Thursday, May 29, 2014

X-MEN Episode Fifty-Two - February 17, 1996

Secrets, Not Long Buried
Written by Mark Onspaugh

Summary:  Cyclops travels to Skull Mesa, Arizona, the home of Dr. Taylor Prescott.  He’s shot down as he flies over the town, and discovers after he lands that his powers are gone.  In town, he meets Daryl Tenaka, who informs him that Dr. Prescott is missing.  Eventually, Cyclops discovers that the pro-mutant community Dr. Prescott created has been co-opted by Solarr, who’s imprisoned Prescott and recruited the mutant citizens into mining gold for him.  Cyclops appeals to the citizens and convinces most of them to turn against Solarr.  Daryl Tenaka restores Cyclops’ optic blasts, allowing him to defeat Solarr.  Dr. Prescott is freed and Cyclops returns home.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Taylor Prescott is a human doctor who knew Cyclops as a child and defended him from local bullies.  Over the years, Dr. Prescott befriended Professor Xavier and formed his own community for mutants in Arizona.
  • Numerous mutants appear in this episode.  Most are established characters from the comics, but a new character named Watchdog (a humanoid dog) is prominently featured as one of Solarr’s main flunkies.  Established characters that live in Skull Mesa include Ape, Mole, Sunder, and Tommy from the Morlocks, Tusk, Toad, Forearm, Reaper, Strobe, Random, Senyaka, and Arclight.  Another mutant, Chet Lambert, is apparently a new creation, although I wonder if he’s intended to be the cartoon’s version of the Vanisher.
  • Solarr’s real name of Bill Braddock is emphasized throughout the episode.  I wonder now if Solarr was meant to be the brother Psylocke claimed was fighting for mutant rights back in “Beyond Good and Evil.”  I realize it’s an insane theory, but Solarr is presented as a bigoted anti-human mutant who’s basically doing a cheap Magneto imitation.  Also, it would seem the real name “Bill Braddock” is an invention of the cartoon’s, as he’s named Silas King in the comics.

“Huh?” Moment:  Cyclops carries a crystal created by one of Dr. Prescott’s mutant pupils throughout the episode.  During his climatic battle with Solarr, he throws the crystal in the air and blasts it so that his optic blasts will scatter in numerous directions.  And yet, Cyclops manages to pull the crystal out and present it to Dr. Prescott in the final scene…

Review:  It’s yet another Cyclops story that isn’t the one that’s next in continuity.  Incredibly, Cyclops ended up with three episodes dedicated to him, even though he’s tied with Storm as the show’s least engaging star.  (I would’ve said “most irritating,” but then I remembered how much people hated Jubilee.)  This episode is, bizarrely, another one with a plot borrowed from Spaghetti Westerns, and also the introduction of a retconned character that’s apparently the human equivalent of Charles Xavier.  I guess there’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept of a human doctor gathering a group of mutants and establishing a town for them to live in, but it seems strange that we’re only learning of this four seasons into the show.  Skull Mesa would hypothetically be an important step in human/mutant relations, and something the X-Men would want to keep an eye on.  As presented in this episode, Cyclops visits the town almost on a whim and is shocked to learn things have gone terribly wrong.  Making this more implausible is the story’s insistence that Prescott had a profound impact on Cyclops’ life as a child and he still considers him a great friend.  Yeah, sure he does.

I think the concept would’ve worked much better if any mutant other than Solarr were leading the mutant gang (called “The Children of the Shadow” in the Wiki description but never in the episode).  I’ve read, obviously, far too many X-Men comics and I don’t even know who he’s supposed to be.  His design is fine as a generic mutant flunky, one obviously designed in the '70s, but he doesn’t look nearly imposing enough to be considered a serious threat.  Making the episode even more unintentionally hilarious is seeing the mutants in town wearing their supervillain costumes, even though they have normal blue-collar jobs.  Tusk, perhaps the strangest design within the Dark Riders, is the town’s mechanic, yet he’s still wearing a leotard and shoulder-spikes, and the little people living in his back (I really do love Tusk) are dressed in full Jim Lee garb with headdress.  Even Toad is walking around town dressed in his clown jester outfit and everyone just accepts it.  I like seeing these cameos from the comics as much as the next person, but it’s amazing to me that the animators didn’t consider how ridiculous this looked.  And once you get past the cameos, which are fun to spot, you’re left with pretty generic Saturday Morning material.  I will say, however, that Norm Spencer is surprisingly decent as Cyclops this episode.  He’s still far from perfect, but most of his line readings are natural and fairly subdued.  Once again, I have to wonder why he couldn’t deliver these performances more consistently during the show’s run.

Credit to for the screencaps.


Matt said...

It's really unfortunate that this show became so much of a generic "episode of the week" Saturday morning cartoon after the strongly serialized first couple seasons. Was there some turnover on the creative side? Or maybe it was just Fox demanding less serialization for syndication purposes.

Anonymous said...

Solarr was never in any X-Men comic books.

G. Kendall said...

I believe Eric Lewald oversaw the writing for the entire run of the series. The only explanation I've read is that the ongoing continuity was dropped because they couldn't be sure of when different animation studios would be finished with certain episodes, or when FOX would air them. It didn't seem to be an issue for the first thirty or so episodes of the series, though.

Matt said...

Hmm, maybe they just decided that although the timing had worked, it would just be easier to go episodic in the long run? Interesting.

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