Monday, April 14, 2014

X-MEN Episode Fifty-Six - September 30, 1995

Proteus (Part One)
Written by Bruce Reid Schaefer
Summary:  Moira MacTaggert treats the teenage mutant Proteus, who is kept in a private cell on Muir Island.  When Proteus escapes, Moira calls the X-Men for help.  The X-Men search for him as he travels into a nearby town, possessing the locals and causing havoc while searching for his father.  When he confronts the X-Men in battle, Moira is finally forced to admit that Proteus is her son, Kevin MacTaggert. 

Continuity Notes:
  • This two-parter is based on the original Proteus storyline in Uncanny X-Men #125-128.
  • The X-Men featured this episode are Xavier, Beast, Rogue, and Wolverine.
  • Proteus was originally referred to as “Mutant X” during his cameo appearances earlier in the Claremont/Cockrum Uncanny X-Men run. “Mutant X” is shown as the name on his cell door this episode.
  • Morph has another brief cameo on Muir Island, as he appears to be undergoing a brain scan. Banshee also appears at the start of the episode, standing next to Moira as she “treats” Proteus.
  • The Blackbird is shown flying out of the hole underneath a movable swimming pool this episode.
  • Flashbacks in this episode tell the story of Xavier and Moira’s broken engagement, Xavier’s service in the military, Moria’s later wedding to Joe MacTaggert, and Xavier’s love affair with Amelia Voght from Uncanny X-Men #309.
  • During the flashback to Xavier’s romance with Amelia, we see another glimpse of the original X-Men training in the Danger Room. Angel is included, which doesn’t fit the continuity of this series, since he didn’t meet the team until the middle of the first season.
  • The Technet is shown drinking in a pub Proteus enters after he escapes Muir Island. There are also cameos by other Marvel UK characters outside of the pub. These cameos make absolutely no sense within the context of the story.
  • Moira claims Proteus is telepathic, which doesn’t seem to fit the comics’ continuity, nor does it seem to add anything to the story.

“Um, Actually…”:  Joe and Moira MacTaggert are shown getting a divorce in a flashback.  In the comics’ continuity, Joe is still legally married to Moira and refuses to grant her a divorce because he feels it’s politically convenient to be married to a world-renowned scientist.

Saban Quality:  Wolverine changes from his superhero costume into civilian clothes, then back again, for no discernible reason during the story.

Production Note:  The closing credits are back to the standard quick-cut montage with theme music playing in the background.

Approved By Broadcast Standards:  Proteus doesn’t possess bodies and slowly leech the life out of them, as seen in the comics.  Instead, he’s represented as a blocky outline that enters bodies and then leaves them unharmed.

Review:  I love the original Proteus storyline as much as anyone, but I can’t defend the decision to adapt it for Saturday Morning TV.  The original story deals with even more adult themes than “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” with visuals that are far more appropriate for Liquid Television than anything FOX was airing at the time.  Proteus is a child of rape, sheltered from the world because of his powers, a disembodied spirit determined to kill his parents.  He possesses people, rots their bodies, and moves on to his next victim.  His creators also saw fit to give him the ability to warp reality, and considering the psychology of the character, it’s only fitting that he twists reality in absolutely horrifying ways.  (If the original stories couldn’t creep you out, check out the backup stories Ann Nocenti and John Bolton created for Classic X-Men.)  It’s a dark psychological tale that was only suitable for Code approval because Chris Claremont and John Byrne had a skill for knowing just when to pull back and let the audience’s imagination take over.  Needless to say, it’s an awkward fit for an all-ages network cartoon.

With all of the teeth removed, “Proteus” becomes just another adventure of the X-Men chasing a rogue mutant around a different locale.  Admittedly, some life is breathed into the episode by a plethora of flashbacks, which is always red meat for longtime fans and welcome information for viewers only familiar with the characters through the cartoon.  As rushed as the flashbacks can be, the basic story of Xavier, Moira, and even Amelia Voght’s pasts are all dramatized quite well, and the producers have made the wise decision to ignore Lucifer and just imply that Xavier lost the use of his legs during an unnamed war.  I wouldn’t advocate changing the comics’ continuity to reflect this, but it’s totally understandable if other-media adaptations of the X-Men downplay Lucifer, a long-forgotten minor villain, in order to make the story of Xavier’s paralysis more dramatic. 

Unfortunately, when the focus shifts to the main plot, the story immediately begins to drag.  Proteus has been redesigned to resemble a gigantic, featureless square figure, straight out of an old Space Ghost model sheet.  I can understand why the visual of Proteus’ possessed bodies literally rotting wouldn’t fly, but couldn’t he at least appear as a silhouette, as seen on the cover of Uncanny X-Men #127?  I can’t imagine the thinking behind such an uninspired design.  It matches his personality, though, as the animated version of the character spends the episode moping around, staring at random people and wishing his dad were around.  Contrast this with the Proteus who absolutely hated the world, spoke like a Shakespearian villain, and relished the thought of murdering his own father.  This guy is an emo teen with a fake Scots accent.  He’s not intimidating or very sympathetic, so the audience is left waiting for the X-Men to hurry up and just throw him back in his cage.  Unfortunately, Moira reveals in the final five minutes that Proteus is her son (a “twist” that’s hard to judge on its own merits since comic fans already know this, but it seems like info that should’ve been obvious already).  That means that everyone’s got to respond to the shocking reveal, Kevin’s father will inevitably appear, and we’re going to get a second chapter.

Credit to for the screencaps.


Anonymous said...

Proteus looks more like Zzaxx in this cartoon, now that I think about it.

The Proteus story was the only X-Men story that disturbed me as a kid. I was about nine years old when I found back-issues of the Proteus story, back in the '80s at a flea market. The scene where Wolverine cries after Proteus messed with him was too intense for me.

arw1985 said...

Funny. I actually talked about the Ultimate version of the Proteus story on my blog. Man, Wolverine got messed up in this episode. I'm actually kinda shocked that FOX would leave that in there especially since Spider-Man was on at this time. They even wouldn't have Spidey punch somebody.

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