Jonathan Dobres

x-men re-examined: till death do us part 1 & 2

Part 1

Air date: October 23, 1993

In comics, no one stays dead. Implausible escapes, newly discovered powers, intentional fake-outs, divine intervention, and all manner of retcons ensure that death is temporary unless your name is Ben Parker. There are notable exceptions, of course. One of the record holders for Longest Time in a Grave is the X-Men’s own Jean Grey, who was canonically dead between 1980 and 1986 (sexy clones notwithstanding), and then again between 2003 and 2018.

Morph was never going to stay dead, but the show committed pretty hard in season one. Nobody so much as mentions them after “Night of the Sentinels”. But the writers didn’t forget. I missed it on first watch, but the “Previously On…” reminds us that in the season one finale, Cyclops charges back into the Sentinel facility, saying he’s not leaving anyone behind, “not this time.”

Morph reappears under the influence of arch villain Mister Sinister, who, in a retcon to the events of “Night of the Sentinels”, rescued them after that botched mission. Sinister is very possibly my favorite X-Men villain. Formerly Dr. Nathaniel Essex, he is a 19th century geneticist obsessed with creating a race of superior mutants. If this sounds a lot like Apocalypse, well yes, they have an on-again, off-again thing going on. Through Apocalypse’s help and decades of self-experimentation, Sinister has achieved immortality and an imposing array of abilities, including an inhuman voice that I think sounds cool to this day. He’s a cackling master manipulator with Dr. Frankenstein’s agenda and Dracula’s aesthetic. The man is so committed to the bit that he goes by Mister Sinister despite being an actual, credentialed doctor. His henchmen are called The Nasty Boys. The Nasty Boys. What’s not to love?

Morph returns to us with a sallow complexion, sunken eyes, and a fragile mental state. Sinister has brainwashed them into believing that the X-Men deserve to be destroyed, and the thing is, the team made Sinister’s job pretty easy there. They did leave Morph behind, and everyone’s been carrying that around for a year. Mister Sinister may be skulking around in the shadows, but the real villain here is survivor’s guilt.

Part 1 of this story is mostly about reintroducing Morph and watching them use their shapeshifting powers to pull the X-Men apart like a rotisserie chicken:

  • As Magneto, Morph video phones Xavier, claims he’s in mortal danger, and gets the Professor to rush off to Antarctica to help his ex. Xavier nonsensically leaves by himself rather than taking one of his trained warriors with him, but love makes you do crazy things. In any case, everyone who could have instantly unmasked a shapeshifter is gone (Jean is on her honeymoon and Wolverine has already stormed off to tear up the Friends of Humanity).

  • As Rogue, Morph convinces Gambit to meet up in the rec room and kiss her (Morph knows the real Rogue is already there, sleeping). This takes Gambit out of action and makes Rogue much less effective, since she doesn’t know how to control Gambit’s powers.

  • As Storm, Morph exploits Jubilee’s desire to prove herself, and her respect for Storm, to send her into a trap.

  • Morph-as-Beast assures Storm he’ll be there to help her quell some anti-mutant violence. They then trap the real Beast in the Danger Room and turn all the dials to Kill.

  • Finally, when it’s clear that the rioters can’t take down Storm, Morph-as-random cop instructs some nearby officers to shoot her out of the sky, putting her in the hospital.

No other antagonist has come so close to outright destroying the X-Men, and all Morph did was say the wrong things to the right people. The most dependable are made to look unreliable, friendships and intimacies are exploited, trust is violated, and the whole team gets taken out. As anyone in information security will tell you, the biggest vulnerability is people. Morph’s campaign is incredibly damaging and very convincing. Smart writing throughout.

To fulfill this episode’s Saturday Morning Action Quota, we are introduced to the Friends of Humanity, who will harass the X-Men twice in these twenty minutes (along with harassing other random mutants). They’re an anti-mutant hate group with pretty suspicious branding. Their leader, Graydon Creed, wears a red and black blazer, their logo is an eagle, they’re fond of armbands, you can’t not see it. As Xavier explains, the FOH arose in a backlash against Robert Kelly’s (now President Kelly’s) public support for mutants. The episode does a great job interweaving the FOH’s rash of violence with Morph’s campaign against the X-Men. It’s not clear how Morph knew to send an unwitting Jubilee to FOH headquarters, but it’s not exactly a secret society, and given how effective Morph is here, the off-screen reconnaissance was probably trivial.

Also in this episode, Scott Summers and Jean Grey tie the knot. Or do they? It turns out Morph was masquerading as the priest, which, as we’ll learn in Part 2, invalidates the marriage? Wolverine is so upset about the wedding that he can’t bear to attend, and spends the morning ripping apart Cyclops-themed holograms in the Danger Room (including a cool looking Cyclops/Sentinel mashup). This angst may explain why he’s especially eager to punch the FOH later on.

Now That’s What I Call ’90s: Commencing his campaign of discord, Morph rubs his hands together and giggles, “Makin’ copies,” a jarring reference which implies that both Saturday Night Live and Rob Schneider exist in the X-Men universe. This gives Cyclops’s NOT joke from the debut a run for its money as the Most ’90s Thing Possible.

Stray observations:

  • We briefly see the swearing in of President Robert Jefferson Kelly. In the comics, his middle name is Edward, so “Jefferson” was definitely meant as a very ’90s reference.

  • Gambit finally uses the bo staff we always see him with in the opening.

