The ‘X-Men’ Episode Guide 1×04: Deadly Reunions
1992 was a pretty good year to be a kid who loved comics. The reason that holds up best is probably -- and by that I mean definitely -- Batman: The Animated Series, but there was another show that had just as big an influence on my childhood: the 1992 X-Men cartoon.
Hitting at the height of the franchise's popularity, X-Men translated all the action and melodrama that made the comic such a success to the world of Saturday morning cartoons, and it got its hooks into me like almost nothing else. That's why ComicsAlliance is heading back through the archives for an in-depth look at every single episode of X-Men. This week: "Deadly Reunions," in which the Professor decides that weaponized childhood trauma is an appropriate weapon.Previously, On X-Men:
In our last episode, we were introduced to both Sabretooth and Magneto, one of whom attempted to to attack the entirety of humanity while the other was content to just make a ruckus in the back of a courtroom. As we will soon see, this is all part of the same plot to enforce mutant superiority, because Magneto has weird ideas about how to plan things.
Also, our first discussion question pretty much confirmed that the ominous church bell in the theme song reigns supreme. A few readers, however -- including comic book writer Benito Cereno -- pointed out that the X-Men theme bears a striking resemblance to the theme from Perry Mason, just sped up and played over footage of radical dudes blasting eye-beams at their own names. Personally, I don't hear it, but you can decide for yourselves.
Now let's see how deadly these reunions really are.
Right away, we know this is going to be a weird one, because the very first thing we see is Sabretooth backflipping into a hot pink psychic kaleidoscope under the watchful eye of Deadpool's disembodied head. Seriously, you guys: Somehow, some way, friggin' Deadpool managed to show up in episode four of this cartoon. And he's followed by Maverick and some dude called Shiva who's just off model enough that he might be Stryfe or Death's Head II. If that's not a sign that things are going to be a little off for the next 22 minutes, I don't know what is.
As it turns out, Sabretooth's plunge into Lisa Frank's sketchbook is part of a weird-ass therapy session where Professor X is trying to get to the root of Sabretooth's brain problems. This, for some reason, is represented by Sabretooth imagining himself locked in a cage while dudes in polo shirts poke him with sticks, which seems pretty strange to me, since none of the X-Men comics I've read have ever mentioned that he went to high school in South Carolina.
To get a better understanding, the Xavier's turtlenecked psychic avatar merges with Sabretooth to bring us the unholy monstrosity that you see before you:
And then they are promptly assaulted by the people in polo shirts, who have now turned into demons.
I don't have the distinct memories of this episode like I do with the first three, but the second I saw Sabrefessor X, a massive nostalgia bomb went off in my brain. It's not that I remember the details of this episode, but I do have a distinct recollection of wondering what in the heck was happening on my television. I have to hand it to the people who made this show: It is a pretty bold move to open an episode with an extended psychic hallucination sequence, even if it hadn't involved Maverick.
Just as we're coming to terms with the hellish vision of Professor X with those jacked-up eyebrows and golden mutton chops, he is grappled by a tentacle monster and then menaced by a Wolverine demon, something I barely even want to talk about.
After that, the sequence mercifully comes to an end, with the Professor vowing that he won't stop trying to help Sabretooth. And that's good, because the sooner he fixes that dude's brain, the sooner he can get on to helping all the kids who have been terrified by the nightmare fuel of the previous two minutes. I don't even know if I'll ever be able to sleep again without being haunted by Demon Wolverine's shoulderpads.
After a quick commercial break, Storm, Wolverine and the Professor meet up to recap the events of the last episode, as though there wasn't already an extended "Previously, On X-Men" recap at the top of the show. I guess they just felt the need to go over it all again, presumably because it's a hell of a lot cheaper to do 18 minutes of animation than it is to do 20. After reaffirming that Magneto is a pretty big threat, Storm quips that "fighting for world peace has just become more dangerous," as though fighting giant purple genocide robots that have already straight up murdered one of her friends is a walk in the park.
Girl is unconcerned.
