X15: X-Men the Animated Series

On October 31st, 1992, X-Men debuted on the Fox network. The first of the two-part "Night of the Sentinels" storyline barely caught my attention. I remember that I was playing with action figures (probably G.I. Joe) and paying less attention to the television, as it was getting later in the morning. Little did I know that 10 AM on Saturday was soon going to become an event for the next five years and that that poorly animated show would become the most important artistic work in my life.

Because I like events, anniversaries, statistics and top ten lists, I've started a new series of blog posts celebrating and commemorating my 15 years of x-fandom. That's crazy to me, by the way, 15 years? My love of the X-Men has a driver's permit. There's no better place to start than where it all began.

The X-Men animated series is the longest running television series based on a Marvel comic. The show ran for five seasons (October 1992 to September 1997) and produced 76 episodes. In comparison, Fox's Spider-Man had 65 episodes and both 1967's Spider-Man and X-Men: Evolution had 52 episodes. Overall, X-Men proved to be a smartly written series that managed to adapt a nearly three decade long history into easily understood 20 minute episodes.

I haven't seen many of the episodes after the season two premiere (the two-part "Till Death Do Us Part") in almost a decade, but the first season is still crystal clear in my mind. Because I just transferred them over to DVD a couple years ago. And made my own box art. And menus. With special features. The first season, I have to say, is some of the most compelling animation I've ever seen (and no, I don't watch anime or anything on Adult Swim so my opinion is different). Each episode advanced an ongoing plot, Beast's arrest in the season premiere and his subsequent stay in jail being the most often depicted one. Every character in the series was surprisingly three dimensional and their relationships to the other characters were furthered and explored with the type of attention normally paid to hour-long dramas. I will always stand by my opinion that Gambit and Rogue were never better than how they were depicted on the cartoon. Both were charming, sassy, and full of catch phrases. Some of which I still drop into conversation today.

"With style, petit, with style." Gambit
"You look as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs." Rogue
"Miss me petit?!" Gambit
"Ain't that enough?!" Rogue
"How you sweat so much, petit, and not lose weight?" Gambit

As a whole, the first season depicts the animated series' X-Men's first adventures in the public eye. The season is bookended with epic battles against the government made Sentinels, a metaphor for the X-Men battling humanity's distrust. Throughout the season, the team is tested by enemies both mutant (Magneto in "Enter Magneto") and human (Genosha, the "Slave Island"). Their adversaries run the gamut, from the pitiful and powerful Morlocks ("Captive Hearts") to the end of all himself, Apocalypse ("The Cure" and "Come the Apocalypse"). These battles open the X-Men to a new world, one of danger the likes of which they had not previously known. And at every step of the way, they are reminded of how much humanity hates them. The two-parter that precedes the season finale is entitled "Days of Future Past" and shows what happens when humanity's hatred leads a mutant to assassinate Senator Robert Kelly. Because of this build up, the moment in "The Final Decision" where the X-Men have to decide as individuals whether or not they want to risk their life for the very government that has been hunting them from the beginning is pretty darn moving. Yes, Jubilee's speech is way over-the-top, but seeing such emotion coming from events that happened in previous episodes is pretty unheard of for Saturday morning cartoons. That first season is pretty darn good.

The rest of the series is pretty foggy, but what X-Men gave me as a television viewer is definitely clear. The series taught me to appreciate three dimensional characters and got me used to the very Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque idea of serious dramatic conversations between light-hearted comedy and action. The long story arcs and the amount of time I spent analyzing every episode that first season definitely still rings true when I watch Lost. And, you know, the cartoon got me to start buying comic books. So, impact noted.

The animated series ended on September 20, 1997 with the episode "Graduation Day." At that point I had just started 8th grade. I was in a new school, a new house, and a new city than when the series had started. As great as the first two films were, nothing will ever really come close to the way the animated series adapted the comic. In 76 episodes they tackled "Days of Future Past," both "The Phoenix Saga" and "The Dark Phoenix Saga," the origins of every main (and some minor) character, the transformation of Angel into Archangel, and the "Phalanx Covenant." Whereas X-Men: Evolution strayed heavily from the comics and became something completely new, the first X-Men cartoon feels like the X-Men that I love. These episodes need to be on DVD now.


am.fm.pm said...

Great write up, man.


Juan Horsetown said...

I totally agree with you on this show. It was some damn fine television with a helluva first season. I can't believe they've released Evolutions and not this, the better one.