X-Men: The Animated Series producer and director Larry Houston recounts how Marvel lawyers demanded a different codename for an ill-fated X-Man because of a similarly named character from rival DC Comics. X-Men‘s roster of super-powered mutants briefly included Morph (voice of Ron Rubin), a shapeshifter killed off in the second episode of the show’s first season, who was inspired by the Marvel Comics character known as “Changeling.” This mutant first appeared in a 1967 issue of X-Men, but there was a problem: another character with shapeshifting abilities, the green-skinned superhero more commonly known as DC’s Beast Boy, operated under the codename “Changeling” in ’80s comic book The New Teen Titans.
“We wanted to call him Changeling, but the lawyers said no because that was one of the characters from the Teen Titans,” Houston recalled during a virtual Wizard World panel with members of the show’s cast. “And even though Marvel had done it first, the lawyers said, ‘No, just find another name.’ So that’s where we came up with Morph. He looks like Changeling, but he’s called Morph, and that’s where that came from.”
The X-Men: Animated Series creative team “thought twice” about having the first casualty be Thunderbird, deeming it inappropriate to introduce and then immediately kill off a Native American superhero. That character first appears as part of the revamped team of “all-new, all-different” mutants in 1975’s Giant-Size X-Men #1 and dies in a plane explosion in his second appearance.
“He was dead. I don’t know if you guys knew, but he wasn’t supposed to come back,” Houston said about the eventually resurrected Morph. “A successful [animated] show back in the ’90s was either Scooby-Doo or Super Friends … We were trying to do something different, we wanted to do something unique.”
Morph’s popularity led to his resurrection at the hands of villain Mr. Sinister (voice of Christopher Britton) in the second season.
“We had to negotiate with the censor people, but once that got approved, we wanted to have a character get killed off to show that things can happen,” Houston continued. “A character can be killed, there are ramifications for things going on in the series.”
During this virtual appearance alongside actors George Buza and Cal Dodd, the respective voices of Beast and Wolverine, Houston confirmed talks with Disney about a potential series revival on Disney+.
All five seasons of X-Men: The Animated Series are available to stream on Disney+.
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