Thursday, April 24, 2014

X-MEN Episode Sixty-Five - November 18, 1995

 

Beyond Good and Evil (Part 3): The Lazarus Chamber
Written by Michael Edens

Summary:  With Tyler’s help, Cable breaks into the government’s time machine, Graymalkin.  He travels to the present day and meets the X-Men.  After Wolverine interrogates Sabretooth, Xavier realizes that their foe is Apocalypse and that Cable could be an ally.  Cable takes the X-Men in Graymalkin to Cairo, where Apocalypse’s Lazarus Chamber is being constructed.  The team defeats Apocalypse’s new Four Horsemen, but discovers that the Apocalypse inside the Lazarus Chamber is actually Mystique.  Apocalypse ambushes the X-Men and grabs Xavier.  Wolverine enters Apocalypse’s teleportation portal before it closes.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Graymalkin is Cable’s orbital space station from the comics.  His dialogue hints that the government confiscated it years earlier.
  • Years after the comics established that Cable’s body is mostly techno-organic, the cartoon is still treating Cable as a standard cyborg.  This episode, he has Terminator eyes and a keypad on his metal arm.
  • Speaking of Cable retcons, Apocalypse is determined to abduct every telepath on Earth, but he leaves the all-powerful Cable behind in Cairo.
  • Rogue, Shard, and Jubilee are left at the mansion while the team travels to Cairo.  Archangel joins the X-Men on their mission.  Shard referred to Archangel last episode as a “future X-Man,” so it’s possible this scene was intended as another hint that Archangel would be joining the team.

Review:  Thankfully, this chapter feels less frantic than the previous episode, as the focus shifts to a fairly straightforward Cable/X-Men team-up.  Apparently, the creation of Apocalypse’s Lazarus Chamber in the modern day is meant to be the nexus point that’s causing so much chronal chaos to surround “today,” which is dubious logic at best, but it’s at least an attempt to explain why the X-Men’s era is so important.  The sense that this is the show’s final hurrah returns in a few places, such as Wolverine and Sabretooth’s interrogation scene.  It’s all left off-camera, but the dialogue does a good job of hinting at what happened between them when Sabretooth was locked in a room with Wolverine.  This was probably intended as a way to give Wolverine a final victory over Sabretooth during the closing days of the series.  The scene’s reminiscent of the better Wolverine/Sabretooth moments from the first season, probably because this episode’s written by Michael Edens, one of the stronger writers from the early years of the series.  

The plot also does a decent job of tying together various characters that have had little or no interaction so far.  Cable’s barely had contact with the X-Men on the show, so it’s entertaining to hear him, as caustic as he ever appeared in the comics, dismissing the team and giving “who cares?” responses to most of Xavier’s dialogue.  Cable and Archangel both hate Apocalypse, a connection that I don’t recall the comics ever exploiting, but this story does a good job of emphasizing that association.  Having Archangel actually join the X-Men on a mission is a welcome break from the show’s tradition of casting non-official X-Men in its canon to the side.  Cyclops and Cable have a brief scene, hinting at their familial bond, but never actually confirming anything to the poor confused kids in the audience.  Regarding the actual point of all this, Beast does have a brief exchange with Cable that hints at the theme.  Beast suggests that even if Apocalypse is destroyed, some other evil will take his place because the conflict between good and evil is “a part of the fabric of existence.”  For Saturday Morning TV, this is somewhat profound.  Not that the story is drawing attention to the fact, but Beast is questioning the basic underpinnings of all heroic fiction.

Unfortunately, the animation is just as disappointing as it’s been throughout the serial.  It’s hard to sell the idea that this is the big, epic X-Men event when it features some of the most mediocre animation of the show’s run.  Apocalypse’s new Four Horsemen are also a disappointment, as their designs are fairly tepid and there’s no personality assigned to any member.  I think this episode would’ve been a great opportunity to see the Dark Riders make their animated debuts.  At the very least, the Dark Riders have unique designs.  Visually, I don't think anyone could argue they're generic.  I’m assuming most of the Dark Riders ended up with X-Men action figures in the ‘90s anyway, so it’s odd to see them omitted from the television show.

