It’s New To Me – X-MEN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (“Enter Magneto” / “Deadly Reunions”)

In my years of TV watching, there have been tons of well-regarded shows that have eluded my gaze. Thanks to the magic of Netflix and other online streaming sites, I now have an opportunity to watch these shows and share my thoughts on them. It may be a classic to you, but It’s New To Me!

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One of the main strengths of the original X-Men Animated Series that I’ve noticed early on in my retrospective is how faithful it is to the central themes of the comic and to the basic attributes of its characters. After establishing Charles Xavier and his students’ MO of trying to create and maintain peace between homo sapien and homo superior, the third and fourth episodes of the show’s first season give us our first real glance at the more militant side of the human / mutant conflict personified by the Master of Magnetism, Magneto, as well as a little more dissension within the ranks of the X-Men regarding how they treat their enemies. Both aspects help to make this show a more faithful and interesting superhero adaptation than audiences were used to seeing on their TV screens in 1992.

“Enter Magneto,” the third episode of Season One, begins with the pink-and-purple-clad villain invading the military base where Beast is being imprisoned and offers to free him. Beast respectfully declines the invitation, stating that he is wanting to have his day in court to show humanity that mutants wish to live in peace with them. Magneto’s failed breakout grabs the attention of Professor X, who fills audience surrogate Jubilee in on his history with the Master of Magnetism, a former friend and colleague who split with him over disagreements on how mutants should overcome their persecution at the hands of regular humanity. Cyclops and Wolverine attend Beast’s bail hearing (in which the prosecuting attorney wears a dress that looks like it was designed by Rob Liefeld), and it doesn’t go well for Beast even before it gets disrupted by an attack from the feral Sabretooth. After getting knocked unconscious by the cops, Sabretooth is rescued by Cyclops and is taken back to the Mansion, despite the protests of Wolverine, who reveals that he and Sabretooth knew each other in the past and that there is lots of bad blood between them. Xavier ignores Wolverine’s pleas that Sabretooth cannot stay at the Mansion, and their argument is interrupted by an alert that Magneto is attacking a missile base. Storm, Cyclops, Rogue, and Wolverine are sent to stop his attempt to launch a number of deadly missiles. Their rescue attempt is successful, even though it nearly kills Storm, but they fail to apprehend Magneto, who vows to never give up his mission to overtake homo sapien as the dominant species on Earth.

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After dealing with giant robots and anti-mutant government officials in it’s two-part pilot, we finally get an honest to God supervillian in Magneto for Episode Three, but like his comic-book counterpart, he is not treated as a truly evil being but rather as someone fueled by rage over how his fellow mutants have been treated by the rest of humanity. Xavier’s flashback didn’t delve too deeply into the roots of Magneto’s hatred (showing Holocaust imagery might have been a tad too dark for Fox Kids), but it does a good job painting him as something more than just a cliched “evil” character. There are also a lot of gray areas concerning Wolverine’s argument with Xavier over how they should deal with Sabretooth, which leads to a very nice moment where Logan points out that his decision to keep the ailing mutant on the grounds is somewhat hypocritical given how they are ordered to fight Magneto. By acknowledging these philosophical gray areas and portraying Magneto with at least some sympathy, “Enter Magneto” adds a great deal of nuance and maturity that was mostly lacking from many action / adventure cartoons of this era, most of which had much more broad definitions of “good” and “evil.” These qualities of course are what made the X-Men comic such a popular and acclaimed title for years, and it’s nice to know that the animated adaptation is carrying on that tradition. “Enter Magneto” earns 4 out of 5 Shakespeare Quotes.

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The story picks up from there with “Deadly Reunions,” which opens with a truly bizarre sequence in which Xavier attempts to reach into Sabertooth’s mind to see what makes him tick. This sequence contains some grotesque and downright strange imagery that must have been a shock to kids tuning in when it first aired for that to be the opening scene. The comic reader in me immediately geeked out during this sequence with its brief glimpses of several (at the time) obscure X-Men supporting characters like Deadpool, Maverick, and Omega Red. Cyclops, Storm, and Wolverine return from their encounter with Magneto to give their status report over a cup of coffee, and Wolverine again urges Xavier to get Sabertooth out of the Mansion, despite the Professor’s claims that he is making progress with him and reminding Logan that he was able to conquer his own rages. Disgusted, Wolverine walks out of the Mansion, and the rest of the team prepare to encounter Magneto once more. After being alerted that Magneto is attacking a chemical plant, the Professor sends Cyclops, Storm, and Rogue to stop him, leaving Jubilee to look after their savage guest. The team’s attempt to stop Magneto goes even worse this time, leaving Storm trapped under rubble and Cyclops greatly injured. After trying to resuscitate the team’s leader, Rogue absorbs Cyke’s optical beams and is forced to keep her eyes shut until the effect wears off. Xavier then shows up to confront his former colleague, imploring him to stop fighting against his vision of human / mutant cohabitation. Magneto refuses once again and tries to attack Xavier but is stopped by the Professor probing his mind and bringing up deep-seeded memories of his tragic childhood. The team then escapes the factory before it blows. The fallout of Magneto’s series of attacks prompts anti-Mutant Senator Robert Kelly to announce his candidacy for President of the United States and lay out his plan to control the mutant population, a decision that will no doubt develop into a major subplot sometime in the “Future Past.”

After the beaten and battered team makes their way back to the Mansion, Sabretooth tricks Jubilee into setting him free from his shackled chair and then admits that Magneto ordered him to infiltrate the X-Men’s base of operations. Wolverine quickly shows up to rescue the team’s youngest member, and as the rest of the team makes their way back home and sees their guest wailing on their teammate, Jubilee manages to blast Sabertooth out of the building. With Wolverine holed up in the infirmary, Xavier laments the fact that he left his team so vulnerable and wonders if they will be ready the next time Magneto attacks.

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“Deadly Reunions” is an interesting continuation of “Enter Magneto” in that it seems to cast some doubts over the effectiveness of Xavier’s peaceful solution to the human / mutant conflict while still decrying Magneto’s more aggressive methods. It definitely shows Wolverine’s value to the team, as the more cynical and pragmatic voice that can help temper Xavier’s idealistic decisions when they threaten the team’s safety. This clash of ideologies within the team adds a fascinating dynamic that makes the team even more interesting, again completely transcending the usual tropes of an animated series from this era. I also really loved how the show introduced Storm’s claustrophobia within the heat of battle instead of giving us an awkward bit of expository dialogue before it happened. By giving one of the team’s most powerful members such a specific weakness that is true to her comic roots, the show adds another layer to a character that up until now was fairly one-note, and it makes me eager to find out what other characters will be treated this way. Of the four episodes I’ve covered so far, “Deadly Reunions” is the one that makes me more excited to keep watching to see if the show will continue to delve into these characters in new and surprising ways. 4.5 out of 5 “Egg Suckin’ Pieces o’ Gutter Trash.”

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Who ARE these people!?

Ben Gilbert is an avid comic and movie fan, father of two amazing kids, and husband to one awesome chick. He resides in the hills of East Tennessee and still doesn't quite know what he wants to be when he grows up.

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