Monday, July 7, 2014

X-MEN Episode Sixty-Seven - September 7, 1996

The Phalanx Covenant (Part 1)
Written by Steven Melching & David McDermott

Summary:  The X-Men keep an unhinged Sabretooth captive in their mansion.  Wolverine discerns that this Sabretooth is actually an imposter, but is unable to stop him from attacking the team.  The Beast escapes and discovers that “Sabretooth” was a part of the Phalanx, a race of techno-organic aliens seeking to assimilate all life.  He meets Warlock, a pacifist member of the Phalanx who came to Earth with his life-mate to escape his race.  His life-mate was abducted by the pursuing Phalanx and assimilated into their hivemind.  Beast seeks help from Forge and Quicksilver of X-Factor, but they’re ambushed by the Phalanx.  Quicksilver is captured.  Suddenly, Mr. Sinister appears, offering aid.

Continuity Notes:  
  • The opening of Sabretooth causing havoc on a suburban street features recycled footage from the very first episode.
  • Beast’s research shows that mutants are immune from the Phalanx’s assimilation.  
  • Cameron Hodge appears, although he isn’t named in this chapter.  Hodge is in his Phalanx form, as seen in the comics’ “Phalanx Covenant” crossover.
  • The Spire being built on Earth by the Phalanx (also seen in the comics) will enable them to transmit a signal to the rest of the Phalanx.

“Um, Actually…”:  Warlock did not travel with a “life-mate” when he debuted in New Mutants #18.  Warlock’s motivation in the comics to escape his home was to avoid his father, Magnus, who he must face in his culture’s kill-or-be-killed rite of passage.  The concept of the Phalanx also did not exist when Warlock was created, as they were later conceived by Scott Lobdell as a creation of human scientists studying Warlock’s techno-organic body.  

Saban Quality:  Wolverine’s face is colored yellow during his dramatic standoff with Sabretooth.

Production Note:  I believe the second opening credits sequence debuted when this episode originally aired.  The DVD doesn't switch openings until a few episodes later.

Review:  There’s an obvious joke to be made about the show running out of classic storylines to adapt if it’s now doing “Phalanx Covenant.”  To be honest, I think there is potential in that bloated crossover for an enjoyable action story; it’s not as if the original comics were a total loss.  The main chapters in Uncanny X-Men and X-Men had their moments, and Larry Hama plotted a solid action-filled conclusion in the final Wolverine and Cable chapters.  “The Phalanx Covenant” was mainly hindered by those cluttered, awful middle chapters assigned to Excalibur, X-Force, and X-Factor.  A stripped down version of the story could work, and it’s a reasonable way to introduce Warlock to the cartoon’s audience.

Warlock isn’t an obvious character to appear on the show, and I’m not even sure if he got an action figure out of the deal, but the unexpected appearances by obscure characters are always welcome.  It was certainly one reason to keep watching the series after the show abandoned its unique episode-to-episode continuity, leaving the audience with a string of boring one-off stories.  I’m not surprised that AKOM can’t handle Bill Sienkiewicz’s Warlock design, but for a character that could easily become an obnoxious alien sidekick, Warlock makes a respectable standing this episode.  His “Self this, Self that” speech pattern is toned down immediately, thankfully, as someone probably realized the audience would quickly get sick of hearing those words spoken aloud repeatedly.  The basics of Warlock, his pacifism and loyalty to others, are faithfully recreated, which is what’s important.  Warlock could’ve been the first in a series of New Mutants introductions, but I think the only follow-up is Cannonball, late in the show’s run.

While the original comics crossover was used as an excuse to introduce new characters and pave the way for the Generation X ongoing, the cartoon adaptation has no such mandate to fulfill.  Instead, the writers use the Phalanx threat as a means to reintroduce established characters from previous episodes and team them with the solitary Beast.  Sinister makes sense as the villains’ representative, and I suppose mutant inventor genius Forge is a logical choice as the hero.  I wish more of X-Factor could’ve been seen, but I wonder now if AKOM had the budget to animate so many characters (or if they tried, just how awful the entire cast might’ve looked.)  It’s amusing that Forge and Quicksilver appear with literally no explanation of who they are.  If you missed that episode with Iceman, kid, you’re just out of luck.  As much grief as the ‘90s X-comics get for being reader unfriendly, I think the cartoon was even more brazen about just throwing characters out there and expecting kids to keep up.  And the show was a monster hit for years, so who’s to say they were wrong?

The Phalanx are potentially very boring villains, with those robotic speech patterns and a simplistic motivation out of bad sci-fi.  The episode dances around this by focusing on the chase aspect, as Beast is constantly on the run from the aliens, desperate for any ally he could trust.  I think the episode captures a certain sense of urgency, and leaving Beast alone to face the Phalanx is a good choice, since he’s portrayed by one of the series’ best voice actors and is a more plausible character to deliver the needed pseudo-scientific exposition.  There are elements from the early Phalanx appearances that I miss, however.  The major one being Gambit and Storm’s initial fight in the city, which had a memorable Joe Mad sequence of Gambit charging directly into the Phalanx on his motorcycle.  The issue that opened with Banshee meeting the Phalanx imposter X-Men also would’ve worked well for the show, and there’s no cover art this time to ruin the reveal.  I also question why the show has directly taken the title from the comics.  What “Covenant” is being made here?  I seem to recall the original stories portrayed the covenant as the deal the anti-mutant humans make to gain the Phalanx’s powers, effectively ending their own humanity.  Without that context, the title makes no sense so far.

Credit to for the screencaps.

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