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!
While not as full of “big moments” as the previous three seasons, the penultimate fourth season of the X-Men Animated Series excelled at providing added depth and emotional resonance to several of its major and minor characters. Much was made during this season of Wolverine’s internal struggle to maintain the humanity he regained as a member of Professor Xavier’s team of mutant heroes, and with his journey seemingly wrapped up in “Lotus and Steel,” the final two episodes of the season focus on two of the most prominent dysfunctional families within the world of the X-Men and of the Marvel Universe as a whole. While these two standalone episodes don’t share a direct narrative connection, they do provide a satisfying thematic link that brings the season to an effective and surprisingly emotional close.
The aptly-titled “Family Ties” focuses primarily on X-Factor member Pietro Maximoff, aka Quicksilver, who is summoned by his sister Wanda, aka The Scarlet Witch, to the bedside of their dying adoptive father, who reveals to them the truth about their parentage. He tells them that they were left on his doorstep as infants by a cow-human hybrid named Bova but admits that he does not know who their real parents are. To find out the truth, he tells the twins that they must find Bova in a secluded community known as Wundagore Mountain. Meanwhile, Magneto drops in on his former colleague Xavier to tell him that he is traveling to the Balkans to follow up on a cryptic message he received telling him that his wife Magda is still alive, and Xavier sends Wolverine to tail him, fearing that he may be walking into a trap. When Pietro and Wanda arrive in Wundagore, they find a number of human-animal hybrids ruled by a mad geneticist known as the High Evolutionary, one of whom is Bova, who informs them that Magneto was responsible for the death of their mother. This news angers the twins, and they work with the Evolutionary to ambush and capture Magneto when he arrives. Wolverine witnesses Mageneto’s abduction and is captured himself and brought back to Wundagore, where the twins learn from the Evolutionary that Magneto is their father and that he purposefully lured all three to his lair in order to use their DNA to perfect his genetically-altered race of hybrid beings. Magneto begs forgiveness from his children, stating that their mother’s death was an accident, and together they escape the Evolutionary’s clutches and battle his hybrid army, which now includes Wolverine, whom the Evolutionary has turned into a werewolf-like creature. Xavier and Beast arrive in the Blackbird to join the fight, and together they are able to defeat the retreating Evolutionary and his minions and restore Wolverine back to his old self. The episode ends with Magneto expressing his regret to his estranged children about what happened to Magda and with the twins leaving without fully reconciling with them, leaving Magneto saddened and Xavier and Beast advising him to give Wanda and Pietro time to come to grips with all they have learned about their family.
I have always admired how the X-Men Animated Series decided not to treat Magneto like a garden variety villain but instead to give him just as much complexity and humanity as the comics tend to give him. In just twenty-two minutes, “Family Ties” makes the viewer sympathize with both Mangeto and the twins, understanding both Magneto’s regret and his children’s anger. It was a wise decision not to visually flash back to Magda’s accidental death at the hand of her husband, as that would have shifted the viewer’s sympathy exclusively to Wanda and Pietro and made the episode less interesting as a result. Aside from the central human drama, the main physical conflict with the High Evolutionary is rather dull and is resolved way too easily, but in the world of half-hour superhero cartoons from this era, it’s refreshing to see action take a back seat to human drama and the development of relationships between characters, strained or not. With only eleven episodes remaining in the entire series, I hope more effort is made to further develop this newfound relationship now that the connection between these three characters has been explicitly established. “Family Ties” earns 4 out of 5 Melting Trees.
Character development and comic-book action are fused a lot more effectively in the Season Four finale, “Bloodlines,” in which Nightcrawler enlists the help of Wolverine, Rogue, and Jubilee in helping to track down the mother who abandoned him, whom he has learned is being held captive by the Friends of Humanity. They travel to the FOH’s stronghold and find Nightcrawler’s mother, whom both he and Rogue discover is Mystique, who has been hired by Graydon Creed to lure Nightcrawler into a trap in order to get back into the anti-Mutant organization’s good graces after being outed as the son of Sabretooth. During their confrontation, Nightcrawler also learns that Mystique is also Creed’s mother, making them half-brothers. The team fights their way out of the trap and Nightcrawler catches up with Mystique, who fills him in on all the sordid details of his birth and her abandonment of him. Though shocked at hearing the truth, Nightcrawler tells Mystique that he forgives her and will ask God to enable her to forgive herself for all her evil and self-centered deeds, which noticeably gets through her normally stony, unfeeling demeanor. Creed and his cronies corner Nightcrawler and Mystique in a helicopter while both are on top of a dam, wounding Mystique and destroying the dam with a missile, which takes out his own copter. The team regroups and, after Nightcrawler is unable to find Mystique, they return to the Blackbird while a mournful Mystique emerges from the water. The episode ends with Creed’s final expulsion from the Friends of Humanity, as they drop him off at the home of his mutant father, Sabretooth.
Just as with Nightcrawler’s first appearance earlier this season, I remain greatly impressed with how reverent the show is in how it represents a character who has always been my favorite member of the X-Men. Just as in the previous episode, Nightcrawler’s faith remains a vital part of his character, as shown in his final confrontation with Mystique and in a poignant scene on the Blackbird with Jubilee, in which they bond over their shared experiences of growing up without their natural parents. While I could have done without the revelation that Creed is also Mystique’s mother, which I felt was an unnecessary and rather cheesy way to provide some sort of link between him and Nightcrawler, the climactic scene between the reunited mother and son was genuinely touching and gave some much-needed humanity to a character who has been portrayed as pure evil for the majority of her appearances on the show. The X-Men Animated Series has provided a plethora of epic, world-spanning storylines, and while Season Four had its fair share of these, I liked that it decided to end with an episode that was smaller in overall scope but had a huge effect on two of its less high-profile characters. “Bloodlines” earns 4.5 out of 5 Devil Dinosaur Masks.