  • Rogue’s difficulty with Gambit’s powers is mostly treated seriously. There are great details like her not wearing her usual gloves or awkwardly wrapping her arms around things instead of using her hands. Lenore Zann gets in a very fun line after she makes a coffee cup explode.

  • Either Jean or the Professor could have sensed that the priest was Morph, but then again, they had no reason to be on alert for threats at a wedding.

Part 2

Air date: October 30, 1993

Part 2 suffers from much lazier writing, so much so that I’m surprised to find that both parts were written by the same person.

Scott and Jean get to enjoy their honeymoon for about thirty seconds before one of Sinister’s Nasty Boys (again, The Nasty Boys) wrecks their yacht. The ensuing fight, if you can even call it that, is remarkably lazy, but it does give Sinister the chance to properly introduce himself and slap some power-suppressing collars on the newlyweds. Scott and Jean have the exact right genetic material to create, in Sinister’s words, “The master bloodlines for an unbeatable race of mutants.” So he’s a lot pickier than Apocalypse, is my takeaway. Sinister extracts something from Cyclops, which looks painful, but that’s about all we see of this plan.

Meanwhile, the team starts pulling themselves back together and they begin to notice that everyone’s been acting very oddly lately. It doesn’t take long for Beast to escape the Danger Room, for Wolverine to rescue Jubilee from the FOH, for Rogue’s borrowed powers to wear off, and for Gambit to regain consciousness.

I was going to put this in the Stray Observations, but it’s too important. When Rogue angrily says to Gambit, “You snuck a kiss and got what was comin’ to ya!” his response is emphatic: “Gambit don’t never go where he’s not invited.” It’s 1993, and we’re just coming off an era when taking advantage of semi-conscious women was still considered boyish hijinks. The writers go out of their way to make clear that Gambit would never have tried to kiss Rogue (or anyone) without their consent. Listen up, ten year-old boys: Gambit is one of the cool ones, and cool people don’t do that.

Morph masquerades as Xavier to try to get everyone back on scheme, but at this point Wolverine returns with Jubilee and immediately sniffs out what’s going on. Morph makes a break for the hangar. Jubilee and Wolverine follow, leading to a great little misdirect where Morph doubles Wolverine and Jubilee has to decide which to shoot. “You’ll just have to shoot both of us,” says one of the Wolverines. Jubilee quickly shoots the one that did not make this noble suggestion, which unfortunately was the real Logan. It’s a subversion of the usual hero tropes that I found genuinely clever. Morph escapes in the stolen Blackbird, and Beast reasons that they’re heading to Cyclops.

Morph arrives at Sinister’s lair and menaces the Summerses. It doesn’t quite go the way they planned. Scott’s shock and remorse is at odds with the image that Morph has of him in their head, and it’s giving them something of a split personality. Meanwhile, the cavalry arrives and fights The Nasty Boys (Nasty Boys). It’s not a great fight, but the standout is Gorgeous George and the impressive animation of his liquid body. He attempts to choke/drown Rogue and she spins him away like Wonder Woman.

Sinister, having gotten what he needs for now, decides everyone but Scott and Jean are expendable. Morph has a change of heart and tries to attack him, but to no avail—Sinister heals the injury with an ability cribbed straight from the T-1000. Cyclops displays his first-ever emotion (anger, over the threats to his loved ones), rips free of his restraints through the power of lazy writing, and gives Sinister a good lasering. To everyone’s surprise, especially Sinister’s, this does real damage to him, and he and his henchmen slither away. Morph, still grappling with his split personality, makes off in the jet. Jean does nothing. The writers forgot she was there.

This leaves the team to grapple, briefly, with the aftermath. Cyclops is angry that he and Jean aren’t “really” married, since the priest was a fake. It’s kid logic, I know, but come on. Wolverine resolves to find Morph and bring them back, because they were, “the only one who could ever make me laugh.” It’s a softer side to Wolverine that we’ve rarely seen, and I really like it, as will the writers of X-Men ‘97.

Meanwhile in Antarctica, Xavier finds a perfectly healthy Magneto, who is equally surprised to see Xavier unharmed. Before they can sort things out, they’re buried in an avalanche!

Stray observations:

  • Beast wears a fedora and trench coat out. As Marissa Tomei once said, “Oh yeah. You blend.”

  • Chris Britton’s smooth, sardonic performance as Mister Sinister (a role he reprises in X-Men ‘97) is simply delicious.

  • I would not say that Cyclops finally getting good and angry is cool, per se, but it’s something.

  • Several glaring plot holes in this episode.

    • It’s implied that Morph sent Scott and Jean to their honeymoon destination, but why would they have listened to a priest for vacation tips? Was Morph masquerading as a travel agent, too? Seems like a lot of work.

    • I’ll assume that the team was able to follow Morph back to Sinister’s lair because they probably have a tracking device in the Blackbird. Would have been nice to see it, though! Maybe have Beast frown thoughtfully at a ’90s tablet when he deduces that Morph has flown off to get to Cyclops.

    • Wolverine says he’d been tracking Jubilee to the FOH rally, but how would he have known to do that, since he left the mansion before she did?

    • How the hell does Cyclops just rip his restraints apart, as well as his collar? The collars explode if you don’t turn them off first!

    • By 1993, marriage licenses were legally mandated in all 50 states, you know?

x-men re-examined: season one awards

Worst Episode

Come the Apocalypse”. Apocalypse has no real plan, the Horsemen’s character designs are hideous (don’t get me started on the robotic horses), and the final fight is trivial, which never feels good. Lenore Zann’s Rogue is the only thing worth watching in this one.

