Thursday, September 24, 2009

X-MEN - The Animated Series, Volumes Three & Four

I’ve written about the ‘90s X-Men cartoon before, so I won’t spend too much time repeating myself. Basically, the designs are from a different era, the animation is often stiff, and the voice acting is hit or miss. It’s also one of the most loyal comic to cartoon adaptations ever, and most of the episodes do manage to maintain the themes and characterizations that made the series so popular in the first place. The DVD releases continue, collecting most of the episodes through the fourth season. For unknown reasons, the DVDs are collecting the episodes in the order they originally aired, which is going to create some continuity issues later on. (“No Mutant Is an Island” ends with the X-Men learning that Jean Grey didn’t die at the end of “The Phoenix Saga,” which means it has to happen before “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” It aired two years late due to a series of animation errors, apparently.)

The episodes in Volume Three include the cartoon’s adaptation of “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” which has removed anything unsuitable for Saturday morning, but remains a remarkably faithful retelling of the comic’s story. Anyone who’s read the story will notice a dozen or so scenes directly taken from the comics. If the producers of the third X-Men movie had shown this much respect for the source material, maybe that franchise wouldn’t be so far off the rails at this point. “Cold Comfort” features the return of the same studio that animated the lively “Out of the Past.” There’s no shortage of animation errors here, but the movement is very fluid, and fans are treated to an appearance by the Peter David-era X-Factor. The animators have even picked up on a Steve Lightle drawing of Polaris and attempted to recreate his distinctive rendition of her neon green, straggly hair in every cel. “Nightcrawler” is an episode that FOX originally didn’t want to air, due to its forthright depiction of the character’s Christian faith. It ends with Wolverine reading out of the Bible, which probably increases its camp appeal, but the episode does give him some decent character work. It’s interesting that Gambit is portrayed as an atheist, considering that Fabian Nicieza would go on to establish him as a believer in his solo series. “Weapon X, Lies, and Videotape” adapts large sections of Larry Hama’s Wolverine run, and features a strong performance by Cal Dodd as the tormented Wolverine. The low-point of the set, and the show in general, has to be “The Juggernaut Returns,” which is a regrettable comedy episode about a feeble nerd gaining the Juggernaut’s powers. The new Juggernaut accidentally smashes some things, buys a white leisure suit, and tries to pick up women at a nightclub. After you hear Norm Spencer’s painful reading of “Women like guys to be themselves” as Cyclops, you can never un-hear it. The episode does get points for faithfully recounting the Juggernaut’s origin from the comics, though.

Volume Four opens with “Proteus,” a heavily sanitized version of the classic Claremont/Byrne storyline. The dark themes of the original story don’t lend themselves to this type of an adaptation, so it doesn’t really work. Proteus’ various zombie forms are even replaced with a non-threatening energy being that looks like something that should’ve been chasing the Amazing Chan Clan. “Sanctuary” is largely inspired by the final story of Chris Claremont’s original run, and its portrayal of Magneto is preferable to anything done to the character in the comics since Claremont’s departure. “Beyond Good and Evil” tosses in virtually every X-related character who hasn’t appeared yet, reminding me of the five-part season openers of G. I. Joe and Transformers that used to introduce the latest wave of action figures. Since this was apparently going to be the series finale, most of the major characters from the previous episodes also appear. Rather than feeling like a mess, it’s actually fun to see the various characters brought together in one large story. Unfortunately, the rest of the set features some forgettable episodes. Everyone from the High Evolutionary to the Brood to the Silver Samurai appears, but none of the episodes really click.

Once again, the sets have no special features. It shouldn’t be too hard to toss in things like the Chris Claremont interview that was already used in a previous release of Wolverine-centric episodes, or the Japanese openings for the show. A gallery of the covers of the VHS releases, which has some memorable work by Ty Templeton, would also be nice. If the rights are available for the ‘80s pilot “Pryde of the X-Men,” that definitely needs to be included before the series is finished. That complaint aside, it’s great to see the series finally on DVD, with over sixty episodes released in less than six months. If you’re willing to forgive some of the flaws, I think both sets are worth checking out.


Teebore said...

For unknown reasons, the DVDs are collecting the episodes in the order they originally aired, which is going to create some continuity issues later on.

Is it commonly accepted, then, that the "production order" is the preferred order in which to view the episodes?

G. Kendall said...

Yes, although I think it only really matters for the episodes that take place in-between the two Phoenix storylines.

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