Tuesday, May 11, 2010
X-men the Animated Series - Complete and Awesome
This past week the final volume of the X-men Animated Series was released and a nearly 15 year wait was finally ended. For many, the 90s are nostalgia. It was a time when the Cold War was over, grunge rock was in, and the most pressing political scandal involved a blow job and a cigar. However, it's easy to forget that some of the greatest awesome in the history of comics stemmed from this time. It was an era where Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, and X-men all had their own animated series that weren't just well-received by both critics and fans alike. They serve as a benchmark for how all future animated series are gauged.
The X-men animated series ranks in the top echelon of these landmark series. It lasted from 1992 to 1997 and covered some of the most famous stories in the history of X-men. For many, this is what brought Generation X into comics and it couldn't have been a better source. The X-men Animated series didn't play with any radical themes. It literally lifted stories right from the comics, sometimes with virtually no alterations. Stories like Days of Futures Past, the Phoenix Saga, and Apocalypse were all incorporated and integrated in a unique and powerful way that still resonates with comic fans today.
With these DVDs, the generation that saturates itself in Ipods and youtube can connect with the generation that still used CDs and thought blogging was an unpleasant side effect of drinking two shots of tequila with a touch of bourbon. It takes some characters that some modern readers might not be as familiar with like Jubilee, Jean Grey, and a sassier super-powered Rogue. It's a good thing too because as much fun as Emma Frost, X-23, or whoever dares to try and top Rogue's awesomeness can be, there's no substitute for the characters that set the standard. Jubilee embodies that uncertain teenage angst that comes along with being a mutant while Jean Grey is that passionate, heartfelt core that is the emotional rock for so many. Cyclops is still Cyclops and Wolverine is still Wolverine, but the way the team interacts really embodies the true awesomeness of X-men.
In some ways the series actually one-ups the comics. In the Animated Series the Phoenix Saga didn't end so tragically. Jean Grey did die, but she didn't stay dead nearly as long and Cyclops didn't run off to marry a clone. Many comic fans have been giving Cyclops shit about this for decades, but in the animated series he makes no such moves. Jean comes back and they beat the Dark Phoenix without Jean having to die. So that means nobody can say shit about Cyclops and Jean Grey getting married because there's no Madelyn excuse to throw around.
Add to this the extra action of Days of Futures Past and you've got a great story being made even greater. There's no mere thoughts traversing time in this series. Cable and Bishop routinely venture into the past and actually blow shit up without having to get someone else to do it. They clash here just as they clash in the comics, looking pretty badass while they're at it. Then there are the villains. Oh mercy the villains. Any series that has Apocalypse, Sinister, Dark Phoenix, Magneto, the Friends of Humanity, and Weapon X in the same continuity can't avoid being awesome. The level of awesome is so bright that every future attempt will be eclipsed at least in part by the sheer intensity that this series radiates.
Now some may look at this era and scoff. They may say this is a time when Cyclops was still an uptight drone of Xavier and Jean Grey was just some boring and bland proto-Emma and Wolverine was still a memory challenged thug. Well when put in front of the comics of today, the same awesomeness applies. Cyclops is anything but uptight in a number of episodes. He goes solo on several occasions and stands up to Sinister and Mastermind on his own. Jean Grey also shows her share of backbone, especially when she takes on the Phoenix and defends her cooking against Gambit's. As for Wolverine, he's the man of mystery again. In the modern comics people are used to him just being a badass, but without the mystery badassery like his is a dime a dozen. Also, Storm wasn't forcibly married off to the Black Panther. How many would surrender their left testicle to see that bullshit undone?
So much of what made these characters great is captured in the old animated series. In many ways this is the standard for which Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Rogue, Storm, Gambit, Wolverine, Xavier, Jubilee, Sinister, Magneto, Apocalypse, and pretty much every other character this series covered should be gauged by. The later series like X-men Evolution and Wolverine and the X-men were good, but they still lived in the shadow of this series and any future show will do the same. Also, neither show lasted nearly as long as this one. It went for 5 seasons and 76 episodes. In terms of quality and quantity, the X-men Animated series bitch slaps all the competition and then dances over it's dead body.
Now there are some shortcomings of this series. Characters like Kitty Pryde are omitted and Iceman is only in a single episode. Also, the animation is pretty antiquated by today's standards. Most of the cartoons on the Disney channel now out-tech what this and every other 90s series ever did. But any fan would have to actually cherry pick to find flaws like this. There is simply no way to escape the awesome of the animated series. Marvel can try all they want to move the comics away from what they were during this era. They'll never escape it because this was a series an entire generation associated with the X-men. Now that the DVDs are out, a new generation will follow in their wake.
This series is also a personal issue for me because it was this series that got me into X-men. I knew after seeing this and the Spider-Man series that I would be a Marvel fan for life and I have. Other fads may come and go and other passions may find their way into my life, but none will ever overshadow the impact left by these incredible cartoons. I am forever indebted to the shining brilliance of this series and on the day I leave this world, I would want the ashes of these DVDs mixed with mine so I can forever connect with such awesome.
There will always be new cartoons for the future. There will always be no innovation in the characters. But the X-men Animated Series will always out-awesome them on some level. They are timeless in their greatness. They deserve more credit then they will ever get and should have a place in the collection of every X-fan of every generation. Nuff said.