Tuesday, July 31, 2012

X-MEN Episode One - October 31, 1992

Merchandising art, used for X-MEN ADVENTURES #1, based on Ty Templeton’s design. Penciled by Steve Lightle.

Night of the Sentinels (Part One)
Written by Mark Edward Edens

Summary: Teenage mutant Jubilee is attacked by a Sentinel robot at her local mall. She’s rescued by Gambit, Rogue, Storm, and Cyclops of the X-Men. Jubilee’s taken to the X-Men’s mansion, but she refuses to stay. The X-Men learn that the Sentinels were created by the Mutant Control Agency. They infiltrate its headquarters and destroy their files on mutants. As they prepare to leave, armed soldiers wait to ambush the team.

Continuity Notes:
· The cast consists largely of the “Blue Team” of X-Men from this era: Cyclops, Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit, Jubilee, and Storm form the main team. Beast and Jean Grey are treated as “reserve” members, with Professor Xavier still acting as mentor.
· Gambit’s logo makes its debut during the show’s opening title sequence, almost a full year before it appeared in the comics.
· The premise of Sentinels attacking teenage mutants at a mall was possibly inspired by New Mutants #2. Jubilee also encountered the X-Men for the first time in the comics in a mall.
· Bizarrely, the X-Men's Blackbird jet is colored blue. And, for some reason, Jubilee has black hair while Wolverine's is blue.
· Having the X-Men examine the head of a damaged Sentinel was perhaps inspired by a scene in Uncanny X-Men #282 (the design of the dismembered head certainly looks similar to the one Whilce Portacio drew).
· Morph is a team member in the opening two episodes, fulfilling the Thunderbird cannon fodder role. Morph was widely viewed as a new creation for the series, although he’s based on Changeling, a rather obscure X-character from the Silver Age.
· The episode opens with a live broadcast of Sabretooth attacking civilians during a rampage. Cannonball, Domino, and Magneto make cameo appearances during a later news broadcast on mutants. A commercial for a Genoshan resort also appears on television.

“Um, Actually…”:
· Jubilee was pursued by the M-Squad, not the Sentinels, when she first met the X-Men in the Uncanny X-Men #244. She was also presented as a homeless teen in her initial appearance, while this Jubilee has been adopted by a young couple.
· Rogue mentions revealing to her father that she’s a mutant as the team invades the Mutant Control Agency’s headquarters. In the comics, Rogue was an orphan raised by Mystique from a young age.
· Storm’s costume is colored white in the cartoon, as opposed to black. John Byrne has stated that the animators didn’t understand how light reflects in comics and just assumed her costume was supposed to be white. (They asked him to settle a bet at a convention.)
· Jean Grey, for unknown reasons, had to have a different hairstyle in the cartoon. Apparently, the ponytail was chosen by Stan Lee.

"Actiiing!": "Storm...MISTRESS of the elements...commands you to...RELEASE HER!"

Saban Quality: The first two episodes were not ready to air when FOX originally broadcast them as a “special preview.” Numerous animation mistakes had to be corrected in subsequent re-airings. This site has a comprehensive list of all of the corrections.

Creative Differences: The original voice of Storm, Iona Morris, was replaced towards the end of the second season by Alison Sealy-Smith. Sealy-Smith actually went back and redubbed all of the previous episodes, effectively erasing Morris from the role for a while. However, the later reruns often aired the original Iona Morris tracks. Apparently, the DVD version of the first season still has Iona Morris as Storm, with Sealy-Smith picking up at the start of the second season.

Production Note: The closing credits for the first season have CGI models of each character, with a brief description of their powers written underneath. Jubilee’s model only appeared in the two preview airings; after that, her model was covered by the Marvel and Saban logos.

Review: As I’ve said before, this is not Batman: The Animated Series. Marvel didn’t have a million dollars an episode to invest into this show, and the “cheap” Japanese animation studios that animated G. I. Joe and Transformers weren’t cheap at all by the early ‘90s, which meant the bulk of the animation had to be done by AKOM in Korea. AKOM is notorious for mediocre-to-horrific looking action cartoons (although the Simpsons episodes they animate today look fine), so visually the show is starting out at a disadvantage. As stiff as the action can occasionally get, I do have to give the animators credit for sticking so closely to the original comics designs, and for choreographing numerous fight scenes with so many characters. My major disappointment with the animation as a kid was the color scheme; there are way too many pastels in the early episodes of this show. I grew up with the intricate color designs of G. I. Joe and Transformers, and didn’t understand why my beloved X-Men couldn’t receive the same treatment.

