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X-Men: The Animated Series (A Review)

Today’s Old School Wednesday Review is from Nelson.

Nelson is a geek and a gamer.  Early on, he was hooked with cartoons and Intellivision, but it wasn’t long before he found the gateway drugs of comic books and the NES.  He spent most of his life just building up his geek resume with each successive gaming system and acquiring rabid fanboy passion for all sorts of cartoons, comic books, TV shows and movies until finally becoming victim to pen and paper role playing games.  Now he dishes out his extreme opinions to whomever will listen, in person or on the internet or tries to focus that energy into writing or drawing when he isn’t busy wrangling the small zoo that has taken root in the one bedroom apartment he shares with his girlfriend.

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Being a huge comic geek and growing up reading the X-Men as a kid, I asked Jeremy if I could review the 90s Fox X-Men cartoon for his Old School Wednesday reviews during Super Hero month.  I may have started my comic book career with Spider-man, but The X-Men have always had my full attention once I started with their books.  Though to be fair, this is a cartoon review and not a comic review, so I should say that I started my cartoon career with (as far as MY memory serves) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Voltron, He-Man, The Real Ghostbusters, and The Transformers (we’re going to go ahead and ignore Looney Tunes and Disney only for the sole reason that they don’t contribute to the point I’m about to make).  These cartoons all carried a similar theme.  Teams put together to protect the innocent and fight evil.  And if you’re going to make an argument against He-Man, I’ll give you he wasn’t part of a team, but he still had a whole bunch of friends who constantly helped him out against the bad guys and were no slouches in combat.  The point I’m trying to make is, I was groomed since a child to appreciate the genre.

Not bad animation for a 90's cartoon.

With that being said, let me jump back to the reason we’re all here right now.  Let’s break this beast down and really poke at it to see what made it tick.  I know Jeremy usually takes a stand on plot and voice acting, making it a point to avoid critiquing animation, but I’m going to go ahead and jump straight to the animation because I feel it’s one of the most important aspects of this show and what really helped make it work.  The actual “animation” or the movement of the characters and scenes were pretty clunky and cumbersome as early 80s and 90s American animation was, but the fact that the art style mimicked the comics of the time was an ingenious way of keeping you from noticing how awkward it looked for Wolverine to jump over a chain link fence.  That is, up until the last 5 or 6 episodes of the final season where the animation changed jarringly to a very cartoony and even more colorful version of itself.  I can only assume it was because the show had been canceled and they knew it, because even several of the mainstay voice actors, like Gambit’s, never returned, even though the character was still used.

Later style animaton from the tail end of the show's run.

Speaking of the voice acting… as far as that’s concerned, I’ve got to admit, for the majority of the show, every single character sounded exactly as they sounded in my head when I read the comics.  The voices were incredibly well done.  From Wolverine’s deep gravelly voice, a Storm who sounded authentically African, to Gambit’s Cajun charm or Beast’s intellectual, yet sometimes silly witticisms, the voice cast, most of whom were reasonably unknown and pretty much stayed that way, nailed it.  Don’t think I’m just talking about the heroes, either.  Sure, Professor X basically sounded like Patrick Stewart before the Shakespearian actor filled the role, but the villains were just as perfect.  Magneto was just as charismatic and commanding as he should have been, while Mr. Sinister’s eerie, auto-tuned voice sent the right creepy signals to my brain.  Apocalypse’s voice, both booming and terrifying with the hint of a mechanical quality always kept the mystery alive as to his origins.  To me, these actors and actresses set the bar rather high and put into place the standard by which all following voice actors working with these characters would be judged.

The popular ones.

Now, as far as the plot goes, I have plenty of love and hate for the way the show presented itself.  The cornball factor was apparent since the word go and, if not for the heavy grasp of nostalgia, would have made re-watching the entire series on Netflix a masochistic torture fest.  Not every episode is dripping with heavy handed morality or glaringly massive plot holes, but there’s enough peppered throughout the entire run of the show to make it hurt.  The episodes that did work often stemmed from an actual story from the comics that was adapted to fit the team they chose for the cartoon.  Being the X-Men, the writers had hundreds of characters to choose from and did their best to pull from the most popular X-guys-and-gals at the time.  Sometimes this made a story canonically incorrect or chronologically confusing, but for the most part, I believe the show really came through with certain stories like the Phoenix Saga and even the Dark Phoenix Saga, two iconic story arcs from the comics.  Another plus in the story column was that it definitely had an overall continuity from beginning to end, and aside from a few plot points being unexplainably out of chronological order (Jean Grey seems to be dead a few times after she’d just been in the previous episode which is pretty strange even for her), the overall story tied the episodes together, albeit rather loosely, but together nonetheless.  There were, unfortunately, so many times where the story was literally moved on by one or more characters either doing something stupid for no reason, or NOT doing something completely obvious for no reason.  These were the times I let my eyes glaze over as I waited for some super hero action.

