Home > Comics, Flashback Feature, TV > Flashback Feature: X-Men (1992-1997) [Part 1]

Flashback Feature: X-Men (1992-1997) [Part 1]

6a00cdf3ad9a63cb8f011015ffcec5860b-500piAnyone who watched cartoons in the early 90s should have fond memories of Fox’s “X-Men” cartoon which ran for five seasons between 1992 and 1997. Of course, it was a bit later than that by the time it hit shores outside of the US, and lasted longer than that in re-runs, especially when the success of the movies brought the animated series back onto TV.

This Flashback Feature is dedicated to a look at the 90s TV series, and most importantly, its ties to its comic book origins. But before we start looking at the show and its characters, why not remind yourself of the very first reason why the show was so beloved to begin with…?

The “X-Men” animated series has very close ties to the storylines of the comics at the time, right down to the cast of characters. Part of the reason it has proven so successful with the X-Men fanbase has been because of how faithful it remains to its subject matter, even adapting whole storylines for plot points, both large over-arching plots and individual stories. Over five seasons and 76 episodes, Fox’s series provided many people with their first introduction to the world of the mutants, in many ways paving the way for the movies to take over the box office (not to mention two further animated series that have followed in its footsteps.) But to appreciate everything that “X-Men” was, it helps to know what went before.

Origins

The original incarnation of the X-Men, as they appeared in the 1963 comics series, were Cyclops (Scott Summers), Iceman (Bobby Drake), Beast (Hank McCoy), Angel (Warren Worthington) and Marvel Girl (Jean Grey) with leader/mentor Professor Charles Xavier, and this team appeared in the 1966 “Marvel Super-Heroes” cartoons in some episodes featuring Namor, the Sub-Mariner. 

Characters have come and gone over the last five decades, with the biggest change to the roster happening in Giant Size X-Men #1 when a new team was launched in 1975, including the now-iconic Wolverine (in actual fact, this was a relaunch of the series which had been cancelled some years earlier.) But the original team remained on board as supporting characters, returning at various points alongside new mutants, heroes and villains. Although not a member of the core team, Iceman inclusion in the series “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends” meant that the X-Men got some face-time on TV.pryde 

In many ways, the “X-Men” animated series owes its success to the 1989 pilot, “Pryde Of The X-Men,” a once-off animated special inducting Kitty Pryde (also known as Shadowcat) into the second incarnation of the X-Men (including Colossus, Wolverine, Nightcrawler and Storm.) While an unsuccessful series, due in no small part to its humorous and campy take on the X-Men franchise, it was thanks to repeated showings on TV and the demand the “Pryde Of The X-Men” set up that an X-Men animated series came to the small screen.

While “X-Men” features characters from all times of the teams history, its core members are picked from the team’s entire history, in many ways similar to the team led by Cyclops in the early 1990s (after the original team, under the name of “X-Factor” had been re-absorbed into the X-Men.) Representing the original team are Cyclops, Beast, Jean Grey (having ditched the Marvel Girl name long ago) and Professor Xavier; from the team’s 1975 formation are Storm and Wolverine; and from various points through the 80s and early 90s are Rogue, Gambit and Jubilee. Similarly, the villains features in “X-Men” range from Magneto, the first villain for the team to ever face in the comics, to the still mysterious Sinister, whose origins had played out in the comics only shortly before they appeared in the cartoon.

The X-Men
Cyclops

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As long as Cyclops has been involved with the X-Men, he’s played the role of leader, and even when Storm surpassed him as such, Cyclops went off to join X-Factor and led them. Cyclops’ power is the ability to shoot concussive force from this eyes in the form of red injury, a power he can’t control due to a head injury as a child. 

As in the comics, Cyclops’ relationship with Jean Grey is at the heart of the X-Men and at numerous stages through the series, the two attempt to get married or have dates disrupted by fights. Orphaned at an early age, Cyclops’ youth is the focus of the episode “No Mutant Is An Island,” when, mourning the apparent death of Jean Grey, Cyclops returns to the orphanage in which he grew up only to find it under the influence of Jeremiah Killgrave, the villain known in the comics as the Purple Man. The series constantly flirts with the rivalry and respect that Cyclops and Wolverine share for each other, both as fighters and potential lovers for Jean, and while the series never makes explicit the relationship that Cyclops has with his brother (the mutant Havok, leader of the mutant team seen in “Cold Comfort”) they share a similar rivalry. 

