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 first few seasons of the X-Men Animated Series seemed to have an overarching tale that came to a memorable conclusion by season’s end, but it seems the last couple of seasons have been a lot more random and disconnected as a whole. With just four episodes left in the show’s final season, the creators seem to be lacking a great deal of overarching plot threads to close and instead seem hell-bent on giving us probably more information about Wolverine’s past than we really needed and introducing yet another fan-favorite mutant from the comics that will more than likely never be seen again on the show. It’s a blatant case of running the clock out, but it still makes for some decent moments within the show itself, at least in one episode.
“Old Soldiers,” the seventh episode of the show’s final season, is almost entirely devoted to an extended flashback that finds a pre-Adamantium-skeletoned Wolverine working for the OSS in Nazi-occupied France and teaming up with a pre-frozen Captain America to try to rescue a French scientist named Andre Cocteau who has been kidnapped by the Red Skull. Initially put out by being forced to work with a partner, Logan grows to respect and admire his Star-Spangled partner as they infiltrate a castle where Cocteau is being held, with Logan aided in this effort by a couple of makeshift metal claws that are not at all a blatant attempt at foreshadowing, what are you talking about? After being captured by the Skull’s goons, Logan and Cap find out that Cocteau is voluntarily working with the Skull in creating giant mechanized soldiers hilariously named Sleepers for the Fuhrer’s army. Enraged by the scientist’s betrayal, Logan helps Cap break free before freeing himself and the two of them fight off the Skull’s army and destroy the Sleepers before failing to prevent the Skull and Cocteau from escaping. The episode ends with Logan standing over the grave of the now-dead Cocteau lamenting that he never got a chance to avenge his betrayal but is then visited by Cocteau’s daughter Justine who had recruited Logan for the mission all those years ago. Justine explains to Logan that Cocteau was a double agent who secretly sabotaged all of the projects he worked on for the Nazis, actions that held back the Third Reich’s progress in the war and contributed to their defeat. Moved by this news, Logan carves the word “Hero” onto Cocteau’s grave before joining Justine for a trip to a local bistro to reminisce over old times.
The final episode penned by the legendary comics scribe and Wolverine co-creator Len Wein, “Old Soldiers” is one of the more entertaining flashback stories of the X-Men Animated Series’ entire run, if not one of the sillier and less likely ones. The biggest eyeroll-inducing detail in this episode is the presence of the makeshift claws, which I couldn’t get over until I realized that this was a kids’ cartoon from the Nineties. As far as its overall importance to the show, all this episode really accomplishes is that it points out for what I believe for the first time in the show that Wolverine’s mutant abilites enable him to age much slower than “normal” humans and that his life was full of adventure and excitement even before his days as an assassin and Weapon X subject. Overall, this was just a fun and action-packed if not terribly substantial romp through one of my favorite Twentieth Century historical periods and featuring a team-up with one of Marvel’s most celebrated heroes, and for that “Old Soldiers” earns 4 out of 5 Baguette Mcguffins.
Things get less fun but a whole lot messier with “Hidden Agendas,” which marks the series debut for the (at least for me) popular mutant Sam Guthrie, a.k.a. Cannonball. Sam is first glimpsed working in an underground mine in Cumberland, Kentucky, where he saves his father and another miner from dying in a cave-in using his mutant powers that enable him to fly and make him nigh-invulnerable. After this daring rescue, it becomes apparent that Sam’s family is aware of his mutant powers and that the town, while not exactly comfortable with having a mutant in their midst, aren’t exactly lining up with torches and pitchforks at casa de Guthrie. Tensions do start to rise when a representative from a secret government agency tries and fails to recruit Sam and then fans the flames of anti-mutant hysteria in order to turn the town against Sam and push him towards his organization. Meanwhile, Xavier gets news of Sam’s mutant ability and sends fellow Southerner Rogue to talk to him about possibly joining up with them. After meeting Rogue, who for some reason is adopting the surname of Lebeau, Sam politely turns down her offer to be an X-Man, stating that he’s much more comfortable working for his father in his hometown. When the town starts to turn against Sam and threatens his family, their rage is quickly diverted to the entire X-Men team, who promptly join Rogue in Cumberland once they become aware of the threat the town poses to Sam. Meanwhile, the government agency tries and fails once again to recruit Sam after trying to convince him that the X-Men are his enemies, and he winds up joining the X-Men in battling the agency’s robotic soldiers. After prevailing against the menace, Sam once again gratefully declines the X-Men’s offer, choosing instead to move to another town with his family, where I’m sure they most definitely won’t face the same prejudice and hatred they faced in Cumberland. I mean it’s the South, right? What could go wrong?
As I stated in my review of “Old Soldiers,” I’m willing to cut this show a bit of slack given its intended audience and era in which it first aired, but that still doesn’t excuse “Hidden Agendas” from being a giant mess. This could have been a compelling portrait of a young mutant choosing to deal with intolerance in his own way, but the way in which the anti-mutant hysteria is manufactured by the shady government rep and the relative ease and speed in which it escalates is mind-numbingly stupid and more than a little condescending to viewers who live and grew up in the South (myself included). While I concede that a decent percentage of small-town Southerners could be considered intolerant and superstitious, the ease in which they are turned into an angry mob left me a little dumbfounded. There’s also a pointless subplot in which Gambit is captured by the agency that was obviously put in there to pad the episode and give more team members something to do. And don’t get me started on the hilariously exaggerated Southern accents given to the locals that make Rogue and Gambit’s accents seem almost subtle by comparison. Additionally, this episode has a much different animation style than the rest of the series that looks a lot cheaper and hurried, which didn’t help either. Overall, “Hidden Agendas” is the worst example of a filler episode, which is a shame because Cannonball is a decent character who deserved better representation in his first and likely only appearance in the show. 2 out of 5 Spilled Milkshakes.