The X-Men Episode Guide 3×07: ‘The Phoenix Saga, Part IV: The Starjammers’
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: The Phoenix Saga continues in Part IV, as we meet Cyclops's dad and he immediately tries to get him to kill someone.
Previously, on X-Men:
In our last episode, Lilandra, Bird Empress of Space, was kidnapped by Black Tom Cassidy and the Juggernaut and taken to Ireland, where she was eventually rescued by the X-Men. Gladiator arrived, slapped the Juggernaut into another country, and looked like he was going to cause some trouble, but then the Phoenix finally decided to show up in the third part of a story caled "The Phoenix Saga." You'd think that would've happened a little earlier, but I guess we needed to see Banshee and the Beast's Howard the Duck t-shirt instead of just getting on with it.
In our discussion of our favorite animated fight scenes, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Avatar: The Last Airbender got a lot of love from the crowd, with the climactic fight scenes of each season in particular being showered with praise. I'd add the opening fight scene against the Triple Threat Triad in The Legend of Korra as a high point, too, if only for how it captures the feel of old-school kung fu movies in a world where people have flamethrowers for hands. Batman Beyond, particularly Terry's fight against Shriek, also got a lot of nods, but I'd just like to remind everyone that it does not involve Bruce Wayne nearly being murdered by razor-sharp Saturn rings in a planetarium, meaning that it can only be ranked a distant #2 in fight scenes from shows about Batman, at best.
All right, now let's see what if the Phoenix actually manages to do anything this week. Odds are not lookin' good.
After a pretty hilarious opening shot of Black Tom hightailing it right the heck away from his ancestral home, writer Mark Edens and supervising producer Scott Thomas open right where we left off, on the roof of Cassidy Keep. Phoenix is exhausted from pitching Gladiator back into outer space, but when Lilandra expresses some doubt that she has the power to get them all away before D'ken shows up and nukes them from orbit, Jean tells them that "this body is young, and strong. It recovers quickly."
That's the sort of phrasing that should be a pretty obvious red flag, but no one seems to notice, presumably because they're distracted by the arrival of Cyclops, Beast and Storm, who have just made a transcontinental flight in a little less than ten minutes.
Wolverine assures Cyclops that Jean is "all right, Cyke, best as I can tell," which would probably be comforting if Wolverine was in any way a medical professional instead of a growly Canadian with knives for hands.
Jean tells Cyclops that they need to prepare for "the battle to save the galaxy," and asks him to help "prepare the others," which is our second point of the episode where any rational person would maybe start asking Jean a few questions about just who's living in her skull these days. But no, true to form, Cyclops remains silent as Jean gives the gang another hyperbolic description, and then drags everyone off to space.
Seriously, she doesn't even give them a warning, just "it's time to go," and then bursts into flames that shoot out into the stars. There is, however, one pretty cool touch here: the Phoenix's abrupt departure from Earth sends what I assume to be a psychic shockwave around the world, and we cut to a quick montage of reactions from Captain Britain, the White Queen and, surprising given his lack of a connection to the X-Men, Dr. Strange:
Also surprising: how friggin' jacked that dude is on this show. He's built like a He-Man character!
After leaving Jubilee, Professor X, Banshee and Moira in Ireland, the rest of the X-Men and Lilandra pop onto the bridge of Lilandra's starship so that they can make their escape into the depths of space. "Say," you might be thinking to yourself, "now that Jean has this unfathomable cosmic power, maybe she won't immediately moan and faint every time she attempts to do something."
Now that they're all on Lilandra's ship, we can finally find out what this whole conflict that we've been dealing with for six episodes is actually about: The M'Kraan Crystal, which looks more like a medium-value gem from DuckTales for the NES than an object of galactic importance. It's so relatively unimpressive that even the X-Men themselves start raising their eyebrows until the Beast explains that "its faceted configuration gives the crystal infinite storage capacity for refracted light energy," and that sounds sciencey enough that I think we can all move on.
The most amazing thing about this scene, though, comes from that scumbag Gambit, who tells Rogue...
"You like it, chere? I get you one for Christmas."
Gambit, how are you the best thing about this show? How are you literally the best thing in my life right now?
As everyone's checking out Lilandra's magic space jewelry, a starship suddenly de-cloaks off the starboard bow, blasting the ship with a stun ray (also very sciencey) and rendering everyone momentarily unconscious. they shake it off before too long, though, but Rogue points out that Lilandra is "out colder than a leftover hushpuppy!" As someone who's actually from the south, I was pretty offended by this line -- not because of the over-the-top accent and folksy phrasing, but because if Rogue actually was southern, she'd know full well that there are never leftover hushpuppies. Those things get snatched up quick.
Anyway, this discussion is cut short when Cyclops's dad shows up.
Uh, spoiler warning, I guess?
Yes, it's the Starjammers -- with Corsair adding some massive metal epaulets to his starjammies for some reason -- and they're here to kidnap Lilandra and take the M'Kraan crystal for themselves. Obviously, the X-Men aren't planning to let that happen, so this kicks off this episode kicks off a pretty lukewarm fight scene. There's only one thing worth mentioning about it, and I honestly don't know if I hate it, or if it's my favorite thing that's happened on the show: At one point, Rogue grabs Hephzibah by the tail and swings her around, and a very-obviously-human voice actor starts making kitty cat growls. It's amazing.
