As the 2010’s leave us like a bullet train passing through a station, franchise reboots and re-releases are as ingrained into our brains and bookshelves as the wealth of more recent material. Retro is back, and seemingly here to stay.
Recent examples of note include the 1992 Batman: The Animated Series getting the Blu-Ray treatment in 2018, more than 20 years on. 2019 marked the 20-year anniversary of Batman Beyond (1999-2001) with a similar effort. But enough about DC’s glorious gems, what about Marvel?
X-Men: The Animated Series is one such deserving gem. It originally ran from 1992-1997 for five, fun-packed seasons. With it came concepts more associated with TV dramas, such as progressive storylines, season-long narratives and multi-part adaptions derived from some of the most famous stories from the comic books.
Unfortunately, there is no high-definition re-release on the cards anytime soon. However, with the arrival of Disney Plus, as well as the handy aqcuisition of Fox, all episodes are indeed part of the gargantuan streaming service. With Disney Plus finally arriving in the UK on March 21, I for one am keen to revisit a near 30-year old animated classic.
So, without any further ado, and in no particular order, sit back and enjoy my favourite episodes from the series.
Night of the Sentinels Parts 1 + 2
Where best to start than right at the beginning? Right off the bat, this 2-part opener sets the scene and tone of the show perfectly. We are introduced to the X-Men through the perspective of one Jubilation Lee (AKA Jubilee: “I blow stuff up”) as she seeks salvation from mutant prejudice. The pubertal manifestation of her mutant powers has all but ended her normal life. Even the authorities are out to get to her through the government-funded Mutant Control Agency, supposedly set up to help mutants, but is in fact a front to eliminate them.
Real issues such as racism and xenophobia are a constant throughout the series. X-Men: TAS does an excellent job in exerting such issues, through that of teenagers, even young adults, in a terrifying, relatable manner. I’m well aware that none of us are going to be hunted by giant, malevolent robots because we can blow stuff up with our bare hands. But these emotional notions can directly be transferred into the real world of teen angst; here it is simply in a alternative, fictional guise.
The threat posed to these would-be heroes, who are forced to operate outside the law, pulls no punches, with an initial tragedy thrown in to cement that. This is no origin story. You are thrown straight into the X-Men’s world and all that comes with it. All suitable for Saturday mornings, of course.
By the fourth episode we’ve already been introduced emphatically to Magneto, Charles Xavier’s long-time friend, and one of the X-Men’s main rivals. The X-Men prevented a Magneto-powered missile attack in just the previous episode, but Mr Maniacal Magnetic Mutant is far from done. Magneto attempts to draw out Charles for a reunion years in the making, and is prepared to put human lives on the line to do so.
What follows is the first psychological pitting of two very differently motivated mutant minds. Charles’ idealism that all mutants follow his vision is also put to the test. It is so important that this rivalry is introduced so early in the series, as it will continue to become a backbone throughout. As will the animosity between Wolverine and Sabretooth, whose very physical battle also test’s Charles and his methods.
This Wolverine-centric episode widened my eyes (“Deadly Reunions” had certainly pried them open) to the brutal relationship between Logan and Victor Creed, otherwise known as Sabretooth. After their brief yet destructive battle in Deadly Reunions, “Cold Vengeance” takes it up to eleven. They’re both literally trying to kill each other and, given the array of claws on offer, the intensity is maintained without the need for graphic violence. A true testament of the show for sure.
Elsewhere, the adaption of the “mutant friendly” nation of Genosha comes into play. Cyclops steals the show as his tetchy tendencies are unleashed on the charismatic but often-cocky Cajun, Gambit. Whether it’s combat or conjecture, Cold Vengeance really turns up the heat in a series just six episodes strong at this stage.
Days of Future Past Parts 1 + 2
A story so synonymous with the X-Men universe it was even adapted in the movie universe, Days of Future Past is up there with the best on offer. Kitty Pryde, the comic book’s original time-travelling saviour, is completely absent from the show, despite being the front of the original pilot from the show’s producers. Instead, Days of Future Past becomes the platform to introduce another time-traveller, Bishop, into the show. The switch is admirable, and even with a completely new dynamic as a result of the change, it works handsomely.
Days of Future Past taps into everything the X-Men’s world is all about; why they fight against persecution. The bleak tone of their potential future resonates from the page to screen perfectly. It is a 2-part adventure that casts doubt on the characters you’re just getting to know, interspersed with a nice dose of science fiction to boot.
The Final Decision
Artificial intelligence goes self-aware and runs amok in this first season finale. After the fallout of “Days of Future Past”, Senator Kelly is kidnapped by Magneto. This in turn leads to anti-mutant protest rallies, with the X-Men in the middle trying to keep the peace. The Final Decision really hammers home the nobility of the X-Men and Charles’s hope for human/mutant peace.
The sentinel program comes to a head, even rebelling against its creator, Bolivar Trask. What follows is the X-Men putting their lives on the line against an army of mutant-killing robots in a spectacular battle sequence that is among the best the series has to offer over its five seasons.
Time Fugitives Part 1 + 2
It wouldn’t be a true X-Men show without everyone’s, me included, favourite time travelling mutant, Cable. The show casts Cable as a hardened warrior, A non-killing Rambo, if you’ll pardon the reference. Cable fights the good fight, albeit in his own way. That is to say, helping the X-Men’s cause, just rarely directly or by the same methods.
In Time Fugitives, it is Cable’s future that’s on the line. Bishop is also back, and another time jump to the present day is subsequently erasing Cable’s timeline. The only probable solution? Take out Bishop. Time Fugitives is a 2-part adventure told in a before-then-after format, with direct comparisons drawn as an open-and-shut version of the Legacy Virus comic book storyline.
Above all else, this interlude in the show’s most progressive season showcases some of its best action sequences. With regards to Cable, TAS always did an excellent job of painting Cable as a top supporting character. The show manages to tease its audience with Cable’s true meaning to the team, particularly Cyclops, without feeling the need to delve any deeper. It’s a perfect nod for comic fans of the show, and enough for newcomers to be left asking themselves provocative questions that may or may not be answered down the line.
Reunion Parts 1 + 2
The second season of X-Men: The Animated Series, emboldened by the groundwork already laid in the first season, explored a TV concept usually reserved for adult shows: The season-long story arc. The season opener “Till Death Us Do Part” saw an X-Man, previously thought long gone, luring both Xavier and Magneto to The Savage Land. What begins as a secondary storyline becomes the foundation for this, the 2-part season finale.
Stripped of their powers, Xavier and Magneto must set aside their differences and work together to survive in a prehistoric land. These segments, usually on the back end of episodes throughout the season, explore the more distinctive element of their relationship: friendship. The mastermind of season 2 is an undoubtedly Sinister character (wink wink), whose obsession with Cyclops and Jean Grey’s mutagenic possibilities results in a battle for all the X-Men’s lives. His ability to even manipulate Xavier ranks Sinister above most if not all the foes the X-Men face throughout the entire series.
What were your favorite episodes of “X-Men: The Animated Series?” Leave a comment with yours!