Yeah, not allowed to use the stabby bits for real...

The action, by the way, was pretty awesome.  Watching everyone get tossed around, through walls and busting up Sentinels was always satisfying.  In fact, generally the only really annoying parts of the action involved every single time Wolverine would squat, poised over his opponent with claws popped, ready to strike while spouting some nonsense one-liner, only to be blasted, kicked, thrown, or shot off because… let’s face it… there’s no way Fox was going to ever let Wolverine stab any living creature with his claws.  Unless it was purely mechanical, Wolverine tended to end up as useless as Leonardo in the Ninja Turtles movies fighting real live Foot Soldiers.  Wait, I’m sorry, did I say ONLY annoying part?  I meant the second most annoying part.  The most annoying part was the screaming.  Boy, howdy! did this show love screaming.  If I went back and actually counted, I’m almost positive that close to 60% of the episodes contained at least one person shrieking bloody murder. Whether it was Rogue (the usual suspect) being overwhelmed by the memories she absorbed from someone, Xavier being overwhelmed by physic backlash while using Cerebro, or Wolverine and Sabertooth trying to decide once and for all, who had the biggest, er… claws, the characters on this show loved screaming.

Overall, this was one of the great cartoons of the 90s and I’ll never forget the mornings spent making sure I was awake in time, with a big bowl of cereal watching it with my brother, cheering the team on, and always curious to see what the villains were doing.  Plus, it was always fun picking out the random characters they would put in the backgrounds all the time that I was familiar with from the comics.

(By the way, in tune with the cornball aspect of the show, I’ve got a free cookie to anyone who can tell me without cheating how many times in the series a character spits out their name, followed by the command: “Remember it!” Bonus for anyone who can also correctly identify who says it.)

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    • Natasha Larry on November 23, 2011 at 8:21 pm
    • Reply

    This is the show that turned me into the comic book troll I am now. Great review.

      • Nelson D on November 27, 2011 at 3:47 am
      • Reply

      Thanks, Natasha!

    • Sheenah Freitas on November 23, 2011 at 10:56 pm
    • Reply

    I loved this show when I was a tiny tot (literally, I think I was in kindergarten when I started watching X-Men and Spiderman). I don’t remember too much, but I remember the basic storylines and their voices and character names enough to know that Phoenix was amazing. I always get so excited every time I see Jubilee. I don’t see her a lot in the comics and she hasn’t been featured in any of the movies yet. 🙁

      • Nelson D on November 27, 2011 at 3:53 am
      • Reply

      Sheenah, if you want to do a bit of “research,” try looking up the Phalanx Covenant story crossover of all the X-titles back in the mid 90s which led directly into the Generation X title featuring a new host of up-and-coming X-people. It’s some of the very best Jubilee stories you’ll find out there. Generation X really handled her growing up wonderfully. I could never stand Jubilee as a snot-nosed mall brat, but when she had her own teammates on the line and didn’t have Professor X, Cyclops and Wolverine to hold her hand, she really became a very powerful and formidable character.

      Generation X was also one of my favorite X-titles of all time, probably because the kids were my age as I was growing up at that time and I could relate more to them than I could the ‘older’ X-Men.

    • Kate_lynn on April 3, 2013 at 11:44 pm
    • Reply

    Wasn’t it Gambit who is always saying “it’s gambit… Don’t You Forget It!” ?? he kinda talked as if he was slow in the series My boyfriend hates it but i thought it gave him character honestly. ( I just downloaded all the seasons so I can re-watch my favorite childhood marvel creation all over again!!! ) I AM SO EXCITED 😀

      • Franky padilla on January 4, 2015 at 5:02 am
      • Reply

      Me too. I love this cartoon. It’s what thought me about the x men

      • JD on February 28, 2015 at 1:59 pm
      • Reply

      Haha, he does sound a bit daft but yeah his voice really grew on me too as the series went on 🙂

    • JD on February 28, 2015 at 1:54 pm
    • Reply

    Great review 🙂 I have just done an x-men marathon the last two days and am just past the Phoenix saga. Been great fun despite the corniness and the screaming. So much screaming. And yeah there is alot of clunky animation but some patches of surprisingly fluid movement and high detail in the fight sequences. I’ve noticed the character and fight sequence animation improved dramatically just before and during the the Phoenix saga, but has become even less fluid and poorly coloured in the episodes immediately following it.

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