Other season lowlights include: “Enter Magneto”, “Cold Vengeance”, and “The Unstoppable Juggernaut” (Colossus notwithstanding).

Best Episode

Captive Hearts”. How could I possibly have picked anything else? An absolutely packed twenty minutes that gives us a strong character arc for Storm, the show’s first fun melee between the X-Men and the Morlocks, the first glimmers of the show’s soap opera, and several moments that have endured as memes thirty years on.

Other season highlights include: “The Cure”, “Slave Island”, and “Days of Future Past: Part 2”.

Worst Hero

Cyclops. He’s always screwing up missions and getting people killed (or “killed”), yelling at his teammates for not working hard enough, or conveniently forgetting that he can kill anything just by looking at it. He never gets a showcase, never gets a fun moment in a fight, and—thirteen episodes in—barely has a personality. What this show does to Cyclops is nothing short of character assassination. Scott Summers deserves better, people. A close second in this category is Scott’s fiancé, Jean Grey. She, too, is devoid of a personality in season one. But she at least gets a few cool moments (helping Rogue lift a falling building comes to mind), and unlike her soon-to-be husband, she’s not an insufferable jerk.

Best Hero

Rogue. The show sure wants it to be Wolverine. He gets countless opportunities to look cool and he’s the only character given a solo episode this season. But Lenore Zann just never misses. Whatever Rogue has to say, Zann makes a meal out of it. Rogue is simultaneously a power fantasy and a tragedy, gifted super strength but unable to touch another person. She is without a doubt the most colorful and interesting member of the team, especially when she’s dealing with Gambit, who not coincidentally is the runner-up in this category. Gambit’s constant flirting, and Rogue’s negative reaction to it in the “The Cure”, is probably the season’s single best scene, a moment that briefly cracked the mold of what a Saturday morning cartoon could be and undoubtedly inspired a lot of X-Men ‘97.

Worst Villain

Apocalypse. By “worst,” I don’t mean the most evil, I mean the least interesting to watch. By that metric, it’s Apocalypse by a mile. He’s supposed to be an unstoppable, millennia-old mastermind, but in this incarnation he’s a joke. His big plan amounts to “brainwash four mutants and see what happens.” The X-Men have no trouble taking down his Horsemen once the episode gets around to it—it’s by far the easiest fight in the season. Better luck next time, you fish-lipped rodeo clown.

Best Villain

Henry Peter Gyrich. His only motivation is bigotry, pure and simple. Armed with nothing more than money and hatred, he privately funds a mutant surveillance program and military-grade weapons development. He takes meetings with Presidents and Prime Ministers. He is almost never in harm’s way and has yet to face any consequences for his actions. Each time the Sentinel Program is disrupted (never truly destroyed), he just picks up and moves somewhere else. And lest you think he’s the kind of bully who can dish it out but can’t take it, the one time the X-Men fight him head on, his response is to grab a gun and start firing. Motivated by hate, emboldened by wealth, and protected by privilege, he is not only the show’s most dangerous villain, he is also its most believable.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?

The show’s low budget, which affects both the animation and, very often, the sound design. Although the season introduces over a dozen villains, most are heavily constrained by the demands of Saturday morning cartoons (notably Sabretooth, Juggernaut, and Apocalypse). There’s no central Big Bad, though that will change soon enough.

What Does Hold Up?

The social commentary. The soap opera. Every word out of Lenore Zann’s mouth and every interaction Rogue has with Gambit. The “something for everyone” of the show’s big set pieces, and of the endless diversity of mutants overall. There’s a real sense of fun and creativity in how the team mixes and matches their abilities to confront each new threat. And even in the face of weekly cataclysms, there is the power of Xavier’s dream, and the optimism it demands of his X-Men, and of us.

x-men re-examined: the final decision

Air date: March 27, 1993

The plot that motivates the action scenes in this episode—Master Mold abducts Senator Robert Kelly and wants to replace his brain with a computer—isn’t very well realized. In previous episodes, we were given enough details about the Sentinel program for it to feel like part of the world, but in this episode the Sentinel program is magically back online, Master Mold and all, at a nebulous location and without further explanation. Kelly is a hostage for most of the episode but Master Mold never seems to get around to the brain surgery. While we do see a hilarious montage of Sentinels abducting world leaders—giant purple hands ripping through walls and yanking screaming politicians right out of their office chairs—we never see any of those people arrive at this mysterious facility.

The primary benefit of this half-baked story is that it flips Magneto into an antihero. He abducted Kelly at the end of the last episode, and here is seconds away from crushing him to death beneath a pile of metal. But a plastic Sentinel drops in, grabs Kelly, and leaves Magneto injured and unconscious. The X-Men arrive way too late to do anything but collect the Master of Magnetism and put him in the infirmary.

The X-Men track down Henry Gyrich, who puts up a surprisingly competent fight but is ultimately taken down by Wolverine, because the show cannot ever let Cyclops look cool. With all the information now in hand, the X-Men must decide whether they’re really going to risk their lives against thousands of Sentinels to save the life of a man who is currently running for President on an anti-mutant platform. This is what the episode’s title, “The Final Decision”, refers to. How committed are Xavier’s students, really, to the idea of mutant-human coexistence? Enough to risk themselves for someone who not only hates them, but might go on to do irreparable harm to all mutants? Everyone gets a moment to reason through things in their own way, and they all reach the same conclusion: yes. Magneto stumbles out of the infirmary and warns them not to rescue their would-be oppressor. “You’re all fools! Heroic fools. The brave are always the first to die.”

