Animation Advent Calendar – 12 Days of Christmas #4 – X-Men: Have Yourself a Morlock Little X-Mas

Its the Fourth of December already. Seriously, how fast is the countdown to Christmas this year? I hope the re-opening of shops hasn’t been too stressful so far. I still have a few bits to get, but I’m not panicking just yet. Whatever your current mood, block out a few minutes and enjoy another advent animation pick. We’re staying in the 90s with another landmark comic book series.

X-Men: The Animated Series S04 E17 – Have Yourself a Morlock Little X-Mas

Marvel’s first ever foray into Christmas television is a tale of tragedy, honor, leadership and, ultimately, togetherness. No, Marvel are not producing this Christmas Day’s Eastenders. Instead, the hugely popular (and Disney Plus resurrected) X-Men animated series of the 90s has a Christmas episode.

As the X-Men prepare for their own Christmas celebration, Leech, the littlest of the underground Mutant tribe known as the Morlocks, is taken critically ill. Storm won the mantle of leadership back in season one after a duel with Callisto and thus, it falls to the X-Men to get the treatment Leech requires. Problem is, Storm’s X-Men duties over the years means she doesn’t exactly spend too much time underground. And Callisto wants payback.

Anyone who has seen the X-Men animated show will be aware of its generally serious tone. After all, this was a Saturday morning cartoon that dealt with issues such as xenophobia, racism, slavery as well general macho bullshit for good measure. But this Christmas episode does have some welcome humour. The kitchen scene, with Gambit and Jean Grey squabbling over the latter’s Christmas dinner preparation, is a hilarious delight. As is Cyclops’ attempts at singing. Wolverine is the Scrooge of the group (naturally), with any attempt at Christmas cheer met with derision.

“”Did I hear an attack alarm? Or would that be hoping for too much?” – Wolverine

A quick tonal shift from cheer to fear sees the X-Men fighting for the Morlock’s life, with Logan (Wolverine) facing personal demons from his past as a cure appears to be found – Logan’s regenerative powers. The delicate balancing act between celebration, comedy and drama is handled with care. The overall narrative belongs to Jubilee’s, the foster child mutant of the X-Men, who is experiencing her first proper family Christmas and has finally found belonging in her life. Her strides of maturity shine through as she comforts the youngest Morlock through Leech’s illness. It is a testament to the strong continuity built as the show progressed.

Originally airing on the Christmas Eve Eve (23rd December) 1995, Have Yourself a Morlock Little X-Mas is an excellent example of what made X-Men such a great show. Its blend of drama, action and overall camaraderie and teamwork shone throughout it’s five seasons. This episode is but one example of that. A great first Christmas TV outing for Marvel.

The 11 Best Episodes Of ‘X-Men The Animated Series’

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

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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.

Deadly Reunions

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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.

Cold Vengeance

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 9 Best Episodes Of ‘Batman: The Animated Series’

Remember, remember the 5th of November. A significant date for the ages. No, I’m not talking about Guy Fawkes or bonfire night. Instead I’m talking about the release of something special: Batman: The Animated Series has come to Blu-Ray.

This is not a review of that box-set, as I am not yet fortunate enough to own a copy. But it is definitely worth noting this is not some hasty dump of all 109 episodes that offers nothing more than the existing DVD collection already did. Warner Bros. have gone ALL out on this one. Every episode has been remastered, much like how Disney handle their remastered releases, giving them a new lease of life. And boy do they look fantastic.

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What always amazed me about Batman: The Animated Series, above all other animated shows, was the sound and the ambience of the show. The explosions were like nothing else on television at the time, certainly not cartoons. And the explosive launch of Batman’s grapple gun still gets me every time. You can feel them, let alone hear them. As an 11 year old upon its release, watching via the Warner Bros-sponsored UK children’s entertainment show What’s Up Doc?, it was a feast for the eyes. Now by all accounts, this box-set is just that all over again, and somehow more.

Then there are the extras, including the excellent spin-off movies Mask of the Phantasm and Sub-Zero. There are commentaries for several key episodes, several feature shows, even a 98-minute documentary that traces the origins of the show through to today’s still-existent influence. I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

In the meantime, I’ve been reacquainting myself with the series via Prime Video. Their affiliation with Warner Bros is worth the subscription alone, with the entire Batman and Justice League runs on offer, as well as several of the DC Animated Movie series. And so I offer you my pick of the 9 best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. This does not include the movies, but does include episodes of the latter series The New Batman Adventures. Nor are they in any particular order. I’m sure my picks will differ from yours, but that’s all part of the fun, isn’t it?

