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The ‘X-Men’ Episode Guide 1×03: Enter Magneto

1992 was a pretty good year to be a kid who loved comics. The reason that holds up best is probably — and by that I mean definitelyBatman: The Animated Series, but there was another show that had just as big an influence on my childhood: the 1992 X-Men cartoon.

Hitting at the height of the franchise’s popularity, X-Men translated all the action and melodrama that made the comic such a success to the world of Saturday morning cartoons, and it got its hooks into me like almost nothing else. That’s why ComicsAlliance is heading back through the archives for an in-depth look at every single episode of X-Men. This week: “Enter Magneto!” in which a jailbreak of Thin Lizzyan proportions doesn’t exactly go as planned.Previously, On X-Men:

If you’re wondering why I’m starting things off with the third episode of the series, I already did the two-part pilot back when Matt Wilson and I were doing in-depth reviews of the X-Men films. As much as I don’t think it holds up, it’s worth checking out for a couple of reasons.

For one, it leads off with the Sentinels. Most of the other versions of the story — including the comics and the Pryde of the X-Men pilot that never got picked up — start off with Magneto, but the show went in a different direction. By establishing the Sentinels as the primary antagonists right from the beginning, the animated series not only makes Magneto more sympathetic by showing us what he’s fighting against, but it puts an immediate spotlight on the idea that the real bad guys are the bigoted humans who want to commit genocide, and that’s pretty heavy stuff when you’re ten years old. Of course, it might’ve just been that they wanted a bad guy they could actually show Wolverine slashing up with his claws without getting calls from angry parents.

Second, it quickly establishes the serial nature of the show. Most adventure cartoons at the time — and again, Batman is the one that comes to mind — were really episodic. There was a little continuity and the occasional two-part episode, but by and large, the story gets wrapped up in 22 minutes. By the end of Night of the Sentinels, one of the X-Men is dead, another’s in prison, Jubilee joins the team and Wolverine swears to murder someone to get revenge for his dead pal. They waste no time making this thing a soap opera, let’s see how the next chapter goes.

This week’s episode — or, you know, November 27, 1992′s episode, but whatever — opens on the aforementioned prison, where the Beast is on lockdown for breaking into Mutant Registration HQ, burning up a bunch of records and allegedly committing felony destruction of a government killbot. That might seem like some pretty illegal stuff, but lest we forget that the government is actually the bad guy in this story, two prison guards dressed like Televipers show up to make fun of the Beast for reading a book.

This is, of course, the surest way to make sure nerdy children identify with your protagonists, but looking back, it strikes me as pretty weird that Hank’s reading Animal Farm. For one thing, I’m pretty sure that 1984 is the Orwell book that would be more appropriate for a government that’s collecting mutants’ information and then sending robots out to kill them, and for another, I have a hard time believing that Hank hasn’t already read that one. But it leads to a joke about how the guards are so dumb they think it’s a book with pictures of cows or whatever, so… good job, Jim Carlson and Terrence McDonnell. Less of a good job to the animators who made it look like Beast was reading it backwards, even if I choose to believe that’s just Hank finding a new way to enjoy the slim pickings of the prison library.

Fortunately for my attention span, the literature jokes don’t last long, and we quickly move on to what we’re all here to see: Explosions. First the lights all around the prison get blown out by some mysterious force!, which causes the guards to run outside and start blasting their G.I. Joe standard-issue red lasers into the sky. Clearly, humanity is in good hands.

It’s only then that we get the real action, when a bunch of the golden rings from Sonic the Hedgehog blow up a fence:

Obviously, this is what magnetism looks like. And also, “magnetism” is the natural force that just straight up makes things explode. I’m too lazy to look it up, but I’m starting to think “Jim Carlson” and “Terrence McDonnell” might be pen names for Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope.

