Scott Porter on the X-Men Anime, Voicing Cyclops, and Why He Quit Reading DC Comics [Interview]
The X-Men Anime debuted its first episode on G4 last Friday, the latest in the Marvel Anime series of cartoons produced by and for a Japanese audience. The English translation of the show features performances from a voice cast that includes Friday Night Lights and The Good Wife star Scott Porter -- a life-long fan of super-hero comics -- as Cyclops. ComicsAlliance talked to Porter about how preparing for his role radically changed his perspective on Cyclops, what he thinks about the big developments in X-Men: Schism, and why he quit reading DC Comics after the New 52 relaunch.
ComicsAlliance: I know you're a big comics fan, and I know this because I once accidentally interviewed you at Midtown Comics in New York City when I was doing video reactions from fans in line for a 52 signing event. Later, when we were going back through the tape, someone was like, "Wait, is that Scott Porter?" You were just hanging out in line with everyone else.
Scott Porter: That's the only time I'd been to the [Grand Central] store. The [Times Square] one was just easier to get to. I was shooting a movie that year called The Good Guy, and I would still go in on Wednesday, pick up all my comics, and read them in my trailer.CA: As a fan and an actor, did you specifically seek out a comics-related property like X-Men Anime, or did they approach you?
SP: Actually, [Marvel Head of Television] Jeph Loeb called me... [We] had met when he was working on Heroes and I was working on Friday Night Lights -- both on NBC -- and we had kept in contact. Once he became involved with the Marvel television department... he called me one day out of the blue and wanted to know if I wanted to get involved [with Marvel Anime], and I said sure, why not.
CA: Were you into the X-Men as a kid, or was there another team or character that you loved?
SP: The X-Men were my entry into comics. They were the first thing that really grabbed me. My dad had got me a couple issues of Fantastic Four here and there, some Spider-Man, some Captain America. It all just seemed so squeaky clean to me at 10 years old. I was like, "I dunno. I don't love 'em." And then first X-Men book I ever read -- I think it was #209 with Emma and the Hellfire Club... It was this crazy big battle and somebody died and I was like, "This is dangerous! This is awesome!" So I stuck with the X-Men and they became part of my world. It was a great time in X-Men history, right when X-Factor was starting so Cyclops handed off the mantle of leadership to Storm. There were all these great, out-there stories, and we're talking about a kid who was living in Nebraska. I liked things that a lot of other people in Nebraska didn't like, like hip-hop music or kung-fu movies. So the X-Men felt like home to me. They were kind of outsiders who weren't part of the regular world, and I found an escape in that.
But I don't read [as many] books from the two big publishers anymore. I think the proliferation of company-wide crossovers -- I call them banner books. They want to slap a banner on every single book and force you to buy them. They're trying to figure out creative ways to stay afloat, but it just seems unfair to the fans. I read books currently like X-Factor, Uncanny X-Force. I really enjoyed [the X-Men event] Second Coming too; that really felt like an old X-Men story. I think they've done some cool things [with crossovers], but the books I read as far as Marvel goes right now are mostly X-books on the periphery of that.
CA: For existing X-Men comic book fans, are there storylines that we're going to recognize in the X-Men Anime that we've seen before in the books?
SP: Well, with the word "anime" actually in the title, you know you're going to get some crazy stuff. It's something that was written specifically for the Japanese market, so some characters' names have changed, and new characters have been brought in. You're going to see a group that's awfully like the Hellfire Club that's called The Inner Circle. But you're definitely going to recognize shorelines. You might want to put spoiler tags around this, but you're going to see right off the bat the Dark Phoenix Saga, when Jean [Grey] sacrifices herself. And the Cyclops in this world kind of just quits, and gives up. There's a really great moment where he just walks away from everything. Like, "I can't do this anymore. This is too much." The main villain of the series involves a Hellfire Club guy that I really, really like, someone who can create an illusion or two.
You're going to see a lot of the line-up from the Astonishing X-Men run, from both [Joss] Whedon and [Grant] Morrison. You start to see a little of the Emma/Cyclops relationship that begins to develop as well... And there's a great surprise towards the end of the series with someone from Professor X's past. That's as far as I can go, but I'm sure some of the more savvy fans out there will figure out who I'm talking about... There's more action in this than I think any other [X-Men] cartoon has been able to convey.
CA: Some big conflicts went down between Cyclops and Wolverine recently in the X-Men: Schism event, which sparked the Uncanny X-Men relaunch and the new Wolverine and the X-Men series. As someone who's been trying to get into the head of the Cyclops character, what did you think about those developments?
SP: Well, I had a huge knee-jerk reaction at first. I also had a a knee-jerk reaction to Wolverine being a leader in the X-3 movie; I understand that movies are a different world than the comic books, but it just seemed so out of character. But reading Second Coming and the books over the last couple years where we see how Wolverine got to this point -- I actually think it's a really cool character development for him. And we've seen more of a badass Cyclops. Before voicing him in the anime I was never a huge fan of him, but then I went back and studied him and started to realize, wow -- to understand why this guy always had to be in total control and to make the decisions he did, even though he seemed like a stick in the mud. I really have a newfound respect for him. I've never been a Wolverine fan at all. I don't like the characters that everybody else loves; I like characters like Iceman, Quicksilver, Multiple Man, Havok... guys that don't always get respect, but I think totally should.
I totally enjoyed Schism, though, and I'm interested to see where it goes from here. I don't really mind the crossovers if they're [between] books in a certain corner of the universe. I loved Blackest Night [at DC]... I didn't read the Teen Titans Blackest Night [tie-in] or any of those books, but if you read the core books like Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps, those books felt right, and there was a great kind of synergy between books that should be sharing a storyline. That's what I liked about Schism too, so I'm back on board with those books.
