How “X-Men '97” sets the stage for season 2: 'All roads eventually lead to Apocalypse'

The X-cellent team behind the hit animated series teases what comes next: "It has definitely kickstarted season 3 in a massive way."

Warning: This article contains spoilers from X-Men '97 season 1, episode 10, "Tolerance Is Extinction - Part 3."

For the ultimate ending to the first season of your hit X-Men series, you gotta bring in the herald of end times himself. "All roads eventually lead to Apocalypse," Jake Castorena, supervising producer and head director of X-Men '97, tells Entertainment Weekly. "I mean, how do they not? It's either Apocalypse or Magneto or Sinister more often than not."

Capping off a riveting season of television that critics and fans hailed as the best X-Men adaptation yet, actor Adetokumboh M'Cormack (Castlevania, Blood of Zeus) voices the iconic X-villain En Sabah Nur in the final moments of X-Men '97's season 1 finale, as well as a post-credits scene. The team — including episodic directors Emi Yonemura and Chase Conley, and head of Marvel Animation Brad Winderbaum — unpack the character's grand introduction and where this is all heading in season 2, which has already been mapped out.

"It was always part of Beau's pitch to bring Apocalypse in at a certain point," Winderbaum says of season 1 lead writer Beau DeMayo who has since parted ways with the series, "but season 1 was always going to be Magneto and Sinister with Bastion being the surprise villain in the second half. Apocalypse was never really on the table for season 1, but he was always top of mind as we thought about the future."

"I'm getting goosebumps remembering the day where it was like, oh, we're doing it," Castorena adds.

Apocalypse returns

<p>Disney+</p> Apocalypse, a.k.a. En Sabah Nur, arrives in the 'X-Men '97' season 1 finale.


Apocalypse, a.k.a. En Sabah Nur, arrives in the 'X-Men '97' season 1 finale.

Related: The X-Men are the future of the MCU, so why are they burning through so much plot?

After stopping Magneto's Asteroid M from crashing into the globe, the members of the X-Men are suddenly transported through time by... someone. Xavier (Ross Marquand), Magneto (Matthew Waterson), Rogue (Lenore Zann), Nightcrawler (Adrian Hough), and Beast (George Buza) find themselves in Egypt in the year 3,000 B.C., where they meet a younger En Sabah Nur. Jean Grey (Jennifer Hale) and Cyclops (Ray Chase) land in the future in the year 3960 A.D. Storm (Alison Sealy-Smith), Wolverine (Cal Dodd), and Morph (JP Karliak), however, are unaccounted for.

Apocalypse is a being of incredible power and was one of the X-Men's most formidable villains in X-Men: The Animated Series alongside Magneto and Mister Sinister. One of the world's first mutants, he emerged in Ancient Egypt and was forever shaped by alien technology he discovered. He's seemingly immortal with an array of powers at his disposal, from strength to shapeshifting to mental abilities. Apocalypse often uses his advanced technology to transform select mutants into his mind-controlled henchmen that he dubs his Four Horsemen: War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death.

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The last anyone saw of Apocalypse in X-Men: The Animated Series was in the show's season 4 finale, "Beyond Good and Evil Part 4: End and Beginning," when he was separated from his Lazarus Chamber, the device that prolongs his life.

<p>Disney+</p> The X-Men of 'X-Men '97'


The X-Men of 'X-Men '97'

Related: How X-Men '97 embraced the 'Magneto Was Right' slogan-turned-meme

"It's nice to know he's just kind of been laying low and trying to figure out what his next steps are going to be," Conley remarks.

"I love it because both Magneto and Xavier are right and wrong, so you've got to have this other party come in and completely destroy how both of them see the world, completely put both of them at odds and challenge their thoughts," Yonemura says. "But also, his ultimate goal is power. What does that mean? How does that manifest?"

"Magneto is somebody that embraces their mutant identity, their mutant nature, and behooves others to do the same. Apocalypse is the first mutant that refuses to acknowledge that," Castorena elaborates before citing some of the characters' familiar lines in X-Men: The Animated Series. "'I am beyond mutants as you are beyond human.' 'I'm the rocks of the eternal shore, crash against me and be broken.' Who talks like that?!"

