The X-Men Episode Guide 4×03: ‘Courage’
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, Morph returns yet again, and this time manage to last almost 20 minutes!
Previously, on X-Men:
In our last episode, the season-opening two-parter concluded with various crappy futures being annihilated by the combined forces of Bishop, Shard, Wolverine, Storm, Trevor Fitzroy, Young Professor X, and plot contrivance. The animated Age of Apocalypse was averted and Storm and Cyclops returned to being coworkers rather than the post-apocalyptic married couple that they would have been if Professor X had never lived. Which, considering how much of this show is driven by Wolverine's unrequited longing for various teammates, basically means that Professor X's major contribution to the timeline was keeping that dude from getting laid.
In our discussion of potential pet names for the X-Men, a lot of readers brought up the canonical nicknames, ("Elf" for Nightcrawler, "Slim" for Cyclops, "The Defendant" for Gambit, etc.), but reader Randy Lee Potts came up with a good one for everyone's favorite monocular team leader:
"I'm sure everyone calls Cyclops 'Dick' and he keeps reassuring them his name is Scott. "
Seems legit. Also, Ohad Reiter brought up that someone once called X-Man "otherseed," but the less said about that, the better.
Hey, remember Morph, the shape-shifting X-Man who was killed by Sentinels in the pilot in order to add an element of danger to the series, who was then resurrected as a hollow-eyed lackey of Mister Sinister who pretended to perform Cyclops and Jean's marriage, only to run away screaming in a mineshaft? Well, writers Sandy Scesny and Michael Edens and director Larry Houston sure do, and they are bringing him back for another round.
This time, he's hanging out at the Muir Island Research Center, where the heavily accented Moira MacTaggert, who's giving him the once over. With a year of therapy that has occurred completely offscreen, he has recovered from being both literally dead and a villainous henchman, and is now ready to rejoin the team and fight to protect a world that hates and fears him. Moira, however, isn't so sure that he's fully over his trauma, but as he reminds her by shapeshifting into the other people on the team...
...he has a long way to go before he's the most screwed up member of that little family.
Incidentally, this scene reminded me of my one and only fond memory of Morph, which came in the form of his action figure. See, in oder to represent his shape-shifting powers, Morph's figure came with four heads you could swap out: Good Morph, Evil Morph, Cyclops and Wolverine. Now, I didn't really care about Morph, so after re-enacting his dramatic death at the hands of the Sentinel Robot Playset (picture me at 12 shouting "THIS ONE'S FOR YOU, MORPH!" and bashing two person-shaped hunks of plastic together, I assure you it was adorable), I didn't have much to do with him. But, since I liked his costume, and since my Cyclops figure was patterneda fter the Claremont/Cockrum run and was therefore woefully out of date, I just popped his head off, replaced with Cyclops, and had another character that Wolverine could punch in the stomach. You left him behind, soldier boy!
I have to imagine that around 90% of kids who had a Morph figure took this exact course of action.
While I've been reminiscing about action figures, our scene has switched to the Sentinel Factory Playset, where scientists have just invented an indestructible polymer that bears a striking resemblance to wrapping paper, and which has been manufactured for the explicit purpose of making killer robots harder for their enemies and human masters to destroy.
You see where this is going.
Yes, no sooner has it been spooled up and put on the rack than a gang of sentinels show up, crash through the walls, blow up the entire lab and the scientists with it, and make off with every spool of the stuff. It is one of those rare, highly specific ironies, where a laboratory for making evil killer robots is destroyed by a slightly different set of evil killer robots than the ones it is actually making.
Back at the mansion, the X-Men are alerted to a priority alarm, sending them dashing off to the War Room in their casual clothes, and --
What is going on here.
Folks, we are going to have to unpack this outfit.
So... We have an emerald green one-piece pantsuit under a yellow-green sleeveless trench coat, accessorized with a headband with a matching choker and necklace, plus opera gloves underneath shorter white gloves, which also match her white ankle boots. Lady, a solid 40% of my wardrobe was purchased at professional wrestling events, and even I know that's a fashion catastrophe.
Anyway, the alarm was for Morph's welcome home party, to which Cyclops responded by asking why they were even having a party since he didn't know Morph was back yet, and I am not joking about that. He literally complained about having a party. That dude. But before the celebrations can really get going in earnest, there's an actual priority alarm from the "Mutant Activities Monitoring Circuit" alerts them to the robbery at the sentinel factory.
Jean, you are lucky that Storm looks like the Wizard of Oz's closet threw up on her, or else we would be having a serious discussion about how you decided to cosplay as an oak tree today.
Professor X explains what the polymer is and what it does (and we drop down a full ten points for the use of "You wanna try that again, in English?"), explaining that they would be in dire straits indeed it it fell into the wrong hands. The thing is, while he's explaining all this, he looks excited as hell.
That's not just an unfortunate screencap, either. Dude is, at best, really excited (and at worst, fully aroused) about the prospect of sending the X-Men out to fight someone who has potentially just turned indestructible.
Since this mission has the potential to involve someone who needs to be stabbed, Wolverine volunteers, and since he and Morph are BFFs, he volunteers Morph, too, who agrees by turning into John Wayne and doing an impression that would sound absolutely terrible to anyone who was actually old enough to know who that was. Thus, our team is off -- to adventure! Sort of!
The first thing they do when they get to the factory is pull the old trick where Morph tells a guard that he's being relieved, and then starts yelling at him when he says he doesn't have orders to abandon his post. It's actually pretty great, too. I mean, really, by 1995, you'd think somebody would've started training our soldiers to not just believe people who show up in similar clothes, but what makes it so amazing is that Morph doesn't even wait for the dude to be out of the shot before he drops the disguise and starts laughing at him.