Credit to http://marvel.toonzone.net/xmen/ for the screencaps.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

X-MEN Episode Sixty-Four - November 11, 1995

 

Beyond Good and Evil (Part 2): Promise of Apocalypse
Written by Jan Strnad

Summary:  Deathbird attempts a coup of Lilandra’s throne, but is double-crossed by Apocalypse, who reveals that he was only interested in the psychic Oracle all along.  Lilandra sends a telepathic message to Xavier, warning him of Apocalypse’s plans.  Cyclops suggests spying on telepaths in order to find the next one targeted by Apocalypse.  In England, Archangel’s family castle is robbed by Psylocke.  Soon, Psylocke is targeted by more mutants who have joined Apocalypse’s side: Sabretooth, Mystique, and Magneto.  Magneto is able to ward off the X-Men and bring Psylocke to Apocalypse.  In 3999, Cable and Tyler attempt to break into a secret government time machine.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Sabretooth is taken captive by the X-Men, while Mystique escapes.
  • Gamesmaster makes a cameo at the end, as the latest telepath kidnapped by Mr. Sinister.
  • Psylocke makes her first full appearance on the show.  She doesn’t have a British accent, however.
  • Archangel is now wearing the retro costume he adopted in the comics in 1995.
  • Sinister claims that Apocalypse will reward him with “a new breed of human” that he can engineer.  Now that he exists outside of time, he can monitor his experiments over the course of centuries.  Magneto, meanwhile, is working with Apocalypse because he claims that he can resurrect Magneto’s wife.
  • Apocalypse reveals that he landed in the “temporal control center of existence” after getting knocked off-course in the previous episode.  He’s spent centuries inside, planning his next scheme.

“Um, Actually…”:  Psylocke is portrayed as a mutant rights activist that steals in order to (somehow) advance the cause.  This is an invention of the cartoon, as she’s the daughter of an elite British family in the comics and worked as a fashion model and airplane pilot before becoming involved with Captain Britain and later the X-Men’s adventures.  She also claims that her brother fights for mutant rights, which is puzzling.  Her two brothers in the comics are Captain Britain and Jamie Braddock; the mutant is Jamie, and he’s always been portrayed as utterly insane.

"Actiiing!":  Apocalypse’s voice sounds deep and menacing again.  What is going on?

Approved By Broadcast Standards:  Psylocke doesn’t stab her opponents with her psychic knife in the cartoon.  Instead, she shoots it out of her hands like a laser blast, which I suppose is less menacing.  In one scene, she does appear to stab Archangel, but it’s in the chest and not his head, and the scene is framed from a distance.

“Huh?” Moment:  Psylocke is referred to as “dark haired” and “raven haired” on two separate occasions by Archangel and Wolverine.  Did the producers really think Psylocke’s purple hair was supposed to represent black, as opposed to, say…purple?

Review:  As the story reaches the halfway mark, the immediate point of the serial remains unclear.  “Throw in every character you possibly can” is obviously the goal of the storyline, but that doesn’t make the story itself inherently interesting.  Apocalypse’s abrupt dismissal of Deathbird in the opening scene contributes to the disjointed feel of the story.  If Deathbird’s only a pawn to be so casually dismissed, why was she with Apocalypse at the end of “Sanctuary” in order to tease this story?  That obviously implied that she would have some significant role to play, but she’s kicked out of the plot very quickly.  She contributes virtually nothing, and seems to be appearing solely to check off a box on the list of slightly obscure X-characters that haven’t had speaking roles yet.  

As the episode goes on, there is that basic fanboy thrill of seeing characters that haven’t appeared in a while, or at all, on the show.  That helps to keep up the momentum, but by the time Magneto finally appears in the final minutes of the episode, just seconds after Archangel, Psylocke, Sabretooth, Mystique, Wolverine, and Shard have the obligatory fight scene, there is a sense of “What is this?” that’s hard to ignore.  To the producers’ credit, Magneto’s justification for working with Apocalypse is explained very quickly, and it does allow Magneto to stay relatively in-character, but he’s yet another character cluttering the story.  It’s also frustrating that after looking great (again, by AKOM standards) in “Sanctuary,” Magneto’s back to such a bland look this episode.  Every character looks wooden this episode, with the exception of Psylocke, who seems to be drawn fairly consistently and with about as much “grace” as you can expect from AKOM.

While the main story feels a bit muddled, there is some effort to insert the character drama that was initially the hallmark of the series.  Storm objects to Cyclops’ plan to simply tail telepaths and see which one Apocalypse kidnaps next, claiming that it’s cruel not to warn them that they’re in danger.  She also suggests that he wouldn’t be so eager to sacrifice others if Jean weren’t involved, which is surprisingly harsh, but also accurate.  I wouldn’t say the X-Men get into a “debate” over this, since the conflict is resolved by Xavier bluntly telling Storm that this is what must be done, but the brief scene is one of the better inter-team conflicts of the show’s run.  Later, Strnad attempts to give Archangel some personality, as opposed to allowing him to scream hysterically about “Ah-POC-o-lips!” for the entire episode.  The Archangel/Psylocke romance from the comics obviously influenced the decision to have them flirt/fight, and while the dialogue is obviously corny, the scene is surprisingly entertaining.  I would argue Psylocke was the last of the major X-characters to appear on the show, so if nothing else, the episode provides some fan-service.  Unfortunately, her character has been totally rewritten for reasons that never become obvious, so it’s hard to say that the wait was justified.  So, yes, mixed feelings about this serial so far.