So, if Marvel had to settle for pedestrian animation, did they at least compensate with the voice acting? Well…that’s complicated. The voice sessions were recorded in Toronto, meaning that every actor was either Canadian, or an American actor working in Canada at the time. I didn’t notice the numerous Canadian accents as a kid, but in retrospect, they’re hard to miss. Casting in Canada made it easier to find an appropriate Wolverine, though, which is exactly what they found in Cal Dodd. Looking over the rest of the cast, we have a few voices that feel right (Beast and Xavier), some with a bit of personality (Gambit and Rogue), a few exceedingly bland ones (Jubilee and Jean Grey), and two stiffs that never quite get it right (Storm and Cyclops). Some of these guys can genuinely act, and others should’ve spent a few more years in the community theater.

The story follows the basic template of most neophyte X-Men stories. Someone’s out to get her (usually it’s a “her”) because she’s a mutant, and the X-Men volunteer to help. The Sentinels are suitable villains for an opening arc, setting up a sci-fi menace that works for animation, but also grounding the conflict in something resembling reality. Jubilee’s foster-father is concerned about her mutant powers, so he’s done what the television has assured him is the right thing to do -- he’s registered her with the Mutant Registration Program (which is not quite the government, as we soon learn). Little does he know that this will invite a giant robot to invade his home in search of his daughter. What exactly Gyrich and Trask of the Mutant Control Agency want to do with these mutants is unclear, but it’s obvious they’re terrified of the potential harm mutants can cause and are doing what they think is right to keep the public safe.

Throughout the episode, there are a few speeches about what it’s like to be different, the importance of belonging to a family, and the fundamental desire to escape persecution from the majority. All classic themes directly from the comics, and they’re executed quite well. The idea of the X-Men as a slightly dysfunctional family is also acknowledged, as Wolverine and Cyclops openly spar over what should be done about the Sentinels. (Gambit is also so annoyed by Wolverine’s attitude that another fight almost breaks out.) The numerous characters are introduced methodically throughout the episode, giving the audience an opportunity to discover their powers and a bit of their personality in a succession of brief scenes. This is written, obviously, as an introduction simple enough for a child, but there’s enough drama to keep adults interested. The mood of the comics is reflected faultlessly throughout the episode, and the cliffhanger is pretty daring by Saturday morning standards. Not a bad opening for the series at all.

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


Matt said...

"Storm’s costume is colored white in the cartoon, as opposed to black."

In both the comics and the cartoon, my eyes have always read that version of Storm's costume as silver. I never knew it was supposed to be black, or even that there was a black vs. white controversy, for at least ten years or more.

The only times I ever saw it as black were when it was truly colored black, as in the "Storm" limited series by Warren Ellis and Terry Dodson, and in those very few cases, I just assumed it was a colorist's error.

"Looking over the rest of the cast, we have a few voices that feel right (Beast and Xavier), some with a bit of personality (Gambit and Rogue), a few exceedingly bland ones (Jubilee and Jean Grey), and two stiffs that never quite get it right (Storm and Cyclops).

For me, I've always felt that Gambit and Cyclops felt right, too. I liked Rogue's voice a lot of the time, but the screechiness could get way out of control sometimes.

But regardless of what I think of all the voices, thanks to watching this show just as I got into the comics, they're pretty much cemented in my head as what I "hear" whenever I read an X-Men comic.

wwk5d said...

Actually, Storm's costume was black during the Australian years, at the beginning of the Lee/Portacio erc. I assumed that it became more white-ish silver because of the cartoon...

Matt said...

The Austrailian costume wasn't the same one as the Jim Lee costume, though. The Austrailian one, as well as her "punk" clothes, and her original costume, all looked black to me. But the Jim Lee costume, including when drawn by both Lee and Portacio, appeared silver to my eyes.

I can understand in retrospect how it could be seen by some as (and intended to be) black, but even now, glancing at Lee's covers to X-Men #1 and 3, and Portactio's covers to Uncanny #281 - 290, it still looks like a super shiny, chrome-like silver to my eye.

Anonymous said...

Wait, Storm's Jim Lee/cartoon costume was supposed to be black????

this website seems to confirm it: http://www.uncannyxmen.net/db/spotlight/showquestion.asp?faq=10&fldAuto=76&page=11

But if so, it was a horribly long coloring error, expecting that to look black


wwk5d said...

