Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Animated Discussions: X-Men '92

After announcing a fresh slate of Secret Wars at New York Comic Con last month, Marvel issued 16 teasers promising to revisit alternate-reality events such as the "Age of Apocalypse" and" Age of Ultron Vs. Plants Vs. Zombies Vs. Sever." A video posted by Marvel revealed the "Summer 2015" teasers to be part of the Secret Wars' Battleworld, but none of those individual puzzle pieces excited nerds in their 30s as much as the one titled "X-Men ’92."  

For you young'uns out there, first of all, get off my lawn, and second, now that you're back on the sidewalk, the X-Men's first animated series ran from 1992 to 1997 on Saturday mornings on Fox, back when Saturday mornings meant something. Perhaps you've read Chris Sims' hysterical episode recaps over at Comics Alliance.

The '90s series was actually Marvel's second attempt at an X-Men cartoon, after 1989's one-off "Pryde of the X-Men," which inspired a multiplayer arcade game with awful English dubbing ("X-Men, welcome to die!"). It was later followed by X-Men: Evolution, which put the team in high school, and Wolverine & the X-Men, which finds Logan reassembling the team after some stuff goes down. The latter ’toon is perhaps notable for how much it portrays Cyclops as a melancholy prick.

The ’90s X-Men cartoon also paved the way for a wave of other Marvel animated works, including an equally enjoyable Spider-Man cartoon and a Silver Surfer show on Fox, syndicated Fantastic Four and Iron Man cartoons, and a Hulk show on UPN.

Here's some of the other ways the ’90s X-Men cartoon broke ground:

First streamlined X-team in years: The animated X-squad was fixed for five years - Xavier, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, Gambit and Jubilee. Other classic X-Men - Iceman, Archangel, Colossus, etc. - would guest star on occasion. In the comics at the time, the X-Men had become so unwieldy they were broken up into two teams and two books, though the walls between them eroded over time. And even before then, Chris Claremont's later Uncanny X-Men stories weren't about a mutant team but about whichever characters he felt like writing at the time, bouncing from Wolverine and Jubilee in one issue to Banshee and Forge in the next. Honestly, the cartoon presented the most digestible, recognizable X-team since before the Mutant Massacre. The first X-Men movie, in 2000, took its cues from the cartoon, sticking to a core team of Xavier, Cyclops, Jean, Wolverine, Storm and Rogue (in the Kitty/Jubilee role).

Have you heard of this Apocalypse fellow?: Though he was created in 1986, prior to 1992, Apocalypse had never fought the X-Men. He was the main villain in X-Factor, originally a book about the five founding X-Men reuniting after spending the ’70s and early ’80s dead, turning blue and furry, or in crappy teams like the Champions. His first appearance in X-Men proper was during the X-Cutioner's Song crossover in late ’92. Not soon after, he made his cartoon debut, turning Warren Worthington III into Archangel all over again. Apocalypse menaced the animated X-Men multiple times over the course of the show, culminating in a four-parter in which he sought to kidnap the world's psis.

A (mostly) faithful adaptation of the Phoenix Saga: The show’s most ambitious undertaking had to be the third season’s retelling of Claremont and Dave Cockrum/John Byrne’s Phoenix Saga, the story that put all three creators on the map. The show makes every effort to hit all the notes of the original arc in a mere seven episodes (three for regular Phoenix, four for Dark Roast), introducing characters from the Shi’ar to Dazzler to the Hellfire Club along the way. There’s just one catch: It seems no one was allowed to actually die on the show, so Jean’s life is saved at the end by way of the other X-Men sharing their life force with her, or something.

The Jubilee you’re looking for: If you know Jubilation Lee (whose parents probably read the same book of baby names as those of my cousin, Schadenfreude Schmidt) primarily as the X-Men’s girl wonder, it’s because of the cartoon. In the comics, the Claremont-created character started as a mall rat who followed the X-Men to their Australian base, then hid in the vents for a while. She didn’t make her presence known until Wolverine was left to die by the Reavers, at which point she became his second Robin, following Wolvie on his global quest to track down the rest of the X-Men after most of them went through the Siege Perilous. Once the team was reunited in 1991, Jubes was backburnered, then shipped off to another school/team/book in 1994. Over the ensuing years, her book was canceled, she was crucified on the lawn of the X-mansion, de-powered, then turned into a vampire. She was last seen in Brian Wood’s X-Men, taking care of a baby she found. But in the cartoon, she never stops being a gum-chomping mall rat who loves the smell of commerce in the morning.

It predicted Duane Swierczynski’s Cable run: Swierczynski’s 2008 Cable series saw Nathan Christopher Dayspring Askani’Son Summers-Pryor playing Roadrunner-and-Coyote with fellow X-time traveler Lucas Fewer Names Bishop over the fate of Hope Summers, who would doom one of their futures while saving another. The X-Men cartoon used a similar plot waaaaay back in December 1993, bringing both men to the present to stop a plague from killing mutants (for Bishop) and Cable’s son from not being born (for Cable). This two-parter also had Apocalypse and Graydon Creed, two villains whose powers appeared to be making pretentious speeches at the tops of their lungs, which 13-year-old me thought was amazeballs.

More ’90s per capita than any other X-cartoon: You know how ’90s the X-Men cartoon was? It had the Nasty Boys. Not the Marauders, Mr. Sinister’s other, decidedly more awesome, murderous band of henchmen. The Nasty Boys. It also used Graydon Creed - Sabertooth and Mystique’s son and the decade’s top mutant-hater - as a major villain starting in Season 2. See also Fabian Cortez, Omega Red, Gambit’s ex-wife, and the Phalanx, arguably the Marvel Universe’s least-favorite alien race. These may all sound like points against it, but to X-fans of a Certain Age, it’s nostalgic heaven.

Dan Grote has been a Matt Signal contributor since 2014 and friends with Matt since there were four Supermen and two Psylockes. His two novels, My Evil Twin and I and Of Robots, God and Government, are available on Amazon.

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