Appointment in Crime Alley

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Adapted from the 1976 Denny O’Neill-penned comic story “There Is No Hope in Crime Alley”, writing legend Gerry Conway brings this tale of remembrance and reality to the small screen. Batman has an appointment to keep in Crime Alley, the location of Bruce Wayne’s parents’ murder. Corrupt businessman Roland Daggett however has plans to blow up Crime Alley in order to expand his own empire. It is in this wonderfully-scored episode that the relationship between Batman and Leslie Thompkins comes to fruition. Although a simpler episode with regards to scripting, this is an episode that instead lets its actions and soundtrack do the talking. This episode was also successfully adapted into a novel entitled Shadows of the Past, A first for the series.

Girls’ Night Out

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On a recent episode of the Kevin Smith podcast-style show, Fatman Beyond, the magnificently talented Tara Strong (the voice of Batgirl in The New Batman Adventures) declared this among her favourite episodes to work on. It’s easy to see why. Forget DC Superhero Girls, this is the ultimate Superhero girl team-up. With both Bats and Supes away, Batgirl and Supergirl come to the forefront to take on the recently-escaped Livewire. Things escalate further when Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy also join the fray. The chemistry is electric (literally, in the case of Livewire, voiced perfectly by Tank Girl’s Lori Petty), as Batgirl demonstrates her true capability as a member of the Bat family. Even more so for Supergirl, desperate to prove herself and realise her dream of becoming a hero in her own right. What better place than Gotham? Speaking of Tara Strong (who is undoubtedly the best Batgirl, in one of the few roles using her natural speaking voice), she recently also spoke of the recording sessions taking place with the cast together, as opposed to separate recordings. This is key to the entire series, and imagining such a great cast bouncing off of each other only reinforces the fantastic character chemistry throughout.

Heart of Ice

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I heavily considered this one as being my favourite episode, and is definitely up there with the best. In its first season, this is one of the few episodes that sat apart from the rest, establishing Batman: The Animated Series as a truly special series. This traumatic tale of tragedy depicts Victor Freeze as an exploited scientist, who becomes Mr Freeze after his former employer accidentally kills Freeze’s wife Nora, and also forces Victor to live on in an ice cold suit. As a result vengeance consumes him, as the now literally cold-hearted Mr Freeze will stop at nothing to harm those that harmed him and his beloved Nora. With Heart of Ice, the stakes in BAS were risen to new levels. Real drama is thrust at you, and as a fairly early episode of the show, Heart of Ice proves that the writers, Paul Dini in this case, were not kidding around. Even in a kids show. The screenplay for Heart of Ice also won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing. Cold as ice.

Joker’s Favor 

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Another contender for best-ever episode, Joker’s Favor is the perfect combination of everything Batman: The Animated Series is all about. Comedy, suspense, action, and in the case of Charlie Collins, a very relatable, very human protagonist. Charlie is just like you and me; living the responsibilities of an everyday working family man. After a bad day on all fronts, Charlie takes his anger out on a random driver – only to find that random driver is none other than The Joker. Now Charlie has to pay for his mistake by being on hand when the Joker comes calling. Joker’s Favor is a perfect BAS specimen; Joker wants to blow up the city, Batman needs to stop him, an innocent is inadvertently in the firing line, an all too familiar Batman tale. But its simple synopsis paves the way for a disturbing villain to be his chilling best as he terrorises Charlie into doing his bidding. But even the every-man has his limits, with Charlie’s standoff with The Joker proving that Batman isn’t the only hero in Gotham City. This episode also marked the debut of Harley Quinn into the DC Universe in an unremarkable yet subtle taste of what was to come. And although Batman does feature prominently, Joker’s Favor is a perfect tale of Gotham City. It proves that Batman: The Animated Series is not just about Batman or his Batmobile and Batcave.

