X-Men: The Animated Series
Many accredit 2000’s X-Men movie with proving comic book movies could be successful when not starring Superman or Batman. However, before that, the popularity of the merry mutants skyrocketed when Jim Lee took over the X-Men comic book as the artist. So, one could say that Jim Lee’s stint on the X-Men, then, got Marvel’s current reign at the box office underway. The X-books were definitely extremely popular in the 90’s certainly. There was another step in between the very successful comic book and the very successful movie, and that was an enormously popular cartoon, X-Men: The Animated Series.
The cartoon was clearly made to resemble Jim Lee’s comic as it focused on the same characters his run featured, all of which had costumes that matched Lee’s artwork. It seemed every kid watched the cartoon at the time. Back then, lots of people were discussing the storylines, which often encompassed multi-part episodes complete with cliffhangers. The structure, again following those of comic books with arcs spanning multiple issues, was addictive. To this day, any child of the 90’s will surely get the theme song stuck in their head if they hear just a few seconds of that pounding instrumental.
Running for five seasons with a total of 76 half hour episodes, nearly every X-Man was seen at least to some degree. The mainstays were Cyclops, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Storm, Rogue, Gambit, Beast, Professor X, and Jubilee. However, episodes, and some recurring roles, were devoted to Angel, Iceman, Havok, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Cable, Bishop, Longshot, Banshee, and more. Essential X-Men storylines also appeared on the show including the Dark Phoenix Saga, Days of Future Past, Weapon X, and the Phalanx Covenant.
The characters were all written out fairly well, especially considering this was a Saturday morning cartoon. With the exception of Cyclops being a little too whiny and Wolverine coming off a bit too much like Clint Eastwood, the X-Men all basically stepped off the page.
As always with comic book properties, the villains are as fun to watch as the heroes, and X-Men: The Animated Series had villains galore. Of course you had the likes of Magneto, Apocalypse, Mr. Sinister, and Dark Phoenix, but this series gave you so many others that had never seen the light of day outside a comic book, all of which were popular in the books at the time. From Juggernaut to Trevor Fitzroy or Omega Red to Lady Deathstrike, this series had them all. It even delved into the Savage Land, Mojo World, the Shi’ar Empire, Bishop’s dark future, Alpha Flight, and the Hellfire Club. If characters, even obscure ones, were appearing in the comic at that time, they’d likely make an appearance in the show. That’s how closely the show was working to match the comics. For me, that’s something show runners and movie makers often forget when adapting a popular comic book. If whatever they’re doing in the comic works well, don’t mess with the formula. Time and again, those projects that stay true to the comic result in a greater success and happier fans. To that end, X-Men got it right!
This was a time when comic book movies weren’t opening on a weekly basis in the theaters. So, it was very exciting to see comic books coming to animated life every Saturday morning. What was even better was seeing the cartoon managing to stay very faithful to the look and feel of the comics and its characters. Prior to this series, shows like the Hulk or Spider-man and His Amazing Friends had targeted younger audiences. So, they weren’t as faithful to the comics and often rather goofy. X-Men, though, clearly was targeting young adults. As a young adult at the time, this was refreshing to me. There’s a reason why YA sections have been added at libraries and bookstores, it’s a large audience! Therefore, I’m sure many appreciated seeing the intricate and extended story lines.
The subject matter in the episodes also often covered fare that was more for young teens and up. The X-Men comic often reads like a soap opera where you need a decoder ring to know who’s dating who, who is mad at another teammate, and so on. Naturally, then, the show jumped into the same content. There were love stories, bigotry, jealousy, time travel, and death! Even adults could watch it without feeling silly. Though Saturday morning cartoons were most often geared towards younger kids, this gambit seems to have paid off because X-Men’s popularity kept it running for five seasons, which still has it tied for the longest running Marvel cartoon series alongside the Spider-man series that started 2 years after X-Men. X-Men actually became the anchor of the Marvel animated universe that included that same Spider-Man series as well as Iron Man and Fantastic Four.
There have been a couple of Marvel cartoons that have sucked me in since X-Men but none quite as much as it did. In times past, there was a discrepancy of what the masses thought comics books were versus what they actually contained. Thanks to the goofy cartoons and the strange 60's Batman TV show, many thought comics were also goofy, mindless, and lacking substance. It was, therefore, great to see a show that proved those outdated concepts wrong by bringing true comics to the small screen.
So, yes, the movie X-Men may have been a front runner for the MCU, but this cartoon, I believe, was a front runner for that movie. It was a fun, action-packed show, and I'm sure, like me, that everyone who watched it couldn’t wait for the next episode! Rewatching the series with my sons today, some of the dialogue is a bit cheesy and hasn’t aged that well, but the show is still very watchable and still some of the best adapting of comic books ever made.
X-Men: The Animated Series – One of the Best Comic Book Cartoons Ever
- Writing - 9/109/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Acting - 8/108/10
- Music - 10/1010/10
- Production - 9/109/10
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