The ‘X-Men’ Episode Guide 1×05: Captive Hearts
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: "Captive Hearts," in which a romantic evening with Cyclops turns into a lightsaber battle in the sewer, which we can all agree is an improvement.
Previously, On X-Men:
In our last episode, a combination of leaving Jubilee alone to babysit a bloodthirsty killer and Professor X blasting Magneto with memories of the Holocaust taught us that the X-Men are basically terrible people who are awful at their jobs. This might sound like an indictment of the show, but considering that it was also a running theme in the comics back in 1993, I'm pretty sure it's just a testament to how accurate they were.
Also, as you may have noticed, the redesign here at ComicsAlliance meant that all of our reader comments were lost forever, something that I can assure you I was definitely heartbroken over. Before they were gone, though, most of you seemed to agree with me that Storm's voice acting is the pits, and one reader even identified just what it is: Everything she says is delivered as a pronouncement of utmost importance, and even in a group of characters who thrive on melodrama the way most people thrive on oxygen, it gets a little old. Now let's see how dramatic things get when it's date night for Cyclops and Jean!
Our story this week begins in the Danger Room, and folks, it is the moment we have all been waiting for: After three long weeks without the magic of "cajun" slang, Gambit is back. Can you feel the excitement? De misplaced French slang? The droppin' of de consonants in your dialogue? Moi aussi, my li'l river rats. It even brings out the best in Rogue, too -- the very first line of dialogue in this episode is "Watch your back, swamp rat!" We have truly ascended to a higher plane.
Sadly, Gambit doesn't have a whole lot to do this month. Instead, our focus will be on another character that we haven't seen since the pilot: Jean Grey, seen here apparently fighting an automated car wash.
Before we move on, can we all take a moment to talk about how terrible Jean's costume is? Bad enough that she didn't even get to have a codename back in the '90s, but that suit is just the worst. It's a tan onesie under a belted thong with gigantic epaulets, topped off with thigh padding (pouches?) and one of those goofy '90s headpieces that gives her an artificial widow's peak and is decorated with a square. Even among the rest of the X-Men's '90s suits, which are some of the worst costumes in comics history, Jean sticks out as an all-time low. I'm glad the guy who designed it never went on to, say, redesign the entire DC Universe or anything. That s**t would've looked awful.
That said, I do like that she made sure to poke a hole in it for her ponytail.
Accessories are everything.
The reason that everyone's geared up is, of course, that they're training in the Danger Room, facing obstacles that Professor X describes as being "patterned on those X-Men might encounter in the field." Those dangers? Flying buzzsaw blades and electrified tentacles. The weird thing here isn't that Professor X has a bizarre idea of what constitutes hazards one faces in the real world. The weird thing is that he's completely accurate.
Those tentacles could only be more realistic for the X-Men if someone was shouting about a MUTANT DEATH FACTOR! while swinging them.
The training session goes on to the point where Professor X decides it's a good idea to turn it into the literal representation of one of his students' greatest fears, and we get another trip down Storm Has Claustrophobia Boulevard. This has been brought up in two episodes, and I am already sick of it, largely because of Storm's over-the-top pronouncement of "I SHALL STOP THE CEILING!"
She doesn't, presumably because she tries to stop it with a f**king cloud.
Times like this, you start to understand how Cyclops became the leader.
The Danger Room session is called off because it's not quite time for a Very Special Episode about conquering your fear of ceilings, and Jean goes to check on Wolverine. He's still recovering from being gut-slashed by Sabretooth at the end of the last episode, which makes me wonder if the people who were making this show had any idea what the characters' actual powers were. I think Gambit might be the only person they got right, although I'm not sure they ever mentioned his "psychic charm."
Remember Gambit's "psychic charm?" Remember how that was why his eyes were black and red? Remember how you learned that from a trading card? Good times.
Anyway, at the very least, Wolverine's healed enough that he's practicing karate in his room, just in case "growly smartass with knives for fists" wasn't enough to let the kids in the audience that he was the coolest dude on the show. The next step would've been just cold giving him a skateboard in the next episode, but fortunately, I think we all got it.
