X-MEN is one of Marvel’s most endearing titles. The ever-growing band of mutants has survived since the 60’s, enduring cancellations, reboots, and countless member changes.  90’s kids see X-MEN through a different lens– Saturday mornings, where the X-MEN animated series aired each week.

The series has been called Marvel’s answer to BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, and it’s not hard to see why. The show not only adapted several classic comic stories (including the entire Phoenix Saga), it also came up with original episodes that dealt with themes of racism, intolerance, and heroism. This was a kid’s show that never talked down to its audience.

I was one of those kids watching it all unfold at the time, and X-MEN remains a fond childhood memory. In that spirit, I present (in no particular order) my own Top 10 favorite episodes. It’s not a definitive list by any means, but it will either bring back good memories or help to excite the uninitiated.

So let’s get into the spirit by playing the video below (seriously, do not go further without watching it, or we will come to your house and make you watch WOLVERINE: ORIGINS).

THE MUTANT AGENDA/MUTANT’S REVENGE

This crossover from SPIDER-MAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES is something of a cheat. However, it does keep the X-MEN cast intact and honors their animated designs, so I’m counting it (plus it has voice actor legends Mark Hamill and David Warner). Spider-Man’s powers have begun to mutate, so he goes to Professor Xavier for help.

Xavier is unable to aid Spidey, but Beast tells him to look up Dr. Herbert Landon, who studies mutation. Spidey goes, but Landon’s research is about destroying mutation, and he kidnaps Beast to use as a test subject. Landon’s work eventually goes backfires on him, leading Spider-Man and the X-Men to battle an enormous mutated monster.

X-MEN
“SHOOT IT CYKE! SHOOT IT!!

This episode takes full advantage of the rarity of animated crossovers. It manages not to feel forced by giving Spider-Man a real reason to visit the X-Men and has a unique dialogue about the trials of being a mutant. Their original voice actors voice all of the X-Men and feel true to themselves. It’s also a real treat to see Wolverine and Spider-Man going toe to toe.  Add in a giant monster, and you’ve got a great superhero team up.

THE UNSTOPPABLE JUGGERNAUT

X-Men

This episode stands as one of X-MEN’s most recognizable episodes (receiving a junior novelization). The X-Men return home to find the mansion totaled and the Professor missing. They search for a culprit, initially suspecting guest star Colossus. The real vandal turns out to be Juggernaut, who trashed the mansion out of spite for Xavier. The X-Men and Colossus do battle with the unstoppable force and, with some teamwork, take him down.

What stands out in this episode is how it places the X-Men in a new situation. They don’t have Professor X to guide them, and without his calming influence, the team starts to fracture. The threat of Juggernaut forces those bonds back together, as the X-Men each use their abilities in a combined attack to find Juggernaut’s one vulnerable spot– his mind. It shows the team can function without Xavier, but it also shows there will be some strife on the road to finding him.

DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

X-Men

Based on the classic comics storyline, this episode reworks the story by keeping the alternate future but replacing Kitty Pryde with Bishop. Bishop returns to the past with his memories fragmented. He remembers that he has to stop the assassination of Senator Robert Kelly, but no details about it. Bishop does point out Gambit as the traitor. The X-Men fly to Washington to prevent the assassination, but Gambit escapes Bishop’s custody and follows them there.

One of the episode’s strengths is that it manages to be an excellent interpretation of a classic storyline. Bishop has the task of trying to convince the X-Men of the future while being a total stranger to them. It gives his mission a new sense of desperation that Kitty Pryde didn’t have. The other great strength is the question of Gambit. Gambit’s character had largely been a fun Cajun rascal, so Bishop’s accusations are a shock. Gambit’s criminal past does allow for just enough possibility to keep viewers guessing until the end. One of X-MEN’s strongest episodes.

RED DAWN

X-Men

Colossus returns in this Russia-based episode. Russian generals reawaken Omega Red, a Russian super-solider, with plans to recapture the former Soviet Union. Colossus travels to America, hoping to recruit the X-Men to help. He only finds Jubilee, but she passes the word to Wolverine, who has a history with Red. As the mad Russian rolls over the countryside, Colossus and the X-Men must find a way to defeat the invulnerable Omega Red.