Credit to http://marvel.toonzone.net/xmen/ for the screencaps.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

X-MEN Episode Sixty-Three - November 4, 1995


Beyond Good and Evil (Part 1): The End of Time
Written by Steve Cuden


Summary:  In 3999, Apocalypse steals Cable’s cube-computer, but a remark by Cable causes Apocalypse to question his goals.  He uses the cube-computer’s time traveling function and disappears.  Bishop, meanwhile, attempts to get back to his time, but becomes trapped in the Axis of Time.  He meets an eccentric resident who gives no clear answers.  In the present, Cyclops and Jean Grey are married.  As they drive away, they’re attacked by the Nasty Boys.  They kidnap Jean, while Sinister attempts to abduct Xavier at the mansion.  The X-Men stop Sinister, with the aid of Shard, who’s come from the future in search of Bishop.  Sinister creates a portal and escapes to the Axis, where he meets his employer, Apocalypse.


Continuity Notes:  
  • Cable appears with the Clan Chosen in the opening sequence.  Tyler appears, a few years older, as one of his loyal soldiers.
  • Bishop is trying to return to the future from 1955, following the events of “One Man’s Worth.”
  • Morph is briefly shown sitting with the X-Men at Cyclops and Jean’s wedding.
  • Forge sends Shard to the only coordinates that he can trace after Bishop’s disappearance, allowing her to join the action just in time.
  • Vertigo joins the Nasty Boys this episode.  She is a flunky for Sinister in the comics, but as a member of the Marauders, not the Nasty Boys.


“Huh?” Moments:  
  • Apocalypse, leaving the year 3999, is somehow able to cause Bishop, leaving the year 1955, to be thrown off-track, into the Nexus of Time.  How could that possibly work?
  • Sinister calls upon the Nasty Boys, Gorgeous George specifically, to open the portal that allows him to escape.  When they leave him behind during the fight, Sinister accuses them of being traitors.  A few seconds later, Sinister’s hand begins to glow and he’s somehow able to generate a portal himself and teleport away.  What did he even need the Nasty Boys for in the first place?  


"Actiiing!":  Apocalypse’s second voice actor, which the internet tells me is James Blendic, makes his first full appearance on the show.  However, it sounds as if Apocalypse’s scene in the opening is done by the original actor, John Colicos, the man with the deep bass and insane delivery.  Am I crazy or are there two Apocalypse voices in this episode?


I Love the '90s:  Forge sends Shard back to the “late 1990s” to search for Bishop.


Review:  "Beyond Good and Evil," according to internet lore, was originally intended as the series’ finale.  This didn’t happen, in part because the episodes are airing out-of-order and there’s a season’s worth of material that hasn’t aired yet, but also because FOX will go on to order an additional six episodes during the show’s final days.  I can see elements of the serial that hint that it could’ve been the series finale, although I’m glad the final episode turns out to be a slower, more character-driven piece.  "Beyond Good and Evil" is a worthy attempt to bring together almost every character that’s appeared in the show so far, but the mere premise requires the plot to be cluttered, and I can recall wondering as the episodes aired what point (if any) the story’s trying to make.  


The episode opens with another Cable vignette in the future, and even though I’m already biased against any story featuring Clan Chosen, Cable’s cardboard future soldiers, it’s actually one of Cable’s better moments on the show.  The writer and/or producers have decided to flagrantly turn Cable into Indiana Jones this time, right down to a line about hating snakes, and the fast pace of the opening is pretty entertaining.  When Cable makes the fairly generic threat that Apocalypse can’t win because someone will always oppose him, Apocalypse has an unexpected response.  What if Cable’s right?  What if everything he does is utterly pointless?  Having Apocalypse do more than make melodramatic proclamations, which he does very well on the show, and actually question his goals is a clever way to start the story.  How it leads to Bishop, the Nexus of Time, and every telepath in the Marvel Universe is a little fuzzy, but I can’t deny that the first act does a decent job drawing the viewer into the story.


The episode then jumps to Bishop, who just can’t seem to ever work this “time travel” thing out, can he?  Now he’s trapped outside of time, and his only guide is the painfully irritating Bender.  (Or is it Vendor?  His voice is so obnoxious it’s hard to tell.)  Bender/Vendor’s like the Junkions from Transformers, only far more annoying.  He speaks only in cryptic pop culture quotes, in a voice so grating I actually miss the show’s interpretation of Mojo.  Luckily, their scenes together are mercifully brief, as the story cuts to Scott and Jean’s wedding.  Finally allowing Scott and Jean to get married is probably the best evidence that this serial was meant as the show’s finale, and it actually does feel like a proper resolution to their long-running engagement.  Thankfully, the episode allows Scott and Jean to get married, have a reception, and then be attacked.  Choosing Sinister and the Nasty Boys as the villains is a nice nod to the show’s continuity, and I have to admit that I kind of miss the Nasty Boys, even if their contributions never amounted to much.  Drawing attention to the fact that the Nasty Boys want Jean and not Cyclops is also a nice hint regarding what exactly the kidnap victims have in common.


