An Uncanny Revival

It was the final day of October in 1992. Bill Clinton would be elected President of the United States days later. Microsoft had released Windows 3.1 for IBM-compatible PCs. Mortal Kombat was the best-selling video game. Cardi B was only twenty days removed from her mother’s WAP. It was on this day, Marvel Studios made their second attempt at making an animated series based on the successful comic franchise X-MEN for FOX’s Saturday Morning cartoon block. X-MEN, or X-MEN: The Animated Series, would go on for five seasons concluding in 1997, putting FOX on the board for Saturday Morning animated programming, and pushing Marvel to widen the scope of the franchise to movies in the 2000s.

Most people around my age fondly remember the Saturday Morning Cartoon experience because it was the last time that animation had really enjoyed a dominance in American television other than prime-time sitcoms. But it was also a very pseudo-counter-culture movement among millennials who would spurn their parents’ objections of consuming mass amounts of screen time and eating sugary cereals. Considering most parents made no attempt to stop having a television in the house or buying non-sugary cereals only to complain about it twenty years later, is truly the mark of their “Greatest” Generation parents “wisdom”. Which is to say, none such existed. Yes, we have rose-colored nostalgia glasses for Saturday Morning Cartoons, X-MEN among them, because we just remember everything from the mid-to-late nineties as being the most magical fucking time on the planet free from work and worry as corpos assaulted our eyeballs with every cartoon and merchandise tie-in, action figure, comic book, and SUNNY D promotion they could. We’re just as complicit as our parents, sadly.

Even the trailer knows how to play into your nostalgia.

Twenty-seven years after the final episode aired, where Xavier “dies” with the team looking onward, is where this new project, X-MEN 97 picks up and continues. Marvel Animation, a somewhat-newer studio arm of Marvel Studios, whom began the “Marvel Animated Universe” a couple years ago with What If…? has paired up with Studio MIR, animators of The Legend of Korra, My Adventures with Superman, Voltron: Legendary Defender, and The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf, to create a new show that pretty damn well near recreates the look and feel of the original show and characters. AKOM, the original show’s animators, were pretty well established in the 1990s as the outsourced studio of choice for many American cartoons, including Animaniacs, Gargoyles, The Real Ghostbusters, and roughly the first half of The Simpsons. They were no slouches, but somehow the show suffered from many inconsistencies in animation and tone, the result of frequent delays, and a number of top-down calls from the network to soften the tone of the show to sell more toys. Nevertheless, the new show aimed to maintain that style, slightly modernized for current animation techniques, as well as maintain the characters’ classic comic book costumes and set pieces, albeit some creative choices.

“To me, my X-MEN!”

The watchful eyes of superfans and internet denizens did not hesitate to chime in on some of the changes made to the look of the new show. Storm’s hair, for instance, isn’t the 1990s perm everyone remembers, but now more closely resembles her comic book look from when she took over leadership of The Morlocks. Morph’s look now more closely reassembles his various comic book iterations over his animated look. He’s also been explicitly written as “non-binary” which triggered the alt-right comic book fans predictably, but frankly, if you’re an X-MEN fan, you should have checked your bigotry out thirty years ago. It’s not a huge stretch for a shapeshifting character to be as such, just as how Mystique married and had Nightcrawler with another woman. Although the rest remain largely unchanged, some people took umbrage to Rogue, Jubilee, and Jean Grey looking a bit different. Again, it’s kind of hard to say they look different when AKOM couldn’t decide what color hue Jean Grey’s face was going to be in any given episode, or how they kept sliding Jubilee from being white as shit back to Asian as fuck between episodes.

I can agree somewhat that there are some finer details missing from the new animations that were done better before, but given Studio MIR’s portfolio, I think it’s pretty safe to assume they’re mixing their style in with these animations. You can definitely see it in their iteration of Magneto, who looks like he is straight out of The Witcher or Castlevania. A lot of strong-jaws in some of these shots, and perhaps that is intentional. Remember, 90s cartoons and especially 90s superheroes were all chiseled as fuck, both men and women. The decision to soften the ladies up here is one I do not object with, and it tracks with eastern animation’s overall moeification of female characters in general. I don’t think this will change my disposition for Rogue, one of my many early animated crushes. Old or new, she can sit on my face and drain my energy every day, sugah.

The original One-Punch Man.

You’re next question is going to be the voice acting. Well unfortunately, the voice actors for Cyclops and Magneto passed away in 2020, so those roles are now under the command of Ray Chase (Final Fantasy XV, Jujutsu Kaisen) and Matthew Waterson (The Croods, Monster High). The remaining original voice actors are returning to their roles, with the exception of Allyson Court who played Jubilee, preferring her role be recast to an Asian-American, now Holly Chou (The Big Sick, Blue Eye Samurai) and instead she will be cast as a new character presumably influencing the new upcoming story. I actually thought watching the trailer that Wolverine’s voice was recast, but it’s listed as still being Cal Dodd. I shouldn’t expect all the voices to remain the same, not everyone can be the immortal Tress MacNeille.

Now this is a Level 40 mount.

So what about the story? The plot? Are they doing something original, or more comic adaptations? Excellent question. Not much is known about the plot, however the superfans and internet denizens have some theories, and they center around the fact that the trailer shows Jean Grey pregnant.

What makes this especially interesting is that Jean’s original voice actress, Catherine Disher, is not voicing Jean, but instead a different character. Jennifer Hale (every cartoon you’ve ever known, Metal Gear Solid, etc.) is instead voicing Jean Grey. So internet sleuths naturally think this might be the introduction of the Madelyne Pryor / Goblin Queen arc, which was a major aspect of Mister Sinister’s plot to fight Apocalypse, and who fights Apocalypse in the far-future? Cable, aka Nathan Summers. Recall the whole Sinister kidnapping arc from the original show as well as the Phoenix / Dark Phoenix saga. Given IMDB has both Mister Sinister and his original voice actor Chris Britton returning, it’s a good bet that we could be getting the next part in the Cyclops-Jean saga that defined much of the comics and original show. It’s also possible the child could be Nate Gray, however his origin was having been genetically engineered by Mister Sinister from Scott and Jean’s DNA. A third possibility is it could be Rachel Summers, the daughter of the two in the “Days of Future Past” timeline. Or, they could go an original direction. I think a lot of people are banking on the former though, especially given events in “Time Fugitives” from Season 2, and just the overall involvement of Mister Sinister.

I’m honestly pretty excited for this show coming back. Not just because it’s being handled with care by people who also love the franchise they’re working with, but because it’s my favorite Marvel franchise. I was never into the core MCU characters as a kid, I was into the X-MEN. The show, the comics, the games, the figures. Other than classic Batman, it’s the only superhero-ish property I’ve ever had an interest in, as the rest of my interests are in science fiction. I watched a lot of other cartoons growing up, but I was always excited for X-MEN to come on. It was the highlight of Saturday Mornings, and my interest in the franchise only waned in recent decades because the movies were not that great. I remember being so excited to watch the first, thinking it was Jubilee in those opening shots, only for it to be Rogue. It did not gel for me, but the Ultimate X-MEN comics that were being published were great. I’d always hoped that either Marvel would get those rights back, or the MCU’s success would influence FOX to redo it proper. There are hints that they’re going to fix X-MEN back to glory, between Deadpool and The Marvels. I hope this is true. Though anything can be better than this shit.

X-MEN 97 starts on March 20th on Disney+

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