Wednesday, July 10, 2013

X-MEN Episode Twenty-Seven - July 29, 1994



Out of the Past - Part One  
Written by Michael Edens
 
Summary:  Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers invade the Morlock Tunnels.  She forces Leech to contact Wolverine, whose help she needs to open an alien spaceship that’s trapped in the tunnels.  When Wolverine arrives, he’s shocked to discover Lady Deathstrike is his former girlfriend, Yuriko.  Gambit and Jubilee secretly trail Wolverine and interfere with his fight with Lady Deathstrike.  When Deathstrike misses Wolverine and strikes the spaceship, she’s trapped by the energy it emits.  Wolverine uses his claws to free her, but instead unleashes a mysterious alien.
 
Continuity Notes:  
  • This episode marks the animated debuts of Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers.  Although Lady Deathstrike has a crazy ex-girlfriend motive grafted on, the cartoon keeps her original role as the daughter of the creator of the adamantium-bonding process intact.  While she hates Wolverine for receiving the treatment she believes was rightfully hers in the comic, in the cartoon she blames Wolverine for her father’s death.  Wolverine denies this.
  • Wolverine is seen wearing his Team X uniform during a flashback to the last time Lady Deathstrike saw him.  Maverick makes a cameo as the helicopter pilot dropping him off on his mission.  
  • The basketball game between Wolverine, Gambit, and Jubilee is clearly inspired by the opening scene in X-Men #4.  The characters are even wearing the same clothes.

 

“Um, Actually…”:  

  • Lady Deathstrike is not Wolverine’s former lover.  The producers have apparently decided to merge her with Mariko Yashida.  
  • Macon, Cole, and Reese of the Reavers are cyborgs even before meeting Wolverine, which contradicts the original comic book continuity.
  • In the cartoon’s continuity, Wolverine was abducted and forced into the Weapon X project after getting set up on a Team X mission.  In the original Weapon X serial, he was kidnapped in a parking lot by plainclothes agents.

 
Creative Differences:  Lady Deathstrike’s scenes had to be sent back to the Philippines, because the animators didn’t draw a shirt in the middle of her costume.  (Which is actually true to the comics, but too risqué for kids’ TV.)
 
"Actiiing!":  Professor Xavier screaming “Powwerrr!!!!  Incredible power!!!” when he telepathically contacts the alien inside the spacecraft always makes me laugh.
 
Approved By Broadcast Standards:  The word “kill” is used at least twice in the episode.  Usually, censors forced the writers to use terms like “waste” or “eliminate” when discussing death.
 
Review:  I think everyone who watched this show first-run remembers this two-parter.  For starters, these episodes aired in prime time, during FOX’s experiment of putting its popular Saturday Morning material in front of a more mainstream audience.  It’s my understanding that the prime time ratings weren’t great (I believe FOX aired this on Friday night, hoping its audience could cross over with The X-Files), but even if adults didn’t tune in, I’m sure every faithful kid viewer was excited to see X-Men put on the air at night, just like a real show.  
 
This two-parter is also notable for using a new studio, Philippine Animation Studio, Inc.  X-Men is simply not known for quality animation.  The character designs would look fine in a comic book, but were far too detailed and “realistic” to work with the show’s limited budget, often creating a look that could be charitably called “clunky.”  These episodes, however, have an incredibly smooth look, and an eye-catching color scheme that’s a noticeable contrast to the series’ standard drabness.  This is how I wanted X-Men to look every week, but unfortunately this studio will only animate a handful of episodes.  Some fans have theorized that FOX put more money into these episodes because they knew they would air in prime time, but that assumes FOX had its schedule marked out a year or so in advance, which is highly unlikely.
 
Regarding the story, this two-parter introduces the third season by delving even deeper into X-lore.  The first season introduced the basics of the concept, and the second season opened up the world a bit by fleshing out the cast’s origins and exploring more outlandish concepts such as Mojoworld and the Savage Land.  The third season finally incorporates the cosmic storylines from the early days of The All-New, All-Different X-Men, but the producers shrewdly decide to slowly build up to the introduction of Lilandra, the Shi’ar, and the Phoenix Force.  
 
