TV GEMS: X-Men (1992-1997)

Edward tucks into arguably the best screen adventures for the X-Men. 

If you’re a child between the ages of eighteen to thirty, you have absolutely no excuse for not having seen X-Men when you were a wee nipper. For one, its the X-Men, and two, its animated American genius.

If you’re unaware of Saban Entertainment, then you obviously never watched television in the 90s, and played outside in the sun instead (shudder). Saban were prominent as the makers of series like Power Rangers and Samurai Pizza Cats. X-Men: The Animated Series, as it is sometimes known, is the longest-running cartoon based on a Marvel comic, and its certainly the one that people remember best. Other 90s telly properties like The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk and even Spider-Man don’t quite conjure up the same fuzzy feelings as X-Men does (although, the Spidey series is a classic itself). More importantly, if I hadn’t watched them as a child, I might not have cultivated the same interest in comics that I possess now, as the Galactus episode in The Fantastic Four introduced me to both Thor and Ghost Rider for the very first time. Yet it was always X-Men that I treasured the most, and despite Thor becoming one of my favourite characters, the perpetually-overlooked Cyclops runs a close second.

Also, that opening theme tune is truly one for the ages. It has been proven to move geeks to tears.

Seventy-six episodes were produced, although each season appears to have differing lengths, with season five possessing only ten episodes and a slightly different animation style. As you might expect from a first season, we are introduced to the team as well as learning the backstories of the members and the world they inhabit. The original gang consists of many characters you’d expect, such as Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, Rogue, Gambit, Beast, Wolverine, Jubilee, and Morph. Morph? Hold on a second, you don’t remember Morph? Of course you don’t, no one remembers Morph from either the comics or the TV show, partly down to him being a mostly original creation (although heavily based upon a character known as Changeling who assisted the X-Men before his death). And partly because he doesn’t make it past episode two before he apparently dies. I say apparent because it’s a cartoon show based on a comic. Apart from Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben, no one stays dead forever in the Marvel Universe. Fans of Beast will also be disappointed with series one, since Dr. McCoy makes very few appearances in comparison to his fellow X-Men, instead appearing occasionally when the plot demands some science. Thankfully, this is rectified in series two and beyond.

In a series with this many main characters (nine for those of you who are bad with numbers), there’s always the risk that certain personalities will be ignored and others will be given far too much of the limelight. However, X-Men does a decent job of sharing the episodes around. It was inevitable, however, that several members, including Professor X, would get more screen-time than others. Cyclops/Scott Summers and Storm were the team leaders in the comics and were given more attention than was strictly necessary. Summers is shown as the main leader here but he has issues he needs to sort out, and Storm is a strong, powerful woman who’s still happy to allow him to lead. The fact that Wolverine keeps getting all the attention in every bloody X-Men cartoon is annoying as hell, as he’s always the centre of attention, the overrated git. I do like Logan as a character, both as he’s depicted here and in the source material, but I don’t understand why he keeps being placed into Marvel’s upper echelons. Sure, his powers are cool but his mysterious history does not make him more interesting than any other X-Man out there.

The remaining characters are fairly well-balanced, as at one point or another we focus on all of these heroes. Gambit and Rogue are generally together in episodes, and it doesn’t shy away from exploring their relationship, including their inability to touch each other. And, of course, there’s their pasts which are both vaguely mysterious, although Rogue’s is obviously the more memorable because of an appearance from another Marvel Universe character. As mentioned before, Beast is originally ignored in the first series but we eventually learn more about the man he used to be, and the difference his appearance makes to him and those who meet him. As you may be aware, Jean Grey is Cyclops’ loving girlfriend who gives him the kick up the bum he often needs, as well as the comfort. Jubilee is the cheeky younger member of the team who’s treated like a daughter or younger sister by the rest of the ensemble, and she looks up to them in return. And then there’s Professor X. The founder of the X-Men is both the mentor of the team as well as their teacher, overall leader and confidant. He gives them their missions as well as helping to deal with any problems that may arise, and is even the centre of a few episodes occasionally due to his relationship with Magneto. Their “friendship” is the most common theme.

X-Men was one of the first cartoon series from America to have stories flowing from one episode into another, and as you may expect from a series based on a comic, there are a fair few storylines that take place over several episodes, if not over an entire series, and are based upon classic storylines from almost every era of X-Men prior. These include heavy-hitters such as the Dark Phoenix Saga, Days of Future Past and The Legacy Virus, and then singular stories such as Magneto’s origin are ripped liberally from the classic issues. As well as the comic plots, X-Men has many necessary and unique parts of the franchise, such as the Sentinels, Senator Kelly, the Savage Land and Genosha. The Sentinels are a regular enemy that the X-Men have to face, but a good portion of their rogue’s gallery appears throughout the series, with well-known enemies such as Apocalypse, Mister Sinister and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. There’s even those who normally dip under most people’s radars, such as Omega Red and Garokk. Villains like Magneto and Mister Sinister return fairly often, but the stories are written well enough that they never get boring. Apart from the wide range of protagonists, one of the reasons that I’ve always been quite adoring about X-Men is because of all the cameos. You’ll see Cannonball and Cable and other independent characters like War Machine and The Punisher. It’s definitely cool to see these familiar faces pop-up unexpectedly.

Whilst the characters have managed to make the leap over from comic to television faithfully, what about the issues that X-Men has always addressed with racism and diversity always being at the forefront?  Thankfully, the producers decided not to stray from the existing themes, keeping them consistent throughout. There is racial commentary aplenty as Magneto and Xavier have always been compared to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, respectively. It would have been a mistake to take such adult concerns away. We also have an episode about apartheid with Genosha, with segregation still an issue at the time in South Africa. X-Men dealt with real-world problems that were still current and important to many people. As well as the obvious comments on discrimination, the writers also bring up divorce, religion, the holocaust and AIDS. While it may only be a cartoon, the writers didn’t hide from bringing up contentious issues.

I really love X-Men. The episodes are well-written, the ending credits sequence feels like you’re picking a character in a video game, and I get to see superheroes fight. But there’s one thing about X-Men that has always bothered me: Storm’s costume changes. Apparently, summoning the elements also causes her clothes to morph into her team outfit. Why is this? What artist or editor decided that this made any sense whatsoever? Niggle aside, The Animated Series is an amazing cartoon and is certainly well worth watching if you have even a passing interest in these characters. For the rest of us, it just brings back waves of nostalgia. Here’s the very first episode for your viewing pleasure…

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • Fox initially had a lot of resistance to the cartoon before it became a success. They felt that the target audiences, kids under 10, wouldn’t be interested in a romantic love triangle between Cyclops, Jean, and Wolverine. They also thought kids wouldn’t keep up with a show that was serialised.
  • The sound effect used for Magneto’s magnetic powers is the same sound effect used for the Klingon cloaking device in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984).
  • After “The Phoenix Saga” aired, the remaining episodes that aired were not in the correct continuity order. Because the bulk of episodes were being animated with many different studios, the writers decided not to continue with linear storylines like the first two seasons, as many would likely air as soon as they became available. Continuity problems became so bad that episode 3.8 “No Mutant is an Island” and episode 3.10 “Longshot” did not air for two years after they should have, thanks to animation quality issues. “No Mutant is an Island” was *supposed* to explain Jean Grey’s return, setting up the Dark Phoenix Saga.

Here’s our X-Men video special from earlier in the year.

Comments

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2 Comments

  1. Veense Peper says:

    Actually, I have seen Storm morph into her X-outfit in the comics as well.

    • Comic Compendium says:

      If I’ve erred I apologise. If you know which issues and title I’d be intrigued to read them.

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