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!
In the world of superhero comics, I always appreciated when a title took an issue or two to sort of “cool down” from a major storyline, allowing its characters to reflect a bit on the events from the previous issues. That of course is a luxury that a weekly half-hour animated TV show cannot afford, so in the case of the X-Men Animated Series, we follow the major five-part “Phoenix Saga” with a two-part mini-epic where the team journeys back to the Savage Land to save Storm from being used as a pawn in the struggle between two villainous entities. While it doesn’t hold a candle to the storyline that came before it, “Savage Land, Strange Heart” is a marked improvement from the last time this unique location was used on the show.
The story begins with the human/pterodactyl hybrid Sauron battling a tribe of natives led by Ka-Zar, eventually changing into his human persona, a man named Karl Lykos, and being led onto a plane bound for New York by Zaladane, a priestess of a deity known as Garokk. When he reaches the city, he is almost immediately drawn to the X-Men, as they contain the mutant energy needed to keep him alive and turn him back into Sauron as an unfortunate side effect. After a brief encounter with Wolverine, Beast, and Jubilee, Sauron runs loose in Central Park and is intercepted by Storm and Rogue. Sauron uses his hypnotic stare to pit the two X-Men against each other and then renders Storm unconscious, taking her back with him to the Savage Land and presenting her to Zaladane. She tells Sauron that removing Storm’s self-control will unlock limitless energy for him to feed upon, and when Sauron attempts this, he unwittingly turns Storm into an amoral being willing to use her power to its full potential, not caring who she might harm. Storm’s friends land in the Savage Land and inevitably run into a T-Rex before being rescued by Ka-Zar, who takes them back to his home, where he fills the team in on Sauron’s reign of terror and the strange appearance of a Garokk statue in their village. Sauron’s soldiers raid Ka-Zar’s camp and attempt to abduct Jubilee while Sauron and Rogue battle once more while Zaladane and Garokk make plans to use Storm to free the trapped deity from his earthly prison. Sauron weakens and reverts back to Karl Lykos, telling Ka-Zar and the X-Men that he has no control over his villainous alter ego as Storm wages an attack on the camp.
Part Two begins with Storm wreaking havoc on the Savage Land’s weather patterns and Garokk regaining his power while the team, Lykos, and Ka-Zar narrowly escape a dino stampede and make plans on how to stop Storm’s rampage. Lykos offers to absorb Storm’s energy, stating that he wishes to atone for Sauron’s sins. Rogue flies Lykos close enough for him to touch Storm, but he holds on long enough to turn back into Sauron, flying off as the team returns the unconscious Storm back to Ka-Zar’s village. Rogue’s brief encounter with Sauron reveals that he is connected with Garokk, and an enraged Storm awakens and vows to destroy both Garokk and Sauron before being sedated by Beast. Zaladane tells Sauron that he has outlived his usefulness to her and her god, who explains how he was rendered powerless by the High Evolutionary thousands of years ago and was awakened by Storm’s use of her powers during the team’s battle with Mr. Sinister and his lackeys during their first visit to the Savage Land. He reveals that he was behind the plan to send Lykos to New York to fetch Storm and bring her back so that she can fully restore him, and states that he plans to tap into the power hidden beneath the Savage Land to become more powerful than ever. Garokk’s attempt to tap into this power creates earthquakes and leads to an encounter with the X-Men and Ka-Zar. Storm awakens again and challenges the deity, which Beast says are actually increasing Garokk’s power and enable him to regain corporeal form. Sauron gets loose during the battle and challenges Garokk’s authority, leading to a release of energy that seems to destroy both of them, making the Savage Land safe again for now. After the team leaves, we discover that Garokk has been returned to his rocky prison and that Lykos has survived the battle, now free of mutants to feed upon.
“Savage Land, Strange Heart” offered a better glimpse of the prehistoric Antarctic region’s unique attributes a lot better than the previous season did, as it shed a little more light on the actual people that live there, as well as its indigenous threats, and the two parts pack a lot of story and exposition. Not only do we get the explanation for Sauron’s presence there but we also get the full backstory of Garokk and an exploration of Storm’s darker, more uninhibited side. Of course, things happen so fast that we are not allowed to dwell on any of these aspects for long, but it’s a testament to the show’s economy of story in how it uses these elements to tell a rather concise and fairly coherent tale. It was a bit of a letdown that none of the X-Men had anything to do with the ultimate resolution of the story, but nearly everything leading up to that climax was pretty impressive. Plus, we got to see the High Evolutionary, one of the most obscure Marvel characters ever, in a high-profile animated series, which did my comic geek heart proud. Overall, this was kind of a weird place to go after the “Phoenix Saga” but was also a fun diversion after the heaviness of that previous storyline. Both parts of “Savage Land, Strange Heart” earn 3.5 out of 5 “Blue Plate Specials.”