The X-Men In Animation - A Retrospective

Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four - Part Five - Part Six
Part Seven - Part Eight - Part Nine - Part Ten

“People think what propelled Fox Kids to number one is ‘Power Rangers,’ but that is not true,” said Margaret Loesch, erstwhile president and CEO of Marvel Production and founding president of the Fox Kids Network. “Power Rangers’ put us in the stratosphere, but we went from number three to number one because of one event: the premiere of ‘X-Men.”

For years, Marvel was told the same thing: An X-Men cartoon wouldn’t work. Comics are read by young, male adults—a wholly different demographic than a cartoon audience. Loesch and Stan Lee went from network to network and were consistently rejected, according to Margaret Loesch. It was not until Loesch became president of Fox Kids that the project was given the green light.

Stephanie Graziano was head of production and she courted all the X-aficionados in the industry including Will Meugniat and Larry Houston who had also worked on “Pryde of the X-Men.”

From the first, the crew strove to maintain the fidelity of the characters and the stories while translating them for a Saturday morning audience. “They did a great job of translating the stories and not making feel like it got watered down,” said Graziano.

The line-up reflected a slimmed down version of the comics rostor: Xavier, Cyclops, Storm and Wolverine (who was once again Canadian) were joined by Jean Grey—a career X-Woman given her first leading role—Rogue, Gambit, Beast, Jubilee—who essentially replaced Shadowcat from “Pryde” as the rookie—and Morph. Morph was an oddity—though not a new character, he was based upon a villain-turned-hero-turned-casualty, Changeling—he was redesigned, given a new personality, a new history and an X-Man membership.

“Night of the Sentinels” premiered in 1992. It made some bold decisions. Instead of focusing on archnemesis Magneto or even cult favorites like Apocalypse or Mr. Sinister, the first episodes focused on the tension between humans and the growing mutant population. A McCarthy-esque Senator Kelly, discriminating humans and their “sentinels” were the villains. Bigotry was the bad guy, not some man in a cape and helmet.

Furthermore, the X-Men were shown trespassing on government property, destroying files and defending themselves against soldiers. These “heroes” were iconoclasts, civil rights leaders… and criminals.

Perhaps the boldest decision of the premiere, not everyone made it out safe. When the X-Men were revamped in 1975, the idea was to test the members. Some members would fail—die or quit. (Thunderbird did the former, Sunfire the latter.) The cartoon took this notion to heart. After their first mission, Morph was presumed dead; and Beast was incarcerated for trespassing, destruction of property and resisting arrest. Consequently Beast was on the sideline for much of the first season and Morph was removed entirely. While adding a touch of realism to the surreal world of mutants, it also allowed the creative team to take their time developing the multiple members of the team.

In the third episode, Magneto was introduced; but he was no longer the cackling supervillain of “A Prison Plot.” He was a revolutionary, not unlike the Black Panthers or AIM. He was Malcolm X to Xavier’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He offered to break Beast free from prison. (Dr. McCoy benignly declined preferring to wait for his day in court.)

Throughout the season, Magneto and Xavier clashed ideologies. Meanwhile, bigots called for the registration and containment of mutants. In a combination of the comics’ "A Dream’s End" and "Days of Future Past" storylines, Mystique and her running posse (Blob, Avalanche and Pyro) attempted to assassinate Senator Kelly only to have Magneto snatch him first. (The DOFP comparison is a stretch because the X-Men are aided by Bishop—who still thinks Gambit is a traitor a la Onslaught—instead of Kitty Pryde, and hindered by Nimrod instead of Ahab and the hounds.) The conflict came to head, when the Sentinels began rejecting humans’ commands. The Sentinels correctly surmised that mutants were humans, but took the illogical next step of saying all humans must be contained or destroyed. Thus, the X-Men (and, in a surprising turn, Magneto) helped save Senator Kelly from the Sentinels. In return, a grateful President pardoned Beast.

Other heroes that made appearances in the first season include Angel (who quickly became Death, then Archangel), Colossus, Forge and (depending where you score them) the Morlocks, a group of underground runaways taken directly from H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine.”

The villains included the aforementioned Mystique, Apocalypse and his horsemen (who were true to their comics’ incarnations but nowhere near as cool as the Evo versions), Sabretooth (who was infinitely cooler than his Evo counterpart), Juggernaut and, in the closing moments of the season, Mr. Sinister.

The relationships from the comics were maintained carefully. The love triangle of Jean, Scott and Logan (I will not call him James) was translated meticulously. Rogue and Gambit were flirtatious but could never touch. Logan became a surrogate father to Jubilee. And taking an interesting liberty, Wolverine was made an old friend of Morph’s. This made him take his loss the hardest.