It’s New To Me – X-MEN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (“A Rogue’s Tale” / “Beauty and the Beast” / “Mojovision”)
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!
When a well-known comic property is adapted for a wider audience, particularly one that is mostly intended to be children, there is always the risk that some of the elements that made that property special and unique will be watered down or ignored. Thankfully, the creators of the X-Men Animated Series made it a priority to point out that life as a mutant isn’t always a lot of fun by pointing out some of the more tragic aspects of the members of Marvel’s popular mutant team. This was a risky decision, as it could have turned off the show’s core audience, but it was just one of the many aspects that heralded an evolution of animated adventure shows in the early Nineties such as Batman: The Animated Series and Gargoyles that were a bit more serious and mature than their predecessors. As shown in the first two of the three episodes discussed this week, X-Men deserves to be lumped in with those two other influential programs for its reverence toward its characters.
The first and best of this week’s trio of episodes, “A Rogue’s Tale,” focuses squarely on Rogue, perhaps the most tragic member of the X-Men, as her mutant abilities prevent her from safely touching another human being. The episode begins with Mystique meeting with Mr. Sinister, who informs her that Xavier is no longer at the X-Mansion and that she can try to reclaim her adopted daughter Rogue. After helping her teammates foil the Brotherhood’s attempts to terrorize a farmer’s market, Rogue sees a mysterious blond woman that triggers frightening hallucinations that drive her away from the rest of her team. The visions bring back long suppressed memories of Rogue’s time as a member of Mystique’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, where she was forced to absorb the powers of the costumed adventurer Ms. Marvel, sending the hero into a coma and leaving a piece of her consciousness within Rogue’s psyche. This flashback explains Rogue’s super strength and ability to fly, and her guilt from this activity leads her to abandon Mystique and her flunkies and join up with Xavier, who shielded this painful memory from her. Now that Xavier is away, however, the memories have returned, which are compounded by Mystique showing up in the form of Carol Danvers, Ms. Marvel’s alter ego.
Rogue breaks into a local hospital to visit Carol’s comatose body while the Brotherhood battles the rest of the X-Men. Mystique tries to bring Rogue back to the fold, but Rogue refuses. Ms. Marvel’s consciousness then tries to take over Rogue’s body and flies off, pursued by Storm. Jean Gray uses Cerebro to help Rogue regain control of her mind, and Rogue tells Mystique that her true home is with the X-Men. The episode ends with Rogue visiting Carol in the hospital, where the fallen hero shows signs of recovery.
“A Rogue’s Tale” is a rather important episode within the world of the X-Men Animated Series, as it provides the origin of one of its more important characters and expands the role of the X-Men in the larger Marvel Universe by bringing in another hero into the storyline. In an era where the X-Men are not really allowed to interact with the rest of the Marvel Universe outside of the comics due to the complicated movie rights, it was quite pleasant to see such a crossover exist during a simpler time. The episode didn’t really put Xavier in a positive light, as his method of helping Rogue just seemed to involve sweeping her painful memories under a rug, but hopefully once he returns from the Savage Land, he will be given the opportunity to own up to this mistake and take steps to correct it. Despite this glaring plot hole, “A Rogue’s Tale” is definitely one of the strongest episodes of the X-Men Animated Series to date from a character and dramatic standpoint, earning 4.5 out of 5 Literal Internal Conflicts.
We are then treated to an episode devoted to Beast, one of the least-developed members of the team up to this point. In addition to his duties with the team, we discover that Dr. Henry McCoy has worked with a team of scientists to restore the sight of a beautiful young blind woman named Carly, with whom he has fallen in love. The hospital where Beast works is overrun by Creed and the Friends of Humanity, who are protesting his presence there. This incident leads Hank’s colleagues to reluctantly dismiss him from the project and inspires an enraged Wolverine to infiltrate the Friends of Humanity and take them out from the inside. We are also briefly taken back to the Savage Land, where Xavier and Magneto encounter Amphibious, one of Magneto’s mutant creations who informs them that he and the other Savage Land Mutates have an as-yet unnamed new ruler.