While the premise of the storyline has a lot of potential, and the large cast already assembled is a treat for longtime fans of the series, the episode is marred by some of the worst animation the show’s seen in ages.  Having this air directly after the visually rich (by AKOM standards) “Sanctuary” just emphasizes how weak the episode looks.  The movements are lifeless, the fight scenes have almost no impact, and the color scheme seems to have reverted to the drab look of the earlier episodes.  Why exactly the producers saw fit to recolor Magneto with darker reds and more shadow, but were content with coloring Apocalypse like an Easter Egg, remains a mystery to me.  Even if this isn’t the show’s finale, it is a major storyline that’s drawing together almost every character we’ve seen so far.  I realize that’s a burden on the animators, but a storyline that’s obviously intended to be very important should not look this shoddy.

Credit to http://marvel.toonzone.net/xmen/ for the screencaps.

Monday, April 21, 2014

X-MEN Episode Forty-Nine - October 28, 1995



Sanctuary (Part Two)
Written by Jeff Saylor

Summary:  Beast and Xavier leave Asteroid M with the Russian astronauts.  Believing Magneto dead, Xavier holds a memorial for him at the mansion.  He then returns to Asteroid M with Beast, Rogue, and Wolverine.  Magneto, meanwhile, lands on Earth after being left for dead inside an escape pod.  Gambit is kept captive on Asteroid M, but Amelia Voght questions Fabian Cortez’s treatment of him.  With Gambit’s prompting, Amelia finds the security footage of Cortez apparently killing Magneto and realizes his true scheme.  She frees Gambit, who convinces his friend Byron to turn against Cortez.  The X-Men are unable to stop Cortez from launching Asteroid M’s missiles towards Earth, but a revitalized Magneto appears and destroys the missiles.  He then traps Cortez inside the collapsing Asteroid M.  Later, Cortez is somehow rescued by Apocalypse and Deathbird.

Continuity Notes
  • Magneto claims Earth’s magnetic field has healed his body, allowing him to return for the climax.
  • The X-Men use Shi’ar technology to enhance the Blackbird and travel into orbit.
  • Wolverine joins the expedition into space this episode, with no explanation of where the other team members are.
  • Xavier gives Magneto’s full name as “Erik Magnus Lensherr” which I believe is the first time he’s given a real name on the show.
  • Fabian Cortez releases a statement on mutant rights on live television. X-Factor, Gideon and Nicodemus of the X-Ternals, Haven, and Typhoon are all shown watching the footage.
  • The X-Men wear special outfits when invading Asteroid M. Wolverine is in his purple “stealth gear,” which I believe he wore once in Marvel Comics Presents. Xavier is wearing the outfit he wore in X-Men #25, although it doesn’t allow him to walk. Rogue and Beast are wearing costumes I’ve never seen before, but assume were action figures in the ‘90s.

"Actiiing!":  Apocalypse has a new voice during his cameo at the end.  It’s not nearly as deep and menacing as the original voice, unfortunately.

Review:  With the exception of Gambit’s buddy Byron, who adds virtually nothing to the overall story, the plot details established in the first chapter are effectively paid off as the two-parter reaches its conclusion.  Some elements of the original storyline are sanitized, such as Magneto assuring Xavier that he won’t die as Asteroid M crashes, but the story still has an impact.  Magneto reappearing above the Earth to save everyone, human and mutant, from Cortez’s missile strike is one of the series’ finest moments.  The ending’s also a nice surprise, as the show makes one of its final efforts to introduce mysteries and subplots that are carried over into new storylines.

Casting Cortez as the comical exaggeration of what people think Magneto is supposed to be is a great move, as the cartoon manages to get more out of their relationship than the source material did.  (Although Cortez is just as dumb here as he normally is in the comics, considering that he doesn’t erase the security tape of him “killing” Magneto.)  In the comics, Cortez’s betrayal of Magneto only becomes a plot point in the final pages of the story, even if it is foreshadowed earlier, leaving the creators with no room to explore the idea.  In “Sanctuary,” the audience is given a much more rewarding resolution as Magneto reappears just in time to teach his pale replacement a lesson. 

The character moments are also memorable, as Xavier prepares a tribute for Magneto when he’s still believed dead, a nice acknowledgment of their friendship that shows just how well the series understood how to portray the Xavier/Magneto dynamic.  Magneto’s final words to Xavier as he refuses Xavier’s aid while Asteroid M collapses are also well written, and well executed by voice actor David Hemblen.  As a tribute to the final pages of Claremont’s original run, the scene is a nice reminder of the show’s ability to capture the Claremont interpretation of the character. 