Things get a little more tense soon, though. Xavier and his crazy '90s hoverchair -- which I kind of hate in the comics but love for being completely unexplained in this show -- cruise on into the infirmary, where he starts bragging about how much success he's having with his psychic rehabilitation. Wolverine responds to this in the most amazing way possible, by growling "I'll penetrate his recesses!"
That line is fantastic, and is only the first of so many that sound like they're pulled directly from sexy fan-fiction, to the point where I think I'm going to have to start keeping track.
Wolverine and Sabretooth have a little bit of flirty/murderous banter -- "What's the matter, Wolverine? No kiss and make up?" -- and Wolverine decides to bail because he's a badass loner who doesn't want to hang out with a bunch of idiots who won't listen to him about their new pal being a straight up serial killer.
Meanwhile, Magneto is planning to draw Professor X out of hiding so that he can... I don't know, kill him? Convince him to join forces and murder the humans? Unload a few spare turtlenecks? It's not really all that clear, but he knows he has to put human lives in danger in order to do it, so he decides to attack a chemical plant. His reasoning, and I quote, is "those lovely chemicals... after all, without them, life would be impossible." The way he says this is so dramatic that, I think we're meant to take it as symbolism, but it's really just a dude saying nonsense about a chemical plant. He could say the same thing about, I don't know, a fish market. Or some trees. A petting zoo, perhaps.
Also, it's worth noting that in true '90s action cartoon fashion, this appears to be a chemical plant that only manufactures toxic waste and poison gas.
And here I thought government regulations moved all those businesses to Gotham City.
Magneto busts in with his explosive Sonic the Hedgehog rings -- you know, magnetism -- and the X-Men get the alert over Cerebro and head out to the Magneto Chemical Plant Assault Playset. Magneto has already proven himself to be their deadliest foe, so it's all hands on deck for this fight: Storm, Cyclops, Rogue and Professor X himself all head out to stop his rampage.
Oh, and Jubilee? It's too dangerous for her to go on the mission, so for her own safety, they leave her LOCKED UP IN A ROOM WITH SABRETOOTH, WHO THEY HAVE JUST BEEN TOLD LIKES TO KILL WOLVERINE'S FRIENDS.
I honestly wish I could tell you that this is the craziest thing that happens in this episode, but we've still got a ways to go on that front. It is, however, the biggest indication that the X-Men are actually pretty terrible at this whole superhero biz.
At the chemical plant, Magneto's floating around doing some romantic reminiscing -- "I wonder how you'll look, Charles, after so long... perhaps a toupee?" -- when the X-Men bust through the wall and immediately continue to fail miserably at being superheroes. Storm tries to zap him with lightning, but he blocks that because "electricity and magnetism are related" (SCIENCE!), and Rogue tries to fly at him and gets blocked by some Sonic rings.
Cyclops, the X-Men's fearless leader who has trained for years to master the art of combat and lead a super-powered strike force into battle, is standing around when he breathes in some toxic gas, falls down, and almost dies. He remains unconscious for the next ten minutes.
I kind of want to start keeping track of all the ways that Cyclops is the worst, but I don't get paid by the word and we all have other things we need to do today.
From this point on, Magneto just basically smacks the X-Men around for a few minutes, including a weird moment where they choose to show him zapping Storm with magnetism and then magnetisming a brick wall down on top of her. As she's covered in rubble, we get our first taste of Storm's crippling claustrophobia, as represented by some truly hilarious voice-actor screams. There's a weird dip in the middle like she's losing interest in screaming and then remembers what she's doing, and I encourage you all to go listen. It's worth it.
With the X-Men more or less trounced, Professor X finally shows up to battle Magneto himself. But first, Rogue has to make sure nobody's dead, so we get a scene where she gives Cyclops mouth-to-mouth while encouraging him to come (wait for it) back to life with a breathy "come on, pretty boy... make a girl feel welcome." It's a weird little sequence that goes on just long enough for you to start wondering if they've forgotten what Rogue's actual power is before she finally starts shooting lasers out of her eyes:
As if to put an exclamation point on how bad the X-Men suck at their actual jobs, Rogue walks around blasting everything in sight for a solid 20 seconds asking how to "turn it off" before Cyclops suggests that she close her eyes. Seriously, you guys. They are the worst.
