It was about time I looked at another animated superhero show. A while back, I talked about the 90’s animated X-Men show. It was for the most part a very good show with only a few bad episodes. At its best, the show was amazing. At its worst, it was painful. Did you know that there are two more X-Men animated shows though (not including the anime series or the 90’s pilot that featured an Australian Wolverine?)
X-Men Evolution aired on TV from 2000 to 2003, having four seasons and 52 episodes. It’s the third longest running Marvel TV show, behind the 90’s X-Men and the 90’s Spider-Man shows. Unlike those shows though, none of Evolution’s episodes were directly based off the comics. It instead makes most of the X-Men characters younger and throws them in a normal high school, Bayville High. For the first two seasons, the general public has no knowledge of mutantkind’s existence.
The regular cast consists of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Rogue and Spyke as the main students. Cyclops is toned down from his comic version as he is less stiff and has a sense of humour. Jean Grey is the popular girl in the high school and the top athlete. She is less confident than her comic counterpart. Nightcrawler is the jokester of the crew; otherwise he is very similar to his comic counterpart (although his faith is completely ignored.) Shadowcat is a party animal, but retains her brilliance from the comics. Rogue is very different from her comic counterpart, as she’s a reclusive Goth. Spyke is original to the show. He is Storm’s nephew whose mutant power is shooting spikes out of his hands and giving himself spiked armor. He is very similar to Marrow, but the comic creators admitted they didn’t know about Marrow when they created the show. They all live at Xavier’s mansion with the teacher staff.
The Teacher staff consists of Wolverine, Xavier, Storm, and Beast joins in the second season. Wolverine is a slightly toned down version of his comic counterpart, but little has changed. Storm is fairly similar to the comics too. The only real difference is that she’s not an only child here, whereas she is in the comics. Xavier is almost exactly like his comic counterpart, as is Beast, but they both speak more casually.
The Brotherhood in this show is lead by Mystique, who is in close contact with Magneto and his Acolytes. The Brotherhood is mostly a bully gang in the TV show and consists of the rebellious Avalanche, the small-brained bully Blob, the pathetic Toad, the arrogant Quicksilver, and eventually the angry and bitter Scarlett Witch. The Acolytes are: Gambit (mostly similar to the comics although he works for Magneto instead,) Sabertooth, Colossus (only because Magneto abducted his family,) the slightly insane Pyro and Mastermind (his membership is unofficial though.) The series has tons of other minor characters, but I’ve taken enough time talking characters.
For the most part, this series is pretty good. Its unique take on the X-Men franchise is refreshing among the usually dark comics. In some ways, it also feels more realistic as the mutants collectively try to hide their powers at first. The best episodes are usually the ones that focus on one or two characters in the second or third seasons. Every episode has a main plot, which is usually taken seriously. Most episodes also have a comedic side-plot, ranging from hilarious to dull. It’s never quite as good as the 90’s show’s best episodes, but it never gets as bad as the worst episodes either.
The animation is usually good. Still shots don’t look quite as good as the 90’s cartoon, but it looks much better in motion. There are also fewer animation problems and their usually harder to notice. I can’t think of any big complaints here, it’s a good looking show for the most part.
The music on the other hand is generic and vastly inferior to the awesome 90s show’s theme. The main theme is a forgettable rock tune and most of the episodes are full of boring drum beats that blend into the background. There are several exceptions, like Magneto’s mysterious piano theme and Apocalypse’s dark Egyptian theme. For the most part though, X-Men Evolution’s music is forgettable at best.
The show has other problems as well. For one thing, most of the first season was spent on introducing the main cast. The main students weren’t fully introduced and placed until episode 7. It’s good that each character had a proper introduction, but seven episodes in a 13-episode season is just too long. The 90’s show properly introduced everyone in the first 2-part episode. The Xavier institute feels kind of empty too, since the six kids are the only ones staying there. The first episode in season two fixes this when it throws in a bunch of background characters. Some of them even see the spotlight for a few episodes, like Magma and Boom Boom (I’ll get to Magma later.) The background characters make the show feel more complete and it’s almost worth skipping the first season of the show because of that.
The later seasons have another advantage over the first – they start building up a plot that isn’t finished until the series finale. That makes this the complete opposite of the 90’s cartoon: that show had less of a continuing plot as it went along while this show had more continuing plot in its later seasons. Heck, the show ends with a two-parter where all the kids and the brotherhood have to team up to take on Apocalypse, who has enslaved and powered up Xavier, Mystique, Magneto and Storm. They have to defeat Apocalypse to free their former masters and save billions of lives. After that, there’s a narrated montage showing where the X-Men will go from there that’s surprisingly moving. That’s how you end an X-Men show, with a full hour of pure glory.