Credit to http://marvel.toonzone.net/xmen/ for the screencaps.

Friday, April 18, 2014

X-MEN Episode Forty-Eight - October 21, 1995



Sanctuary (Part One)
Written by Steven Melching & David McDermott

Summary:  Magneto kidnaps a team of Russian astronauts and steals missiles the team was sent to disarm.  Soon, at a UN conference, Magneto enters and announces that all mutants are free to live on his space station, Asteroid M.  Xavier, Beast, and Gambit travel to Africa where the first group of mutants will evacuate Earth.  Magneto and Xavier have a peaceful conversation, and Xavier agrees to see Asteroid M for himself.  During the second evacuation in Genosha, Magistrates attack the mutants seeking sanctuary.  They’re defended by a new team of mutants lead by Fabian Cortez.  Cortez quickly becomes Magneto’s ally.  Soon, however, Magneto discovers Cortez has betrayed him and launched missiles at Earth.  When Magneto confronts Cortez, he charges Magneto’s powers to the point that Magneto appears to fade away.  Cortez then blames the X-Men for the murder.  Gambit stays behind, allowing Xavier and Beast to escape.

Continuity Notes:
  • The X-Men with speaking parts this episode include Xavier, Rogue, Gambit, and Beast.
  • Large sections of this two-parter are based on 1991's X-Men #1-3. Magneto even wears the same white robe he wore in X-Men #1.
  • Cameos include Random, Copycat, Blockbuster and Arclight of the Marauders, along with reused models of the Morlocks and a few random mutants from previous episodes. Black Panther also makes a brief appearance during the scene set in Africa (because apparently Black Panther is active in all of Africa.)
  • Fabian Cortez and the Acolytes debut this episode, although the network censors won’t allow the Acolytes to be called by name.
  • One of the Acolytes, named Byron Kelly (or perhaps “Kali”) is an old friend of Gambit’s that he can’t believe has joined Magneto. For some reason, Byron is taking the place of Frenzy, the Acolyte with a past connection with Gambit in the comics, even though she does appear in the episode.
  • Amelia Voght makes her first full appearance. A flashback containing most of the scenes already shown in “Proteus (Part One)” establishes her as Xavier’s old girlfriend. He’s stunned she’s sided with Magneto after declaring that she didn’t want to draw attention to her mutant powers.
  • During a flashback to one of the original X-Men’s early Danger Room sessions, Jean Grey is incorrectly wearing her current costume for a few seconds. When she next appears in the flashback, she’s wearing her original Marvel Girl costume. Angel also appears as a member again, contradicting the show’s continuity.

“Um, Actually…”:  Beast claims that Xavier lost the use of his legs battling Magneto, which not only contradicts the comics’ continuity, but is a fairly major revelation several years into this show’s run.  The Acolytes are also described by Beast as a “local Genoshan group,” as opposed to the original story that established them as loyal Magneto followers that sought him out as a leader.

Approved By Broadcast Standards:  The original censor notes for this episode have been posted online by one of the writers.

"Actiiing!":  The US representative at the United Nations is an obvious Jack Nicholson parody, for reasons I’ve never understood.  I realize that every comedian is supposed to have a Jack Nicholson impersonation, but was someone so desperate to show his off he chose this role in this cartoon to do it?  Did he think he was auditioning for the role of Shipwreck?

Review:  “Sanctuary” was delayed for almost a year before it finally aired, which is a shame since I think it would’ve been a great follow-up to the original “Phoenix Saga.”  Just imagine a third season of the X-Men that opened with Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers, adapted Phoenix/Dark Phoenix, introduced Iceman and Nightcrawler, and then closed with a faithful retelling of Chris Claremont’s final X-Men story, with a nod to Scott Lobdell’s best Uncanny X-Men issue also thrown in.  Instead, the third season opened strong, relapsed into reruns, and then began airing random episodes at an unusual pace.  At the very least, “Sanctuary” should’ve been the fourth season’s opener, instead of the largely disappointing “One Man’s Worth.” 

