‘X-Men ’97’ Is Well Done And Picks Up Where It Left Off … Well, Sort Of

When X-Men: The Animated Series wrapped up in 1997, it ended in an unusual place, plot-wise. Still highly popular, the series’ fifth season had budget cuts that affected the animation style and the voice cast. Technically the series did last longer than it was intended to last. But that doesn’t explain why it would end on basically a cliffhanger.

Charles Xavier is mortally wounded in an attack. Later, the X-Men, during a battle with Magneto, casually mention that Charles is dying, which results in Magneto agreeing to magnetically amplify his friend’s telepathy to contact Lilandra and the Shi’ar – who do arrive, right after Charles dies, but promise they can still heal Charles with their advanced technology. The series literally ends with the X-Men and Magneto watching Charles be taken away to an unknown fate. The End.

X-Men ’97 does pick up where the original series left off. Well, sort of. And there are a host of other changes that have happened in the 27 years since the original series ended and the few months that have passed during the timeline of the series. For one, the animation looks sharp and professional – as opposed to that final fifth season where there was, let’s say, a lot to be desired. Jubilee has a new haircut. Morph (based on Marvel Comic’s Changeling) is now going with his no-face look (Personally, I like this look better for a being who can turn into anyone than just “some dude”) who now identifies as non-binary and, in the three episodes I saw of the new series, his hidden feelings for his fellow X-Men are used against him by Mister Sinister. Also, Scott and Jean are expecting a baby and the two struggle with the idea of leaving the X-Men after the loss of Xavier so they can raise their new child in peace.

The reason I say “sort of,” in regard to the plot is, again, at least a few months have passed since the events of the last episode of X-Men: The Animated Series and I wouldn’t say anything has been fully retconned, but it has been shaped a little differently. Mutant relations with humans have improved since the death of Charles Xavier, as humans feel sympathy for the mutants. But a group of insurgents (I use that word on purpose, as the parallels become more and more obvious as the episodes go on, which includes an attack on a government institution), using Sentinel technology, are hunting down mutants one by one, as well as any humans who are trying to help them.

When we last saw Magneto, he was hanging out with the X-Men, saying goodbye to Charles. There seemed to be, finally, at least somewhat, a trust between Magneto and the team. After all, Magneto did risk his own life to try to save Charles. In the opening episode of X-Men ’97, Charles has left it in his will that Magneto will now be the new leader of the X-Men. And the X-Men (especially Scott) are pissed about this. This doesn’t quite line up with how the series ended. But, it’s not a huge stretch and the tension creates a more interesting story-line than if everyone was just thrilled with this turn of events. For Magneto’s part, in honor of his friend Charles, and the current thawing of relations between mutants and humans, he’s basically agreed to chill and go along with the idea of peace. The X-Men are, of course, skeptical and ask Jean to scan Magneto’s mind. She refuses, saying it wouldn’t matter anyway. If Magneto is sincere (which he seems to be), that doesn’t mean he can’t change his mind a week later, or a day later, or an hour later.

I was at Mizzou when the original series ended and it was kind of in that era where Tivo/DVR wasn’t a thing yet, streaming certainly wasn’t a thing yet, and setting a VCR to record things felt like a hassle not worth doing, so I wasn’t a religious watcher and was most likely still sleeping when these aired on (I think?) Saturday mornings. (Though, on Friday nights, we never missed Boy Meets World before heading to CJ’s for wings.) But I do remember that I did enjoy the episodes I saw. They were surprisingly a lot more “adult” than what would be expected, or what we’d probably see today – which is probably a reason the series was so popular. (When I was a kid, I hated stuff “for kids” and could immediately tell when I was being pandered to with dumbed-down crap. It’s probably the reason my favorite cartoon became Battle of the Planets. And, yes, it was a less violent retelling of Gatchaman. But, regardless, it was still really great.)

Watching this new series – which is Marvel Studio’s first crack at an X-Men story since regaining the rights, not counting the cameos in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and The Marvels – it’s a lot of fun. Honestly, as someone who wasn’t a diehard of the original series, I was kind of dreading watching the episodes. But, turns out, I really enjoyed them. The themes and the plot twists and the fact that stuff actually happens, and has consequences, in only three 30-minute episodes, feels like a bit of a revelation. And, honestly, after the last couple of disastrous X-Men live-action films, this series gives me a lot of hope for the future of that franchise.

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