Along with Batman: The Animated Series, the ’90s X-Men cartoon was the major reason people started reading comics. At the very least, they learned who the X-Men were. I can’t go a step further with out talking about the opening credits. The amazing guitar riff began every show, and is still a fan favorite. Aside from that, it was smartly crafted as a role call, showing each character and their name, along with a little action to give a general idea of their powers, quickly catching new viewers up to speed.
The show ran for 5 seasons, from ’92 until ’97, covering all manor of major storylines from X-Men history, and nearly every ancillary character had a moment in the spotlight. The team was composed of the then-current Chris Claremont (writer) and Jim Lee (artist) incarnation, taking their visual cues from the blockbuster artist. The show ran for 75 episodes, and is still the longest running Marvel cartoon (beaten out by the ’80s Incredible Hulk as longest show with 82 episodes).
The X-Men were already an established team with history when the show opened. Viewers followed Jubilee as she learned about the world, mutants, and the politics involved. Once the dynamic was shown, each episode featured the cast in rotation, focusing on the entire team or particular members as needed. Along with the core members of Cyclops, Wolverine, Rogue, Storm, Beast, Gambit (I blame this show for making him so popular), Jubilee, Jean Grey, and Professor X. Many different mutants, heroes, and villains made appearances. Colossus, Nightcrawler, Iceman, Angel/Archangel, Longshot, Psylocke, and others were in at least one episode. Even Deadpool, Ghost Rider, War Machine and more were given cameos.
Along with stuffing the series full of mutant goodness, the most popular storylines from the comics were also adapted. “Days of Future Past” was loosely based on the comic of the same name (super pumped for the movie). This episode introduced future mutant Bishop coming to the past to prevent the assassination of a senator at the hands of an X-Man. In a later season, the techno-organic alien species known as the Phalanx comes to assimilate all life on earth in “The Phalanx Covenant.”
The best and most hyped story was “The Phoenix Saga.” I remember seeing a two part special on a Friday night in July (coupled with a Power Rangers episode). The show ended with Xavier giving a cryptic message of the trials to come. The camera panned out, showing the curve of the earth and the moon. “Coming Soon! The Phoenix Saga.” I had no idea what that meant, but I was completely excited. The saga took place in 5 parts that fall, airing at a special time during weekdays. Of course, this eventually led to the Dark Phoenix Saga later in the season. It was awesome.
While this show did practically everything right, there was one glaring omission to the cast. Kitty Pryde AKA Shadowcat was nowhere to be seen or mentioned through the entire run. I didn’t even know the character existed until years later. Kitty was never on the show because her current comic incarnation was too similar to Jubilee, a young, new member of the team. Though both evolved differently in print, this change didn’t occur soon enough to include her.
An episode of the Spider-Man cartoon (1994) featured the X-Men and their accompanying voice actors in two episodes. Spider-Man was searching for a cure for his ongoing mutation. He eventually teamed up with the X-Men to defeat a scientist bent on killing all mutants. It was a little odd seeing the cast in the animation style of Spider-Man.
One thing I really commend the creators for is using the show to parallel a lot of complicated issues. Divorce, Christianity, the Holocaust, racism, and even the AIDS hysteria were all shown or given analogs. It’s easy to see these themes as an adult, but as a child, I think it shaped my mind for the better.
The show earned a solid track record for telling a continuous and cohesive story. Even with this, season 3 had some oddities suddenly dealing with a resurrected Jean. “No Mutant is an Island” was meant to set up her return, but didn’t air until season 5. “Longshot” and “A Deal with the Devil” were also held, due to ‘animation problems’ (i.e. they looked like trash). If you stumble across these episodes, you’ll instantly notice the drop in quality.
The X-Men have a very long and complicated history. The comic series has been a little impenetrable over the decades. This show distilled the concept and delivered it beautifully, making it comic book education. If you have any affinity for the X-Men, watch this show. I recently made my way through the series, and it still holds up wonderfully, though that may be the nostalgia talking.
Who was your favorite character? What story line was done the best? Tells me!
Apocalypse was scary as hell when I was 9.
By the time you read this, Tony will be participating in his second Tough Mudder. This will promptly be followed by eating, sleeping, and showering. Not in that order. In the meantime, mosey on over to thecredhulk.com. Or give him some lovins on Facebook or Twitter.