Thursday, August 2, 2012

X-MEN Episode Three - November 27, 1992

Enter Magneto
Written by Jim Carlson & Terrence McDonnell

Summary: Magneto tries to free Beast from prison, but he refuses to leave. Later, during Beast's bail hearing, Sabretooth interrupts the proceedings and is injured by the guards. Against Wolverine’s wishes, Cyclops takes Sabretooth to the mansion. Afterward, Magneto attacks a missile facility, using his powers to launch the nuclear missiles he hopes will spark a human/mutant war. When Xavier connects Storm’s mind with Cerebro, she’s able to use her powers to deactivate the missiles.

Continuity Notes:
· Xavier reveals in a flashback that he met Magneto as a hospital volunteer as a young man. The story of their first meeting is based on the events of Uncanny X-Men #161.
· This story is treated as the X-Men’s first encounter with Magneto; Storm even asks, “Who is this Magneto, Professor?” However, later episodes will show the original X-Men fighting Magneto in a flashback.
· Cameron Hodge is Beast’s lawyer during the bail hearing. Hodge was originally portrayed as an anti-mutant sleeper agent in the X-Factor series. After the first season, he’ll disappear from the cartoon for years before returning in the series’ adaptation of “The Phalanx Covenant.”
· Within a year of this episode’s broadcast, the comics will also have Sabretooth living in the X-Men’s mansion against Wolverine’s wishes.

Saban Quality: Beast is reading his copy of Animal Farm backwards in his prison cell. Presumably, this was animated in a country where print goes right to left rather than left to right. Also, this reality’s version of Animal Farm is around five times thicker than ours.

Approved By Broadcast Standards: Xavier explains that Magneto lost his family during “a war,” and that remnants of that regime were the ones who attacked the hospital where they worked. This is of course a reference to WWII and the Nazis, which were considered taboo for Saturday morning TV.

Review: After only two episodes, X-Men was popular enough to merit a “special presentation” during Thanksgiving weekend of 1992. Kids picked up ballots at McDonalds to vote for their favorite animated FOX shows, and X-Men ranked high enough to be added to the holiday schedule. This means that another episode that wasn’t quite ready to air was broadcast, although this one only required minor corrections during the reruns.

The producers claimed in interviews at the time that since the comic seemed to have five different interpretations of Magneto, their approach to the character was essentially to create an amalgam of all of them. He still has a tragic past (although the specifics are left very vague) and carries himself with a certain nobility, yet his motivations remain unchanged from his first appearance -- he wants to eradicate all humans. The show can’t elaborate on what the true consequences of a nuclear assault would be (and not even the X-Men seem appropriately concerned when you consider the magnitude of this attack), which does blunt the impact of the final fight scene to a certain extent. However, Magneto exchanges some great dialogue with the team (“Better to die on your feet than live on your knees.”), and it’s hard to fault David Hemblen’s rendition of Magneto. He isn’t a ranting lunatic or a mustache-twirling Hanna-Barbara villain; Hemblen brings integrity to the role and knows just how “dramatic” these lines should sound. It’s very easy to imagine Hemblen’s voice when reading the dialogue Chris Claremont gave the character.

While the main story largely serves to introduce Magneto and set him up for the next episode, the show keeps the audience’s attention with a few subplots. The X-Men comics obviously got a lot of mileage out of juggling an ongoing series of subplots, so it makes sense for the cartoon to follow their lead. Ongoing storylines were extremely rare for children’s television at the time, though, so going in this direction was not an obvious move for the producers (and it’s one that they drop by the end of the third season.)

The audience is introduced to Wolverine’s mysterious past with Sabretooth, a concept that still seemed fresh in the comics at the time, and will serve as the basis for a few more episodes. The conflict between Wolverine and the team apparently spoke to Bob Harras, since the X-comics will follow a storyline similar to this one in the future. Meanwhile, Beast is still dealing with the ramifications of the first two episodes. He’s adamant about standing trial for his crimes, even though he knows he’s unlikely to receive a fair trial, and he’s already been wrongly accused of orchestrating Magneto’s breakout attempt. Beast’s faith in doing the right thing is very true to the character, and it’s interesting to see that the series isn’t letting him off the hook so quickly. When Beast is finally pardoned in the season finale, it feels like a true victory for the character. There’s a subtext to the episode that the X-Men’s “terrorist” activities are okay while Magneto’s are not, which might seem simplistic for adult readers of the comics, but once again, this was pretty daring for kids’ TV. Giving Beast enough integrity to avoid the easy way out and stand trial for his crimes brought a certain level of sophistication to the show, although the show’s not quite sophisticated enough to dwell on the fact that Beast is legitimately guilty of at least a few crimes.

Credit to for the scans and screencaps.


Matt said...

Other than imported series like Robotech, I can't think of a single show I might've watched as a kid that utilized continuing subplots. Nowadays it's almost the norm in kids' action-adventure cartoons, but back then it was, as you note, practically unheard of.

And I agree about Magneto's voice -- that's another one I still hear whenever I read any comic featuring the character. It fit him very well.

Adam Farrar said...

This was probably the start of the continuing subplots in US cartoons. The next one I can remember is Exosquad which came out a year after this.

Teebore said...

It’s very easy to imagine Hemblen’s voice when reading the dialogue Chris Claremont gave the character.


I also think it's worth noting that the series resisted the urge to open with Magneto.

It probably seemed natural, opening an animated adaptation of the X-Men with an episode featuring their main villain, but I think it worked much better to open with the Sentinels, establishing the idea of human/mutant prejudice to a new audience, and THEN introducing the villain who wanted to kill all humans because of it.

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