The X-Men Episode Guide 2×05: Repo Man
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: "Repo Man," in which Wolverine gets into a tussle with a dude who is definitely his ex-boyfriend.
Previously, on X-Men:
Last week, Season 2's model of focusing on shorter, less interconnected adventures rolled right on into Russia as the team faced down OMEGA RED AND HIS MUTANT DEATH FACTOR!! There was an attempt to overthrow Democracy in Eastern Europe that seemed to go largely unnoticed by everyone other than the X-Men, who were fortunately on hand to stop a renegade super-weapon by making it snow. It was, and I do not throw this term around lightly (yes I do), the dumbest thing I have ever seen.
So dumb, in fact, that I posed the question to you, the readers, to see if you could think of an even dumber way that superheroes have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. There were a lot of pretty astonishing suggestions -- including one story I'm completely unfamiliar with where Reed Richards apparently waves a wooden gun at Magneto and that's that -- but it was Joshua Pelfrey who set the standard by bringing up Hush. If you haven't read it (and lucky you), that's a story that ends with the Riddler figuring out Batman's secret identity and then Batman going full-on smarmy to tell him that it's a secret and that he can never ever tell anyone because then it won't be a secret anymore. Because what the Riddler, a man dressed in a neon green and purple suit covered in question marks, truly values... is keeping secrets. This was so dumb that it required the next person to write about the Riddler (Paul Dini) to give him an off-panel head injury with a bout of amnesia so that we could all move on without ever mentioning it again. You know, I might've been too harsh on "Red Dawn" up above.
But enough complaining about Batman! It is time now to head up to the Great White North for yet another episode named for a movie, "Repo Man!"
We open this week on one of the many beautiful forests of Canada, but it's going to be a few minutes before anyone actually says that. Unlike the last two episodes, this one doesn't even bother with a vague location like "Africa" or "Former Soviet Union," and that's not the only thing that gets left out either. If you're thinking that there will eventually be some explanation of how and why Wolverine ended up wandering around one of our northern neighbor's many beautiful national parks, you're outta luck.
It seems pretty weird, given that the stories thus far have been pretty well linked in that soap operatic style to keep things flowing and that this episode was written by comic book veteran (and Wolverine co-creator) Len Wein, who's no stranger to that kind of pacing. If I had to guess, I'd say that either Wein's original script ran a little too long or the previous episode's Russian accents padded out the setup a little too much, and they just decided to drop this one in medias res.
Which is why Wolverine is wandering through the woods shouting for someone named "Heather" until he's menaced by a slightly off-model version of Alpha Flight.
Incidentally, you know how Vindicator's costume is supposed to look like the Canadian flag? Well, as this episode goes on, you will notice that nobody down at the animation department ever got that memo.
After bursting out from underneath the ground -- and really, how long was he waiting down there to make that entrance? -- Vindicator and his off-model national iconography explain that it wasn't this "Heather" who asked Wolverine to come here, it was him. He's very upset about Wolverine deserting his team, and as Wolverine gets ready to do some stabbing, it's revealed that he's not just fighting Vindicator, he's fighting the entire C-List!
Well, no, it's Alpha Flight, but c'mon, you have to admit that "The C-List" is a way better (and more accurate) name for these dorks. It stands for Canada! And also the fact that they aren't very good.
What follows is a standard-issue introductory fight scene between Wolverine and a bunch of Canadian stereotypes that he's kind enough to name out loud while trading punches so that we all know who's who. You know, "Losin' your touch, Puck!" and "Your turn, Vindicator!", stuff like that -- although oddly enough, Snowbird never gets a name, or, for that matter, a line. But considering that Northstar and Aurora get the exact same accent as Gambit (because one version French is as good as another), that might be a good thing.
After Wolverine bails on the fight once he's sure that we can recognize the characters' names on their forthcoming Toy Biz action figures, Vindicator mentions that they need to bring him back to "the lab," and it turns out that's one of the magic words that triggers a flashback!