Post-credits scene

<p>Disney+</p> A moment from the 'X-Men '97' season 1 finale's post-credits scene


A moment from the 'X-Men '97' season 1 finale's post-credits scene

Related: X-Men '97 cracks a live-action movie joke in trailer for 3-part finale

As Bishop (Isaac Robinson-Smith) and Forge (Gil Birmingham) mobilize to find the X-Men lost in time, a post-credits scene takes viewers to what's left of Genosha in the present-day timeline, which is six months after the X-team mysteriously vanished. Apocalypse stands by Gambit's grave, holding one of his playing cards in his hands. "So much pain, my children," he says. "So much...death."

That pause and the word "death" evokes a particular comic book arc in which Apocalypse transforms Gambit into one of his Four Horsemen — specifically, the Horseman of Death. "Oh, did something happen with Gambit in the comics? Oh, that's cool," Castorena says, playfully.

He does state, however, that "nothing is happening by accident" on X-Men '97, including this post-credits scene. "Everything is meticulously planned," he says.

"What's fun is the animated series has always done its own adaptations, so you don't know what you're going to get," Conley adds. "But our writers definitely put it there to make people think. Every single word in the series is very intentional and combed over four times."

She is Mother

<p>Disney+</p> 'Star Trek' legend Gates McFadden voices Mother Askani in the 'X-Men '97' season 1 finale


'Star Trek' legend Gates McFadden voices Mother Askani in the 'X-Men '97' season 1 finale

Related: Theo James' surprise X-Men '97 character revealed

While developing X-Men '97, Winderbaum and DeMayo were nerding out over the third and final season of Star Trek: Picard, the series that reunited Patrick Stewart with Gates McFadden. That inspired the choice to have McFadden voice Mother Askani in the season 1 finale.

"I was probably watching the original Star Trek: The Next Generation while reading X-Men comics, and she always felt like Jean to me," Winderbaum recalls. "They were very similar. So to play Mother Askani feels like there's a poetry to it."

<p>Disney+</p> Nathan Summers appears as a boy in 'X-Men '97'


Nathan Summers appears as a boy in 'X-Men '97'

In the future setting, Jean and Scott find themselves faced with a younger version of Nathan/Cable, as well as a woman calling herself Mother Askani, a.k.a. Rachel Summers, their daughter from a future timeline. Rachel is a gifted telekinetic and telepath, like her mother. But in the comics, she takes on the name Mother Askani of Clan Askani, a group dedicated to keeping Xavier's vision alive in a future timeline where Apocalypse has snuffed out all hope.

Keeping with the soap opera elements of X-Men '97, this sets the stage for one big, messy Summers family reunion. Taking a diplomatic approach, Winderbaum comments, "The family dynamics, whether it's the wild Summers family thrown through time, or Rogue and Kurt and that wild family tree, that is a big part of the X-Men and certainly something that we'll consistently explore."

Kickstarting season 3

<p>Courtesy of Marvel Animation</p> Xavier summons his X-Men in 'X-Men '97'

Courtesy of Marvel Animation

Xavier summons his X-Men in 'X-Men '97'

Related: Marvel animation head addresses X-Men '97 showrunner exit

X-Men '97 was greenlit for season 2 early on, and Winderbaum confirms the team is currently cutting together that next arc. And while a third season was semi-recently revealed to be in the early stages of development, the Marvel Animation head feels the pressure to continue the goodwill the show has garnered.

The show hit 4 million views in its first five days on Disney+ and currently ranks as one of the streaming platform's most-watched animated project. "It feels like a lot of pressure on all of us at the studio as we're cutting season 2, as we're figuring out our plans in the future," he says of that success. "It is exciting and has taught us a lot of great lessons for the franchise."

While he refrains from disclosing a timeline for that future, Winterbaum acknowledges, "It definitely has kickstarted season 3 in a massive way."

DeMayo, who spearheaded the creation of X-Men '97, won't be returning for season 2, following his abrupt exit that has left fans without answers. Winterbaum says the team "will have a new head writer for season 3," but notes, "We are honoring Beau's ideas for the second season." He further credits Castorena as "an amazing architect in his own right."

"So much of the visual storytelling of this show comes from him and our amazing directing team," he says with a nod to Yonemura and Conley. "So it does feel like there's a consistent voice. The mantra is the same, the goals are the same, and the source material is the same. As long as that's our guiding principle, that we're honoring the comics and the original show, that's the core to the creative pursuit."

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.