Also, while we're on the subject of Rogue, it always strikes me as being so weird that she's got her normal powers, plus super-strength, invulnerability and flight with -- at least at this point -- no explanation. I'm not saying the show needed to open with Rogue talking about that time she put Ms. Marvel into a coma or anything, but after seeing movies and shows that want to take a back-to-basics approach, it's strange to think that this cartoon was just like "f**k it, we'll just put 'em on TV just like they are in the comics right now." I don't really think that's a bad thing, and it clearly worked -- kids had no idea that Rogue's powers weren't just Rogue's powers, after all -- but it's always kind of surprising that they actually did it.
While I've been yammering about Rogue, Professor X and Magneto have squared off, and this -- this -- is the craziest thing that happens in this episode. After a bit of fighting, Professor X decides to end the confrontation by assaulting Magneto with his traumatic memories of the Holocaust.
Last week I talked a little about how I liked that Magneto's origin was kept a little vague for the cartoon, but looking at it from this side, there's really no getting around it. Best case scenario here -- best case -- is that Xavier is just straight up using weaponized childhood trauma to win a fight. The other option is that he is just the worst person in the entire world.
It's probably best if we just move on.
Back at the mansion, Jubilee and Sabretooth are whiling away the hours watching CNN, you know, like all teenage mallrats do in their spare time, when they see Senator Robert Kelly announce his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election. Judging by the press conference, his entire platform seems to be that he's going to round up "unfortunate mistakes of nature" / people with super-powers and put them in actual concentration camps. This seems like a fairly dubious promise to the electorate, but in all fairness, it still makes more sense than Ron Paul.
Needless to say, Sabretooth gets a little upset about all this, straining at his shackles to the point of injury. He follows up with a sob story for Jubilee -- presumably no one got around to explaining the concept of a "mutant healing factor" before they decided to leave her alone with a seven-foot tall serial killer -- and when she pops the lock, he grabs her forces her to let him out so that he can "tear this place apart." Jubilee does it, but lest you think this is a weakness on her part, I'd like to point out that she also calls him a dweeb.
Fortunately for Jubilee, Wolverine has returned, which means she just gets thrown into a wall and knocked out instead of being the first graphic evisceration to be shown on Fox Kids.
Here's where things get even weirder. While a brutal claw-fight to the death is happening in the building, the rest of the X-Men return home from combat. Instead of checking on Jubilee to make sure she hasn't been graphically eviscerated or anything, Cyclops and his crew instead decide to just casually roll into whatever room it is where they have a Star Trek food replicator set into the wall to make their coffee.
Or maybe it's just a Keurig. Not really the point. What matters is that they just flop down and Cyclops starts talking about how good his coffee is. There is an actual murderer in the next room.
When they finally do wander downstairs, Professor X -- who, if you'll recall, just got back from making one of his enemies relive an actual f**king genocide -- gets all huffy about Wolverine beating up Sabretooth. It's not until Jubilee brings the total number of BS&P-approved synonyms for "kill" in this episode up to four by explaining that Sabretooth tried "total" her that they cut him some slack.
Unfortunately for all concerned, it's enough of a distraction that Sabretooth can claw a chunk out of Wolverine's abs. He goes for the kill, but Jubilee blows him (wait for it) through a wall with her powers, and he runs off because everyone forgot that Rogue can fly.
And with that, two episodes in a row end with Magneto looming ominously on a hillside.
At this point, we've been through enough of these to get a good idea of the series, so who do you think has the worst voice acting? I think Wolverine's pretty goofily enjoyable, Rogue's actually better than I remember and Cyclops, while bland as a mayonnaise sandwich, is pretty appropriate for the character. For my money, it's gotta be Storm.
Next Week: Someone decides that five weeks in is a good time to introduce the Morlocks, and we enter the age of Gambit. So much Gambit.