Yes, it's the origin of Wolverine's Adamantium bones, and, as is the case with many things on this show, there are a few more '90s details thrown in than you might consider to be strictly necessary. Dr. Cornelius! Professor Andre Thornton and his hilariously reflective glasses! They're all here, in an animated version of the Weapon X program that makes sure to add a pair of grey briefs to what Barry Windsor-Smith did in Marvel Comics Presents in order to meet FCC regulations.
It goes by pretty quickly, too. A few computer screens, a few bubbles in Logan's Zordon tube, and then it's right back to Thornton monologuing about how rad Adamantium is.
Oh man. How much better would comics be today if they had called it Radamantium?
Eventually, Wolverine gets bored of all the chit-chat, pops his claws -- with a pretty righteous scream of pain from Cathal J. Dodd, who remains the definitive Wolverine voice actor to this day -- and busts out of the tube in a full-on berserker rage. He doesn't quite manage to eviscerate Thornton, but he claws up enough vaguely sciencey equipment that things start exploding, and he bails out into the snow so that he can casually watch it all burn down.
Back in the present, Jean's using Cerebro to try to track down the missing Professor X, and as she searches through the mutants of the world, we get some pretty neat cameos from Domino, Nightcrawler, Archangel, Psylocke, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.
And also Cannonball.
Oh well. At least it's not Maverick again.
We then snap right back to Canada for more Alpha Flight action, and they finally subdue Wolverine thanks to a stiff right hand from Sasquatch and some cartwheeling from Puck. Seriously, Wolverine gets KOed directly after getting cartwheeled at by a dude who is three feet tall. Vindicator orders some "shackles" put on Wolverine, they begin to haul him back to Canada City, or whatever it is they call towns up there.
It's at this point that Wolverine wakes up and reaffirms that he doesn't want to go back to working as a weapon for the Canadian government. Vindicator replies by telling him that they don't want him back, they just want "the secret that you keep inside you," And it is at this point that the homoerotic subtext begins to build to critical mass.
At the lab, Wolverine is securely bondaged when Vindicator reveals that it was his wife, Heather Hudson, who orchestrated the whole setup and lured him back to Canada:
Led into a world of suffering by a woman named Hudson, eh Wolverine? Believe me, pal, I know the feeling.
Heather's presence prompts another origin flashback, this time detailing how a mostly-feral (but still underpantsed) Wolverine first met up with James and Heather Hudson. It's basically a meet-cute lifted straight from a romantic comedy, except that all the parts where there's quirky, awkward flirting are replaced with people getting tackled and nearly stabbed to death and then other people shooting them with tranquilizer rifles. There is still more bondage, though, as they drag Wolverine back to their cabin and tie him down on the bed in his tiny pants. Subtext!
It turns out that Heather is nice, though, and when Wolverine breaks down crying over what's been done to him -- which ends up being played a lot better than it sounds due to a great combination of Dodd's acting and supervising producer Scott Thomas's directing -- she helps him put his life back together. She even teaches him how to read!
Okay, they don't actually say that she teaches him how to read, but I choose to believe that Wolverine was 100% illiterate before this moment. Why do you think he lives at a school?
Once he can get through The Poky Little Puppy by himself, Heather and James take Wolverine to their bosses at Department H, the branch of the Canadian government in charge of telling people with knives on their hands who to stab. This is not something I normally think of when the phrase "Canadian Government" enters my head, but I guess even a country known for politeness and syrup has people that need stabbing. They give him his uniform and offer to let him join the team under the codename "Weapon X," but he tells them to just call him Wolverine, and no one has the heart to tell him that maybe he shouldn't name himself after something that is also called a "skunk bear."
In the present, it's revealed that Jason, the commanding officer who recruited Wolverine to Department H in the first place, is the one who's actually behind this whole rigamarole, because apparently one twist wasn't enough. He tells Wolverine that they've been trying to recreate the process that gave him his claws but have met only failure and wanted to figure out why it worked on him, and Wolverine responds with the truly amazing line "It worked because I'm a mutant, dimwit."