Had the show kept the momentum of its previous year, I have a feeling “Sanctuary” would’ve been remembered as one of the series’ highlights.  The nuanced portrayal of Magneto is especially entertaining, as the show pays homage to Claremont’s reinvention of the character and presents him as a complex, passionate defender of all mutants, even the ones he doesn’t particularly like.  Every opportunity the story presents to use him as a villain is ignored, to the point that the astronauts Magneto kidnaps in the opening are honestly treated as “guests” in his home.  The best moments of the final Claremont/Lee X-Men issues are represented, only with more coherent storytelling, so now the diversion into Genosha actually makes sense.  Seeing the Acolytes step into battle against the Genoshan Magistrates, their Appleseed armored guard, and the Sentinels is a lot of fun, and I say this as someone who was consistently bored by the Acolytes of the comics at the time.  Most of the conflicts in the episode are honestly engaging, and the producers have done an admirable job picking and choosing which elements from the early Magneto/Acolytes stories should be adapted.  (Gambit’s story isn’t given a lot of room to draw the audience in, however, and it’s baffling that the producers chose to ignore Frenzy in favor of a generic new character.)  In retrospect, throwing Amelia Voght into X-Men #1-3 makes a lot of sense, especially if you’re ignoring the “Moira experimented on Magneto” plot.  The third season was really missing a solid Magneto story, and it’s a shame that scheduling problems prevented this from airing when originally intended.

Credit to http://marvel.toonzone.net/xmen/ for the screencaps.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

X-MEN Episode Fifty-Seven - October 7, 1995



Proteus (Part Two)
Written by Luanne Crocker

Summary:  Proteus seeks his father, politician Joe MacTaggert.  The X-Men take shifts guarding Joe from Proteus, despite his bigoted views on mutants.  After Proteus discovers Joe’s new family, he storms the Union Hall in the middle of his father’s campaign speech.  The X-Men, and the newly arrived Banshee, fail to stop him.  Only Professor X is able to calm Proteus by appealing to his humanity.  Soon, Proteus is back on Muir Island receiving therapy, and gaining better control of his powers.

Continuity Notes:  Wolverine receives his third model during this arc.  This episode, he’s dressed as a ‘70s cowboy, in a look obviously inspired by the early Dave Cockrum issues.

Um, Actually…”:  Some vaguely defined, pseudo-scientific device created by Moira is described as the only thing that can harm Proteus.  In the original storyline, Proteus is vulnerable to metal, which leaves Colossus with the burden of killing him before he can harm anyone else.

Review:  In fairness, I will say that the second chapter of this arc is an improvement over the first.  This episode dramatizes Wolverine’s shell-shocked reaction to Proteus’ reality-warping quite well, exposing the cartoon’s audience to one of the very few times Wolverine's ever shown any weakness, and giving Cal Dodd another direction to take his performance.  Remaking Joe MacTaggert as a “family values” candidate not only fits the climate of the ‘90s, but it provides Proteus with a legitimate reason for hating the guy.  The scene where he visits Joe’s home and sees the new family, including his half-sister, is unusually dark by the standards of the show.  Just the idea of an older, divorced politician with his second family being the source of derision is rare enough for Saturday Morning Television, and it’s a nice reminder that the series can still go places you wouldn’t expect it to.  I also enjoy stories that have the X-Men working to defend bigots, as much as they might not want to, because it emphasizes a basic heroic ideal behind the concept that’s too often forgotten.

There’s not enough here to save the adaptation, however.  Almost none of the interpersonal conflicts from the original storyline are represented, mainly because the producers have decided to cast a team of X-Men that only includes one member present in the original story.  (Two if you count the semi-retired Banshee, who disappears for much of this adaptation.)  Yes, Wolverine has some great moments in the comic, but where’s Storm, Phoenix, and Cyclops?  Is there anything in this two-parter that matches Phoenix’s growing concern over her powers (mirrored by the nigh-omnipotent Proteus), Storm’s determination to stand down Proteus and save her friends, or Cyclops’ unorthodox method for bringing Wolverine back into the fight?  The story’s even missing that classic moment, the most important moment in Wolverine and Cyclops’ past I would say, where Wolverine finally acknowledges that he does respect Cyclops as a leader and a man. 

Why drop Rogue and Beast into a story that has nothing to do with them?  I wouldn’t expect Nightcrawler, Havok, and Polaris to be represented since they’re designated guest stars on the series, (even though they also have great moments in the original issues, or at least in the Classic X-Men backups) but what about the regular cast?  Cyclops and Storm are appearing in every other episode anyway, so why exclude them?  And wouldn’t it be great if the audience actually got to see Jean in an adventure in-between the Phoenix and Dark Phoenix serials?  I’m not asking for Colossus to suddenly join the team and then kill Proteus on his first mission, but more fidelity to what made this story great in the first place would’ve been nice.  For pity’s sake, this is a “Proteus” adaptation that has a happy ending!  Even Joe MacTaggert decides in the end that he loves his son and mutants are all okay with him.  That’s missing the point of the original by a country mile.  What’s frustrating is that the show hasn’t shown so much of a willingness to sanitize the material in the past, which makes me wonder what exactly was happening behind the scenes.  I wouldn’t expect any actual murders or rotting corpses on the show, but it’s shocking that an adaptation of such a dark story could be this bland.

Credit to http://marvel.toonzone.net/xmen/ for the screencaps.

