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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
s a child of the 90s, I don’t get too many opportunities to claim my generation as having the best of anything, but when it comes to Saturday morning cartoons, there aren’t many people who would disagree that the 90s featured some of the most memorable shows in Saturday morning history. A quick look at the programming schedule from that time would result in a list including “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” “Muppet Babies,” “Smurfs,” “Animaniacs,” and “The Tick,” and sitting at the top would undoubtedly be Marvel’s animated “X-Men” series. Not only one of the best cartoons of the decade, “X-Men” is also widely considered to be the best comic book cartoon ever produced. The opening theme alone is enough to trigger memories of watching the show while munching on a bowl of Cap’n Crunch, but perhaps what’s most amazing about "X-Men" is that, after nearly 20 years, it's just as good as you remember it.
That might have something to do with my preference for the Chris Claremont/Jim Lee comics from that time, but considering the writers borrowed heavily from the stories in those very issues, it isn’t at all surprising that I’d feel that way. Featuring an identical line-up that consisted of Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Beast, Rogue, Gambit and rookie Jubilee, the animated series also peppered in cameos aplenty including Angel, Colossus, Banshee, and time travelers Bishop and Cable. The sole difference between the cartoon and the comic, of course, was the inclusion of Morph, an update of Silver Age shape-shifter Changeling who the creators added for the sole purpose of killing him off in the second episode. The character’s death was meant as a warning to the audience that “X-Men” wasn’t your average Saturday morning cartoon, and though the death didn’t stick due to Morph’s unexpected popularity, it was just the beginning of what became a surprisingly adult (read: accurate) adaptation of the 90s comic run.
It’s not that the cartoon wasn’t made for kids (quite the opposite, actually), but rather that it addressed some pretty serious issues (like racism) on top of the action and cheesy comedy. Additionally, while shows at that time were primarily made up of a series of self-contained episodes, “X-Men” was one of the first to include multi-episode story arcs and subplots – like Professor X and Magneto’s season-long stay in the Savage Land or the massive, five-part “Phoenix Saga,” which remains the most recognizable story from the series to this day. Other classic episodes include the two-part premiere, “Night of the Sentinels,” an updated retelling of the famous what-if tale, "Days of Future Past," and "Enter Magneto," which is loosely based on the X-Men's 1963 debut. Each character also gets his/her own standalone episode (most of which appear on Volume Two, including Storm in “Whatever It Takes,” Wolverine in “Repo Man,” and Gambit in “X-Ternally Yours”), and while they aren’t very good, it just goes to show that the writers were willing to take the kind of risks you didn't normally see in an animated series.
If there’s any complaint to be made, it’s that the animation is even worse than you remember it. Though the character designs are identical to Jim Lee's art, the animation itself is a mess. For instance, in “Beauty and the Beast,” there’s a scene where Beast goes from wearing a brown trench coat to a white lab coat, and back to the trench coat again in a matter of seconds. It doesn’t ruin the overall quality of the series, but for a show that was as popular then as it is now, you’d think the studio would have done something to fix it. Of course, the same can be said of Disney for releasing both two-disc sets without any special features. Surely a short retrospective would have been easy to put together, and though they probably haven’t held up well, what about the Stan Lee roundtables that appeared on the Pizza Hut VHS tapes? There was definitely a missed opportunity to make these releases even more special, but then again, just having the series on DVD is prize enough. "X-Men" will always be remembered as a great show, but if there's one thing fans should come away with after revisiting the series, it's the important role it played in revolutionizing cartoons forever.