Leaving Magneto to brood at the mansion, the whole team, even Xavier, heads off to confront Master Mold’s army. As has become the norm over this season, it’s a pretty fun set piece, with half the team running infiltration while the other half puts up a big, loud fight against the flying robots. The most notable thing about the fight is the surprise participation of Magneto himself. He saves the X-Men’s lives multiple times during this chaotic melee. Xavier loses control of the Blackbird, but Magneto sets it down gently with the words, “Did you think I would let you die alone, Xavier?” This is Magneto as Antihero, not Magneto as Shredder, and there is just no denying how much more enjoyable Magneto is in this role. Even David Hemblen seems to be having more fun voicing him.

The infiltration side of the operation gives everyone but Cyclops a chance to show off, but otherwise doesn’t amount to much. It’s not even the X-Men who try to take out Master Mold. Master Mold has concluded that, “Mutants are humans,” eliciting an audible gasp from Trask, and that therefore “humans must be protected from themselves,” hence the brain replacement scheme. Trask, perhaps panicking because the superintelligent robot he created thinks anti-mutant bigotry is illogical, and having lost control of the Sentinels, points a laser at a propane line and blows up the whole operation yet again.

At this point, the various team members are all in the middle of doing different things, and I don’t think the plotting exactly lines up, but suffice to say that everyone makes it back up to the surface. So does Master Mold, who bursts out of the mountaintop like the Czernobog, declaring that it cannot be destroyed. It did not, however, count on Charles Xavier somehow[citation needed] loading up the Blackbird with explosives, ejecting at the last second (aided by Magneto), and destroying Master Mold in an explosion so enormous that it’s animated with a mushroom cloud.

Everyone gets a little moment in the immediate aftermath. Cyclops and Jean share a kiss, as do Rogue and Gambit over Rogue’s gloved hand (which is terribly cute). Magneto bids farewell to Xavier with an ominous, “We shall meet again.”

This fades to the epilogue. Senator Kelly publicly reverses his position and declares that mutants and humans must find a way to live together. He even gets Beast released from prison. Cyclops and Jean go on a picnic, where Cyclops proposes (I am still calling him “Cyclops” here because so does Jean). While she’s worried about what their mutant children might face (whoa girl, what about your career?), she says yes, and she wonders aloud about their future together. Then it’s revealed that we’re watching surveillance footage. A strange new voice cackles, “Sinister knows what your future holds!”

I would bet money that this final moment, with the sudden transition to a surveillance console and Sinister’s extremely rushed dialogue, was added late in production. Minus these last minute additions, the final scenes function as a tidy series finale. Rogue is finally returning Gambit’s affection, Cyclops and Jean are engaged, Beast is free, and the world is taking a small but important step toward peace. Magneto is even proved wrong. The X-Men listened to the better angels of their nature and rescued Senator Kelly, who has returned the kindness. If the show had only gotten one season, this would have made a satisfying ending. But of course, X-Men was a huge hit, so sure, give us a stinger teasing one of next season’s Big Bads. Always leave them wanting more.

Stray observations:

  • At the start of the episode, an angry crowd chants, “No more mutants!” I can’t hear those words without thinking of an extremely important storyline that would hit the comics a decade later.

  • The team is able to locate Gyrich after scanning Gambit’s memories. They also could have done this with Jubilee, since both have met him, but Gambit is much more interesting. Gambit’s memories include a winking Rogue and possibly an encounter with Ghost Rider?

  • Master Mold, describing his plan: “All their brains will be replaced. It will be a vast improvement.”

  • Cyclops, rushing back into the facility to find Wolverine, who is standing shirtless atop a pile of destroyed Sentinels: “Wolverine! You coming, or is this your day off?” The scene is a perfect distillation of the show’s attitude toward these two. Wolverine must always be cool, Cyclops must always be a jerk.

x-men re-examined: days of future past 1 & 2

“Days of Future Past” was originally published as a two-issue story in early 1981. It’s another one of Chris Claremont’s seminal contributions to the X-Men franchise (1981 was a big year for impactful Claremont stories). In the original story, Kitty Pryde, coming from the future of 2013, travels back in time to then-contemporary 1980 to stop an assassination that will lead to the dystopia she’s currently suffering through.

This story was also adapted into a movie that I mostly did not like. It sends Wolverine back in time, because the movies don’t care about any other character. It also has a lot of stupid stuff in it, like Xavier becoming a drug addict. But it does the universe the incredible favor of retconning the entirety of X-Men 3: The Last Stand out of existence, so at least there’s that.

X-Men: The Animated Series swaps Kitty for a dude named Bishop. I think there a few reasons for this. Bishop was a very new character to the comics, having debuted just a year before the animated show started airing (similarly, Kitty Pryde debuted a year before the original “Days of Future Past” story). So it’s possible that Marvel wanted to spotlight one of their newest creations. Kitty also often served as the team’s little sister, a role already filled by Jubilee on this show.

But more than anything, Bishop owes his presence in these episodes to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I cannot overstate how huge T-2 was. A true sci-fi action masterpiece. The highest grossing movie of 1991. The peak of Schwarzenegger’s film career. A landmark in visual effects (which still hold up). A cultural phenomenon that had us all growling, “I’ll be back,” and “Hasta la vista, baby.” And it was tearing up movie theaters right around the time this season of X-Men was being written.