READ: If Omega Red is scary, see what Marvel is bringing back with AGE OF APOCALYPSE.

Colossus goes out with a bang, as X-MEN provides a good political episode. It’s a very positive statement to see the Russian people rejecting the return to old ways Omega Red represents. It also gives Colossus’s fight a new meaning. Omega’s villainy is a tad heavy handed. It’s still good to see Russians open to change after years of stereotypical evil depictions.

REPO MAN

X-Men

Wolverine travels back to Canada and is assaulted by his old team, Alpha Flight. The group, led by Northstar, wants Wolverine back with the government program. Logan is captured, and it’s revealed Vindicator and the Canadian government want to learn the secret of Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton. Wolverine is crushed when he sees that Vindicator’s wife Heather (who helped him recover after the Weapon X program) is involved.

There were many Wolverine-centric episodes, but this one is particularly strong. Wolverine deals with an active part of his past instead of memories and has some good moments with Alpha Flight. The Canadian superteam (save Vinidicator) show the proper reluctance to attack a former teammate. The Heater is the strongest element here; through her, we see how Wolverine regained his humanity after the trauma of Weapon X and learn why she is so important to Logan. A dramatic episode packed with action.

READ: After watching Wolverine’s past, see his final end.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

X-Men

This episode is a unique character study, allowing two characters to flip roles somewhat. Beast is working on a treatment for blindness and has fallen in love with his patient, Carly. Carly shares those feelings (not caring about Beast’s physical mutation), but her father is against it, even after Beast’s treatment restores her sight. Beast’s involvement with the project leads to an attack from the Friends of Humanity, who kidnap Carly. The usually calm Beast goes on a rampage to find her. Wolverine, however, infiltrates the FOH, and is able to determine certain facts about their leader, Graydon Creed.

Beast gets a rare highlight episode here, and the writers take full advantage of it. It’s startling to see the usually peaceful Beast rage at his mutation keeping him apart from Carly; even more so when he plows into the FOH to save her. It also humanizes Beast, allowing him to love someone while dealing with prejudice.

Wolverine’s arc is no less interesting. Logan is usually quick to give into his anger, but here, he shows real cunning. He gathers enough information to ruin Graydon Creed while gaining his trust and then betrays Creed at the perfect moment. Both approaches lead into the perfect of ending of Carly’s father accepting Beast. A strong showing of unknown character strengths.

SANCTUARY

This is an epic two-part episode that showcases Magneto’s greatest success and failure. Magneto has become tired of mutantkind’s oppression. He offers the world’s mutants a new home on his personal fortress– Asteroid M.

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Everyone fears what could happen, but Magneto only wants to be left alone. His Acolyte Fabian Cortez still hates humanity though, and usurps Magneto, blaming his ‘leader’s’ death on Gambit (who apparently gets blamed for everything). The X-Men are forced to mount a rescue mission.

This is one of the saddest episodes X-MEN produced. Magneto, after years of doing everything he could to protect his people, achieves his goal, only to have it torn away from him. Fabian’s actions are almost ironic since the anti-human hatred is something Magneto has long fostered in mutants. It adds to the tragedy when Magneto finally finds a peaceful answer to his dream, only to be destroyed by the hatred he has allowed to fester. It is no wonder that he destroys Asteroid M while uttering these words.

“If my dream must die, I shall die along with it.”

A haunting epitaph for one of Marvel’s finest villains.

ONE MAN’S WORTH

This is another alternate future story, possibly inspired by Marvel’s AGE OF APOCALYPSE story line. Bishop and his sister Shard escape a change in the timeline into the world where Prof. X was killed in his youth and never formed the X-Men. The two siblings must work with the alternate Wolverine and Storm to return the timeline to normal.

The story is similar to DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, with Bishop attempting to alter the past to change the future. Its unique points are the hellish reality that has spring up from the loss of Xavier, and Wolverine’s fear of what he and Storm will be in the new timeline.