Norm Spencer provided the voice of Cyclops in all his appearances through the period, from “Pryde Of The X-Men” to the “Marvel vs Capcom” video games.

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He might have only joined the X-Men in 1975, but Wolverine has become synonymous with the team, and easily their most recognisable member. With a healing factor that makes him nearly invincible and unbreakable adamantium claws, Wolverine is also the most dangerous member of the X-Men, while a romantic at heart. 

With the full extent of Logan’s past only being revealed in the comics since “House Of M,” the “X-Men” cartoon only gives us hints, many of which are an opportunity for stories that show a lot more of the Marvel universe, such as the Weapon X project and a team-up with Captain America in the episode “Old Soldiers.”

Rogue

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Rogue has become a staple of the X-Men team since she joined in Uncanny X-Men #171, but like Wolverine, Rogue’s origins were a mystery throughout the 90s. With her power to absorb people’s essence and powers through skin contact, Rogue has been a tragic figure in the comics and the cartoon alike, with the promise of a relationship with Gambit constantly snatched from her grasp. Rogue also possesses the powers of flight, invulnerability, enhanced senses and strength, but it isn’t until “A Rogue’s Tale” in the seconds season that it’s revealed that these powers were stolen from Carol Danvers (the heroic Ms. Marvel) during Rogue’s previous career as a villain.

Rogue’s ties to other villains like Mystique and Magneto are also explored in the series, having been raised by the shapeshifting villainess. Interestingly, Rogue’s powerset has her conveniently absent from some episodes, most notably the first part of the Phoenix Saga, where her powers would have negated the need for Jean Grey to sacrifice herself to save a crashing shuttle.

Storm

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Having made her debut in the second iteration of the X-Men, Storm has become a well-known comic book character in her own right. Aside from her mutant powers of weather control, the Storm of the comics had led both the X-Men and the literally underground society of mutant rejects known as the Morlocks. Ororo Munroe is also one of the most prominent African-American women in comics, most notable because of the strengths in her character and refusal to be defeated even when faced with her greatest fears. She’s even married to fellow Marvel superhero T’Challa, the Black Panther and King of Wakanda, making Storm his queen.

Although the second generation of X-Men included more racially inclusive team-members, Storm was the only one to make it to full-time status in the animated series (Nightcrawler, Banshee and Colossus are limited to guest appearances) but it’s significant that little attention is drawn to the matter, showing how accepting the X-Men can be (and providing a stark contrast when compared with the anti-mutant sentiment they face.) While this take on Storm remains an orphan, Ororo has a home in Africa, where her adopted son Mjnari, a mutant with super-speed, provides her emotional home and also a dangerous quotient used by the Shadow King to manipulate Storm.

Beast

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The second member of the team who served on the original X-Men team, if Storm provides the racial equality, then Hank McCoy provides the intellectual portion of the team. 

Despite Hank’s powers of strength and agility, Beast provides important exposition for a lot of the series, especially when the X-Men come up against the Sentinels, Apocalypse and the Legacy Virus. For the most part, Beast is underused for the series, being incarcerated for the first few episodes and rarely getting his own episodes. Nonetheless, he remains an important part of action programming of the early 90s, a reminder to engage the brains ahead of the fists.

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Gambit’s inclusion in the animated series is somewhat unusual when you consider that he only debuted in the comics in 1990, just two years before the cartoon began. However, it gives an indication of how popular the character is and has proven to be over the last two decades (to the point where producers have tried to include Gambit in all of the X-Men movies, finally succeeding in the recent “X-Men: Origins – Wolverine,” although that depends on your definition of success.)

Gambit’s powers involve the ability to charge objects with kinetic energy for explosive effect, giving the series a chance to indulge in big explosions. It also gave the series a chance to delve into their characters’ darker pasts, with Gambit’s past as a thief regularly brought to the fore, and causing some friction between himself and his love interest, Rogue, especially when Gambit’s ex-fiancee is revealed in the episode “X-Ternally Yours.” The darkest part of Gambit’s past went unmentioned in the series however, his employment under Sinister and the part he had to play in the massacre of the Morlocks.

Jubilee

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Let’s face it, nobody really liked Jubilee, did they? Easily the weakest member of the X-Men team, she was prominent for the first few episodes before that realisation happened, and the focus shifted to the senior members.

