When the “X-Men” Took the Nineties

“Previously on, X-Men…” was one of the trademark openings kids in the nineties heard every Saturday morning while watching the FOX Kids line up. It was during this time, in the midst of the networks third year (which also included “Batman: The Animated Series”), that FOX and Saban Entertainment teamed up to take on on yet another very popular and ambitious comic book property: Marvel Comics’ “X-Men.” The series came to be widely known by FOX and hardcore fans as “X-Men: The Animated Series.”

The American-Canadian production was actually the second attempt to give the X-Men their own show after the failed pilot, “Pryde of the X-Men, in the late eighties. The mighty mutants did, however, make multiple animated appearances on shows like “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends” and “The Marvel Super Heroes,” dating back to 1966, where they were mostly regulated to guest spots. Marvel never attempted a full on series until “Pryde.” After the financial collapse of the animation sector of Marvel Entertainment, The Animated Series was a gamble, suffice to say.

Marvel garnered much more resources this time around, and had the support of Saban Entertainment, who’d helped make successes out of numerous shows during the 90s including “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers,” and “Spider-Man.” The 1992 animated series was much more a contemporary vision for the mutant super team, all of whom experienced Jim Lee style redesigns with edgier attitudes. Rather than superheroes, the “X-Men” here are now outcasts fighting for the rights of mutants everywhere. In this reality, mutants are a minority, many of whom are granted amazing powers from a genetic defect at birth known as the X-gene.

The American public is horrified at what mutants can accomplish with their abilities, and are calling for a world wide registration, which would allow the government to keep tabs on powerful beings. The mutant resistance thinks it stifles their freedoms and renders them sub-humans, creating a mounting tension between humans and mutants. Professor Xavier is a leader of the mutant movement, preaching for peace and co-existence in a world that fears the mutants. Meanwhile, there are a slew of other mutants that want war with humans, and refuse to be imprisoned or hated.

The two part pilot aired during the Saturday Morning line up on FOX in 1992, and did a darn good job of introducing the team for a new generation. This time, the team was comprised of Cyclops, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Rogue, Gambit, Beast, new mutant Morph, and Storm, all of whom struggled with their day to day lives in a society that hated them. They also had to contend with giant robotic drones called Sentinels, which sought out mutants in order to murder or imprison them by order of the government. We’re introduced to young Jubilee, a young girl (the focus of the series for a while) with the ability to shoot “sparks” from her hands similar to fireworks. She’s taken in by the group when she narrowly escapes an attack by the Sentinels. From there, the focus shifted on the dynamic between the group, and how they manage to deal with their own powers, while also trying to evade larger menaces in their world.

These larger menaces include their metal-controlling adversary Magneto, the megalomaniacal Apocalypse, and the utterly evil Mister Sinister. The 1992 iteration made no bones about tackling every corner of the X-Men universe and successfully filled the mutants from the team with much pathos and complexity. Wolverine is a bitter, angry warrior who is in love with team co-captain Jean Grey, but is no match for her love with Scott Summers (aka Cyclops). There’s also Rogue, the beautiful Southern Belle with massive power, incapable of touching people without hurting them, whose own self loathing becomes a major liability for the team time and time again.

X-Men conveyed mature themes about racism, homophobia, prejudice, and alienation, all the while exploring what made the Marvel title so appealing. On the flip side, it was also exciting and action packed, progressing into a larger, more diverse universe filled with aliens, space time continuum bending mutants, and time traveling assassins. The show also introduced a gallery of obscure and notable characters from the X-Men roster including Wolverine’s ex-comrade Maverick, the time traveling Cable, the Savage Lands’ warrior Ka-Zar, the Unstoppable Juggernaut, and the Canadian super team Alpha Flight, respectively.

Late in its run, the show even crossed over with the equally successful Spider-Man series. “The Animated Series” surprisingly still holds up today (so much more than “Spider-Man,” if you ask me), and was a remarkable adaptation almost thirty years later with sharp animation, brilliant voice work, and a depiction of the characters that would become the standard for comic fans for a very long time.

Especially Cathal J. Dodd’s Wolverine.