The final episodes of the original X-Men animated series are strange to watch in retrospect. Actually, they were kind of odd when they first aired, too. After the producers finished what was supposed to be the big series finale, FOX kept ordering new episodes. The final season began with a two-part adaptation of the “Phalanx Covenant” crossover, followed by another Longshot episode, another solo Cyclops episode, an episode about Omega Red and a submarine, a two-part adaptation of the Chris Claremont/George Perez Arkon story, and a loose adaptation of the infamous Nightcrawler origin story from X-Men Unlimited #4. Some of these episodes were supposed to air months, or even years, earlier but were delayed due to animation errors. “No Mutant is an Island” has Cyclops reacting to Phoenix’s death, even though her resurrection episodes had already aired. The scripts tend to be on par with most of the previous episodes, and some of the adaptations even exceed the original comics. “Phalanx Covenant” takes the basic idea behind the crossover but also incorporates the early Warlock appearances from New Mutants, and brings in Magneto and Mr. Sinister as unlikely allies against the Phalanx. “Bloodlines” is a vast improvement over X-Men Unlimited #4 because it uses Nightcrawler more effectively and actually makes a modicum of sense.
Some reports say that “Bloodlines” was supposed to be the last episode, others say it was the final chapter of “Beyond Good & Evil” (included in the last DVD set), and others claim the second part of “Storm Front” was the last produced. Regardless, even more episodes were ordered. For the final batch, the producers decided to redesign the show. Joe Madureira’s manga style had revamped the look of the comics, and interviews with the producers claimed it inspired the show’s new look. You would think Joe Mad’s style would translate to animation rather easily. The actual cel-to-cel animation might not work on a TV budget, but the designs should’ve been easy to emulate and it’s not as if the overly rendered Jim Lee style worked for animation either. If the animators were going for Joe Mad, I’m not sure how they ended up with the final designs. They are cartoonier, but I don’t see the Japanese influence that made Madureira’s art so popular. The highlight of the final episodes is “Old Soldiers,” a WWII Captain America/Wolverine team-up that’s written by Len Wein.
Now that all of these episodes are paired together on DVD, the dramatic style change is even more jarring. The “new look” episodes aren’t even separated on a different disc. I could mention the lack of extras again, but by the fifth volume, I don’t think anyone was expecting any by this point. At least the show is finally on DVD, and the entire seventy-six episode run has been released within a year’s time.
Just in time for, well, the second Iron Man movie comes the release of the ‘90s Iron Man cartoon. Packaged with Fantastic Four as the Marvel Action Hour, the show is probably best known by fans for the dramatic revamp it received during the second season. Although many of the voices remained the same, both Iron Man and Fantastic Four received new designs, higher-quality animation, and vastly improved scripts. The first season of Iron Man actually looks much better than Fantastic Four’s first season, but it still desperately needed a revamp. Even though it aired in syndication, the second season of Iron Man often looks better than the network X-Men series, and it certainly exceeds the vast majority of Spider-Man episodes. I wish the original character design of Tony Stark had survived, since it was apparently based on Paul Ryan’s artwork and allowed the character to maintain his short, black hair. The revamped Tony Stark has a blue mullet, which I guess is a small price to pay for an overall better show, but wow is that an ugly haircut.
The first season of the show is best forgotten. The stories are extremely simplistic, the scripts are filled with bad puns, the designs of Iron Man and War Machine look awful (which is odd, since the rest of the designs are mostly fine), and there’s an atrocious CGI “transformation” sequence that’s repeated in every episode. The show picks up on the early ‘90s Force Works comic (a.k.a. West Coast Avengers…Extreme!), giving Iron Man a supporting cast that consists of Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Spider-Woman, and (remember him?) Century. Aside from MODOK’s brief cameo in a baby carriage, there’s nothing memorable here. The second season offers more complex stories and characterizations, taking its inspiration from the Layton/Michelinie run, with a little bit of Len Kaminiski's stint as well. This is what an Iron Man cartoon should feel like, and it’s too bad the show couldn’t continue in this style. The ‘90s Fantastic Four series was released on DVD years ago, and is apparently out-of-print, so I’m glad Iron Man fans now have a chance to own the companion series. I’m even glad that first season is included for posterity’s sake, but I wouldn’t dwell on it for too long.