There's a bit of what passes for sexual tension on a FOX Kids cartoon -- "Cyclops is waiting for me..." "So am I." -- and then Jean rushes out because it's Date Night! And what a fun date it is! They see Phantom of the Opera and then Cyclops slouches down the street muttering about how important it is to be an X-Man while his girlfriend tries to make polite, non-work-related conversation! Whatta guy.
And that's when Leech shows up.
For those of you keeping score at home, this is a show where Deadpool, Maverick and Leech have all appeared within the first two months. I don't think Kitty Pryde shows up at all.
Leech uses his telekinesis (sure, why not) to steal an apple, which immediately prompts the formation of a lynch mob. Seriously, they are on top of this whole hating and fearing mutants thing. Fortunately for Leech, Cyclops and Phoenix intervene, following Leech down into the subway so they can make with a rescue.
They needn't have bothered. Not because I want to see Leech get beaten to death or anything, but because he and his ill-gotten fruit were actually leading them right to the Morlocks:
The Morlocks bust up the humans, including one called -- oh Jesus Christ, seriously? -- "Tar Baby" who flings a couple of humans onto the train tracks and ensures that I have to nervously keep my back to the wall whenever I go to New York to this very day. For the record, his name is never mentioned on the show.
The X-Men judge this as a pretty extreme reaction to the humans, and decide to pitch in to keep the whole thing from becoming a massacre. They do, but in the process, they're knocked out by Annalee, whose psychic powers are, like magnetism, represented by giant Sonic the Hedgehog rings shooting out of her eyes. This show did not have a whole lot of ideas on how to visualize mutant powers, it seems. If only there was some sort of inherently visual medium that they could've looked to for inspiration.
Meanwhile, back at the mansion, Wolverine is laying on his bed in full costume, petting a framed photograph of Cyclops and Jean.
I have a lot of questions about this scene, but the only one that can't be explained by "they blew the entire budget in the first episode" is why Wolverine has a framed picture of Cyclops and Jean to begin with. Was it their Christmas card? Did he steal it from their room? Was he trying to take her picture when Cyclops is like "oh hey, I'll get in there too" and ruined the whole thing? And also why is Jean wearing the same dress in the picture that she is on her date with Cyclops? Does she only have one nice dress, in a world where a hot pink tank top can be considered "a nice dress?"
After thoughtfully stroking the picture because of reasons, Wolverine hears Gambit referring to them as "lovebirds" and gets mad enough to pop a claw and scratch a line across Cyclops's chest. This would not have to happen if you hadn't let that dude in the frame, bro.
Back in the sewers, Cyclops, fearless man of action and leader of the X-Men, wakes up after being knocked unconscious by an old lady.
And that's our Cyclops Is The Worst checkmark for this week.
As you can tell, he's also without his powers, as Leech has helpfully "fixed" his eyes. Without his powers, Cyclops is even more useless than usual, and is fearlessly dragged into the next room where Callisto, leader of the Morlocks, starts referring to him a "Pretty One" and offering him a place at her side. Cyclops responds to her offer by telling her that sewer life won't agree with him as his powers are fueled by the sun, and in one of my favorite moments of the series so far, she looks at him like he's an idiot and asks if he really thinks she needs some dunce in sunglasses to protect her. Sewer life has left Callisto 100% DTF, and Cyclops is just a pretty face.
For her part, Jean has been thoroughly bondaged and suspended above Callisto's throne room in chains, despite the fact that her telekinetic powers allow her to break out in about four seconds. Upon hearing Cyclops's refusal of Callisto's tempting offer to make sewer babies, though, she busts out and the whole thing turns into an episode of Maury with superpowers.
It's worth noting that the animators choose to depict Jean's telekinesis as shooting lightning bolts out of her hands, because that's what they do with powers that aren't glowing Sonic the Hedgehog rings. It makes sense when Storm does it, and I'll let them slide on Magneto since he helpfully explained that "electricity and magnetism are related!" but it's starting to get a shade repetitive.