X-MEN
They’re quite close here.

This leads to tension between the group, as Bishop accuses Logan of sabotaging their mission. The real highlight is watching a young Charles Xavier be told of his destiny. A younger, more insecure, version of Xavier is quite different from the stoic professor viewers are used to. The episode also shows how meeting the time travelers helped to mold Xavier into the man he became. It’s a clever use of time travel that leaves questions on how far ripples in time can go.

THE PHALANAX COVENANT

This is one is more a personal favorite than anything, but it’s still solid entertainment. The techno-organic Phalanx invades Earth. This alien race is intent on absorbing the universe into their perfection (and no, they predate the Borg). The X-Men are captured, save for Beast, who teams with Phalanx Renegade Warlock, a few members of X-Factor, and the unlikely ally of Mr. Sinister. These few heroes must work to find a solution to the Phalanx, who are rapidly absorbing Earth and learning to how to control humans and mutants alike.

X-Men

The highlight of this episode for me is the ragtag group of heroes that arise to fight the Phalanx. I love stories about unlikely allies coming together and fighting insurmountable odds. This episode delivers that, and the threat of an alien invasion, in spades. The threat feels incredibly real, and the Phalanx are a horrifying enemy. Just a great. hypnotic episode.

NIGHTCRAWLER

Wolverine, Rogue, and Gambit are vacationing in Switzerland when they hear talk of a demon terrorizing a local village. They investigate, which leads them to the local monastery and the ‘demon’ in question– Nightcrawler. Nightcrawler is merely a mutant. The monastery has given him sanctuary due to his strong belief in God. One of the monks is still fearful, and reveals Nightcrawler to the town, leading to a mob attacking the monastery.

There are so many reasons why I like this episode. First, the debut of Nightcrawler, my all-time favorite X-Man. His portrayal is perfect, especially the kind soul that radiates from every corner of his performance. There is also the spiritual side. Nightcrawler spends much of the episode speaking on the nature of God, and he truly means each word he says. Wolverine objects, saying God gave up on mutants, but Nightcrawler asks him to see the world anew.

It’s startling to see a children’s show tackle faith, which can obviously be a turn-off in today’s very multi-belief world. I’ve always chosen to hear Nightcrawler’s words not as a call to God, but a devotion to a higher purpose. Wolverine feels anger over his past.

He also feels shame over what he has done to others. Nightcrawler, who has felt those same feelings, asks Wolverine to put those feelings away and not wallow in them. He has a found a purpose in his life that allows him to be content. Wolverine doesn’t have to find the same calling to God; he needs to find a purpose bigger than himself, so that he can learn to accept himself and what he has done. It’s a message that a person of any faith, or non-faith, can resonate with.

Final Thoughts

Racism. Faith. Morality. Redemption. All this, from a kid’s show.

That’s why we remember X-MEN. The show proved that superheroes could tackle powerful ideas and still be action-packed. The show surpasses its 90’s packaging and continues to hold up even today.

You may find yourself wanting more than what the movies can provide, in that case, see what five seasons of mutants can do for you.

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3 Comments

  1. JSHZPD

    June 13, 2017 at 10:31 am

    They’re both the same guy.

    I always forget that his name before Alpha Flight (as they came to be known) was Vindicator.

    By Alpha Flight #2 Vindicator officially goes by the name Guardian.

    I think I may have just picked up the issue this shows is referencing. Classic X-Men #27. Found it at a warehouse.

    Reply

  2. Eric Nierstedt

    June 13, 2017 at 10:18 am

    I checked, actually we were both wrong. The show calls him Vindicator.

    Reply

  3. JSHZPD

    June 13, 2017 at 7:40 am

    I don’t specifically remember “Repo Man” but based on the picture used and the contextual clues (Alpha Flight’s leader; his wife Heather) I believe you mean Guardian not Northstar. Unless these characters were switched for the show (again I don’t remember the episode) I’m pretty sure it’s Guardian.

    Thanks for taking me back to my childhood.. now all I want to do is watch X-Men!

    Reply

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