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 the penultimate episode, which seems like a pretty good time to introduce Cannonball, Husk and Project Wideawake, right? Right.

Previously, on X-Men:

In our last episode, we learned the origin of Mister Sinister, which involvedzzz

zzz

zzzhuh!? Oh dang, sorry everybody. I guess Mister Sinister isn't even interesting enough to keep me awake when I'm getting paid to write about him. Suffice to say that it was an extended flashback with a bunch of complete nonsense about Charles Darwin and a dude hanging out in Victorian England successfully keeping anyone from noticing that he had glowing red eyes.

Sinister's interest in Jean Grey's reproductive system led to a discussion of what the creepiest reveal in comics history is, and good golly, I should've probably thought that one through a little more. There are some pretty terrible ones that made the list compiled by the Commenteers, but rest assured that Carol Danvers and Marcus, also known as The Story We Do Not Talk About, was brought up several times and probably takes the cake. The awful, awful cake. Go give the comments to that one a read if you're looking for reasons to never read comics again.

 

 

This week, we're watching the penultimate episode of the series, "Hidden Agendas," from the writing team of Steve Melching and David McDermott and producer Tom McLaughlin, and folks, I'm not going to lie to you. It is pretty bad. It does, however, take place in the South, which means we get to hear what a bunch of Canadian voice actors think Southern Accents sound like, and I can assure you that that part is delightful.

We open in Cumberland, Kentucky -- or rather, we open under Cumberland, Kentucky in a coal mine currently providing employment to at least two members of the unnecessarily large Guthrie family. Since this is an X-Men story, there's a cave-in almost immediately, trapping Pa Guthrie along with his son Sam, and knocking over a bunch of lanterns and starting a fire. Things look pretty grim (and highly explosive), but fortunately for the miners, SAM'S INVULNERABLE WHEN HE'S BLASTIN'!

 

 

Yes, Sam Guthrie is actually the mutant known as Cannonball, who has the uncanny ability to turn everything from his junk down into a rocket explosion that also somehow protects his head from bursting like a watermelon when he slams into solid rock. Because of that, he's able to get his dad and another miner out of there before the whole place explodes, which is something that can actually happen, because coal mines are terrifying.

Having saved the day, Sam becomes something of a local hero, and in the process, he draws the attention of Mr. Gerklin, an army recruiter who shows up at the Guthries' alarmingly decorated living room to try to get Sam to join up, promising him a college education on the G.I. bill:

 

 

Let this be a lesson to you, kids: Never trust a G-Man who can't even button his coat right.

Gerklin's not the only one interested in Sam's powers, either. We cut to the X-Mansion, where Rogue and Gambit are flirting at each other over a game of pool when Beast walks in to tell them about this indestructible flying kid who just saved a few lives at a coal mine, and, being the most egregiously Southern X-Man, Rogue decides that she should be the one to go check it out.

It's also in this scene that the animation really goes off the rails. While Cannonball is terrifyingly thin and has ears that hint at his partially elephant heritage (pretty sure that's a Scott Lobdell thing), the X-Men are rocking their slightly redesigned character designs for the back half of season five, a weird little change that came with the new theme song and seems completely bizarre. I mean, they're only really around for like five episodes.

 

 

The voices are a little different, too. Rogue (Lenore Zahn) just seems like she's a little out of practice, but Gambit (Tony Daniels, replacing Chris Potter) is all over the map. Season 5 Gambit doesn't have that smooth, "mebbe we save 20%?" voice that he started out with. He's not even really talking anymore, just sort of heavily accented hissing. He's like a snake that sold its soul at the crossroads to learn how to be a bluesman.

Also all over the map: The proportions of this redneck hanging around at the general store down in Kentucky:

 

 

It seems that Gerklin has decided that the best way to get Sam to join the army would be to put on a disguise (read: a baseball cap) and go tell a bunch of people about completely imaginary farms two towns over where a bunch of farm problems happened... because of mutants!

He's not the only one spreading misinformation around Cumberland, either. Down at the local '50s diner -- you know, like every town in Kentucky and also Bayside High School had back in 1997 -- a few of the local #teens are gossiping, and this is where the Southern accents hit critical mass.

 

 

"Yew still goin' with Shelleh?"

"Shay's prahvate stock, mayun!"

