Jonathan Dobres

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.