Page Me Wolverine

I’m still not quite sure why Deep Blue Something made a song called “Page Me Wolverine” in 2001, as I don’t think it has a whole lot to do with our claw-wielding smart-mouthed Canadian. But Roberto Da Costa’s one-off “page me” line at the end of the first episode reminded me of the song, as I am probably the last person on the planet who remembers that band, though largely for their one-off 1996 hit “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”. It didn’t help I once dated a Tiffany either.

X-MEN 97 has been a hotly anticipated anchor for the fairly-young Marvel Animation Studio, reformed within the last few years to try and chip into DC Animation’s considerable hold on the animated superhero market. Marvel once had a fairly sizable hold on this twenty-seven years ago with X-MEN The Animated Series, Spiderman, and a handful of Avengers-related fare. But they bit dust towards the end of XTAS, forcing Saban to finish the series order and then cancel it. The world would not know the fate of Charles Xavier and his X-MEN, at least in that universe. Movies would go on to be made with middling results despite stellar performances by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, but the franchise just sat on the sidelines with FOX while the MCU reshaped the superhero landscape for decades. Well now Marvel took it back from FOX in Disney’s acquisition of both Marvel and FOX, so it was high time to bring them back into the fold. But how?

Back in the Blackbird

As I previewed last time on TLDRAnimu, X-MEN 97 returns us to roughly a year after the events of the final episode of XTAS, after Henry Gyrich assassinates Charles Xavier. To the world,. they believe Xavier dead, but the X-Men know he’s been taken off planet to Shi’ar by Lilandra. Not knowing if he’ll ever return though, he may as well be dead, and the team continues under Cyclops’ leadership. The first episode opens on the sort of doom and gloom that hangs over the world still grappling with how to co-exist with mutants, when a rich kid gets dragged into the den of yet another Friends of Humanity plot, this time, with Mega Man-looking buster rifles made from Sentinel tech. Yeah, these assholes are back, unfortunately.

I’d say my wife doesn’t know about my extreme right-wing evening hangouts, but who am I kidding, what wife?

The first episode of X-MEN 97 is basically a rehash of the original’s opener “Night of the Sentinels”. There, Jubilee was rescued from Sentinels trying to capture her at the mall by Rogue and Storm, and in freeing her from the Mutant Control Agency headed by Henry Gyrich, they lost Morph in the process of retreating. Here, the mutant abducted by the FoH is Roberto Da Costa, better known to comic fans as Sunspot, and it’s Storm, Bishop, and Cyclops that come to the rescue. From there, they take a similar path that leads them back to Gyrich and Trask, and Sentinels once more. It makes sense for the showrunners to kind of reintroduce folks to “Earth-92131”, which is a zip code for San Diego, but also the wiki’s universe designation for this iteration of the X-Men. It was very much an episode intended to showcase the new animation, new (and old) voices, and new faces, while retooling the same proven formula that made this franchise such a successful Saturday-morning hit. It wasn’t entirely a new-old clip show though, they did work in the framework for where everyone is after the end of the show 27 years ago, and what will become of them potentially as this show moves forward.

Woah boy. This dude’s soliloquy is going to be hot shit on /pol/ for years.

Which does bring us to ethos of the series. It is a little bit darker and animated to be a little more rougher than the original. It’s not as if the original wasn’t playing with some pretty high-int concepts for everyone that wasn’t just a superhero-loving kid then, they delivered a very clear and specific message back then that many have forgotten over the last nearly three decades. The showrunners aptly chose to dial that up a bit more knowing their target demo, 35-45 largely men, but also women, need to be reminded that the X-Men dealt with the very nature of sexism, racism, ableism, intolerance, bigotry, and everything that makes up the culture wars today. This show does not look to be pulling punches. Gyrich steps up in a big way through this scene, and no doubt “tolerance is extinction” will be parroted by many and discussed in all manner of nerd philosophy circles in due time. The original depicted plenty of protests and violence, but the second episode specifically uses the word “insurrection” to describe the protestors breaking into the UN tribunal, and you know that is going to be their modern-day reference to January 6th. I have no doubt that while this show will primarily focus on the X-Men and extraordinary mutant problems, it will no doubt take plenty of time at framing many of its issues through a modern-day sociopolitical lens. My brother in comic book christ, if you think politics needs to get out of your comics, you were clearly not reading comics, or watching cartoons thirty years ago. Just so we’re clear, X-Men is and always will be woke as the kids call it today. Strap in and you might learn something.

Spoilers, bub.
Which future does this fortell?

There is so much here I could iterate on. They packed a lot of good shit into just two episodes, and the first was really just a remake of “Night of the Sentinels”. The second episode is where shit takes off, and it takes off in such a huge way. I wasn’t sure how many episodes we’d have Jean pregnant for, but they did not waste time with that, going straight for the birth of Nathanial Charles Summers, and as comic book and television show fans know, that is the given birth name of one Cable, the time-sliding man from the future, genetically engineered by Mister Sinister from that of Scott and Jean. Only, the twist is that Jean is actually Madeline Pryor, aka the future Goblin Queen, and the real Jean was mixed up in the whole Phoenix saga. Well look who comes through the front door at the end of episode two?