Perchance to Dream

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Every series has a “dream-scape” episode. Perchance to Dream takes that plot device and adds a typically Batman mystery feel to the proceedings. Bruce Wayne wakes up one morning to find his life as Batman is no more. Why? Because his parents are still alive, that’s why. Despite his memories of being Batman, there is no Batcave to speak of, with Bruce now living the idyllic life he never had. Or so it seems, as even this new life soon unravels to reveal the truth. Perchance to Dream delivers an emotional roller-coaster for Bruce, giving him a taste of the world where he no longer needs to be The Batman. The battle between Bruce and the Batman in this new life is one of the most humanising moments in the entire series, once again proving this series is playing for keeps.

P.O.V

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Few episodes of Batman: The Animated Series delivered a different point of view from Batman or his numerous iconic villains. But P.O.V dials that concept up a notch by delivering four. After Detective Bullock rushes in alone on a planned heist without waiting for backup, who are still en route, the heist goes south. Bullock cements his place here as an unfavourable protagonist, willing to throw his fellow officers (and Batman) to the wolves (not literally) in order to protect himself and his self-proclaimed image. In the face of disciplinary action, all parties tell their side of the story to divulge what really happened. The concept of P.O.V is hardly ground-breaking. And yet its quirkiness and purpose of humanising the GCPD, particularly Montoya as potential detective material, shines throughout.

Robin’s Reckoning Part 1

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Boasting some of the best animation in the entire series, this first half of Robin’s origin recap centres on some of the most tragic material also. Robin’s Reckoning displays intensity and sorrow like never before as flashbacks depict Dick Grayson’s defining tragedy. In a show that has very few clear-cut deaths to speak of, here we see the fate of Dick’s parents with their deaths taking place just off-screen. Couple that with Robin’s heart-rending dialogue as he recounts feeling the guilt of his parents’ death every single day, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a roller-coaster ride. And this is just part 1. All of the feels.

The Man Who Killed Batman

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What begins as a cautionary tale to the super-villains of Gotham descends into some of the show’s funniest moments. When small-time gang help Sidney Debris supposedly (and accidentally) causes Batman’s demise, Sidney, now dubbed the “Squid” given his developed reputation, seeks out Rupert Thorne and The Joker to tell all. Naturally, neither believe him, with The Joker becoming somewhat despondent at the news. The Man Who Killed Batman plays out in a similar manner to P.O.V, with Sidney’s flashback taking up the first half. But it’s Mark Hamill’s Joker, as is often the case, who steals the show with some of his best scenes. Joker’s eulogy for Batman is terrific viewing, and further cements Hamill’s Joker is the best Joker. Having seemingly disposed of Sidney, with Harley performing Amazing Grace on a Kazoo, Joker then declares “Well that was fun. Who’s for Chinese?” Genius. Pure Genius.

Two Face Part 1

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Like the first part of Robin’s Reckoning, the Two-Face origin story is one that began in the very first episode, On Leather Wings. There, a scene takes place with District Attorney Harvey Dent, repeatedly flipping his trademark coin during a discussion at City Hall. But here is where one face becomes two, as Harvey struggles to contain his anger in the eyes of the press as he seeks re-election. Following Rupert Thorne’s threat to reveal to the press that Harvey has been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, Harvey cannot repress his anger any longer, and “Big Bad Harv” takes hold for good. Despite Batman’s intervention (and Harvey being one of Bruce’s closest friends), an electrical fire scars Harvey’s entire left side, thus creating Two-Face. There are several 2-part stories in Batman: The Animated Series, and Two-Face is up there with the best. Being only the 10th episode, this half was another episode that cemented the show’s quality. Immaculately acted, brilliantly animated, with tension you simply rarely see in cartoons anymore. I must add that there is nothing wrong with Two-Face part 2, but given only a few BAS villains have their origins told in its present time, this is a special one. And as Two-Face origins go, it beats both Nolan’s and Schumacher’s efforts.

And there you have it. Picking just 9 standout episodes from 109 (almost 10%) wasn’t easy. But I certainly had fun watching them again to come up with this list. As an 11 year this show was all about Batman and how cool and dark he was. The cool villains and the gadgets. If Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns were my starter, this was the main course. Now, as a 37 year old adult, I see Batman: The Animated Series for what it was truly intended to be: It’s not all about Batman. It’s Batman’s city, Gotham City, which is on show. The film-noir style and vintage timelessness is simply a joy to watch with each and every episode. Now I just need to get my hands on that Blu-Ray set. Anyone got £60 they could lend me?

Batman: The Animated Series on Blu-Ray is available now from Amazon and many other retailers.