The 20th Anniversary Of The X-MEN Animated Series
Arguably one of the best cartoon series ever based on a comic book character, we're approaching the 20th Anniversary of Fox's 90's animated X-Men series. We look back at some of the series' best moments and many, many cameos. Oh, and that intro!
There are a handful of animations that defined the childhood of many fanboys in the 90s. Spider-Man. Animaniacs. Darkwing Duck. All great, and for me, it doesn’t get better than Batman The Animated Series. But if there was ever a superhero cartoon to rival that show, it was X-Men.
The Fox series propelled the Marvel mutants into the mainstream, and probably remains the first exposure of these great characters for most people, even inspiring many to take a look at the comic books they came from.
I’ve sifted through it all, from season 1’s cool finale “Final Decision”, (Wolverine rips into a cave full of Sentinels in complete darkness) to the Quicksilver/Scarlet Witch-centric “Family Ties”. It’s confounding to think about all the mutant cameos and side-stories they’ve presented along the way- Like the entirely flashback-based origin of Nathaniel Essex, a.k.a. Mr. Sinister. I’m also stunned to find I didn’t like the Savage Land, thread as much as I remembered. (But I will defend the lackluster Colossus/Omega Red ep “Red Dawn” to the death, lol) Just like my Best of Batman TAS anniversary, I’ve pulled the 20 that I think are the best of this series.
20. Old Soldiers- More of an honorable mention than a full on entry, this episode is pretty wonky if you take another look. But there’s no denying the geek awesomeness of seeing Wolverine team up with Captain freaking America in WWII throwback ep.
19. Courage- Morph has to deal with his demons, as he tries to rejoin the X-Men. This is just a great character study more than anything. Morph has to face the very things that effectively killed him- the sentinels. He freezes in the face of them, and has to wonder if he’s utterly worthless.
18. Have Yourself a Morlock Little X-mas- It’s syrupy and sweet, and gets derided as an awful episode (No, “Jubilee’s Fairytale Theater” is far worse), but I think there is a lot to like. Seeing the X-Men celebrate the holidays was a refreshing break from much of the seriousness. It’s a typical ‘ill child’ cliché for the genre, but I like that Storm’s absence as leader of the Morlocks was brought up, and Logan learning to have faith.
17. Nightcrawler- Speaking of faith, this is another episode that made X-Men stand out from other cartoons. Dealing with religion directly, Wolverine, Gambit and Rogue happen across the pious Kurt Wagner while vacationing in Europe. Later on, “Bloodlines” revisits this, while also uncovering Nightcrawler’s origin with Mystique.
16. The Phoenix Saga (Part 3): Cry of the Banshee- I’ll confess that I think The Phoenix Saga is actually where the series started to lose me. Alien species and space crystals were all too much for my 10-year old brain. But the middle episode of the first arc has some great moments. Juggernaut , Tom Cassidy and Gladiator come to mind. This one is basically a kidnap story. Lilandra is in trouble.
15. Deadly Reunions- Jubilee babysits Sabertooth in the mansion. It’s a lucky thing Wolverine is there, because Creed easily gains the upper hand against the teen. “How come we’re fightin’ you’re old enemy, but we gotta go easy on mine?” This early ep marks Magneto and Professor X meeting for the first time in years. A great highlight features the scene where Rogue takes Cyclops’ powers.
14. Sanctuary (part 2)- If there is a best Gambit episode, forget that assassin’s rivalry down in the bayou. His highlight is Sanctuary, which is a complex story of diplomacy and treachery. Gambit is labeled traitor aboard Magneto’s Asteroid M. But the safe haven was really overthrown by Magneto’s close ally Fabian Cortez. We also get a peek at another of Xavier’s lost loves, Amelia.
13. Cold Comfort- Another one of my favorite X-Men is Ice Man. I liked the small parts of this ep that peek into the First Class days, and Bobby Drake’s particular beef with Cyclops. Makes Logan look like a boy scout! For more mutant mayhem, his team X-Factor is featured, including Havok, Wolfsbane, and Polaris.
12. Obsession- This is a very cool episode, where Archangel is determined to get revenge on Apocalypse for what he did to him. What I like here is how much Warren Worthington has changed, and how far he is willing to go to sate his anger. I also liked the A.I. that helps Beast thwart the situation. Never been an Apocalypse fan, but this is the most impressive you’ll see him on this show.
