The X-Men Episode Guide 2×03: ‘Whatever It Takes’
The early ’90s were spoiled for choice when it came to comic book adaptations. Not only was Batman: The Animated Series on the air, but X-Men led Marvel’s push to get on the small screen, diving right into the often convoluted continuity of everyone’s favorite mutants, luring in a generation of fans, and paving the way for cartoons to follow. That’s why we’ve set out to review every single episode of the ’90s X-Men animated series. This week: "Whatever It Takes," where we learn a shocking secret about Storm but not really, no, not at all.
Previously, on X-Men:
In their two-part second season opener, the X-Men were menaced by the diabolical and also completely nonsensical machinations of Mr Sinister, who has apparently been creeping on Cyclops and Jean for their entire lives so that he can use their children to master the future. In order to accomplish this, he revealed himself to them right before they started getting down on their honeymoon, so I think it's fair to assume that Mr. Sinister Sr. never bothered to explain to him how children are made. Fortunately (I guess), Cyclops was able to chase him off, but didn't bother to actually, you know, pursue the villain or attempt to find out anything about his plans at all.
In our discussion of which non X-Men villains gave us the best stories when they ran across Marvel's merry mutants, there were some good choices all around. Like many of you, Dr. Doom is my pick for the second-best guest villain (you know, after Dracula), but one of you -- Benjamin Seagull -- pointed out that there's an early Roy Thomas/Don Heck issue (X-Men #40, 1968) where they fight THE FRANKENSTEIN ANDROID. This might be the best thing I've ever heard, and if ever there was a time that I regretted my X-Men knowledge being pretty sketchy before Claremont and Cockrum, this is it.
Now on with this week's episode: "Whatever It Takes," from writer Julia Jane Lewald and supervising producer Scott Thomas!
We open on what a title card identifies as "Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa," because this is a show from before Wikipedia existed so you couldn't just go and look up what country a mountain is in (it's Tanzania). With that established, we're shown a young man who -- wow, this is really how we're going to start this episode? Well, okay. We're shown a young Tanzanian man with the mutant power of running really fast while wearing a Michael Jordan jersey.
This youngster is Mjnari, and he has a problem. When he arrives to chat with his two pals who are playing soccer, he is suddenly menaced by everyone's greatest fear: a giant glowing space vagina.
Even worse, his pals can't see it, so as far as they know, Mjnari is just standing there trying to play a needlessly elaborate practical joke.
Back at the X-Mansion, Jean has returned from her unsatisfying honeymoon and, rather than trying to straighten out this whole thing where her marriage was invalidated because it was performed by a mutant shapeshifter and not an actual priest (#xmenproblems), she's gotten right back to work with Cerebro. She senses the disturbance that Mjnari saw in Tanzania, identifying it as "a disturbance in... that part of Africa."
Look, you can either have a geography class or a Danger Room. The budget ain't big enough for both.
At that very moment, Storm returns from the hospital, and the show seems to completely forget that she was taken there after being arrested. But, you know, if the alternative is Storm spending the next ten episodes chilling out in prison like Beast did for the entirety of Season One, I'm fine with it. Anyway, she sees what's happening with Cerebro and freaks right the heck out, presumably because they accidentally drew South Carolina instead of Africa:
But it's actually just because she knows Mjnari, and suspects that he's caught up in whatever this mess is. And she's right -- back in Tanzania, s**t is getting real.
And by that, I mean that Mjnari is possessed by what appears to be SINISTAR.
While all this is going on, Wolverine has decided that maybe Cyclops shaking his fist and yelling at Mr. Sinister to stay off his lawn isn't the most effective way to solve his problems, so he's wandered off to Brazil so that he could ride down the Amazon on a riverboat looking for Morph. Apparently his super-human tracking senses can reach all the way to South America.
Back in Africa, Storm and Rogue have arrived at Mjnari's village, only to find that several parts of it are currently on fire. This is something of a problem, and Storm elects to solve it by going into her single most over-the-top invocation of her power -- a power that I don't believe has ever required her to drop a soliloquy in order to activate it -- of all time:
"NAYTCHA, RESPOND TO MY COMMAND! A WALL OF RAIN TO QUENCH THE FLAMES!"
I hope you like Alison Sealy-Smith going straight up bonkers on these lines, folks, because we're going to be getting a lot of that.
Storm and Rogue land, and when Rogue is told that the fires are all the fault of "a kid with an attitude problem," her first suggestion is to find him and punch him in the face until he stops, but RUSSO SWERVE! Storm announces that Mjnari... is actually her son!
Well, as we find out in the very next scene, he's her godson, and his actual mother is standing right there. By "big reveal" standards, it's a D+ at best. And what's worse, that Sinistar-looking dude who possessed him is... The Shadow King.
In Brazil, Wolverine finally confronts an increasingly sallow Morph at a bar and announces his intentions to bring Morph back to the X-Mansion so that the Professor can help him get his head back on straight, and this is where it gets weird. Morph accuses Wolverine of doing it for selfish reasons, telling him that "maybe it's love you're missing," then turning into Jean and sneering at Wolverine about how much he/she loves Cyclops instead.