On the other hand, they were still introducing new plot threads late into the series. The fourth season alone introduces or continues 3 plot threads that are never touched again. The last episode before the series finale introduces another new character who we don’t see again. It’s obvious they wanted to continue another season, but when the future of your show is in doubt, finish up the dangling plot threads you have before you start new ones. This is a minor complaint, and there was a short lived spinoff comic series, but it’s still worth mentioning.
Like I did for the 90’s show, I’m now going to talk about the best and the worst episodes of this show.
This episode is mostly about the side-character Magma. Her powers are best described by saying that she has full control of the Earth’s geology, primarily manifesting by throwing magma at people and lighting herself on fire. I’m not sure if this is true in the comics, but here she gets weak if she’s away from the ground for too long. In this episode, Storm and the six main X-kids along with Iceman, Boom Boom, Multiple Man and Magma are on a cruise ship. At this point in the show, humans are aware that mutants exist and there is heavy prejudice against them.
On Angel’s Wings:
What’s this, a good Christmas episode? Yes actually, and that is partly because it’s subtle about being a Christmas episode. The only true mention of the holiday is a short gift-giving scene at the Xavier mansion and a montage at the end of the episode showing how each of the main characters celebrate Christmas (or in Shadowcat’s case, Hanukkah.) Besides that, it introduces Angel as a superhero who helps random citizens around the city. People all over are talking about this “guardian angel” since the general public is unaware of mutantkind at this point. It works perfectly for a Christmas episode as everyone’s already in the mood for those kinds of stories. This also explores the relationship between Cyclops and Rogue; she has a crush on him while he just sees her as a friend at this point. Magneto also shows up to make Angel look bad. Why? To prove that humans are not ready to accept mutants and to invite Angel into his brotherhood. I can’t think of a single complaint for this episode and it’s certainly better than the obnoxious 90’s Christmas episode.
There were other great episodes, like all the season finales for example.
Walk on the Wild Side
In concept, this episode is alright. The girls at Xavier’s are tired of being looked down on by the male students and start an all-female vigilante group of crime fighters. What ruins this episode is a bad four minute pop song/montage of dancing and crime fighting that’s just annoying. It’s not horrible, but the bad pop song ruins an otherwise OK episode. Yeah this show was never that bad, save for…
No Good Deed
This episode is jam-packed with plot holes. Again, the concept is alright. The brotherhood accidentally causes a disaster on a subway and through their selfishness, they accidentally save the passengers. Avalanche is the only one of them that makes any effort to actually save someone by carrying a crippled old woman out of the tunnels. The woman’s family happens to own a construction company and gives them a reward, not to mention the media spotlight. They see this as an opportunity and start causing disasters just so that they can save people. In concept, it’s alright, but then the plot holes come in.
Why doesn’t anyone notice that they always show up exactly where and when disaster strikes? Why isn’t anyone suspicious after this same gang has publicly committed crimes and harassed high school students using their powers in the past? Heck, in this episode they directly threaten Mr. Kelly (based on Senator Kelly who is running for Mayor at this point in the series,) and nothing comes of that. At one point, they blatantly accuse the X-Men of jealousy and frame them. Nobody looks into this after these X-Men publicly stopped mutant threats like the Juggernaut and tried to stop Apocalypse? This brotherhood is so transparent in their actions that someone would figure out what they’re really up to. They bring up Kelly’s anti-mutant policy and nothing comes of it.
The only saving grace is that this episode can easily be skipped. It’s not as bad as the worst of the 90’s series, but it’s still pretty bad.
I could end this review here, but I have one more thing to talk about briefly. This show actually contains X-23’s debut. She appears in two episodes in this series: X-23 and Target X (the name of her second mini-series in the comics.) Since this is my favourite Marvel character, I might as well talk about these episodes as well.
Her episode is good, but not quite great. This version of X-23 is very different from her comic counterpart. Instead of having little or no outward emotion, she’s prone to explosive anger. Instead of being a product of weapon X, she was created by Hydra . This episode explores her origin story and then she attacks the Xavier mansion, knocking everyone out and then fighting briefly with Wolverine. I’m not a huge fan of her voice acting here, but it works.
In her second episode, Target X, X-23 comes across as a brat. Wolverine is captured and used to lure her into a trap. He decides to help her evade Omega Red (his only appearance in this show) and Gauntlet. She ignores Wolverine’s advice and tries to send him away even though he was injured badly enough to slow his healing down to a crawl. The two of them work together to destroy the Hydra base and X-23 disappears into the forest after she’s seemingly killed. Omega Red in this episode is barely a match for Wolverine, even though he’s far more dangerous in all previous showings.
These episodes are definitely worth watching if you’re a fan of the character and want to see where she came from.
This series is fairly good overall. While the DVD collections are hard to track down, the entire series can be watched on marvel.com for free.