Welcome to a new feature on triplenerdscore called “Under A Rock.”
Basically, here’s where I sharpen my writing skills by summarizing a piece of popular geek media I enjoy/enjoyed that I think everyone knows about, or should. I’ll try and give a spoiler-free analysis.
Since this started out as an X-Men blog, and my X-Men posts remain the most popular, I’ll use my first segment to discuss how I got my start with Marvel’s mutants and talk about X-Men: The Animated Series today.
Comic book cartoons have a very polarizing tendency…that is to say, they can either be very good or very bad, with few middle-of-the-road exceptions.
For anyone who grew up in the early 1990s, X-Men: The Animated Series (simply X-Men or X:TAS for short) was one of the best. Even though modern audiences are more likely to be turned off by the over-the-top voice acting and hit-and-miss animation, for its time it was celebrated as one of the most complex, mature, and story-driven cartoons of the day, and is still ranked highly in the annals of animated TV shows.
The premise is an adaptation Marvel Comics’ franchise of the same name. The titular X-Men are mutants, people born with unique abilities and/or physical characteristics that manifest at puberty and set them apart from the rest of the world. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of mutants across the globe, with new ones popping up every day, and the general public’s reaction to them is…perhaps understandably…mixed.
The X-Men themselves, we mostly see through the eyes of a young girl named Jubilee, who has just discovered that she herself is a mutant, with the power to generate explosive energy from her hands.
The cast consists of the weather-controlling Storm; the flying, super-strong power-absorber Rogue; Gambit, who turns objects into grenades; Cyclops, who fires beams of energy from his eyes; blue-furred, acrobatic, poetic genius Beast; shapeshifting wisecracker Morph; psychic, telekinetic den-mother Jean Grey; Professor Xavier, telepathic founder of the X-Men; and feral, adamantium-clawed Wolverine, the most wildly popular character in the comics and show.
Although this was largely an action show, and as such devoted a good chunk of time every episode to comic-book-style fight scenes with impressive visuals and memorable feats, the real strength of the show lay in its character interactions, and the pains it took to juggle and develop a sizable cast. Some characters fell through the cracks over the course of the show…Gambit all but disappeared after about the third season or so, and Jean Grey only got one truly memorable storyline of note…but by and large, the cast remained an ensemble, though Wolverine, being the most popular character, appeared in every episode. The dynamics of how the team related to each other were strong, and relatively complex for a children’s show of the time; viewers were treated to Rogue and Gambit’s tumultuous love affair, Wolverine and Cyclops competing for the affections of Jean Grey (and in later seasons, hints of a mutual attraction between Wolverine and Storm), and the long-standing friendship and rivalry between Professor Xavier and Magneto, the show’s primary antagonist, though he was portrayed in a much more sympathetic light here than in the comics that were being printed at the time, to the point where it was heavily implied that he would become an X-Man himself in the series finale.
Characters who had been X-Men in the comics guest-starred frequently, among them the time-traveling Bishop and Cable, original X-Men alumni Iceman and Archangel, and fan favorites like Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Banshee. Other groups, like the government-funded X-Factor, also made appearances. Each story arc was tied to the rest of the series as a whole, but the individual story arcs, which could span anything from one episode to four or five, but mostly rested in the two- or three-part zone, could usually be followed in and of themselves. The only exception was a sub-plot in the second season where Professor X and Magneto found themselves in the Savage Land without their mutant powers, which began as a side-plot in the season opener and continued all the way through the second-season finale.
The show mostly had its own storyline, separate from the comics, but certain plots were adapted and lifted directly from the comics, such as Chris Claremont’s classic “Dark Phoenix Saga,” where Jean Grey attains nearly godlike power but is corrupted as a result of it. In stories like this, details were changed to make it suitable for a younger viewing audience, but the spirit and essence of the comics’ stories were largely kept intact.
I personally loved this series, and recommend it to anyone with children between the ages of 6 and 14. It gives lessons in prejudice and tolerance without being overly preachy, and is simple enough for children to understand while still retaining the interest of a slightly older audience with complex, intricate storylines.
If there are flaws in this series, they lie in the technical production aspects. The animation is choppy, though an argument could be made that the creators were trying to make it look like a moving comic book, and the dialogue may sound corny to today’s audiences, particularly Wolverine’s gruffly growled catchphrases or the long, dramatic invocations Storm utters when she calls upon her weather powers (something she does not have to do in the comics).
Despite these shortcomings, X-Men: The Animated Series is a solid show, and one that is enjoyable at almost any age. I strongly recommend it to any parent looking to give their child quality entertainment, and isn’t averse to action shows. Though I warn you, the theme song WILL get stuck in your head.
And there you have it! My summary of X-Men: The Animated Series for anyone who’s been living Under A Rock.
You can find these reviews at sharetv.org before I post them here. Just look for reviews by ‘ingonyama’ to see if I’ve finished it yet.
Next/soon-ish, I’ll take a look at what I consider to be the best anime ever to come out of the West:
Avatar: The Last Airbender (The Legend of Aang for UK audiences)