This is also where Vindicator goes into full-on jilted lover mode, which will continue for the rest of the episode. He's all leaning over Wolverine, tied to a table, yelling "you abandoned us!" and "why did you leave?!" It's... super weird. But, Heather assures him that she is still his friend, and that she only agreed to this whole thing if she was allowed to do the experiments in such a way that they wouldn't hurt him. So of course, they start blasting him with lightning. That's how science works, right?
Meanwhile, down in the Savage Land -- which does get a location chyron -- Magneto and the Professor are accosted by Lorelei, who sounds like someone's eighty year-old grandmother in a technicolor minidress. She casually mentions that Magneto has been down there screwing around with a bunch of "mutates," before Mags shuts her up and literally cuts a rope bridge in half rather than deal with an awkward conversation with Xavier.
At the mansion, Jean picks up a signal, with Cerebro, but it's not from Professor X. It's from Wolverine, screaming during the experiment. And hey! After two merciful episodes, Cyclops has finally returned! Let's see if he has anything fun to add to this convoluted story!
JEAN: Wolverine! I felt him... such pain!
GAMBIT: Man been a pain since the get-go, cher.
CYCLOPS: NOT FUNNY, GAMBIT.
Well, that's about par for the course. Thanks for contributing, guys. Good hustle.
In Canada, Heather Hudson stops the painful probe (uh) and offers Wolverine a glass of water, but Jason flips right out and starts yelling about how they're just going to have to straight up cut Wolverine's skeleton out of his body in order to figure out how it works. He also goes on to say that Wolverine deserves it because ever since he left, Alpha Flight totally sucks, which is pretty rude with Vindicator standing right there, so it's pretty clear that this guy is a dick. Wolverine himself growls out "Hey... you want my bones, Jason? Come and get 'em yourself!" (uh) Heather resigns in a fit of anger.
Jason gets so mad that he spills the aforementioned glass of water on a computer console, and here's something those of you who didn't grow up in the '90s might not be aware of. Back then, if you so much as got a drop of fresh morning dew on your keyboard, that motherf**ker was about to have some catastrophic failure.
After grappling for a few moments with his wife, Vindicator runs over to Wolverine and yells "How could you leave us?!" It's pretty tense, but before they can actually take out their frustrations and cut Wolverine's bones out, the rest of Alpha Flight knocks down the door to the lab and treats us to a pretty unfortunate camera angle.
Unfortunate for me, anyway. Who knows, you might be into stout little men with hockey puns for names. And really, while we're on the subject, there is no reason at all that Puck's real name is not "Stanley Cupp."
Alpha Flight (minus Vindicator) jack up Jason's robots, and that computer malfunction from a minute ago proves to have loosened Wolverine's manacles enough that he can get free and start chopping up Jason's security robots, because of course they're robots. He makes a break for the exit, but before he can get there, Vindicator runs at him and starts yelling "I won't let you leave us again!" and seriously, Wolverine should never have given that dude his phone number.
Just as Wolverine's about to gut Vindicator like a trout, Heather steps in and reminds Wolverine (and Vindicator, for that matter) that Vindicator is her husband, in hopes that this will stop the inevitable stabbing. It does, Wolverine tells them not to call anymore, and then he runs out of a hole in the wall into the woods.
Seriously: The episode just stops right there, and we are done for the week.
Discussion Question: There are a lot of places we could go with this one (international heroes, bizarre stereotypes, better names for Puck), but more than anything else, I'm struck by how incomplete this episode feels. The ending seems blunt, there's nothing that establishes the beginning, and even the flashbacks are missing some of the most important stuff, like why Wolverine bailed on Alpha Flight and sent Vindicator into obsessive stalker mode. The whole thing feels like it's missing about a quarter of what oughtta be there. Are there other stories that feel this incomplete? I'm sure there are, so which ones come to mind? What other stories feel like they were put together without quite being finished, and are any of them good in spite of that?
Next Week: GAMBIT. THE THIEVES GUILD. THE MOTHERHECKING X-TERNALS. I am stoked.