So instead of Kitty telepathically possessing her earlier self, we get the physically imposing Bishop stepping through a techno-time portal, carrying an enormous rifle. He’s a distinctly more Schwarzenegger-esque presence than the younger, smaller, and more defensively oriented Kitty Pryde. Bishop even gets his own version of the T-1000. He’ll be followed into 1993 by Nimrod, a futuristic super-Sentinel who in the comics has shape-shifting abilities (though not demonstrated here). None of these changes are bad, necessarily, but the influence is undeniable.

Part 1

Air date: March 13, 1993

Part 1 of this two-parter is a lot of setup. It’s entertaining, but heavy on exposition. We see the dystopia of 2055, and it’s one of the better-animated scenes this season. Sentinels soar fluidly around a destroyed Statue of Liberty. The heroes we know and love have been reduced to headstones. Wolverine is still raising hell, but gets taken down by Bishop and escorted to a mutant detention center. Wolverine warns Bishop that being one of “the good ones” won’t save him from the Sentinels, and because we’ve only got twenty-two minutes, the Sentinels prove Wolverine right seconds later. The two fight their way out and make it to Forge’s lab. Forge and the resistance have a theory that the nightmare they’re living in can be averted if they can go back in time and prevent a specific assassination. Wolverine was supposed to be the man for the job, but he’s a little too old and a little too injured, so Bishop steps up.

And that’s how the big guy with the rad “M” tattoo over his right eye lands in 1993. He’s got a temporal transceiver (a magic armband) that will keep him in 1993 as long as it’s functioning, a gigantic rifle, and severe amnesia. As he gets glimmers of his memory back, he decides to board a bus and visit the X-Men. The smash cut between Bishop boarding public transit, rifle and all, and an exterior shot of the normies screaming as they immediately flee the bus is one of the funniest moments in the show so far.

Bishop can’t remember who the assassin is, just that it’s one of the X-Men, so he immediately tries to fight them all. He loses, of course, but fighting against the younger version of Wolverine jogs his memory a little. Xavier decides he wants some answers from this inexplicably aggressive stranger. Cerebro reveals images of Bishop’s terrible timeline, which more or less gets everyone on board, except for Wolverine. He’s lived a long, violent life and he’s seen a lot of strange things, but time travel is where he draws the line. Though he is pleased to see that he still has all his hair in 2055.

At this point, Bishop’s wearable computer (how futuristic, you know?) alerts him that someone else has come through the time portal. “Oh yeah, I thought I felt a shift in the planet’s alignment there,” says Wolverine. The team rushes to the portal’s location and fights Nimrod. Like the T-1000, it can recover from everything the team throws at it, until Storm conjures up some cold weather and freezes it solid (again, like the T-1000). Which reminds me, why is OG X-Man Iceman not on this show? In any case, with Nimrod frozen, Bishop is able to destroy its temporal transceiver, whereupon it fades out of our reality. Good on this episode for reminding us how precarious Bishop’s visit is.

The team reconvenes at the X-Mansion and debates what Bishop is telling them. One of the X-Men is the assassin. Each of them has a dark side and could be driven to such an act under the right circumstances, which is a pretty wild thing for a Saturday morning cartoon to acknowledge about its good guys. Jean says, “Even I’ve had my dark days,” which is the first hint we’ve gotten that she has any personality at all, and is also foreshadowing the Phoenix Saga stuff to come. Midway through this chat, Gambit returns from visiting Beast in prison. Bishop recognizes him as the assassin and raises his rifle.

Stray observations:

  • There’s only one departure from Bishop’s perspective in the whole episode, and it’s when Gambit and Rogue are visiting Beast. Much is made of how uncomfortable Gambit is, which is certainly meant to add another chip to the pile of “Gambit could be the assassin” (though really, who is comfortable in a cell?). Beast helpfully bends the bars of his own prison cell to let Gambit end the visit early. In case you were wondering if Beast is still sitting there voluntarily.

  • Just once, Wolverine refers to Bishop as “Mr. Terminator”. At least they’re admitting it! Cal Dodd is great throughout this episode, especially when he’s carrying the exposition-heavy first act.

  • Now That’s What I Call ’90s: The first thing to jog Bishop’s memory is a couple of passersby talking about a new video game called “Assassin”, which has cover art of what is undeniably The Punisher.

Part 2

Air date: March 20, 1993

Part 1 walked so that Part 2 could run. It’s so chock full of fun moments that I had to watch it twice. The episode opens by rolling back a few minutes, to where Gambit and Rogue are driving back from their visit with Beast. Rogue’s driving is appropriately reckless for someone who cannot possibly die in a car accident.

Gambit: Maybe time you had another lesson, eh?

Rogue: Who’s gonna teach me, you?

Gambit: Sure, I’ll teach you plenty of things. If you ask me nice.

Rogue: Don’t you ever get tired of listening to yourself?

Gambit: Not when I’m talkin’ about you, cher.

Rogue stops the car and flies off, befuddled and exasperated.

Gambit: Don’t worry, Rogue! …I’ll park the car.

This scene serves no greater purpose in the episode. It’s there entirely for the Gambit/Rogue shippers in the audience, which at this point has to be everyone. Chris Potter has been a little uneven as Gambit, but his read of that final line is laugh-out-loud funny. The show is getting more confident, finding that balance between superheroics and soap opera that will make it worth a revival thirty years later.

