The X-Men Episode Guide 5×11: Old Soldiers
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, it's a flashback to World War II with Captain America, teaming up with Wolverine to fight gigantic Warhammer 40,000 miniatures! It's actually seriously rad.
Previously, on X-Men:
In our last episode, Apocalypse returned from the dead just in time for his last appearance on the show. It turns out that he had a dedicated backup cult kicking it somewhere in South America, just in case he wound up trapped outside of time. The only catch was that he needed a vessel to provide him with a new body, and instead of just inhabiting whoever was around, which was entirely possible, he tried to take over Jubilee after she and Beast stumbled onto his operation. Like literally every plan Apocalypse has ever had in a long career of supervillainy, this one failed, and he ended up using Fabian Cortez's body instead.
So yes, he survived, but since we won't be seeing him again (thank goodness), I thought it would be appropriate to turn to the Commenteers for an appropriate eulogy. While there were many tributes, it was Lawrence J. Sinclair who produced perhaps the most moving: "He dies with his alphabetic belt-buckle collection incomplete." Michael Hancock, on the other hand, provided a link to a tribute video of his moments. For best results, pair it with this.
This week, our trip down the home stretch continues with "Old Soldiers," the fourth and final episode written by Len Wein. As you might expect, given that he's Wolverine's co-creator, his episodes tend to focus on everyone's favorite stab-happy Canadian, and this one's no exception.
We open in a graveyard, and as you can tell from the distinctive architecture -- perfectly flat two-story buildings surrounding a vaguely EIffelesque Tower -- we're in Paris. There's a group of veterans there paying their respects, and in one of the show's most unexpected crossovers, one of them appears to be Cotton Hill, best known for killing fitty men during his service to our country:
They took his shins, boy. His shins!
As they salute their fallen comrade, they notice that there's a grumbling Canadian hanging out at a nearby grave, who they initially mistake for someone they served with back in the war (hmmm), and this is the first of many amazing things about this episode: Wolverine is so constantly full of uncontrollable rage that he has traveled from New York to Paris JUST TO YELL AT SOMEONE'S DEAD BODY. That is fantastic.
So just what't the story here? Well, thankfully Wolverine is going to narrate a flashback for us, out loud, while standing alone in a cemetery just furious at this corpse.
We dissolve to 1944, where Wolverine is running a covert operation for the OSS, and while I believe this is the first time the show has mentioned that Wolverine is functionally immortal and has been alive for far longer than he appears, this information is presented completely without explanation -- which, again, is kind of awesome. As much as this show likes to fling itself headlong into recreating the staggeringly complex continuity of the '90s X-Men, it also does a lot of info-dumping. Here, it's just like "Oh hey, bee tee dubs, Wolverine is a million years old and fought Nazis. Here's Captain America."
Yes, no sooner has Wolverine met up with his contacts, a resistance fighter called Justine and a soldier named Captain Sawyer and recieved his mission orders -- to rescue a scientist named Andre Cocteau, Justine's father, from a mountaintop chateau -- than he runs afoul of "Uncle Adolf's goose-steppin' goons." They're hassling a kid over a loaf of bread, and when Logan steps to them via the feared BS&P-approved combat technique of the flying Neck-Ram...
... he meets his backup, Steve By God Rogers, Captain America.
Having dealt with the Nazis (and cheerfully given the kid his loaf of bread back), Cap and Wolverine head to the chateau, and seriously? Y'all would not believe how excited I am at the possibility of getting Where Eagles Dare by way of the X-Men cartoon. The only way to get there is by scaling a sheer cliff, and since a flashback is nothing without foreshadowing, Wolverine has a handy bit of equipment to help him out: Claws.
This seems like a remarkably difficult and inefficient way to climb a mountain but, y'know. It'd be like Cyclops having a flashback that didn't involve talking about how cool a pair of red sunglasses were while his dad was distracted by an especially sexy skunk.
There's a bit of banter on the climb up about Cap's "star-spangled monkey suit" and how Wolverine thinks it's a little too ostentatious for a covert mission. Cap, of course, mentions that he needs to serve as both a soldier and a symbol, and Wolverine replies "You wouldn't catch me in something like that. It's gotta itch", which is at least as good as the "yellow spandex" gag from the first movie, and also explains why his modern-day counterpart is so damn grumpy all the time.