Monday, April 14, 2014

X-MEN Episode Fifty-Six - September 30, 1995



Proteus (Part One)
Written by Bruce Reid Schaefer
 
Summary:  Moira MacTaggert treats the teenage mutant Proteus, who is kept in a private cell on Muir Island.  When Proteus escapes, Moira calls the X-Men for help.  The X-Men search for him as he travels into a nearby town, possessing the locals and causing havoc while searching for his father.  When he confronts the X-Men in battle, Moira is finally forced to admit that Proteus is her son, Kevin MacTaggert. 

Continuity Notes:
  • This two-parter is based on the original Proteus storyline in Uncanny X-Men #125-128.
  • The X-Men featured this episode are Xavier, Beast, Rogue, and Wolverine.
  • Proteus was originally referred to as “Mutant X” during his cameo appearances earlier in the Claremont/Cockrum Uncanny X-Men run. “Mutant X” is shown as the name on his cell door this episode.
  • Morph has another brief cameo on Muir Island, as he appears to be undergoing a brain scan. Banshee also appears at the start of the episode, standing next to Moira as she “treats” Proteus.
  • The Blackbird is shown flying out of the hole underneath a movable swimming pool this episode.
  • Flashbacks in this episode tell the story of Xavier and Moira’s broken engagement, Xavier’s service in the military, Moria’s later wedding to Joe MacTaggert, and Xavier’s love affair with Amelia Voght from Uncanny X-Men #309.
  • During the flashback to Xavier’s romance with Amelia, we see another glimpse of the original X-Men training in the Danger Room. Angel is included, which doesn’t fit the continuity of this series, since he didn’t meet the team until the middle of the first season.
  • The Technet is shown drinking in a pub Proteus enters after he escapes Muir Island. There are also cameos by other Marvel UK characters outside of the pub. These cameos make absolutely no sense within the context of the story.
  • Moira claims Proteus is telepathic, which doesn’t seem to fit the comics’ continuity, nor does it seem to add anything to the story.

“Um, Actually…”:  Joe and Moira MacTaggert are shown getting a divorce in a flashback.  In the comics’ continuity, Joe is still legally married to Moira and refuses to grant her a divorce because he feels it’s politically convenient to be married to a world-renowned scientist.

Saban Quality:  Wolverine changes from his superhero costume into civilian clothes, then back again, for no discernible reason during the story.

Production Note:  The closing credits are back to the standard quick-cut montage with theme music playing in the background.

Approved By Broadcast Standards:  Proteus doesn’t possess bodies and slowly leech the life out of them, as seen in the comics.  Instead, he’s represented as a blocky outline that enters bodies and then leaves them unharmed.

Review:  I love the original Proteus storyline as much as anyone, but I can’t defend the decision to adapt it for Saturday Morning TV.  The original story deals with even more adult themes than “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” with visuals that are far more appropriate for Liquid Television than anything FOX was airing at the time.  Proteus is a child of rape, sheltered from the world because of his powers, a disembodied spirit determined to kill his parents.  He possesses people, rots their bodies, and moves on to his next victim.  His creators also saw fit to give him the ability to warp reality, and considering the psychology of the character, it’s only fitting that he twists reality in absolutely horrifying ways.  (If the original stories couldn’t creep you out, check out the backup stories Ann Nocenti and John Bolton created for Classic X-Men.)  It’s a dark psychological tale that was only suitable for Code approval because Chris Claremont and John Byrne had a skill for knowing just when to pull back and let the audience’s imagination take over.  Needless to say, it’s an awkward fit for an all-ages network cartoon.

With all of the teeth removed, “Proteus” becomes just another adventure of the X-Men chasing a rogue mutant around a different locale.  Admittedly, some life is breathed into the episode by a plethora of flashbacks, which is always red meat for longtime fans and welcome information for viewers only familiar with the characters through the cartoon.  As rushed as the flashbacks can be, the basic story of Xavier, Moira, and even Amelia Voght’s pasts are all dramatized quite well, and the producers have made the wise decision to ignore Lucifer and just imply that Xavier lost the use of his legs during an unnamed war.  I wouldn’t advocate changing the comics’ continuity to reflect this, but it’s totally understandable if other-media adaptations of the X-Men downplay Lucifer, a long-forgotten minor villain, in order to make the story of Xavier’s paralysis more dramatic. 