The X-Men stop Bishop from shooting Gambit. Jean even does some actual telekinesis to take his gun away. Bishop lays out what will happen after the assassination. The event leads to widespread fear and anti-mutant sentiment. The US passes the Mutant Control Law, legitimizing and greatly expanding the Sentinel program. Then come the mutant death camps. “But those who control the Sentinels don’t stop with mutants,” Bishop warns, as we see Sentinels tearing the roof off the White House and enslaving most of the human race. In 1993 this seemed far-fetched. Having lived through 9/11, its associated anti-Muslim backlash, the Patriot Act, and a couple of disastrous wars, Bishop’s description of future events hits more like a prophecy than speculative fiction.

But enough about our own dystopian future. Bishop can’t remember who’s supposed to be assassinated, but he knows that it’s going to happen soon and that Gambit pulls the trigger. Bishop holds Gambit responsible for the entirety of his awful life and Gambit takes that very personally. The X-Men have a hunch that the assassination will probably happen at or around the imminent mutant relations hearings in Washington. Most of the team hops in the Blackbird to D.C., while Gambit and Bishop agree to stay behind (thus no assassin, no anti-assassin), with Wolverine playing babysitter (and yes, that’s pretty funny). This doesn’t last long. While killing time playing poker, Gambit surreptitiously places a few charged cards around the room and escapes during the ensuing chaos. Bishop also briefly shows off his mutant power: energy absorption and redirection.

That’s how the entire cast ends up in Washington. Mystique, Pyro,1 Blob, and Avalanche are also there. Looks like Mystique has gotten the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants together at Apocalypse’s behest. Xavier is testifying before the committee (including the hostile Senator Robert Kelly), when Pyro and Avalanche bust in with the subtlety of the Kool Aid Man. Senator Kelly escapes with help from his personal aide (Mystique in disguise), while there ensues one of the biggest, craziest fights in the show yet.

I won’t bother with a blow-by-blow, but it’s wild fun. Pyro conjures a couple of literal firebirds to chase Storm and Rogue around, Bishop shows off those energy reabsorption powers against Avalanche, and Jubilee is understandably grossed out by Blob’s threat to sit on her until she dies. The fight climaxes with Bishop redirecting Avalanche’s energy toward a large tower, which then starts falling toward some civilians. Jean slows the descent with telekinesis and Rogue holds it above ground just long enough for Wolverine to dash in and rescue a straggling child. It’s a delightful three minutes that ends in the funniest way possible. Wolverine hands off the little girl to Jubilee with the words, “This kid’s cryin’. Do somethin’.”

This would be the climax of a three-hour Avengers movie. For the X-Men it’s just another week. Man.

All of this spectacle is, of course, a distraction from Mystique’s planned assassination of Senator Kelly. But the X-Men are on top of things:

Cyclops: Rogue, can you see Bishop?

Rogue is hovering in midair and spots Bishop entering the Capitol Building.

Rogue: I could spit on him, if I wasn’t a lady. Looks like he’s running for Congress.

Running for Congress. This episode is having almost too much fun.

Mystique leads Senator Kelly to a private room, where his real aide has been bound and gagged (a necessary witness to the assassination). Mystique transforms into Gambit and declares that Kelly should have known better than to mess with mutants and the X-Men. This is the only part of the plan that doesn’t exactly make sense. The aide sees Mystique transform, and would probably know that there’s some kind of subterfuge happening. Kelly’s death will foment anti-mutant sentiment either way, so maybe implicating the X-Men is just a cherry on top (for reasons we’ll understand shortly)?

Gambit rushes in, foiling his doppelgänger (“Maybe you’re not as tough as I look!”). Bishop arrives and decides that the easiest way to prevent the assassination is to kill both Gambits. Before he can, however, Rogue catches up to him and destroys his temporal transceiver, sending him back to 2055. Rogue is delighted to have an opportunity to pay Mystique back for all the trouble she caused on Muir Island, but Mystique is coolly confident that her butt will remain unkicked. It’s at this point that Mystique reveals that she is—oh, the soap opera of it all!—Rogue’s mother!

We don’t see exactly how it happens (giving the episode a reason to check in with Cyclops and Wolverine), but Rogue knocks out Gambit and does indeed help Mystique escape. It was Apocalypse’s plan to assassinate Senator Kelly and give the humans “the future they deserve,” but that’s all over now. Mystique tells Rogue that enslaving her to Apocalypse, “seemed like the only way to get you back,” which is an amazingly screwed up thing to say to your adopted daughter. Mystique walks off, resigned to whatever fate Apocalypse has in store for her, and Rogue in tears.

Bishop lands back in 2055 with nothing changed. Either the resistance’s assassination theory was wrong, or something new intervened in the timeline to bring this about anyway. “You’ll have plenty of opportunity to try again,” Forge tells Bishop. Meanwhile, back in 1993, Cyclops, Jean, and Xavier are about to meet with a newly receptive Senator Kelly. But they arrive too late. There are sounds of a struggle, and Cyclops blasts the office door open to find a hole blown in the wall. Xavier believes this is the work of a different gang of mutants, because his watch has been—pause for effect—magnetized.

Stray observations:

  • Upon arriving back in 2055, Bishop exclaims, “I’m back in the future!” That’s a very strange thing for someone to say about their own present!

  • Storm says, “Gambit, I know you better than anyone,” while giving Rogue some rather pointed side eye.