Back at the Mansion, Beast laments his inability to be close to any normal humans because of his appearance and abilities and admits his feelings for Carly. Inspired by a pep talk with Jean, Beast shows up after Carly’s operation successfully restores her eyesight, and after laying her eyes on him, she reiterates Hank’s feelings but is forbidden by her father from having anything to do with a mutant. Carly is soon kidnapped by the Friends of Humanity, whom Wolverine discovers is led by the son of his old nemesis Sabertooth. He contacts the rest of the team and tells them that he will find Carly, requesting that they bring a certain piece of equipment to the FoH’s headquarters. As Beast infiltrates the anti-mutant militia’s lair, Wolverine helps to break Carly out and, thanks to a holographic file disk projector brought over from the Mansion, reveals to Creed’s group that he is the son of a notorious mutant criminal. As Creed’s soldiers abandon him, Beast and Wolverine escape with Carly. The episode ends with Beast and Carly tearfully parting, with Hank telling her that they cannot safely be together until mutants are fully accepted in human society.
“Beauty and the Beast” is another wonderful episode, mostly because it provides some much needed character development for Beast, a member of the X-Men who was on the shelf for most of the first season and up until now has only been used to fire off lighthearted and erudite quips. Like Rogue in the previous episode, Beast laments how his mutant powers exclude him from having normal relationships, and even though his is a much less complex problem than Rogue’s, it’s no less heartbreaking. While the central love story isn’t the strongest, given that this is the first and probably only time we’ll see the character of Carly in the show, it did its job in helping Beast to become a more relatable and sympathetic character within the series. I thought the eventual defeat of the Friends of Humanity was a bit over-simplified and silly, but I enjoyed that Wolverine used his brain rather than brute force to help bring down an enemy, as it shows that he’s becoming more of a team player. While it’s not quite as great as “A Rogue’s Tale,” “Beauty and the Beast” is still a worthwhile episode that made me love Beast even more and earns 4 out of 5 “Shazbot!” T-shirts.
“Mojovision,” the final standalone episode before the two-part season finale, is a bit of a letdown after the two strong episodes that preceded it. The episode opens on a dimension ruled by a grotesque being named Mojo who owns and operates a television network specializing in reality-based combat programming. Complaining about dwindling ratings centered around the luck-powered adventurer known as Longshot, Mojo decides to kidnap the X-Men and put them on the air. While the team shops for a new TV at an electronics store after Jubilee wrecked their old one, Mojo appears on all the screens in the store and transports them to his dimension via his multi-armed assistant Spiral. Mojo then parades the entire team in front of a studio audience and separates them into teams of two, plugging them into several perilous situations loosely based on familiar television tropes. After fighting their way through these perils, the team eventually overpowers Mojo’s tech due to Jean’s psychic interference and Longshot’s selfish meddling and find their way back home. As expected, the episode ends with yet another Savage Land scene, where Xavier and Magneto witness Shanna the She-Devil being hypnotized and kidnapped by the human / dinosaur hybrid known as Sauron.
“Mojovision” could be seen as a palate cleanser of sorts after two fairly serious episodes, but after the strong character development of “A Rogue’s Tale” and “Beauty and the Beast,” this one and done episode seems frustratingly slight. Mojo and his minions are some of the less high profile villains within the X-Men comics, but they still deserved a more proper introduction than this episode, in which the threat was resolved in very little time and provided no real lasting effects to anyone involved. It’s a shame, because Mojo’s presence could have provided some droll yet subtle satire about the nature of what is expected from a weekly superhero TV show and how the X-Men Animated Series usually subverts or transcends those expectations. Alas, this episode doesn’t seem to have the time or patience for subtext and instead gives us a quick and insubstantial adventure that ends just when it starts to get interesting. Hopefully the team will return to this world in future episodes and we’ll get a little more than this silly and forgettable encounter. 3 out of 5 “Jungle Pictures”.