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

If we have learned anything as devoted comics/animation fans, it is that with a successful movie comes an obligatory cartoon. Very rarely is the opportunity missed to push a hot commodity. So when the first X-Men film earned more than $150 million, it surprised no one that another cartoon was announced. What did surprise people is the premise.

The X-Men would be taken back to their roots. They would be students at Xavier's School for the Gifted. Instead of Cyclops and Jean Grey, almighty Phoenix, they would be Slim and Red. Kurt Wagner would no longer be a man of the cloth. He would be a carefree swashbuckler, (partially because religion was strictly off-limits to the creative staff.) The show was named X-Men: Evolution.

Some of the cast could not be de-aged. A teenage Xavier would not work. Nor would an adolescent Logan, too much backstory would be lost. Then, he couldn't have a long, mysterious history involving everyone from Sabretooth to Captain America to Nick Fury. Storm was also made an adult, ostensibly because so much of her character is based on her regality. Of course, it also allowed the creative team to make her the aunt of the much-maligned Spyke.

The children, at first, included stalwarts Cyclops and Jean. Rogue too, presumably because of her prominence in the film. She was no longer a Southern belle a la Blanche DuBois, but an angsty goth. Nightcrawler and Shadowcat were included in the line-up. Makes sense to me. Though neither appeared in the first film, both are popular characters who were under-utilized in TAS. The last inclusion was a head-scratcher, Spyke.

Added because the creative team wanted "a monster," a mutant with a very visible mutation, Spyke was nearly identical in powers and demeanor to Morlock Marrow. A creative team member--Kirkland, if I recall--later said that at the time Spyke was designed, they were unaware of Marrow. That's wholly possible, as she was a fringe character for much of her career. (Hint, she's been decimated.) They did later have Spyke follow in her footsteps, though, and become a militant member of the Morlocks.

The show premiered November 4, 2000; and one thing was immediately clear. The X-Men had never been animated so beautifully. The quality of art certainly trumped anything AKOM ever did. But there were concerns.

The creative team decided to introduce the vast cast of characters slowly, which seems like an excellent idea. Why throw some thirteen, fourteen mutants at the audience and expect people to sort them out? Unfortunately, this led to most of the first season episodes introducing a new character, and little more. Also, many of the character revisions needed work upon first introduction. Spyke was abrasive, Kitty vapid, Wolverine reduced to a babysitter, Storm nonexistent, Mystique wasted, Forge retro... and their version of Havok is too similar to Jude on 6teen.

The most irritating characters were the Brotherhood. First, they were overused in the first season, appearing in nearly every episode. Second, most of their dialogue was cliche tough-talk. Third, their purpose never changed. Every week they'd square off with the X-Men. Each week they'd lose. Obviously, some improvements needed to be made. (Of course, we know with hindsight that improvements were made. Vast, sweeping improvements.)

Episodes worth highlighting are the "Rogue Recruit" and "Turn of the Rogue." Staying true to the spirit of the comics, the creative team let Rogue spend a few episodes with the Brotherhood before she inevitably became an X-Men. Rogue was one of the few characters that succeeded for me immediately--flawed, damaged and driven. Also, she had some serious chemistry with one Scott Summers.

"Grim Reminder" was the best the season had to offer. It looked into Logan's oft-told history. It looked great and the dialogue was as crisp as it would get in the first season. (It says something when a teencentric show is at its best when focusing on an adult character.) Unfortunately, Wolverine was still reduced to babysitting. He never got a chance to cut loose in this series, though the voice actor deserves some credit. (Once again, network mandates were a limitation--no claws, no headshots.) This Logan was not a loner, not in deed, at least. His best moments, ironically, were as a leader.

"The Cauldron" ended the season. Magneto revealed his master plan. We met surfer dude Havok and somehow ended up in Asteroid M. When it was over, The Brotherhood lost any leadership and Mystique became a wild card. (The new roles suited them both.) The episodes were nothing to crow about, but neither was the season.

Obviously some discussion occurred between the first and second season, because when the show returned, it was reinvigorated and superior in nearly every way... but that'll be covered in the next entry.