CA: You brought up this evolution that we've seen in Cyclops over the years, and I think that's been such a big part of Schism and his conflict with Wolverine. For a long time, Cyclops really more of a Captain Cardboard sort of guy who was forever hung up on Jean Grey, but over the last decade we saw him transform dramatically: developing a serious relationship with Emma Frost, taking over the X-Men, and becoming more of a paramilitary leader. What did you think about those changes for the character?
SP: I think there are a lot of big-time comic book writers who come into an established book like the X-Men and try and do something outrageous to leave their mark on it, and I had a bit of an issue with Cyclops. He'd always been boring to me, and I always knew what I was going to get from Cyclops. When Morrison made those moves, I was wholly against it. But this is why he's a brilliant writer and I'm just a comic book fan, because at the end of the day the doors it opened for Cyclops were pretty phenomenal... Eventually I came to terms with the fact that it was pretty brilliant. During my research for Cyclops for the anime, he's very very frayed at the beginning of the X-Men Anime series. You have start with how powerful he is; this guy can shave the sides off of mountains and levels towns if he wanted to. He has that power in him all the time and he has to constantly be in control of it...
You look at the little reactive moments, like after he loses the [X-Men] mantle of leadership and starts X-Factor back in the '80s, and how broken he was after the Dark Phoenix Saga and how long it took him to bounce back. You just realize that this guy has been through a ton of tragedy -- losing his son [Cable] for the first time, and then again at the end of Second Coming after Cable saves everyone and sacrifices himself. Wolverine is coming down on Cyclops about all the bad choices he made and how "all the deaths are on you, Slim." Cyclops just turns around and very simply says, "You don't think I know the cost of what happened? I just lost my son again." Cyclops all of a sudden to me is just the most badass guy. It was pretty incredible.
CA: It's interesting to hear you talking about how badass Cyclops is, especially during an event where he's going toe-to-toe with Wolverine, who I think most people see as the more traditional tough guy character.
SP: I think it's easy to make a character like Wolverine interesting. When he first came out, he was daring, he was the anti-hero, he was against the grain. But now the market is flooded with anti-heroes in movies, in TV -- the hero with the troubled past and a golden heart. So for me, Wolverine is the easy way out now. I think Schism was a necessity for both [Cyclops and Wolverine]; it flipped the script on both of them.
CA: At a time when Uncanny X-Men is relaunching at number one, it seems like a good time for a mass-media friendly adaptation like X-Men Anime to hit, just as they're trying to bring in new or lapsed fans. It's something that we've seen as well with the recent New 52 relaunch at DC Comics --
SP: I have to say, and DC is not going to be happy with me, but -- I quit. When they relaunched everything at #1, they reset the entire universe. They've taken us through three Crises in the last three years, and then just ended it all. I feel slightly cheated. I don't know; how do you feel about it?
SP: When I first came to DC, Kyle Rayner was my [Green] Lantern. Young Justice [with] Tim Drake, and Bart Allen, and the Outsiders as I knew them with Nightwing and Arsenal... I thought they were really, really interesting, and I think in the grab to get old readers back, they spit in the face almost of the fans of the characters that were created in the interim. And I love Geoff Johns. I love his work; I read his entire Flash run, his entire Titans run. I've read all of [Green Lantern:] Rebirth and I think bringing Hal [Jordan] back was awesome. They never really found a place for Kyle after that, though, and that kinda sucks, because Kyle was an amazing character in his own right... Relaunching everything and removing some of my favorite characters was a bit much for me to reconcile and handle. I'm not saying I'll never go back to DC. I feel like this is just a phase, and they'll eventually go back to the old numbering and we'll see some characters revert back to what they were before. That's what I'm waiting for. It all feels very Heroes Reborn, which is what made me quit reading Marvel in the '90s...
[Comics publishers] are trying to survive and I completely respect that. I respect both Marvel and DC in a huge way because they've created some of the greatest characters in comics history, and we don't have an industry without the two of them. But we'll never have another phase like the '90s. I respect them for trying something new, I just wish it hadn't been at my expense... Just because of my job, I read a ton of stuff in trade [paperback editions] to keep up instead of going to the shop every Wednesday. Now I go once a month and pick up the new Fables trade, the new DMZ trade or Walking Dead or Invincible hardcover. Maybe a Chew or Mouse Guard here or there. Then I pick up my couple of X-Men [single issues] that I read. It's a weird time for me, though. There's no DC on my pull list. I'm a huge advocate for comic books; you can ask anyone in my cast. I'm a nerd through and through. That's just always going to be a part of who I am.
CA: As someone who has moved to trades and doesn't have time to hit the comic shop every week, are you interested in getting your comics digitally, and downloading them on an iPad or computer? Because we have seen Marvel and DC pushing more towards the simultaneous digital release of a lot of their books.
SP: Like I said, I'm kind of more of an old school guy. I won't read magazines on my iPad; I won't read comics on my iPad. I love the feel of paper between my fingers when I'm turning a page. Also, it's better on my eyes I think. [laughs] I haven't made the move to digital and I'm not sure I will. It's not because I fear change; it's just never how I've consumed my book. There's something to be said for having a novel on a shelf at your house or having a longbox of comics you can pull out and share. I'm not a collector who has a bunch of books under lock and key; these are things I want to share with other folks. Eventually when I have kids, so that they can read them and feel the sense of wonder and awe that I did. The physical representation of a book is just something I'm always going to love.
CA: Well, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me and nerd out.
SP: I love nerding out with people. I love talking books. There's not enough people in my life on a daily basis that I can have these conversations with, so I really appreciate the time.
X-Men Anime airs on Fridays at 11 PM EST on G4TV.