Unfortunately, when the focus shifts to the main plot, the story immediately begins to drag.  Proteus has been redesigned to resemble a gigantic, featureless square figure, straight out of an old Space Ghost model sheet.  I can understand why the visual of Proteus’ possessed bodies literally rotting wouldn’t fly, but couldn’t he at least appear as a silhouette, as seen on the cover of Uncanny X-Men #127?  I can’t imagine the thinking behind such an uninspired design.  It matches his personality, though, as the animated version of the character spends the episode moping around, staring at random people and wishing his dad were around.  Contrast this with the Proteus who absolutely hated the world, spoke like a Shakespearian villain, and relished the thought of murdering his own father.  This guy is an emo teen with a fake Scots accent.  He’s not intimidating or very sympathetic, so the audience is left waiting for the X-Men to hurry up and just throw him back in his cage.  Unfortunately, Moira reveals in the final five minutes that Proteus is her son (a “twist” that’s hard to judge on its own merits since comic fans already know this, but it seems like info that should’ve been obvious already).  That means that everyone’s got to respond to the shocking reveal, Kevin’s father will inevitably appear, and we’re going to get a second chapter.

Credit to http://marvel.toonzone.net/xmen/ for the screencaps.

Friday, April 11, 2014

X-MEN/WILDC.A.T.S - THE DARK AGE - May 1998



Credits:  Warren Ellis (writer), Mat Broome w/Bret Booth (pencils), Sean Parsons (inks), Wendy Fouts & Wildstorm FX (colors), Comicraft’s Dave Lanphear (letters)


Summary:  In 2019, the surviving members of the X-Men and WildC.A.T.S are kept in concentration camps by the Daemonite/Sentinel hybrids.  Warblade removes his power-dampener in order to cut out the other heroes’ inhibitors, knowingly sacrificing his life.  Led by Lord Emp and Shadowcat, the heroes break into a Daemonite/Sentinel facility and free Phoenix, Cable, and Savant.  Merging their powers with Lord Emp’s, they execute their plan to travel into the past and prevent their teams from forming, which will stop the Daemonites and Sentinels from ever merging.  As they enter the timestream, Wolverine and Grifter arrive from Canada and bomb the facility.  Reality warps, then returns to normal in the present day.


Gimmicks:  A variant cover laid out by Michael Golden was also released, although the pencils and inks were provided by Richard Bennett, which probably didn’t thrill anyone expecting a Michael Golden cover.


Review:  Yet another take on “Days of Future Past,” which I suppose isn’t a surprise considering that every chapter so far has moved up and up the timeline.  Warren Ellis predictably wrings every drop of bleakness he can out of the concept, but while he’s an obvious choice to write a dark science fiction story set in the future, casting Mat Broome as artist is a questionable decision.  The previous chapters consistently featured the best artists working for Wildstorm during these days, which is a list Mat Broome (especially the Mat Broome of 1998) can’t compete with.  He seems to be going for a Travis Charest look on many pages, which unfortunately leads to needlessly elaborate layouts and pointless insert panels that ruin the flow of the page.  And while his designs for the alien/robotic technology are kind of impressive, his human figures are often too flat and awkward to be taken seriously.  And the bondage outfits he’s designed for the future X-Men, especially Wolverine, would make even Joel Schumacher roll his eyes.  


Ellis’ story covers much of the ground you expect these “Days of Future Past” sequel/parody/pastiches to go, right down to the team’s leader making a dramatic entrance in a wheelchair (previously it was Magneto, then Peter Wisdom, now WildC.A.T.S’s Lord Emp.)  Taking the Daemonites from WildC.A.T.S continuity and merging them with the Sentinels isn’t a bad idea, helping to make the story less obviously an X-Men story and adding a science fiction element that we haven’t really seen in any of the mutant dystopian futures yet.  Ellis also has a nice hook for the time travel element of the story, as Shadowcat explains that the Daemonites and Sentinels only exist because of the WildC.A.T.S and X-Men respectively, so the best way to ensure they never merge is to go back in time and prevent the teams from forming.  (Somehow, in the course of one page, the plan changes to prevent just one team from existing, and the WildC.A.T.S volunteer, but I think the concept is still interesting.)  Simultaneously, Wolverine and Grifter arrive, totally ignorant of what’s going on, and just blow up the Daemonite/Sentinel base.  Oops.  The ending makes little sense, but I guess the idea is that all of the previous X-Men/ WildC.A.T.S have been wiped from continuity.  That’s one way to end a series of crossovers that was never going to “count” in the first place.  


Overall, despite a few good ideas, The Dark Age is the weakest of the X-Men/ WildC.A.T.S books.  Aside from the disappointing art, the story wastes too much time gratuitously killing off established Wildstorm characters instead of fleshing out the main cast or actually exploring some of the time travel ideas introduced by the plot.  Alan Moore already did a “Days of Future Past” riff in the Spawn/ WildC.A.T.S miniseries that included quite a few superfluous death scenes for the Wildstorm heroes…I don’t need to see yet another gruesome slaughter of a character I barely recognize from 1995.  The cast also lacks any real diversity, as everyone does little more than snap and swear at each other, when they’re not busy bemoaning their wretched existence.  It gets old fast.  The previous chapters might’ve been thin reads, but I think they’re genuinely entertaining in a way this isn’t.