Once they're actually in the factory, though, Wolverine catches a whiff of the Sentinels, and decides that he better just scratch the mission and report back to Professor X without letting Morph know and risk triggering his post-traumatic stress. It's actually presented pretty smartly, since the audience already knows that it was the Sentinels and, presumably, Morph's history with them. Since Wolverine never actually says what he's doing, this scene in particular feels like it trusts the audience to figure out the emotions going on without spelling them out.
And then the rest of the episode happens.
So just why did those robots show up and steal the indestructible wrapping paper? Because they were being directed by the villain of 100% of Season 4 so far: Master Mold!
Or, you know. Master Mold's very sassy severed head.
As a giant robot with the power of pregnancy (if you missed him the first time around, he literally sits in a giant chair making sentinels in his tummy, which is weird even by Marvel Comics standards), Master Mold is missing having a body quite a bit, and has started construction on a new one in some underground lair. To that end, he's planning on using the super-wrapping paper to make himself completely invulnerable. Once that's done, he will emerge from hiding and destroy all mutants!
No, wait. Sorry, he wants to have his revenge now, and orders his sentinels to go kidnap Professor X, Peter Gyrich and Bolivar Trask, while he's still a fully vulnerable severed robot head. Apparently Master Mold is capable of both the desire for revenge and impatience.
At the mansion, Professor X is having a conversation about self-confidence that is just about to veer into magic feather territory when the Sentinels show up, prompting him to pull out a gun and start shooting them, which is pretty awesome.
Seriously, I really like that Professor X has a plan for dealing with enemies that he can't shut down telepathically, and that it is just to shoot them with a gun until they are dead.
Unfortunately, it's not enough. He's captured by the Sentinels, and hen Morph has the chance to shoot one right in the crotch, he freezes up, allowing the robots to escape with the Professor. Also, for a brief moment, the show forgets that Wolverine cannot fly.
When the rest of the team gets back, everyone's pretty cheesed off about Morph pulling a choke job on the whole "don't let Professor X get kidnapped by killer robots" thing, which is like page one of the syllabus at the Xavier School. But fortunately, they're able to hack the remaining sentinel parts from the front yard to get an idea of where they're going, setting out to the rescue while leaving Morph at home "just in case the Professor calls."
Very convincing, Cyclops. But seriously, I'm on your side this time.
The thing is, the coordinates are not where Professor X has been taken. The coordinates are for the Sentinels' next destination, the island home of Trask and Gyrich, who have gone into hiding in a jungle and become the kind of married couple who just f**king hate each other.
"While you've been wasting your time, look what I've caught."
"Now clean it and cook it for lunch."
Dude straight up threw a fish on that man's science. It is delightful.
Soon enough, the bliss of island life is interrupted by the Sentinels, and then further interrupted by the X-Men, who completely fail to prevent Gyrich and Trask from being kidnapped. Meanwhile, back at the Mansion, Morph gets tired of sitting around and tries to get more information from the Sentinel's databanks, only to hack it so hard that it explodes. But! Just before the explosion, he manages to Crash Override out another set of coordinates, which is the actual headquarters (haw haw) of Master Mold. So Morph hops into one of the X-Men's flying racecars and goes out to meet up with the rest of the team.
At the cave, Master Mold has opened up monologue.exe and starts blathering on about why he kidnapped these three. Turns out it wasn't just for revenge -- he wants Gyrich and Trask to help build his new body so that he can kill them more efficiently (bad plan), and also wants to link up his systems with Professor X's brain so that he can be a telepathic pregnant murder robot, I guess (terrible plan). But before he can pull that off, the X-Men arrive to start up a ruckus.
Unfortunately, the X-Men are the worst superheroes that have ever existed, so they heck things up almost immediately. Unsurprisingly, the women get the worst of it -- Jean just sort of stands there waiting to be shot with lasers and picked up by a robot (twice) without ever remembering she has powers, and Storm gets buried under rocks and starts shrieking about her claustrophobia.
But then Morph shows up, and we get some pretty cool shape-shifting action. I don't think I've mentioned it before now, but even in that scene where Wolverine jumps a hundred feet in the air, all the fighting on this one has looked particularly nice, and Morph is probably the best example of that. He shifts into different forms and fights based on their attributes, using Omega Red's tentacles, Longshot's agility (and hollow bones), Sasquatch's strength and Mimic's wings to attack the sentinels.
It's particularly clever because those are forms and powers that are all physical. Morph can shapeshift into Omega Red and use the tentacles, but not his mutant death factor, or use Mimic's wings to glide without actually copying anyone's powers. It's a very, very clever scene.
As for Master Mold, he gets killed with a rock.
It was a big rock.
With that, Morph has corrected his mistake and confronted the source of his nightmares, and it all worked out okay. But, he realizes that he's not quite ready for a return to the X-Men just yet, and sets out on his own.
Discussion Question: One of the best parts of this episode was Professor X's explanation of the Sentinels as being the enemies that bothered him the most, because they were the one foe whose mind he could never change. I've always loved the Sentinels (giant racist robots getting killed is always rad), but I'd never thought of it that way -- that they're hardwired to hate, and that the X-Men can convince people to give up on bigotry and hatred, but they can never reprogram robots. Are there any other lines that have changed the way you think about villains? I'd like to hear 'em!
Next Week: One of my favorite comics stories starts up as the X-Men face off with "Proteus (Part 1)!"