvel (now owned by Disney) decided to outright buy distribution rights back, and start distributing the films themselves, via the shiny new Marvel Studios, beginning with Avengers Assemble. Much to the dismay of fans though, Hulk’s distribution rights remain with Universal and so any Hulk solo film would have to be approved by them first. Marvel hasn’t purchased these back yet in order to avoid souring a complicated deal concerning Marvel rides in Universal’s theme parks (ah, capitalism).
Back to the X-Men though. While most character film rights were deemed unprofitable to production companies and sold back to Marvel, there remains one franchise in particular that has proven almost too big to fail – the X-Men kickstarted the current superhero cinema hype that has been with us for 15 years. As much as Marvel may want them back, the X-Men are simply too successful for Fox to let go of. (a quick note – seeing as in the comics, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are both X-Men characters AND on the Avengers, they were able to be used by both Fox and Marvel).
As the TV series story progressed, with statements released by the higher-ups at Fox, some people raised the very good point that although Fox owned the film rights to the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and certain related supporting characters (i.e. almost all mutants), Marvel owned the TV rights to most, if not all Marvel Comics characters. This shed doubt onto the success of any TV proposal from Fox. Some even suggested that if the Fantastic Four reboot earlier this year tanked as expected, that Marvel would hold the X-Men TV rights ransom in a trade off to get the Fantastic Four film rights back with Marvel Studios.
This would not be the first time that such an event has happened – a few years back Marvel and Fox had a meeting about the failed Daredevil franchise, and Fox relinquished the film rights back to Marvel – which then led to the critically acclaimed Netflix Daredevil series.
Things were made more complicated when Stan Lee leaked that Sony and Marvel were in talks over the Sony-owned Spider-Man film franchise, which were quickly dismissed as hearsay, and then leaked emails suggested otherwise. Weeks later, it was revealed that Sony and Marvel had struck a deal wherein Spider-Man would appear in the MCU starting with Civil War, in exchange for some of Marvel’s creative types writing the next Spider-Man reboot for Sony, thereby making their rights even more profitable. Spider-Man wasn’t *quite* back with Marvel, but it was something at least.
And then, in the face of an almost universally panned Fantastic Four reboot plagued with mishaps, Fox defiantly announced a sequel before the first one had even been released. The rumours of the X-Men TV series flared up again. The fate of the Fantastic Four film rights is still uncertain, HOWEVER, The X-Men TV show IS happening.
Perhaps influenced by the open-armed welcome of the Sony/Marvel partnership by pretty much everyone, Marvel and Fox are forming a partnership to create and release not one, but TWO X-Men TV pilots!
The first, Legion, focuses on David Haller, better known to comics fans as son of the X-Men’s founder Professor X. In the comics, Legion/David has been plagued by many afflictions, which varied from time to time depending on who was writing him. First diagnosed as autistic, then as schizophrenic, then as having Multiple Personality Disorder, then Dissasociative Identity Disorder, he was portrayed as a villain, and even caused the Age of Apocalypse to happen by assassinating his own father.
David Haller’s character development was so haphazard probably due to misrepresentation of mental health issues at the time. His most recent appearance, in X-Men Legacy by Si Spurrier, was much better handled, and his mental health issues were presented in a much more positive light. He was reborn as an antihero, someone who wanted to do good but the voices in his head were actual mutant powers given personalities and sometimes tried to undermine him. He eventually turned the U.K. into the first Mutant friendly nation though. It will be interesting to see if the series handles stories about mental health issues well rather than just as a dramatic device – but given Marvel’s handling of Tony Stark’s PTSD in the MCU, it could be very surprisingly well done.
Legion will focus on David as he is in a psychiatric hospital with schizophrenia and begins to question whether the hallucinations he sees and voices he hears are actually real. Noah Harley, of Fargo and Bones, will be writing the pilot and will serve on a team of Executive Producers including Bryan Singer (X-Men films), Lauren Shuler Donner (X-Men films) and Simon Kinberg (X-Men films) from team Fox, and Jeph Loeb (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil), Jim Chory (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil) and John Cameron (Fargo). It will be broadcast on FX (at least, in the U.S.).
The second TV pilot will be Hellfire, which will be set in the same timeframe as the X-Men First Class movie in the 1960s. It will chronicle a Special Agent as they learn of a power-hungry woman who is gathering power and influence among the millionaires’ elite members only club known as “The Hellfire Club”. This woman also happens to have extraordinary abilities and wants to take over the world – could it be Emma Frost? Or perhaps Selene? Who will fill the power vacuum in the Hellfire Club left after Sebastian Shaw’s death?
It will be interesting to see if the Hellfire series tries to tackle the issues of race and the Civil Rights movement. In the comics, the X-Men and mutants have been frequently used as an allegory for race relations in the 1960s (the same time period in which this series is set), but in the X-Men movies being a mutant was likened more as a metaphor for homosexuality. With racial inequality rife in 1960s America, and the Hellfire Club being the epitome of economic inequality, it would be intriguing if the intersectionality of racism, socio-economic status, and mutancy were somehow explored.
Hellfire will be broadcast on Fox, co-produced by 20th Century Fox Television/Marvel Television, and co-created by Evan Katz (24), Manny Coto (Dexter), Patrick McKay (Star Trek Beyond), and J.D. Payne (Star Trek Beyond).
No release dates have been announced just yet, but hopefully the pilots are successful enough to develop into a full series! Just to be clear though, it is almost 90% certain that these pilots will not crossover with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (but then again that was said about Spider-Man too once).