At the top of the cliff, Cap and Wolverine run into a couple of Nazis, and there's a fantastic shot of Cap just bashing through them, just full-on Jack Kirby style...
...while Wolverine uses his claws to chop a tree branch and drop it on a couple of enemy soldiers before remarking about how handy they are. One assumes they would also be handy for, you know, stabbing them to death, but either way, we get it. Wolverine likes claws.
Having dealt with the sentries, the heroes head inside, and folks, this is where it gets bonkers:
Yes, it seems Cocteau is a scientist specializing in the field of Building Giant Warhammer 40,000 Robotology, and has made a pretty significant breakthrough.
The heroes make short work of the Nazis guarding Cocteau, but it turns out he doesn't want to be rescued, leaving Wolverine to knock him out with the Canadian Nerve Pinch and carry him, only to find themselves surrounded when Cocteau sets off the alarm. And that's when we meet the real villain of the piece: The Red Skull.
Who, like his 1992 live-action movie counterpart, seems to have a suspiciously Italian accent.
After revealing that it was Cocteau who set off the alarm and betrayed his would-be rescuers, the Skull imprisons Cap and Logan in an actual dungeon full of torture devices -- or, at least, full of some vaguely torturous devices that could be seen on FOX Kids at 10 AM on a Saturday, which basically comes down to a Rack that Cap isn't so much tied to as gently set upon. Wolverine gets hung up by the arms, and that provides their method of escape: After Red Skull leaves the room, having decided to just toss all of their weapons and equipment on a nearby table that's only about two feet away from our protagonists, Wolverine is able to swing over, knock it in the air, and then thrust it through the air with the power of his crotch, bouncing it off the walls and severing the ropes:
Now that that little setback is done, the heroes set about taking out the Skull and his troops, and also hopefully doing at least a little bit of murder on Cocteau for his betrayal.
The resulting fight scene is awesome. Although it's not quite as technically impressive as the Cassidy Keep battle from Season 2, it's easily one of the best and most exciting fights of the series so far, and with only four more episodes to go after this one, I can't imagine it'll be topped. Once again, the animators draw heavily on Kirby for inspiration, sending Cap crashing into (and through!) groups of Nazis like a wrecking ball:
The claws and the shield-slinging look great, too, and when the giant Nazibots get involved, it gets even better, with these massive Wolfenstein 3D chainguns sending a hail of bullets everywhere, Wolverine tearing their chests open and Cap chucking his shield through the robots like it's coming out of a rocket launcher. It's so great!
Where has this X-Men cartoon been for the past year?
With the robots trashed, the chateau starts to explode (because of course it does), giving Cocteau and the Red Skull a chance to escape. Wolverine and Cap try to follow, grabbing onto the wings of the Skull's aircraft, but they can't hold on, and end up falling into a conveniently placed wagon full of hay that, just for good measure, immediately plummets over a cliff. I'm honestly surprised it didn't explode too, but really, that's one of a very small number of missed opportunities in this show.
And then, in one of the most impressive moments, they actually explain why the chateau exploded. It wasn't just a load-bearing boss that caused the place to come down around their ears; it was being shelled by Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos!
Wolverine's cheesed about the msision being a failure -- they didn't recover the scientist, after all -- and back in the future, he's still mad about it 50 years later. But what's this? Justine shows up at the grave and conveniently explains that Cocteau wasn't a traitor -- his betrayal of Cap and Wolverine was all part of a plan to get him into the Skull's good graces so that he could get behind enemy lines as a saboteur, keeping Hitler from developing the atomic bomb! They just didn't bother to tell anybody.
With that, Wolverine immediately drops a five-decade grudge and decides that he should vandalize Cocteau's grave. But, y'know, in a nice way.
Discussion Question: Holy buckets, that episode was actually great. So great, in fact, that it makes me wish there had been more team-up stories about other heroes showing up to help the X-Men. Who would've been the best Marvel Universe guest star for the Animated X-Men? Who would've made Cyclops more boring or terrible, or caught Jean Grey when she inevitably fell down after trying to use her powers, or given Gambit tips on how to be an even more reprehensible pickup artist? U-DECIDE!