11. Time Fugitives (1 & 2)- This episode is kind of a sequel to Days of Future Past. Bishop goes back in time again to stop a plague, but doing so is destroying Cable’s timeline. This is a great conflicting twist. And yes, again, there is consistently great stuff with the mutant vs. public outcry. This time, it seems to be an allegory about AIDS hysteria.
10. Repo Man- The Canadian super-team Alpha Flight come to take Wolverine home. Through this episode, his backstory with Weapon X is revealed. I liked seeing his feral rage tamed by Heather Hudson. Because this ep was produced pre-Origins comics, I appreciate Repo Man for being the best and last existing proof that Wolverine was never born with the claws- the claws were put in him! That’s the whole point, people!
9. Dark Phoenix Saga (Part 1): Dazzled- First of all, Gambit takes Cyclops to a club! It is great to see the showbiz mutant Dazzler flirt with Scott. But it’s even cooler to see the Inner Circle vying for control of Phoenix, as well as each other. This starts the second half of the mega-arc. Leland, Shaw, Frost. The first step is making Jean think she’s someone else...
8. Till Death Do Us part (Part 1)- Scott and Jean get married, just as civil unrest escalates around the country. Former bigot Senator Kelly is now pro-mutant, so the public results to other means: The Friends of Humanity, an extremist group led by Greydon Creed. But the real fun is watching the newly resurrected Morph infiltrate the X-Men, and play them against each other.
7. One Man’s Worth (1 & 2)- The tale this episode mostly emulates is the Age of Apocalypse timeline, a scenario in which instead of a human leader being assassinated, it is mutant leader Charles Xavier who is killed. Bishop is back, with sister Shard. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot more than a few familiar faces in the background, and check it out, Wolverine and Storm are an item!
6. A Rogue’s Tale- Rogue’s backstory, from running away from home, to her time with mystique is chronicled. She’s my favorite X-Men character, so all of this is great to see, in an effectively dramatic episode. Her powers were taken from Ms. Marvel, who it turns out didn’t die from the permanent swap. It’s surprisingly emotional to see Jane Doe (Ms. Marvel hospitalized in a coma) cry about how her life force was stolen.
5. Cold Vengeance- Unable to take the sight of Jean and Scott together, Wolverine takes leave in Alaska, where he meets a tribe unfamiliar with mutants. Similar to the later ep “The Lotus and the Steel” it is great to see Logan’s peace disrupted by a hardcore enemy. But this is a stronger entry because his feud with Sabertooth reaches its glorious apex. "Let the ice be your tombstone! Here lies Wolverine, alone and defeated!"
4. The Cure- Rogue seeks help from Dr. Adler, who is also being targeted by Pyro, Avalanche, and the mysterious Cable. Apocalypse is also waiting in the shadows. I love this episode because of the question they make Rogue face about getting rid of her powers. Should someone change who they are if they could? Also, Cable has a fantastically bad ass fight with Angel early on.
3. Night of the Sentinels (Part 2)- The aftermath of Morph’s death weighs heavily on the team. Wolverine’s vengeful cry, “This one’s for you morph!!” is a memorable moment that adds a lot to the heart of the character. Surprisingly, the meat of this episode involves Beast captive, and being persecuted by the full extent of the law.
2. Beauty and the Beast- The best single episode of the show. The blind love story is quite poignant on a couple of levels. Mutant discrimination is front and center, as Beast suffers hatred from the father of his patient, a blind woman to whom he is restoring sight. There is also a great subplot where Wolverine infiltrates the friends of humanity.
1. Days of Future Past (1 & 2)- A great adaptation of a great X-Men story. The major change swaps time travelers; Shadowcat is replaced with Bishop, who I admit got on my nerves at first. The stronger episode is part 2, where the attempt to stop the assassination unfolds. Rogue and Mystique reunite, while Wolverine and Bishop have good banter. Gambit redeems himself, and it has my favorite final line cliffhanger ever: “My watch has been magnetized."
I get pretty nostalgic for the show. The muscle-bound designs, the amazing voice cast, and that killer intro theme. Sure the animation isn’t as polished as Evolution or Wolverine and the X-Men, but the storytelling blows them out of the water. Most X-Episodes were stories pulled straight from the comics, and for a kids show, the themes of prejudice and persecution are incredibly strong. Cartoons today don’t come close to this material.
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