@ Matt

I always thought it was patent black leather...that's why it was so shiny. I could be wrong, though.

Teebore said...

Even as a kid who just started reading the comics barely a year before this episode first aired, I was bummed they used Jubilee as the POV character instead of Kitty Pryde. It definitely makes sense, given both Jubilee's then-higher profile as well as the visual nature of her power, but it still bummed me out.

I've always liked Xavier's voice in this - when I read the character, alternately between that voice and Patrick Stewart's. I never minded Cyclops' voice, but I always preferred his Duke voice from "Pryde of the X-Men".

Also, for whatever reason, I always felt worse about the fact that cartoon Jean Grey had no codename than I ever did about comic book Jean Grey lacking one. There's something sad about everyone getting a dynamic name in the opening credit, and then there's poor "Jean Grey".

Cannonball, Domino, and Magneto make cameo appearances during a later news broadcast on mutants.

One of the things that's always impressed me with this series is stuff like that - the little Easter Eggs and fan service bits they snuck into the episodes. Along with the source material for some of the story adaptations, it was a clear sign that at least somebody involved in the production was familiar with the comics.

"Storm...MISTRESS of the elements...commands you to...RELEASE HER!"

First of all, ha! That's a classic bit of Storm overacting that pretty much defines her character in this series.

Secondly, I think this series is responsible for my general dislike of all but Punk/Outback Storm, because I pretty much can't help but read all her dialogue (especially when she gets going about her powers/connection to nature) in a shrill, scenery-chewing tone, as presented in this cartoon.

Matt said...

wwk5d -- "I always thought it was patent black leather...that's why it was so shiny. I could be wrong, though."

No, I think you're right. It's just that my eyes refuse to see it that way.

Also, I never noticed until I looked at the costume link Kabe posted that Storm's Jim Lee costume basically is her "Outback" costume, but with the lightning bolt removed and replaced with the twin X's. Not sure how I missed that all these years. Everything else about it looks identical (except for the coloring -- like I said, I can clearly see the Outback costume as black, but the Jim Lee one looks silver to me).

Adam Farrar said...

I’d only been reading comics for a little while when the cartoon started but I remember it got a lot of other kids interested in the comics. When my friends and I would discuss the cartoon I’d point out all the little changes they made which bothered me more than they should have. Combined with the jerky animation I much preferred the other shows on Fox at the time. I lost interest around the time of the Phoenix Saga.

I’m in the crowd that always thought of that Storm outfit as silver but I can see how it should have been shiny black. The color change that really bothered me was Wolverine going back in the yellow and blue outfit. My new comic reading fans were annoyed when he changed into that from the yellow and brown in the comics too (X-Men #4, I think). I would later learn that the blue was the original color scheme but to me the brown makes more sense and I’m always surprised that he’s never gone back to it.

De said...

I recorded the preview of Night of the Sentinels on the family VCR because I had to work that night (college student by day, Ruby Tuesday cook by night). I remember being underwhelmed at the animation and voice quality, especially since I had enjoyed "Pryde of the X-Men" so much. Still, I liked Night of the Sentinels (I think it was the opening theme that drew me in) and would catch the series when I could when my life wouldn't interfere with TV watching.

Adam Farrar said...

The opening theme really is great. It builds well and is memorable but it could be in front of any show. There's nothing about it that makes it more specific to the X-Men than GI Joe.

Matt said...

Adam -- "...it could be in front of any show. There's nothing about it that makes it more specific to the X-Men than GI Joe."

With all due respect, I'm not sure I understand this criticism. Short of lyrics or an announcer's voiceover, nothing would make it "specific" to the X-Men.

You can just as easily say that the theme to this summer's Avengers was not specific to the Avengers and could've been used in a Superman movie, or that the theme to Deep Space Nice was not specific to that series and could've been played before Babylon 5.

The theme is specific to X-Men because it is also used as a motif in various parts of the series' musical score. Likewise for the other two themes I mentioned and the movie/series they were used in. Almost any theme without lyrics would work in front of almost any show, keeping genre and tone in mind (you wouldn't put the theme from "Benny Hill" in front of a Batman movie, for example). It's how the theme is used within the show that intertwines the two. And the X-Men theme is, as I said, used quite a bit in the series' background music, in various forms.

(In my opinion, anyway...)

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