Can’t wait for Days of Future Past? Here’s something to help ease the pain! Ed tucks into another great X-Men show.
If you happened to have been born in either the eighties or nineties, it’s likely that you’ll have watched the cartoon known as X-Men: The Animated Series, which graced our screens for five series and was even given a glowing review by myself here. Since its origins, the X-Men franchise has received increasing mainstream and commercial appeal, with the release of six films and two other related cartoon series.
The brand’s true success began at the turn of the millennium with hit films (X-Men and X2) that either re-affirmed the brilliance of the concept or provided a wonderful introduction to it. Sadly, these two brilliant films were then followed by two which appeared to sound the death knell of the movie universe, as while commercially successful, both X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine were absolute turds critically (though, X-Men: First Class and The Wolverine received more plaudits). The franchise didn’t fare much better on television since X-Men Evolution lacked the sparkle of the original because it re-imagined the titular team as teenagers in high school, removing certain aspects of the comic that made the stories unique and interesting. This included the Xavier Institute being their sole school, and that the main antagonists, the Brotherhood, are basically turned into a bratty gang rather than proper enemies. We were desperately in need of a series or film that would return the X-Men to their rightful dominance of popular cartoon entertainment.
After two awful films, the choice to create another television series was probably the right one, since there’s only so much crap a right-thinking comic book audience can take. Although a similar creative team as to the one used on Evolution, what made Wolverine and the X-Men unique was that it forgoes the previously obligatory origin story and instead made the assumption that you already have some prior knowledge. For anyone new to the series, however, there’s plenty of information throughout to stop you from getting lost.
We begin with a terrible accident as a fiery explosion leads to the disappearance of Jean Grey and Charles Xavier. The shock of this causes the X-Men to disband, with faculty and students alike going their separate ways. The writers then take a leaf out of DC’s book and we return one year later in a world without the X-Men, where anti-mutant sympathy has become more prominent if not more popular. The Mutant Response Division (MRD), a unit sponsored by the US government, capture and imprison mutants in gulags without due process. We’re introduced to this world by Logan/Wolverine, who takes the lead protagonist role throughout the series, as he has a run-in with the MRD when saving a child from certain death. Although the sprog’s family then attempt to protect Logan. This encounter gives us our first glimpse of Colonel Moss, a recurring antagonist throughout the series, who heads up the MRD and has both past and future history with Wolverine.
While this future looks bleak without the X-Men, not all of the mutants have been captured by the MRD, with Magneto setting up his own super-powered nation in Genosha. Although shoe-horned into a few episodes in the original X-Men cartoon, here Genosha plays a more prominent role. Before we finally see the island in all of its glory, with Nightcrawler having a heck of a trip to reach the place, we’re slowly drip-fed more and more information throughout with posters and small hints dropped during conversations. This gentle touch recurs throughout the series as we discover that, while the individual storylines can be understood as stand-alones, all the information peppered along the way coalesces into one much larger plot. This naturally means that the experience is that much richer if you watch the entire run. The only episode that strays from this is “Wolverine vs. the Hulk,” an episode where the only consequence is introducing us to this universe’s iteration of S.H.I.E.L.D., which happens to include a version of Nick Fury familiar to fans of Marvel’s film and television adaptations. This special may be an homage to Wolverine’s first appearance all those years ago in The Incredible Hulk, but it does feel a bit out-of-place. One of the more interesting concepts is that there are two ongoing storylines for a large portion of the series, yet both have an effect on each other. While I can’t say too much in case of spoiling the big reveal that occurs in episode three, I can divulge that it is executed wonderfully as you’re never overloaded with too much information at any one time, and it also allows for a much wider selection of characters.
This being the X-Men, there’s a whole selection of plots and personalities on which they could base the stories without the need to create two-dimensional characters as in Evolution. While creating new protagonists is a pointless exercise, there’s really no excuse to merely rehash plots straight from the comics without using some creativity, and I was greatly pleased that there has been deep thought put into adapting certain classics. We are treated to episodes inspired by major plots such as the Phoenix Saga, Days of Future Past and Weapon X, as well as some that are influenced by more modern examples such as the use of Tilda Soames from Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men. Tilda’s inclusion, despite her not being a well-known character, is the benefit of not only having a massive selection of plots to pick from, but also a choice of heroes that would put many other super teams to shame. While any form of media will always need certain X-Men mainstays like Wolverine, Storm, Angel, Iceman, Rogue and Beast, the inclusion of characters ignored in the Animated Series like Kitty Pryde, Nightcrawler and Emma Frost is a nice touch. Forge’s appearance is probably the only real surprise character for those not completely familiar with the comics, but the Brotherhood also contain a good selection, with the previously ignored Domino being a strong female antagonist, whilst Genosha contains a complete variety with lots of minor but familiar faces popping up for brief cameos. While Wolverine has taken the perhaps unexpected role of mentor and leader of the X-Men, he never strays away too far from his roots. At times, the remaining members have to deal with problems while Wolverine is off doing his own thing.
Part of the reason that I loved this series was that the creative team weren’t afraid to take risks, even if in one case it meant changing the entire personality of Scott Summers in quite a major way. Cyclops is usually one of my favourite characters due to his confidence and apparent cool (at least in the comics), but here he’s shown to have taken the loss of Jean especially hard and become mopey, leading to him making some rash decisions and having to regain the trust of his fellow team members. Another is that I never saw the ending coming. I was too busy focusing on everything happening in the here and now to think about what would happen next season, and upon re-watching the series, you can see all the hints that were apparent from the very start. It’s just a shame that we’re never going to see a second series, apparently due to Marvel’s inability to work out a way to finance the series (because using some of the millions from your hugely successful film franchise is just unthinkable). It’s a damn shame that they and their partners couldn’t get past whatever difficulties they had, as the first batch was an absolute blast to watch. Wolverine and the X-Men had the opportunity to be remembered with fond nostalgia by a new generation of fans in the same way that The Animated Series is by us eighties/nineties children.
Steven Blum, Tom Kane and Fred Tatasciore reprise their respective roles as Wolverine, Professor Thornton and Hulk in the animated movie Hulk Vs. Wolverine, a prequel to the series. Prior to the show’s cancellation, Nolan North was set to reprise his Hulk Vs role as Deadpool in a planned episode of the second season. Alex Désert reprised his role as Nick Fury in The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Hasbro produced a Wolverine and the X-Men toyline as a tie-in to the series. The first wave consisted of Avalanche, Beast, Colossus, Cyclops, Logan (not in classic outfit), Iceman, Magneto,Wolverine. Wave two contained the new figures Nightcrawler and a Black Uniform Wolverine. Wave Three, the final wave, added Forge and Toad to the line. The toy line ended before any of the main females of the series were turned into toys; notably missing were Emma Frost, Jean Grey, Shadowcat, Rogue, and Storm.
Due in part to the abundance of advertising for the series done by Nicktoons and Marvel, the Nicktoons Network premiere of Wolverine and the X-Men garnered over 3,500,000 viewers, one of the network’s highest ratings ever