"Ah know! That's why it tripped me out to see her with Sam Guthrie!"

"WHUDDER YEW TAWKIN ABAWAT?"

Yeah. Apparently the army's plan also involves having children create romantic strife over milkshakes. Your tax dollars at work, True Believers.

While the town is being poisoned against Sam, Rogue arrives and promptly launches a thousand 'ships by giving her name as "Ms. LeBeau" when she shows up at the Guthrie residence, claiming to be a representative of an extragovernmental paramilitary organization -- er, school that might be interested in Sam's talents. Sam, however, tells her that he wants to stay in Kentucky and keep working at a coal mine, which is actually less plausible than the thing where he sets his ass on fire and bashes through walls.

Her discussion does not go unnoticed, however, and when the Army guys run her photo through their computers, the database at Project Wideawake (really? We're going to introduce that now?) reveals that she's an X-Man! Why, they're the ones in the title!

 

 

Incidentally, this entire conversation is happening on a train that is also a super-techno base, which is presumably just circling this Kentucky mining town without anyone noticing.

Rogue relays the information that she's learned to the X-Men -- Gerklin has been telling Sam that he's part of a "mutant Peace Corps" -- and surprising no one, it turns out to be complete bullshoes, leading Xavier to send Gambit, the master t'ief, in for a recon mission. Gambit is quick to oblige, and does so with all the subtlety that I think we've all come to expect from him, accomplishing his mission with the finesse that would make the Thieves Guild proud. And by that i mean that he literally attaches a clump of C4 to an air conditioning vent, blows it up, and then wriggles through it while talking to himself out loud.

Believe it or not, he actually gets captured.

 

 

Naturally, Gambit's capture prompts the fellow in charge of the Evil Military Operation to reveal his entire master plan four seconds after walking into the room. It seems that they've developed technology that allows them to control mutants' bodies, which they're planning to try out on Sam once he joins up. It seems that having a living ballistic missile is a pretty high priority for the army -- high enough that they're willing to hang around in Kentucky for as long as it takes to get it, and that's saying something.

Back in Cumberland, Sam runs into some trouble with the local single-gloved tough, who wants to start a fight over Sam's attempts to beat his time with SHELLEH, whoever that may be. While a fistfight doesn't happen -- presumably due to BS&P rules -- the altercation ends when Sam literally shoves their pickup truck off the road while blastin'.

 

 

"I'M SORREH!"

Meanwhile, back at Evil Government HQ, the bad guys have decided to use Gambit as a test subject for their mind control chip, and to that end they have shaved a spot in Gambit's head to make it look like a cat's butthole.

 

 

Fortunately for Gambit and his newly hilarious head, Professor X and Beast show up, with X just cold knocking out everyone on the base with his psychic powers while rolling his eyes about having to pull his "master t'ief's" ass out of the fire.

That doesn't stop the evil plan, though, and -- holy buckets. It turns out the bad guy's name is Kirkland, not Gerklin, but I haven't been able to tell before Professor X said it because Cedric Smith is literally the only person in this episode who isn't trying to affect some bizarre accent. Oh well. It's too late to go back and change it now, and I like Gerklin better.

Either way, the plan to turn the townsfolk against the Guthries is in full swing, prompting an actual mob wielding actual pitchforks and torches to show up at the house:

 

 

Pa Guthrie tries to talk him down but, failing that, settles for just telling them to go attack the X-Men instead, keeping them busy while Gerklin and his soldiers try to knock Sam out on a helicopter. He escapes, crash landing in the middle of the mob, which is just enough of a sign that things have gone bad that the army men decide to send a squadron of killer robots to just take out the entire population of Cumberland. The X-Men intervene, trashing the robots almost instantly, which prompts Gerklin to send in the mutant they've been using the mind-control chip on, who, and I swear this actually happens on the show, shoots one blast of energy out of his hands and then falls facedown in the middle of the woods, completely unconscious.

So... that's a big win for the heroes, I guess?

Discussion Question: Our journey is almost over, and since next week is our last installment, let's do this here and now: What do you think of the X-Men animated series? What stands out? What was bad? Is there anyone who doesn't hear Cathal J. Dodd's voice in their head when they read Wolverine comics?

Next Week: THIS IS IT! The X-Men Episode guide finally concludes with "Graduation Day!"