“Well this is awkward, I was pretending to be you to tell a joke not that long ago…”

But backtracking a bit through this episode, Magento being named the heir of Charles’ fortune and estate is interesting, but not surprising. Charles and Erik have always had a bromance, and Charles always entrusted his dream to Erik despite him constantly trying to start a larger war. For him to turnabout and want to promote Charles’ legacy is a pretty big step for the big guy, and one that has seen similar iterations in the comics after similar iterations of his tribunal or Xavier’s assassination.

Our boy Morph got a lot of screen time, but not a lot of voice lines. He walks in doing an Xavier imitation in the first episode, as well as a Jean Grey mocking Scott impression to Logan later before being the one to catch Other Jean at the end of episode two. Inbetween however, we get treated to some great shapeshifts of many of our favorites, such as Archangel, Sabertooth, Psylocke, The Blob, and Lady Deathstrike. One forgets that Morph not only can shapeshift, but he can also emulate their powers as well, including flight. But the icing on the cake is that they’re using his comic book appearance, while having him often use his human face from the original show for when they’re out and about.

They’ve massacred my girl…

And then there is Storm, who gets snipe-shot by X-Cutioner instead of Magneto with concentrated radiation used from the collars that removes her powers, potentially permanently. In the comics, this was part of the “Lifedeath” arc where Gyrich had been the one to pull the trigger, and she ended up with Forge where the two had a relationship until she learned the weapon was his creation. Two episodes of this season are called “L:ifedeath”, and that was reason enough to understand why Storm once again took the shot for Magneto (Rogue in the comics) and will likely end up on some kind of journey and entanglement with Forge and extradimensional forces to get her powers back.

Finally, there seems to be a hint of Rogue and Magneto being a thing. I can’t remember if this was alluded to in the comics. I know Rogue had dealings with The Brotherhood of Mutants through Mystique, but I couldn’t quite find a reference for this in the wiki. Perhaps this is just a little something to illustrate her and Gambit’s relationship issues. We’ll see how it goes.

Who is on top? Who is on bottom? Or do they just spin around the entire time?

As far as the presentation layer goes, the animation is still vibrant, colorful, and crisp. I know some of the nostalgiafriends will try and stan the original, but the original was wildly inconsistent, characters faces different shades, eyes not in the right places, Jubilee was either Asian or not. Marvel and Studio MIR have definitely taken this new trip to maintain consistent faces. I will say that after watching a lot of the original, it does take some getting used to with some characters, notably Jubilee, Rogue, and even Wolverine. However the style also feels very much like some of the stuff many prominent Japanese studio, like Production I.G or Madhouse, and Madhouse was the studio that did their own X-Men series back in 2011. I have no issues with any of this. It’s real fuckin’ food, and we’re finally getting something good from Marvel in one of their sandboxes after a long fucking time. But even the little details matter. The outfits, Morph’s transformations, mutant powers, and a lot of tight shots on their eyes sell scenes so well.

A classic lovers quarrel

Voices and sound effects. Well voices are obviously the key part to this revival. With a couple voice actor deaths, they had to recast a few roles, but managed to get most of the original cast. Newcomers Ray Chase as Cyclops, Matthew Watterson as Magneto, Issac Robinson-Smith as Bishop, Jennifer Hale as Jean Grey, Holly Chou as Jubilee, JP Karliak as Morph, and AJ LoCascio as Gambit, all hit their notes perfectly alongside the original cast returning to their roles as Storm, Rogue, Wolverine, and Beast. Eagle-ear viewers however will hear Catherine Disher, the original voice of Jean Grey, as Val Cooper, billed as an old friend of Xavier, and UN liason to the X-Men. I’ll be honest, some of the old voices are a bit off, however I think that is one part age, and another part old versus new sound recording and tech. Lenore Zann’s voice as Rogue is pretty iconic, and yet it seemed to flutter between sounding like it was recorded in a bathroom, or a sixty-five year-old woman voicing a twentysomething mutant. Cal Dodd’s voice actually matches Wolverine a little better in this iteration, though given Wolverine being much older than the rest of the team, an old man voice fits well. George Buza still sounds like Beast day one, as does Alison Sealy-Smith as Storm.

But what I especially enjoyed were the sound effects. It was easy as a longtime veteran of the franchise to want to get that crisp Cyclops beam sound, Wolverine’s claws, or Storm’s lightning bolts, but I honestly did not mind the updated take to them. That Zaku-eye-esque sound Cyclops visor and glasses makes was pretty good, and even the updated SFX on the opening was crisp. SFX is a pretty important aspect to this kind of show because it’s what comic books had to write out, or often make fancy calligraphy motions to denote powers being used. It’s what got you hyped in Marvel vs. Capcom 2 pulling out a triple-combo with Cyclops or Wolverine on the team.

Goddess SLAY~

Overall, this is such an awesome and welcome reentry back into the fold for the X-Men franchise, and what I hope serves to launch a much larger MAU, or Marvel Animated Universe. Why? Because the answer to their box office struggles is to make tighter, smaller-budget stuff on Disney+ instead of oversaturating theaters with half-baked ideas. Animation as a medium is such a great spot for this, and with two seasons of What If…? proving people want to see quirky and new things on streaming television, what better way to come back than to bring back an old show, but continue where it left off instead of trying to reboot it or make it something else. With some of the juicy details from the end of the second episode, and potential plots involving Mr. Sinister, this season may just be lit as fuckity-fuck, son.

Computer, end program.

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