Eventually, Cyclops gets the upper hand, zapping Corsair with his optic blasts and threatening to give him another hit if he doesn't stand down. This is a little weird, since it was just last episode that the show used Black Tom and Banshee to remind viewers that mutant powers don't affect close relatives, but I think it's been well established that internal consistency is a little too much to ask for this show.
Corsair orders his crew to reset the stun ray for humans, and before Cyclops can blast him, Phoenix reads Corsair's mind and finds out that he's actually Scott's father. She keeps this information to herself, though, just telling Cyclops not to shoot while Corsair gives the order and the X-Men get knocked out, again.
As our heroes awake from being knocked unconscious by their opponents for the second time in five minutes, they realize that the Starjammers have absconded with both the M'Kraan Crystal and Cyclops, raising all sorts of questions about who would actually choose to spend time locked in an airtight spacecraft with Scott Summers. Obviously, something is afoot.
On D'Ken's ship, Eric the Red returns to face a stern talking-to for letting the X-Men stop him from stealing the M'Kraan crystal and bringing Lilandra back for her execution. He's interrupted, however, by a holographic phone call from Corsair and his epaulets:
Corsair wants to make a deal: In exchange for a solid half of the Imperial treasury, he'll hand over the M'Kraan crystal and throw in Cyclops as a bonus. D'Ken agrees, but is naturally planning on betrayal, ordering Gladiator to get the Imperial Guard ready to kill -- excuse me, to "destroy" the Starjammers as soon as they show up.
He's not the only one banking on a double-cross, though. Visiting Cyclops in the Brig, Corsair lays out his own master plan: Having Cyclops give him a full-force optic blast right in the face, killing him in retribution for murdering Corsair's wife. This seems like a pretty solid plan for a coup that would also solve virtually every problem the X-Men have at this point, so naturally, Cyclops is going to pout about it for a few minutes before he finally gives in and agrees to do some murders.
Meanwhile, the X-Men and Lilandra are in hot pursuit of the Starjammer, but they're too slow to catch up. Lilandra tries to get Phoenix to teleport everyone, but Phoenix is still feeling drained from all that exhausting moaning and falling down she's been doing, so that's off the table for now.
Corsair gives his final orders and makes out with Hephzibah in a scene that I'm not going to screencap because I assume that you can find catgirl makeouts pretty easily everywhere else on the Internet, and he and Cyclops head off to see if they can't engage in a little regime changing. There's actually a pretty clever moment as they're walking to D'Ken's ship, where Corsair explains that he's from Earth and that he has children there, but he's been gone so long that "I wouldn't know mine now if I saw them. Except my oldest boy... he had his mother's eyes." I'm not gonna lie, that's a pretty cool bit that plays off of Cyclops's mutant powers in an interesting and unexpected way. Good job, X-Men cartoon!
The Summerses get to the throne room, and before long, everybody starts in on their assigned double-crosses. Corsair tries to get Cyclops to blast D'Ken, D'Ken calls in the Imperial Guard, and Jean teleports in, having homed in on her psychic link with Cyclops before another round of moaning and falling down. Everything goes bad for everyone all at once, particularly Corsair, who tackles D'Ken to the ground with plans to get to strangling, only to discover that he's actually a shapeshifting member of the Guard.
Clearly, it's fight scene time.
Remember last episode, when we had that really clever, well-staged fight between the X-Men, Black Tom, the Juggernaut and Eric the Red? Well, if you were hoping that it would herald the arrival of a new age of exciting set pieces and thrilling action, I have some bad news. This whole thing just sort of plods through the motions, and ended up leaving me colder than a leftover hushpuppy.
The only bit worth mentioning comes when the X-Men are faced with that old standard, the door that descends slowly from the ceiling to cut off their escape. You'd think they would make those things come down faster. I mean, that just makes sense, right? That's how I plan on doing it when I'm lording over my eventual outer-space dictatorship, anyway. Beast gets under it and tries to hold it open for the team, but it's too heavy, so Wolverine tries to give him a hand, only to find that he can't make a difference either. Then Rogue casually strolls up, shoves it back into the ceiling, and everyone runs through, easy peasy.
It's about time somebody on this show remembered their super-powers.
Before they can make good on their attempt to vamoose, though, they find that the real D'Ken is one step ahead of them -- literally. Running back to the Starjammer, Lilandra walks smack into D'Ken, who takes the crystal and starts up an incantation to Sharra and K'ythri, the Shi'ar gods. Phoenix powers up to take the crystal away, but it's too late. Something has already happened:
As for what that "something" is, it's... well, it's not really explained all that well, but it involves being sucked into the crystal and I think we can assume that's bad. Looks like we'll have to find out next week!
Discussion Question: Man. Corsair, huh? That guy. Still, it seems only natural that a sad sack like Cyclops would end up having a father who was a space pirate who rocked a bandana around his head well into the 21st century, doesn't it? So with that in mind who are your favorite parents in comics?
Next Week: The Phoenix Saga continues -- and concludes! -- in its fifth and final act, "Child of Light!" And then we just have to wait a few weeks for the Dark Phoenix Saga! So... yay?