Jean is able to get half of a psychic call for help out to Professor X, but then she's conked on the head while Cyclops stands there doing absolutely nothing until Sunder picks him up and throws him into a wall, bringing our Cyclops Gets Knocked Unconscious Because He Sucks count for this episode up to an even two. We still have ten minutes left in the episode, though, so we might actually get the trifecta.
The rest of the X-Men head off to the rescue, led by Storm, who is obviously the perfect leader for a mission that requires going into enclosed underground spaces. Gambit attempts to point this out -- and guys, when you are using Gambit as the voice of reason in your story, something has gone horribly wrong -- but Wolverine cuts him off, and that dude knows Karate.
At this point, it becomes clear that every single thing Gambit says is going to be the best and worst thing that Gambit has ever said. It starts when... that one mutant shows up and plasters them to the wall, and Gambit reacts by actually saying "Sticky situation, mon ami."
Please note that someone was paid to write that in a script that was then edited by another person, who was also paid. They were paid actual money.
Wolverine cuts himself and Gambit out of the Morlocks' phlegm and the good guys crawl through a sewer pipe that leads them to Jean. But, on the off chance that we haven't hit enough fertile ground for creepy Internet fetishes, Jean has been brainwashed by Annalee and is now walking around calling her "mommy" in a weird baby voice.
Also, her hair looks like Vulpix.
What? I warned you there was Creepy Internet stuff going on here.
Wolverine briefly menaces Annalee, and then she uses her power to convince him that he's COVERED WITH SCORPIONS COVERED WITH SCORPIONS COVERED WITH SCORPIONS.
Okay, I was lying. That is my favorite moment of the show thus far.
Wolverine shakes off the illusion of the SCORPIONS that he is COVERED WITH, and having been reunited with Jean, the X-Men continue their little dungeon crawl through the sewers. They eventually stumble across Callisto and her crew, who present them with Cyclops's dead body. Unfortunately, it's all a ruse and Wolverine sniffs out a shapeshifter, and we get a fight scene of what could charitably be called "middling quality" that ends with Gambit contracting the Bubonic Plague.
The X-Men are pretty weird, y'all.
In the scuffle, Wolverine rescues Cyclops and vows to "bust outta this pukehole," but Annalee apparently read the script and realized that he was super jealous of Cyclops's relationship with Jean. She hits him with a whammy that distracts the X-Men long enough for Callisto to get the upper hand. Things look grim, but Storm makes one last-ditch effort to save the day by challenging Callisto to a one-on-one battle for control of the Morlocks.
The scene is ostensibly inspired by the classic Uncanny X-Men #170, in which Chris Claremont and Paul Smith produce an incredible fight scene between the two characters.
Now, it's pretty obvious that the folks down at Broadcast Standards & Practices didn't really want to do an extended sequence where Storm and Callisto are slashing each other up with switchblades, so they decided to make a minor change.
Instead of knives, Storm and Callisto battle each other with actual f**king lightsabers.
Apparently that is a thing they have down in the sewer.
Storm handily beats Callisto in a fight that feels about eight times longer than it actually is, and then invites the Morlocks to the live at the Mansion. They decline, though, telling her that they prefer to live in the sewers rather than to move into a mansion with Gambit and Cyclops. I cannot say I blame them.
Back at the mansion, Professor X tells storm that she did a good job not getting everyone killed. Hooray for winning by default! De-fault! De-fault! De-fault! All is not well, however: When Cyclops and Jean invite Wolverine to their victory celebration, they find that he has torn his framed photo of the two of them in half and left.
Since we spent so much time on Jean Grey and her awful suit back at the beginning of the costume, why don't we spend this week talking about who has the best costume on the team? Here's the tricky part: Wolverine doesn't count.
Next Week: Wolverine goes on a solo adventure! Will he end up COVERED IN SCORPIONS COVERED IN SCORPIONS COVERED IN SCORPIONS COVERED IN S.