Say what you will about the relative qualities of the shows, but that's a crazy mindf**k on par with anything Scarecrow and Mad Hatter did on Batman: The Animated Series.
In Africa, Mjnari's mother explains that Storm helped deliver her baby and saved his life by giving him CPR, and looked after him while his mother recovered. As soon as this little exposition is taken care of Mjnari reveals himself -- "SHADEW KING?! NEW!" -- and announces that he returned to Earth from a rift in the Astral Plane, where Professor X sent him in a story that we never got to see in the cartoon.
I've mentioned before that I really respect this show's goal of just diving headfirst into '90s X-Men continuity, but this story would probably make a hell of a lot more sense if they'd stopped to explain just who the Shadow King was and what his deal is. I mean, I know it's complicated, but they did Days of Future Past and Bishop's entire reason for being in two episodes. They could've handled it.
Storm flies off to try to deal with it, only to find out that what the Shadow King really wants is to possess her. If she agrees to serve as his host body "with all your delicious powers" (?!) Shadow King will let Mjnari go. Rogue tries to stop the deal, but once again, the show forgets that she has super-powers and Storm just kind of flings her offscreen in a tornado before allowing herself to get possessed.
The Shadow King flies off to take over Cairo, and we switch back to Brazil, where Morph has tricked Wolverine into falling down a mineshaft. Morph briefly gloats about freaking Wolverine out back at the bar, and Wolverine, a character known for his unstoppable berserker rages, quips "So you made me mad. Happens all the time." Sometimes, this show can be self-aware.
Morph starts monologuing about how he could destroy Wolverine's mind, and in the process, he shapeshifts into other figures from Wolverine's past, giving us our second foreshadowing look at Deadpool, Omega Red, and f**king Maverick:
Between this and that Jordan jersey, we have hit critical mass '90s.
Also, Morph turns into another famous Marvel character, the Black Panther! Oh, no, wait, I got my notes mixed up. He turns into a black panther.
I was all set to question the limits of Morph's powers in this fight, but really, why bother at this point? It makes as much sense that he could turn into animals as it does that he could shapeshift into people, even if "I CAN TURN INTO A RHINOCEROS NOW" does kind of have that distinctive ring of a six-year-old trying to win an argument on the playground.
After smashing Wolverine against the wall, Morph runs off with a bizarre parting whine of "I HAVE TO GET THROUGH THIS BY MYSEEEELLLLLLFFF" and Wolverine seems to start thinking that Cyclops's policy of aggressive passiveness might not be such a bad idea after all.
Meanwhile, at Mt. Kilimanjaro, Storm is trying to fight against the Shadow King's control, and decides that the best course of action here is suicide. She flies up into space -- Storm flies up into space -- hoping to pass out and fall to her death, which is exactly what would've happened had Rogue not been there to catch her.
Even though she survives, it's enough to get the Shadow King to peace out and give Storm her body back. Mjnari shows up and explains that SK came through the rift to the Astral Plane that only he can see, and that it's collapsing in on itself, thus laying out the problem for our third act: If Rogue and Storm can shove the Shadow King back through this weird glowing interdimensional portal that they can't see before it closes, they can trap him. If not, they'll have to wait until Professor X comes back from being buried by a snowdrift at the end of the previous episode.
It's... kind of low stakes when you compare it to, you know, the actual genocide they were fighting a few episodes ago.
While Storm creates a distraction ("ALL OF NAYTCHA I COMMAND YEW!"), Mjnari runs off to see about luring the Shadow King up to the invisible door on the Mountain, a perfectly normal sentence to type about the X-Men. He does so, and ends up luring the Shadow King into a sequence that looks like Heavy Metal made a baby with Mario Kart:
While all that's going on, Storm is clawing at the rocks with her bare hands from outside the mountain, which is pretty darn creepy. Finally, they find the portal when Mjnari is able to get his hand through, and pull him out just as it collapses, trapping the Shadow King and saving the day.
From there, we go to Antarctica, where Professor X and Magneto actually do climb out from under the snowdrift. They look around and Magneto explains that they're in the Savage Land, and it takes them a full minute to realize that Professor X is standing up while they're having this conversation, and that their mutant powers are gone. I'll give them the latter, but seriously, I think working legs would be pretty high on your list of things to notice.
Suddenly, a bunch of dudes appear from the clouds riding pterodactyls, and even though Professor X is able to bonk one of them on the head with a boomerang that he pulls out of f**king nowhere like he's trying to rescue Princess Zelda, Magneto tumbles into a river and he and Charles are swept over a waterfall.
I guess we'll find out what all that's about next week.
Discussion Question: In this episode, Storm made a pretty halfhearted reveal about having a son but not really, and to be honest, you can't really blame her for trying to fit in. The X-Men are all about secret relatives; we've already seen Rogue's secret mom and it won't be long before we get to Gambit's secret wife, Cyclops's secret dad and Professor X's secret son. So who's the best relative of the X-Men, not counting relatives who are also X-Men like Havok or space pirates with common law catgirl wives like Corsair?
Next Week: Three words, y'all. MUTANT. DEATH. FACTOR.