The season opens very unexpectedly with Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers, committing their own kid-friendly version of the Morlock Massacre.  They want to loot a mysterious spaceship (one that’s somehow landed deep in the tunnels under New York without being noticed by anyone on the surface), and the key to unlocking it just so happens to be Deathstrike’s ex, Wolverine.  Just examining the basics of the plot, it’s hard to discern why the producers decided to reveal Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike were a couple.  Due to his connection to her father, Deathstrike is already aware of his existence, which is all that’s really needed to bring him into the story.  I presume Deathstrike and Mariko were merged in order to give Wolverine juicier flashbacks during the episode, which I guess is justifiable (Wolverine flashbacks were still rare enough to matter at this point, both in the comics and the cartoon).  Like I’ve mentioned before, the animation is extremely polished, making the fight scenes far more entertaining than usual, and as a fan of the comic, it’s just fun to see more characters from various eras of the book thrown together into one story.  No one’s characterization is sacrificed in order for this to work (the Reavers probably would like to loot a Shi’ar spacecraft), and the science fiction elements are introduced just slowly enough to make them fit into the existing reality of the show.  This is certainly an unusual way to tease the introduction of the Shi’ar continuity, but I think it works.

3 comments:

cyke68 said...

Huh. I always assumed the vastly improved animation and somewhat more sophisticated storytelling was intentionally done to make the series more "presentable" for primetime. But you're right, this likely would've been in development well in advance of any broadcast scheduling. (Perhaps they got the episodes back from the studio and were so impressed that it actually influenced the decision to air in primetime. X-Files was Fox's only Friday night mainstay. They couldn't seem to keep anything afloat in that 8:00 PM slot so maybe the execs thought it was worth a shot.)

And the other half of this Friday night experiment? Power Rangers' season 2 premiere. The Lord Zedd intro, aka when Power Rangers briefly became interesting. Or a guilty pleasure, at least.

The characters in their basketball duds was a Cap "I understood that reference!" moment. Cool stuff. This is also a really sampling of the main cast. Not that everyone has appeared in every episode so far, but it seems like the majority of the team has always been included in some way, even if they have very little to contribute. We'll see more of that sort of thing as the series progresses.

Matt said...

I well remember watching this episode in prime time, and being very impressed with the animation. I don't recall much about the story, though Xavier's screaming about the "POWER!" rings a few bells, too.

In addition to the prime time screening of this 2-parter, I recall they also ran the "Phoenix Saga" over a five-day span during after-school hours. I distinctly remember wondering if, since they burnt off seven episodes so quickly, this might be a longer season than the previous two 13 episode outings, but... nope. They just showed over half the season right up front for the heck of it. It was great up front, but made for a pretty frustrating viewing experience as the rest of the TV season wore on.

I also seem to remember Fox running Batman: The Animated Series in an early prime time slot (like about 7:00 or so) on Sunday nights for a few weeks. I wonder if that happened around this time?

Teebore said...

I remember, as a kid, being frustrated by this episode. I think it was because I had through what based for the grapevine back then that season 3 would feature the Phoenix Saga, then was disappointed when this kicked it off and it wasn't, clearly, the Phoenix Saga.

Objectively, I now know understand that you're right about the slow build to that stuff being much better, but at the time, I wanted Phoenix!

Professor Xavier screaming “Powwerrr!!!! Incredible power!!!” when he telepathically contacts the alien inside the spacecraft always makes me laugh.

Me too. Me too.

The word “kill” is used at least twice in the episode.

Interesting. I wonder if the standards were loosening, or if the usage just snuck past the censors?

@cyke68: And the other half of this Friday night experiment? Power Rangers' season 2 premiere.

Ah, yeah, I remember that too, now that you mention it. My younger brother was a much bigger Powers Rangers fan than I, but seeing the show in Primetime definitely made that Zedd intro feel like a big deal.

@Matt: In addition to the prime time screening of this 2-parter, I recall they also ran the "Phoenix Saga" over a five-day span during after-school hours.

I remember that too, and shared your frustration with the way it blew through so much of that season so fast, as much as I appreciated getting the story so quickly.

I also seem to remember Fox running Batman: The Animated Series in an early prime time slot (like about 7:00 or so) on Sunday nights for a few weeks. I wonder if that happened around this time?

I'm fairly certain B:TAS debuted on a Sunday in primteime (at least, I remember watching its debut live in the evening, as opposed to the afternoon), but I can't recall if they ever aired any later episodes in that time slot as well.