It’s New To Me – X-MEN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (“The Juggernaut Returns” / “Nightcrawler” / “Weapon X, Lies, and Videotape”)
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!
The third season of the X-Men Animated Series significantly upped overall quality of the show in my opinion, so of course expectations were high as I started Season Four. These expectations may have been unrealistic, given the fact that the previous season was twenty-five episodes long and featured fairly faithful adaptations of some of the most beloved X-Men stories ever told, but based on the first three episodes of Season Four, it looks like the people behind the animated series are still dedicated to matching the quality of the previous season, even if they don’t quite stick the landing every time.
Season Four opens up with the somewhat-unimaginatively named “The Juggernaut Returns,” which features yet another battle with Xavier’s super-powered half-brother Cain Marko that is interrupted when his powers disappear after a nerdy explorer discovers the ancient artifact that turned Cain into the Juggernaut. This incident leaves Cain in a catatonic state with his vitals dropping rapidly, and Xavier takes it upon himself to help his estranged relative, ignoring his students’ protests. Flashbacks give us glimpses at the two half-brothers’ history, showing us the younger Xavier being tortured by Marko for his mutant abilities and being punished by his father, who wants to keep things cordial between himself and Xavier’s rich but ailing mother in order to gain her inheritance once she dies. Xavier discovers that someone else has accessed the artifact’s powers and sends Wolverine and Cyclops to track down the explorer, who is using his newfound powers not for evil purposes but to try to impress girls at a nightclub. The two X-Men easily defeat the nebbish new Juggernaut and return the artifact to Marko, restoring his powers. Preparing for another battle, the X-Men are shocked to see their nemesis walk away, and Xavier assumes that this is Marko’s way of thanking them for saving his life.
Aside from the early scenes featuring Juggernaut fighting several of the Danger Room’s perils, including a robotic Hulk, “The Juggernaut Returns” is surprisingly light on action, with a rather disappointing climactic battle with the nerdy Juggernaut, but the episode’s true strength lies in the flashbacks that reveal Marko and Xavier’s painful childhood together. While these scenes don’t make the Juggernaut into a flat-out sympathetic character, it does provide some much-needed context into his misguided hatred of Xavier, making his father the true catalyst for his feelings of inadequacy and jealousy. These scenes help to redeem the episode from its rather silly and anticlimactic final confrontation with an antagonist who is more pathetic than evil. For humanizing one of the show’s more intimidating villains, “The Juggernaut Returns” earns 3.5 out of 5 “Sins of the Father.”
Things get much better in the next episode, “Nightcrawler,” which finally introduces my all-time favorite X-Men member to the world of the animated series. The deformed but devout Kurt Wagner is introduced very similarly to the way he was in the pages of Giant-Sized X-Men #1, by evading a gang of frightened villagers in a small German village. In a nearby ski resort, a vacationing Wolverine hears reports of demon sightings in the village and goes with Rogue and Gambit to check it out. After being caught in an avalanche, they are rescued by a group of monks and are taken to their monastery, where they meet the deeply religious Kurt, who has taken sanctuary with the monks and expresses sympathy towards the villagers who wish to destroy him. Kurt’s capacity for forgiveness intrigues Rogue but baffles Wolverine and Gambit, and all of the mutants’ safety is compromised when one of the monks conspire with the villagers to try to get rid of Nightcrawler. The resulting raid on the monastery leads to a confrontation between Nightcrawler and the treacherous monk that results in a fire that destroys much of the building and makes the monk realize the harm he has done. After the threat has ended, Nightcrawler stays with the monks to help them repair the monastery and urges the still skeptical Wolverine to open his heart up to God in order to calm his inner rage. The episode ends with the three X-Men continuing their vacation in Paris, where Rogue is pleasantly surprised to see Wolverine in a church, emboldened by Nightcrawler’s faith.
“Nightcrawler” is a quite unusual episode of the X-Men Animated Series in that it doesn’t have a central villain to fight and has a surprisingly spiritual theme. Matters of religion, and positive portrayals of them especially, are few and far between on most popular television shows during this or any other era, so it is quite refreshing and encouraging to see the show treat Kurt’s faith with the same reverence that the comics did. Nightcrawler was always seen as one of the more sympathetic and kind members of the team, and his faith had a lot to do with that, and while some viewers may have scoffed at the idea of Wolverine visiting a church at the end of this episode, I found it a nice nod to the respect and friendship that Logan feels toward Kurt in the original comics. This episode portrayed my favorite X-Men so pitch-perfectly that I almost forgive it for waiting this long to introduce him, and I hope we see a lot more of him in future episodes and storylines, especially since it immediately reveals that his mother is Mystique, which took the comics over a decade to reveal. “Nightcrawler” earns 4.5 out of 5 Clashing Philosophies.
Not long after opening his mind to faith, Wolverine is once again plagued with visions of his troubled past in the awfully-titled “Weapon X, Lies, and Videotape,” which begins with Logan plagued with nightmares of his torture at the hands of the people who gave him his adamantium skeleton and a repeated vision of him battling Sabretooth in a remote cabin to protect a Native American woman named Silver Fox who appears to be an old flame. After Logan leaves the Mansion in a rage, his fellow X-Men discover that these visions were triggered by a photograph of him and the mystery woman that he received from an unknown address. Beast uses the coordinates found on the back of the photo to follow Logan to the site of his escape from the people who gave him his unbreakable skeleton. There, Logan runs into his former teammates Maverick, Sabretooth, and Silver Fox, all of whom were lured to this location in a similar fashion. They all discover that, during their training at this location, they were all implanted with false memories meant to place them under the control of the agency that employed them. With Beast’s help, the newly-reunited foursome attempt to find out why their minds were tampered with and discover a video journal of the man responsible for the program explaining the process and stating that all the false memories implanted in them are partially based on real-life events. The video also shows that the adamantium-bonding process that Wolverine was subjected to was also meant to be applied to Sabretooth but was interrupted when Wolverine destroyed the lab and escaped. They all discover a chamber that they are only able to open together, hoping to find the truth behind their pasts, triggering a robotic failsafe named Talos that attacks them, forcing them all to fight back and eventually escape without finding out the truth. The episode ends with the four former companions going their separate ways and Beast consoling the distraught Wolverine, telling him that he and his friends back at the Mansion are his true family now.
Wolverine’s origin had long been one of the biggest mysteries in mainstream superhero comics, and this and a few other past episodes do a pretty good job in summarizing what comic readers knew of Logan’s past in the days before the landmark Origin miniseries was published. Having Logan and his former teammates be the unwilling pawns of a shadowy organization fit right into the paranoid mid-Nineties, a time that also gave us The X-Files and its many imitators, and this episode in particular does a nice job in showing how this ordeal affected Logan from a personal standpoint and adding another chapter in his constant and futile search for a normal existence and a loving relationship. Paired with Logan’s epiphany at the end of “Nightcrawler,” this episode goes a long way toward developing Wolverine as a sympathetic and relatable character that is worthy of the years of immense popularity he enjoyed prior to this series and continues long after its end. Aside from having a baffling title that references a rather adult-themed Steven Soderbergh film, “Weapon X, Lies, and Videotape” is one of the best single episodes of the series that I’ve seen so far and earns 4.5 out of 5 Telltale Tree Carvings.