TV

X-Men: The Animated Series remains the gold standard for superhero adaptations

X-Men: The Animated Series set the bar high for X-Men and comic book adaptations alike. Even 30 years later, it still resonates so well.

There are some things from our childhoods that stay with us in such vivid detail, or that made such an impact that, even years later, we can still recall them as if it were yesterday.

Case in point: X-Men: The Animated Series. Yes. The ’90s cartoon that aired on Fox Kids for five seasons.

In this era, when superhero movies are the big blockbusters a half-dozen times a year, it seems crazy that a cartoon that ran from 1992 to 1997 would still come through today.

And yet it does. The base of my comic book knowledge (and I’m sure this is true for a fair amount of other Millennials) stems from X-Men: The Animated Series. That show started a passion that’s still going strong today.

If you own the series on DVD like me or have Disney+, you can put on an episode and start watching. Viewing the show today, it absolutely screams 1990s. Especially in the first episode where Jubilee’s foster parents are upset that she messed up their brand-new, expensive VCR with her mutant powers.

Dated technology and fashion references aside (and very horrible accents), X-Men: The Animated Series did a fantastic job staying relatively close to its source material. Or at the very least, adapting various comic book story lines into what they needed for the show.

It’s the only adaptation that’s been able to successfully adapt the Phoenix Saga. And on multiple occasions! There was “The Phoenix Saga,” a five-episode arc in the second season involving the Shi’ar, Lilandra, and the Starjammers. Then after a quick visit to the Savage Land, it jumped right in to “The Dark Phoenix,” a four-episode arc:

Compared to the movies, it’s revolutionary. X-Men: The Last Stand gave Famke Janssen absolutely nothing to do except get stabbed by Wolverine at the end. X-Men: Apocalypse was a middling outing, but it at least made up for The Last Stand in a matter of thirty seconds. Too bad the follow up Dark Phoenix didn’t do much better.

The show also gave us excellent versions of over-the-top villains like Apocalypse. Because of this cartoon, I longed for the day when we would see a movie adaptation of Apocalypse. The post-credits scene from Days of Future Past (my favorite X-Men storyline) had me frozen in my seat at the theater, in complete disbelief that my childhood dream was coming true.

And yet the follow-up of X-Men: Apocalypse gave us an underutilized Oscar Isaac as a knock-off Ivan Ooze who looked bored with everything. Meanwhile, the ’90s cartoon gave us an introduction to Apocalypse in the first season and sprinkled him throughout the rest of the series, including the “Beyond Good And Evil” four-episode arc in season four where Apocalypse causes Bishop to get stuck in the axis of time while he tries to use a bunch of psychic mutants to erase time and history. It’s great!

The show embraced the silliness of the comics. And yes, I am talking about that Mojo Vision episode. It also didn’t hesitate to throw any number of comic book references at us. It’s half the reason I still want to see Sauron and the Savage Land on the big screen. What about the Morlocks? Mastermold? When the heck will we see Mister Sinister in action?

And before Avengers: Infinity War was even dreamed of, X-Men: The Animated Series gave us an excellent crossover with the other excellent 1990s Marvel cartoon, Spider-Man. They tackled the Secret Wars!

But it wasn’t just comic book story lines that it did well. X-Men: The Animated Series tackled heavy topics for a kids’ cartoon. Firstly, Morph dies in the second episode of the series (granted, he shows up in season two as a brainwashed agent of Mister Sinister). We have multiple flashback episodes of Magneto during the Holocaust. The show touched on Christianity in episodes with Nightcrawler and alluded to AIDS hysteria.

Even with Disney now having the rights to the X-Men, I find myself hesitant. Fox did have a few solid X-Men films to help kickstart this boom of comic book movies. But they tapered off so quickly in the last few years. Is it possible to do the X-Men true justice? Will it matter who’s making it?

If Disney needs some examples of how to do it right and do it well, they’d be smart to sit down, log into Disney+, and watch a storyline arc or two from X-Men: The Animated Series.

What did you think of X-Men: The Animated Series? Tell us in the comments below!