One of them shoots electricity out of his hands. Another can change his mass at will. One manipulates and reads emotions. And still another has strange cat-like abilities. No, they're not the X-Men, but rather they're the next best thing the characters of MUTANT X, the latest weekly television series to tackle the syndicated genre market.
Not coincidentally, one of the show's producers is Marvel Studios, home of the aforementioned mutant team. And while the characters might sound like the comic book band of super-heroes (so much so, in fact, that 20th Century Fox has filed suit alleging violations against its movie rights), MUTANT X puts a new spin on the concept of super-powered mutants.
Instead of being born with their abilities, the characters of MUTANT X are engineered the results of genome splicing some 15 to 20 years earlier. Look at it as stem cell research gone awry.
"This is based on potentially real issues," says Marvel's Avi Arad, creator of MUTANT X. "I thought it was time to develop another universe that is sort of into the next millennium that in some way does exist."
John Shea, who played Lex Luthor in LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, stars as Adam, the man inadvertently responsible for the mutant outbreak. He is a brilliant geneticist utilizing his research for a company called Genomex. However, the company is actually a front for a corrupt government agency using the research on human embryos in the hopes of developing "super-soldiers."
"Now, there is a product recall," Arad says. "These babies are now 18, 20, 25 and so on. They know they are different. They were born different. Many of them were changed in the embryo stage or even pre-embryo. So it's definitely not the X-Men. It's about genome technology. It's a whole new universe of mutants."
As established in the series' first two episodes, Adam tries to safeguard the emerging "New Mutants" from his old Genomex rival, Mason Eckhart, and the villain's newly formed Genetic Security Agency. The scientist goes underground, builds a huge sanctuary and forms the Mutant X team to help find and protect others like themselves.
"It's like THE FUGITIVE," Arad says. "But it's not like the world is against them; the world is really unaware that they exist."
Like so many of Marvel's other comic book characters, from Spider-Man to the Incredible Hulk, MUTANT X plays into the adolescent theme of alienation.
"The beauty of this show is that anybody in the audience could be one of these New Mutants," Shea says. "It's not like you look different from somebody else. There's an episode where a young boy is being kidnapped and he gets really angry at one point. Suddenly, fire erupts from his hands and he burns something accidentally. He doesn't even know that he's got the power. It just manifests itself. He looks like a normal kid in seventh or eighth or 10th grade. Suddenly, it just erupts. This stuff has been genetically implanted and it all manifests at different points of maturation. Then the person has to figure out how to deal with it.
"Oftentimes, they're embarrassed by it," he continues. "Oftentimes, along with the power, comes a chagrin and a responsibility. They're feeling like outcasts. [Mutant X's] job is to try to find them before the other guys find them and try to deal with that kind of power however it's manifesting."
MUTANT X features an attractive cast, including Forbes March as the mass-changing Jesse Kilmartin; Victoria Pratt, as Shalimar Fox, a "feral," whose DNA was spliced with that of animals; Lauren Lee Smith, as Emma deLauro, a burgeoning telempath; and Victor Webster as Brennan Mulwray, a street-savvy thief who controls electricity. They're also a very physical cast, handling a number of their own stunts Pratt did a four-story jump in the series' opener and wirework fighting scenes.
"I do all my own stunts as far as all the wirework and all the fight scenes," says Webster, an accomplished martial artist. "I think the fans really appreciate when they see the actor's face spinning and it's not some guy covering his face. It's a very physically intense role and I really enjoy it."
The equally athletic Pratt is still recognized from her previous work in genre television a two-episode stint as Cyane, Queen of the Amazons, on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS and a starring role on CLEOPATRA 2525 playing Sarge. However, MUTANT X has provided all sorts of new physical challenges for the actress, including extensive wirework and leaps.
"I trust our stunt people completely," Pratt says. "It's been a lot of fun, and the show is very exciting."
And while MUTANT X plays up the action, Webster argues that there's much more to the show thanks to television/comics veteran Howard Chaykin and his writing staff.
"The cool thing about the writing and the scripts is that they had a chance to feel us out and put our characters on paper before we were even cast," he says. "And the very interesting thing was that when they cast us, how similar our personalities were to our characters. Now that they've seen us in action and seen us speak the words that they've written, we've really kind of melded and kind of gelled together with the characters. We're really making them our own.
"That's what makes it so much fun," he continues. "You get a sense of comedy. You get some one-liners, some smart-ass cracks here and there. You get some very intelligent dialogue. It's a mixture. You're not going to sit there and watch all technical jargon. And while there's a lot of action, you're going to get a little comedy thrown in and you're going to get some character-driven drama as well. It brings a lot to the entire show."
Seth Howard, creative executive for Tribune Entertainment, maintains that the show, despite its comic book roots, won't deal in flashy costumes and campy villains of the week.
"I'm a giant comic-book fan," Howard says. "The goal was to try to do a super-hero show for television, which really has not been done well. LOIS & CLARK was pretty groundbreaking and THE FLASH was really good. I didn't think we wanted to do a show with costumes. I think on a weekly basis seeing them run around in costumes was not going to play to the audience. Having crazy villains come out of nowhere because they have no motivation except that they're insane is really not the best weekly show to do either. We're doing a show about redemption - Adam's redemption. All of the thousand or so kids who were tampered with and are now New Mutants have their own stories. And from those characters come the storylines."
MUTANT X has been given a green light for two seasons 44 episodes and figures to be a fixture in the increasingly competitive syndicated market.
"We're going to be on the air for a while; we're not going anywhere," Howard says. "With this kind of a cast, that is so dynamic and so talented, they really work as a family and as a team that are bound together for a common goal. They all have their different agendas and different pasts, and all of that will be coming up in future episodes."