Like Gambit, Jubilee had only been introduced in the comics some years prior to the start of the series: her presence in the cartoon is chiefly to appeal to the kid/teenage viewers, clear from her large presence in the pilot episode, “Night Of The Sentinels.” She provides the viewers’ inlet to the X-Men and the characters, but once we’ve been introduced to them, her usefulness fades quickly.

Even in the comics, Jubilee was seen as something of a replacement for Kitty Pryde, and when compared with “Pryde Of The X-Men,” that comparison is clear, with Jubilee embodying something ‘cooler’ and more brat-like than the studious Kitty could ever provide. In many ways though, her characterisation led to Jubilee becoming a parody of herself and the early 90s, and easily the most dated thing about the X-Men cartoon.

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Jean Grey has used a lot of names (and powers) in her times in the comics, and all of these were touched on in the series, from Marvel Girl to Phoenix and, ultimately, Dark Phoenix. With her powers providing a mix of telepathy and telekinesis, Jean is easily one of the most powerful X-Men, certainly of those featured in the series.

As such, Jean’s powers are drawn in for much of the series: while she comes to the fore in the episodes adapting both the Phoenix and Dark Phoenix sagas (in season three), Jean’s telepathy is, for the most part, weaker than Xavier’s, and using her telekinesis for extended periods exhausts her. Jean’s primary role in the series is to provide the emotional core for the characters and stories, with both Wolverine and Cyclops romantically interested in her and being the chief person to express concern when other characters are in danger. The eight episodes that make up the Phoenix arc are the biggest character developments for any character in the series, but it’s important to note that these are softened by the series, allowing Jean to be forgiven for the actions of Dark Phoenix. (In the comics, Dark Phoenix is a separate entity that destroys an inhabited solar system; in this series, it merely controls Jean and destroys an uninhabited star.)

Professor Charles Xavier

xmen-prof-gambit-beast-aiThe founder and leader of the X-Men, Charles Xavier isn’t an active member of the team, although his importance to the series should not be forgotten.

Much like Jubilee gives the audience an entry-point to the world of the X-Men, Xavier provides a similar role with regards to the rich, expansive X-Men history, having already faced Magneto, the Shadow-King and his step-brother, the Juggernaut.

Xavier’s telepathy provides some of the more interesting flashbacks in the series, most notably in the penultimate episode “Descent,” which reveals the origins of the villainous Sinister. It also provides the means to drag the X-Men out into space for the Phoenix Saga, with Xavier’s telepathic link formed with Lilandra Neramani, the rightful leader of the Shi’ar. Interestingly, the hover-chair that Xavier uses throughout the series uses Shi’ar technology (which, before meeting Lilandra, he shouldn’t have access to.) 

Having looked at the core X-Men team and the part they play in the series, the second part of the “X-Men” Flashback Feature will take a look at some of the other characters from the series, as well as the villains, and the stories that the series adapted and how they did so.

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  1. Dan
    June 9, 2009 at 6:22 PM

    I don’t know what it is with X-Men cartoons and only having Colossus appear for one episode. He’s one of the few X-Men that lend themselves to fights easily.

    Weirdly I’d say that Beast was probably the best characterized character out of all of them. Maybe because he doesn’t have a lot of backstory or maybe because the changes to the other characters irked me. Also Storms constant shouting annoyed me and Jubilee is a poor mans Kitty.

    • burnallzombies
      June 9, 2009 at 7:39 PM

      Actually, Colossus is in two episodes, the Juggernaut one and then the “let’s all go to Russia to save Ilyana” one, neither of which he’s really a member of the X-Men…I think his appearances suit his character as a pacifist though.

  2. Hedgie
    June 8, 2009 at 8:26 AM

    Seriously, Jubilee. What a waste of time character; a mutant who shoots sparkles.

    I used to love this series, and it was a staple of my morning pre-school (thats ‘before school’, not preschool) TV regime along with The Amazing Spiderman and Eek The Cat. I always liked Nightcrawler, even if he was under used. Unlike Wolverine.

    • burnallzombies
      June 9, 2009 at 2:45 PM

      At least in the comics, Jubilee’s sparkles had a point (she could induce seizures and blindness and make stuff explode, very much a Gambit/Dazzler combination.)

      I think it was after-school viewing for me, but that’s probably just cos I wasn’t allowed to watch TV before school. Nightcrawler though…really?

      • Hedgie
        June 11, 2009 at 12:48 PM

        I’m a teleporter at heart. Second only to the abilities of Dr Manhattan, I would love the power of teleportation.

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