Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Does a Mall Babe Eat Chili Fries? 10 Best Episodes/Stories of the 1990s X-Men Cartoon

This week marks the print debut of X-Men ’92, a digital-first Secret Wars series by writers Chris Sims and Chad Bowers and artist Scott Koblish based on the Fox Saturday morning cartoon that ran from 1992-97. I’ve written about the glory that is that cartoon before, as has Sims, but as I’ll never pass up an opportunity to talk about one of the seminal shows of my teen years, here’s a look at some of its best work:

A caveat before we begin: I have a soft spot in my heart for the kitchen sink episodes that feature multiple guest stars. And time travel. And Apocalypse. Also I’m going to cheat and write up multiparters as one episode each.

“Night of the Sentinels” (two-parter, Season 1, episodes 1-2): Seriously, does a mall babe eat chili fries? When X-fans of a Certain Age remember Jubilee, this is the Jubilee they remember, the one with the yellow trench coat and the past-its-prime Valley Girl speak, getting chased down by Sentinels. The two-parter that opens the series is also notable for introducing a brand-new X-man, Morph, just to kill him off immediately (he gets better), imprisoning Beast for an entire season, Cyclops making a “not” joke and a scene in which the president of the United States power-walks on a treadmill in the Oval Office while dressing down Henry Peter Gyrich.

“Slave Island” (Season 1, episode 7): “Who are you?” “The Wild Man of Borneo.” The time-traveling, gun-toting, shoulder pad-embiggening Cable introduces himself on the island of Genosha by making a reference I was too young to get at 12. Not to mention, if Cable’s from the far future, should HE even get that reference?

“The Cure” (Season 1, episode 9): This episode introduces several major X-villains, including Apocalypse, Mystique, Pyro and Avalanche. The latter two, who will return along with Blob as Mystique’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, get a lot of play as a pair of violent but somewhat bumbling henchmen, and their comedic timing is made evident from jump.

“Days of Future Past” (two-parter, Season 1, episodes 11-12): This two-piece kills two birds with one stone, adapting a Chris Claremont/John Byrne classic (not the first time they’ll go to that refreshing well) and introducing the best mullet in time travel, Bishop, who comes complete with his own harmonica music. In this version, Bish comes back in time to stop the assassination of Sen. Robert Kelly by the traitor Gambit (attempted assassin not actually Gambit).

“Time Fugitives” (2-parter, Season 2, episodes 7 and 8): What’s better than one overly muscled time traveler with a ridiculous laser gun? TWO overly muscled time travelers with ridiculous laser guns! Bishop and Cable come to the present from two different points in the future to wrestle over Apocalypse and a virus that wracks mankind. Craziest thing that happens: A change in the timestream creates lightning tornadoes in Cable’s future and makes his son, Tyler, disappear.

“Mojovision” (Season 2, episode 11): No X-Men series would be complete without a visit to the Mojoverse. Because a morbidly obese, spineless extradimensional being obsessed with television is the perfect baddie for a Saturday morning cartoon.

“The Phoenix Saga” (5-parter, Season 3, episodes 3-7): Most of the Season 3 is dedicated to revisiting the Golden Age of the Claremont run, which means lots and lots of Phoenix stuff. These five episodes re-create classic moments with the Phoenix Force, the Shi’ar, Erik the Red, Juggernaut and Black Tom Cassidy, Banshee, the Starjammers and, best of all, Super Doctor Astronaut Peter Corbeau.

“The Dark Phoenix Saga” (4-parter, Season 3, episodes 11 to 14): The show peaked with this mostly faithful retelling of the classic 1980 Claremont/Byrne story, hitting all the major points, from the Hellfire Club to Jason Wyngarde’s mental manipulations of Jean Grey to the first appearances of Dazzler and Kitty Pryde. While the arc concludes in a way that is more network BS&P-friendly than the original (Jean is saved by sharing the “life forces” of the other X-Men as opposed to, you know, dying), it still laid the groundwork for future adaptations of X-stories outside the comics (and was better than X-Men: The Last Stand).

“One Man’s Worth” (2-parter, Season 4, episodes 1-2): That’s right, kids, more time travel! In a story that could have only been told in the ’90s and after Back to the Future II, Trevor Fitzroy travels back to 1959 to kill Professor Xavier, creating an alternate dystopian timeline in which Magneto leads the X-Men and Wolverine and Storm are married. Bishop, his sister Shard, Storm and Wolverine then go to the future to convince Forge to let them use his time machine so they can go back and stop Fitzroy in the past. Then Marty goes to the Old West to rescue Doc Brown, only to find out he doesn’t want to be saved because he’s fallen in love with Mary Steenburgen. And another Tannen falls for the old manure trap.

“Beyond Good and Evil” (4-parter, Season 4, episodes 8-11): Because this cartoon made Apocalypse my favorite X-Men villain, I might have been more excited about this arc than I was about the Dark Phoenix retelling, despite my earlier statement about the show having peaked in Season 3. Apoc kidnaps a number of psychics, including Professor X, Jean Grey and Psylocke, as part of his latest quest for global domination. His actions are undone by the X-Men and Cable, as well as Bishop, who finds himself stuck in a place called the Axis of Time with a quirky janitor who turns out to be the Avengers villain Immortus. “Beyond Good and Evil” was originally supposed to be the end of the series, until Fox ordered more episodes. And so after this, the animation style changes and we got wrong-sounding Gambit.

In addition to writing for The Matt Signal, Dan Grote is now the official comics blogger for The Press of Atlantic City. New posts appear Wednesday mornings at His new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He and Matt have been friends since the days when Onslaught was just a glimmer in Charles Xavier's eye. Follow @danielpgrote on Twitter.

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