  1. Pyro is even swishier here than he was in “The Cure,” referring to Avalanche as, “My darling.” In the comics, Pyro was in fact intended to come out as gay, but Claremont killed that idea, and gave himself some plausible deniability about Pyro’s mannerisms by making him English instead. We wouldn’t get a gay Pyro until 2018, when he hooks up with Iceman. 

x-men re-examined: come the apocalypse

Air date: February 27, 1993

“Come the Apocalypse” peaks with its title. Disney Plus’s log line for this episode is, “Apocalypse turns mutants into the Horsemen,” and that about sums it up. It’s a rather poor first showing for Apocalypse, especially in light of the ominous buildup he was given in the last episode.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, Apocalypse is an ancient mutant (possibly the world’s first) with a limitless array of powers and abilities. Born far more powerful than any other being of his time, he became obsessed with the cultivation of ever greater power. Embracing the mantra of survival of the fittest, his goal is to create a race of elite super-mutants and destroy everything else, human and mutant alike. He is Professor Xavier’s worst fear, an all-powerful madman who cannot be reasoned with.

He hastily picks out four mutants from among those who have come to Muir Island for its “cure” to act as his extremely on-brand Four Horsemen. They emerge from the transformation with enhanced abilities, a unifying desire to do Apocalypse’s bidding, ugly new character designs, and extremely stupid-looking robotic horses to ride around on. Angel has become Death (also called Archangel once or twice here), Plague (previously seen with the Morlocks) has become Pestilence, and two others are Famine and War.

Apocalypse announces himself at Paris’s Conventional Weapons Disarmament Conference with the words, “I AM APOCALYPSE! LOOK UPON THE FUTURE! AND TREMBLE!” The animation is ridiculous. Apocalypse basically T-poses in front of the conference’s chairman. John Colicos’s vocal performance (or maybe the editing) is dialed to 11 but equally stiff. This episode makes Apocalypse look like an absolute clown.

Xavier sends the X-Men to deal with the Horsemen, while Rogue heads back to Muir Island to finally put together the pieces about the fake mutant cure. The diversion to Scotland is short, but more fun than anything else in the episode. Rogue immediately overpowers “Adler”, who reveals herself as Mystique and tells Rogue everything, including the location of Apocalypse’s lair at Stonehenge. Lenore Zann is reliably great as Rogue puts Mystique on the back foot, and there are a couple of nice animation touches, like Mystique transforming only the half of her body that’s facing Rogue (a cute wink at the fourth wall).

The Horsemen have by this point fanned out for a montage of misery, but between their debut in Paris, these random scenes of mayhem, and the upcoming fight at Stonehenge, it’s hard to track. The X-Men manage to knock Pestilence unconscious, who is scooped up by Archangel. The team then follows the defeated Horsemen to Stonehenge (you’d think Rogue might’ve just radioed them to bring them there).

Apocalypse is, needless to say, unhappy that his elite Horsemen have been defeated by mutants he didn’t personally handpick. The team has it easy in the final fight, so much so that the episode finds time for a nice Hero Shot of the team looking very rad. Rogue uses her power draining abilities on Archangel, which undoes his brainwashing and ends the fight, though he still looks super weird. Apocalypse retreats via his spaceship (???), and Archangel expresses remorse and shame over being unable to control Apocalypse’s evil influence.

I’m torn on whether Apocalypse’s various actions here are intended to show that his long-held god complex is out of step with modern times, or just bad writing. Centuries ago, sure, any four mutants he chose to elevate would have wiped the floor with the human race. But now there’s this paraplegic psychic in upstate New York who’s spent years training an elite team of mutants all his own. Maybe Apocalypse shouldn’t have just picked the first four mutants he liked at Muir Island!

Stray observations:

  • As the season has gone on, I’ve noticed that it often uses a stealth two-part structure. This isn’t “The Cure: Part 2”, but Rogue is definitely still the episode’s main character. She has snappy one-on-one scenes with Mystique and Apocalypse (again, Zann is the show’s best actor), and typically has the most to say in the ensemble scenes.

  • Just before transforming Angel, Mystique-as-Adler tells him that he will soon be, “free of the pain caused by your mutantcy.” Mutantcy?

  • Gambit continues his S-tier flirting with Rogue. “You can drain my energy any time, cher. Gambit has plenty.”

  • As far as I’m aware, this is the first episode where Wolverine calls Cyclops “Cyke”.

  • This is the episode with the infamous shot of Rogue’s rear. A certain segment of the fandom brings up this specific screenshot to complain that X-Men ‘97’s animation isn’t “faithful” to the original. I think there’s no denying that the animators were having a good time in what was otherwise a pretty poor-looking episode, but this is hardly representative. In the ten episodes I’ve watched so far, the men are much more frequently on display than the women. There’s a reason that X-Men has such a huge gay following, folks.

x-men re-examined: the cure

Air date: February 20, 1993

Lenore Zann rules. As Rogue, she gives us a vocal performance big and bold enough to match the superwoman who throws cars around for fun, while still giving her line readings a lot of subtle shading. Zann communicates more emotional range and makes Rogue feel more lived in—more real—than any other member of the team. She is consistently the funniest main cast member, equal parts boy-crazy Southern belle and seasoned ass-kicker who ain’t got time for the villain of the week’s nonsense. Bringing Zann back to voice Rogue for X-Men ‘97 was surely a no-brainer. All this is to say, “The Cure” is our first Rogue-centric episode and it’s a real treat.

There’s a scientist working out of Muir Island in Scotland, one Gottfried Adler, who can reverse mutations. His technology is behind the power-suppressing collars used in Genosha, and he seems to be on the verge of perfecting a version of the tech that works permanently. Naturally, he’s a weird recluse. “Visitors are verboten,” he says through an intercom when Professor Xavier and Moira McTaggert try to see him. You’d think Xavier would be more concerned about the psychic flash of two blue mutants (Mystique and Apocalypse), which sends him into paralytic shock.

