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!
Season Three of the X-Men Animated Series has proven to be the strongest one yet, bolstered by the impressively faithful (to a point) adaptation of the most revered story from the original Uncanny X-Men comic, “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” After such an important storyline, the show might have been content to rest on its laurels a bit and give us some throwaway, “cool down” episodes, but the three episodes immediately following “Dark Phoenix” keep the quality going, introducing new plot lines and characters and tying up loose threads from previous episodes and seasons. These three self-contained episodes summarize just how good this show was in its storytelling and how its writing staff revered its source material.
The first of these three episodes, entitled “Cold Comfort,” delves into the early years of the X-Men with an appearance from one of its founding members, Bobby Drake a.k.a. Iceman, who breaks into a heavily-guarded storage facility and draws the attention of his former mentor and teammates. When the team tracks him down, Drake explains that his actions had to do with tracking down his former teammate and girlfriend Lorna Dane, a.k.a. Polaris, who had gone missing shortly after they both left the team. After Iceman gives the X-Men the slip (no pun intended) with Jubilee’s help, the team follows him back to the facility and run across a new group of mutants known as X-Factor (the early Nineties lineup of Havok, Quicksilver, Strong Guy, Polaris, Multiple Man, Wolfsbane, and Forge) who have been using the storage depot as a secret headquarters. After their obligatory conflict, X-Factor introduces themselves as a government-sanctioned team of mutant crime fighters, and Lorna explains that she joined the team in order to continue working towards the good of mutantkind, a mission that Iceman abandoned in search of a “normal” life. Crushed by the fact that Lorna abandoned him and found love with Havok, Iceman once again leaves the team, though on friendlier terms than before.
“Cold Comfort” provides a welcome respite from the standard “villain of the week” premise and its smaller, character-focused plot is a refreshing change of pace after the intergalactic scope of “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” I enjoyed the brief glimpse into the team’s past and the development of Bobby as the original team hothead (ironically enough) as well as the expansion of the X-Men TV universe with the introduction of X-Factor. The episode even drops major hints of Havok’s relationship to Cyclops during the two teams’ initial encounter by calling back to the relationship between Banshee and Black Tom Cassidy (meaning that they are brothers for those unfamiliar with the comics). Based on this revelation, we surely have not seen the last of X-Factor on the show, and as a fan of this team from the Peter David-penned comics of this era, I can’t wait to see them pop up again. For further deepening the world of the X-Men Animated Series, “Cold Comfort” earns 4.5 out of 5 Brood Holograms.
More secrets involving the Summers clan are revealed in “Orphan’s End,” in which Cyclops discovers that Corsair is his father when he crash-lands on the grounds of the X-Mansion pursued by a Shi’ar craft. After both Corsair and Cyclops realize that they are father and son, Cyclops and Storm agree to help Corsair evade capture. As they flee the Shi’ar soldiers, Corsair explains his disappearance and tells Scott that he has been falsely accused of taking an important Shi’ar dignitary hostage. Scott is torn between his rage at being abandoned by his father as a child and his need to know the truth about him, eventually discovering that the commander of the Shi’ar vessel had framed Corsair for the crime and, with the help of the other Starjammers and a mutinous member of the vessel’s crew, they all expose him and clear Corsair’s name. The episode ends with the reunited father and son making up for lost time by finally getting to know one another after twenty years apart.
While not a perfect episode, “Orphan’s End” does a fine job in packing a great deal of exposition and character development into what is essentially an intergalactic whodunnit. The early and somewhat rushed revelation of Scott and Corsair’s relationship is a little corny, but the emotion shown in their subsequent conversation helps to make up for it. The episode nicely shows the confusion and inner conflict Cyclops feels after being dealt with such a bombshell piece of information, as he wavers a couple of times on whether he should help his father or turn him in, and the revelation of the true villain of the piece, while cliched and obvious, helped to lighten the tone of what could have been a very dark and sad episode dealing with both Scott and Corsair’s loss. Overall, “Orphan’s End” provided a nice mix of heavy emotion and light, sci-fi tinged adventure and earns 4 out of 5 Telltale Dog Tags.
Yet another reunion takes place in “Courage,” which features the temporary return of Morph to the team after months of rehabilitation on Muir Island. Eager to regain his place on the X-Men, Morph brushes aside Moira MacTaggart’s warnings about getting back into action too soon and makes his way back to Westchester, where he is given a hero’s welcome by his teammates. After receiving a distress signal involving a group of Sentinels stealing a special plastic material from a plant, Xavier sends Wolverine and Morph to find out who was behind the theft. After breaking into the plant for clues, they discover that the Sentinels were involved, which triggers a flashback to when Morph was mortally wounded by the giant mutant-hunting robots that he quickly shrugs off, insisting that he is over that past trauma and ready to fight alongside his fellow X-Men. We soon discover that these Sentinels are being controlled by the head of the sentient Master Mold, intending to use the powerful plastic to manufacture an invincible body. Master Mold tasks his Sentinel minions to gather Trask and Gyrich, both of whom are in hiding, as well as Xavier, who is apprehended while Morph freezes in fear. Beast determines where the Sentinels are headed by hacking the head of one of the fallen robots, and the team leaves on the Blackbird to rescue their mentor, leaving Morph behind, who defiantly tags along anyway in a smaller plane. After overcoming his fear and helping the team defeat Master Mold and the Sentinels, Morph decides to embark on his own, vowing to return once he is fully ready to return to full-time combat.
“Courage” does a decent job in presenting Morph as a character with a unique form of PTSD, though his struggle is admittedly short-lived as he winds up being the hero at the end. While it’s handled rather simplistically, it’s still pretty cool that a Nineties-era kids’ cartoon even scratched the surface of the issue, portraying one of its characters as flawed, fragile, and human instead of a near-perfect hero. This approach to costumed crimefighters was always Marvel’s bread and butter and has been a mainstay of the X-Men cartoon pretty much since the first episode, so it’s good that the show has stayed consistent with how they have portrayed these characters and have remained faithful to the source material, even though Morph at the time was created solely for the cartoon. It helped elevate him as more than a clown and a hapless victim, which is how he was portrayed in the first two seasons for the most part. “Courage” earns 4 out of 5 Bad John Wayne Impressions.