Ominous visions aside, Xavier feels that the use of this technology (he refuses to call it a “cure”) is a personal choice for each mutant to make, and he informs his X-Men of its existence. Most of the team would rather die than give up their unique abilities, but of course, Rogue feels differently. Her life-draining powers mean that she can never hold hands with someone the way that Jean and Scott do, or make good on Gambit’s flirting:

Gambit: Let’s have a kiss before ya’ go, ah?

Rogue stops the car, gets out, and starts walking away.

Rogue: You know what happens when I touch somebody! You wanna end up in the hospital?

Gambit: Maybe it’s worth it, no?

I love this scene. You should all love this scene. I have no doubt that when they were developing X-Men ‘97, they had a screenshot of this scene next to the words, “LIKE THIS”. In a show that’s usually doing all it can to rush from one big thing to the next, it’s the first scene to give its characters some time to breathe. For a moment, it feels like an entirely different show. Zann and Potter are both great here, too.

Gambit’s flirting, which was meant to make Rogue feel better, does the opposite. Whatever ambivalence she might have felt before, it’s gone now. She’s flying to Scotland for her cure, immediately. By hitching a ride on the wing of a plane. The image is simultaneously silly, strange, and sad.

Rogue lands in a Muir Island bar where fan-favorite Pyro and guy-who-is-also-there Avalanche are waiting for Mystique. “She’s a shape-changer,” Pyro helpfully reminds Avalanche and the audience, “one never can be sure.” They briefly think Rogue is Mystique, and when it becomes apparent that she’s not, they decide to harass her anyway, because they are idiots. She promptly throws both of them through a concrete wall. Please, do not hold your applause.

To sum up a packed middle act, “Adler” is Mystique in disguise, and her machine does something other than remove mutant abilities. Apocalypse is very interested in using it on Rogue, and would have gotten away with it, were it not for Pyro and Avalanche trying to kidnap “Adler” at exactly the wrong moment. Mystique reveals herself to them just so she can yell at them for being huge tools. Rogue, having shrugged off about four tons of sci-fi debris, finds Pyro and Avalanche and hands them their own butts, again.

In the middle of all this is Cable, who wants to execute Dr. Adler for inventing Genosha’s power-suppressing collars. His superpower is that he can pop up wherever the script needs him to be, so while he can’t kill Adler (he’s already dead, Mystique explains), he can at least dilute an otherwise good episode. By this point Cyclops and Jean have arrived as this episode’s cavalry. They briefly fight Cable on a cliffside and Jean nearly falls to her death, rescued at the last second by Rogue.

In the end, Rogue declines Adler’s treatment, saying simply, “There ain’t no cure for who you are.” This is a versatile sentence that I think works equally well crocheted onto my friend’s pillows or chiseled onto my enemy’s tombstones, thank you.

Rogue accepts that her abilities are a net good, difficult though they may be. And it’s easy to see how she gets there. Throughout this episode she’s almost unstoppable. Her mighty deeds include: halting a fight between Wolverine and Gambit by dropping a belfry on Wolverine, hitching a plane to Scotland, tearing steel security doors off their hinges, resoundingly beating the crap out of Pyro and Avalanche (twice), and saving Jean’s life. For you it was the adventure of a lifetime, for Rogue it was Saturday.

As with Storm’s claustrophobia, Rogue is coping, not conquering. I wish the episode had done a little more to sell this self-realization. Maybe have a scene where Rogue pretends to live like a non-mutant for a day, and comes across some act of violence or hatred that she’s not allowed to do anything about. It would have eaten up a few minutes, but please, just trade it for all the unnecessary crap with Cable.

Ah yes, Cable. And Warren Worthington III, a.k.a. Angel. Warren is Dr. Adler’s wealthy benefactor, desperate for a treatment that will undo the curse of his majestic bird wings (and I assume, the proportionate upper body strength of a swan). The episode’s opening scene has Cable showing up at Warren’s secluded chateau to get a lead on Adler. The ensuing fight is awfully muddled. At one point, Warren surveys the landscape and says, “Warren’s gone,” which could be a commentary on having to reveal to his girlfriend that he’s a mutant, but I think more likely is a script error (I really think he was supposed to be talking about Cable). The scene ends with the girlfriend shooting him, though it’s unclear whether this is due to the confusion of the moment or out of fear of his wings. Either way, he flies off.

We don’t see him again until near the end of the episode, when he’s arriving at Muir Island and Rogue is just leaving:

Rogue and Angel bump into each other in midair.

Angel: How do you fly without wings?

Rogue: I dunno, I just do.

This little exchange left an impression on young me. I’m not kidding when I say that it is the best possible explanation for superpowers that this show, or any show, could possibly offer. People fly now, Warren, get over it!

The episode closes with Angel enthusiastically volunteering for “treatment”, and Apocalypse vowing to use him as a tool to destroy the world.

Stray observations:

  • On the topic of mutation-reversing technology, Xavier says, “Don’t say ‘cure’, Moira. Being a mutant isn’t a disease, it’s something you’re born with.” I wonder if this is a metaphor for anything, guys.

  • Pyro and Avalanche do the requisite work to help Mystique get through her exposition about Apocalypse and they still don’t understand any of it.

  • If Warren is so profoundly ashamed of his mutation, why does he have a superhero costume specifically designed to show it off?

  • Professor Xavier wears an adorable purple smoking jacket at night.