Beast seems to think this is all the work of Wolverine, which makes me wonder if he’s actually supposed to be the super genius they’ve been telling us about. Seriously, the dude’s reading a book I read in the 8th grade, and seems to not be all that clear on what Wolverine’s powers actually are despite the fact that they live in the same house. The wall — which, for the record, is made of concrete and that’s not even a metal — explodes from all the magnetism running wild in the streets. We get a brief sight gag about a televiper’s underwear…

…and then at last, we meet Beast’s would-be rescuer. Sure enough, as promised in the title, Magneto has Entered:

It’s a pretty grand entrance, and again, I really like how the show sets this up. Magneto is, ostensibly, a bad guy, but he’s also a guy who tries to break the Beast out of prison, not for his own gain, but because he’s helping out a fellow mutant. It’s a nice introduction to how he works, especially with the way he calls out Xavier for leaving his student to rot in jail.

For his part, the Beast politely refuses the rescue, which does a nice job of representing Xavier’s more pacifist views. Or, you know, as pacifist as you can be while still running an outlaw paramilitary strike force featuring a guy who with can punch you with a fist made of knives, but it still counts. Then again, with the way Beast’s trial is going to end up going, it’s not exactly a glowing recommendation for passive resistance.

Big Mags rolls out with more than a little disgust at Beast’s line about “the righteousness of our cause,” since he’s more of a “the humans will be crushed” type of guy. There’s a brief science lesson about how magnets can repel laser beams that explains why my best subject in school was English, a few tanks and helicopters get blown up, and we abruptly cut back to the X-Mansion. Professor X is watching a tape of the attack, while Jubilee kicks back with an ice cream cone and says “hey, hot graphics.”

Oh, right. Jubilee’s kind of an idiot. I forgot.

Anyway, it’s flashback time!

In a few scenes that seem like they’re writing prompts for a class on slash fanfic, Professor X tells Jubilee about how he met his handsome young friend at a hospital “after a war” where they were both using their powers to help refugees. Professor X would use his telepathy to help people come out of comas, and Magneto would… Man, I don’t even know. Judging by what he can do with those Sonic the Hedgehog rings, I wouldn’t be surprised by anything.

I really do like that Xavier keeps things vague about this war, though. It allows for that experience to form the basis of their friendship without having to pin the characters to a particular date. Even though Magneto works best as a Holocaust survivor, tying him to a particular date limits what you can do with him. If it’s just “a war,” it can be anything, and we have no shortage of wars and atrocities that can keep Magneto as young as a story requires.

Huh. That got awfully depressing. Let’s just move on.

After some the army dudes who “brutally occupied” Magneto’s country show up and attack the hospital, he and Xavier reveal their powers to each other in a big fight. After they’ve won, however, Magneto stays on the attack, blasting them with both magnet rings and a SCARY ANGRY FACE.

Fun fact about Magneto: His secondary mutation is that he only has molars.

Professor X stops Magneto from killing the soldiers, but Magneto walks off and then instantly becomes a supervillain. Like, while he is walking away. It escalates quickly. But Charles drives him off, and Jubilee is so moved by the story that she gets up and gives him a kiss, which is such a weird action that it sounds more like something that would happen in a fairy tale than a cartoon from the ’90s.

With the exposition out of the way, it’s now time for The Trial of the Beast!

I had this episode on a VHS tape that I got from Pizza Hut when I was a kid — shout out to all my doggs in the Book It program — so I have vast chunks of this episode memorized to this day from watching it over and over. Nothing, with the possible exception of Wolverine’s “tell Cyclops I made him a convertible!” from the pilot, stuck with me like the Beast quoting Merchant of Venice in the court. I still think it’s a pretty effective lift, and as far as pseudo-brainy Beast dialogue goes, it beats the pants off smugly reading Animal Farm. Not enough to keep from being denied bail, though.

Wolverine decides he’s had enough of all this and pops his claws for the second attempted breakout in ten minutes, but Cyclops, The X-Men’s Boring Dad, pops up to deliver the whiniest “NO! THAT’S AN ORDER” I have heard in my life. Before they can get into it, though, this dude shows up:

All right, look. I realize that this is a trial for a bright blue sasquatch and that’s going to be what most people are focused on, but how in the Hell did Sabretooth get into that courtroom without anyone noticing?! Even Wolverine and Cyclops had the good sense to wear their civilian clothes, but son is eight feet tall, sitting in the back row in orange spandex with a pashmina made out of back hair. Did no one think that was going to be a problem?

Sabretooth starts wrecking up the courtroom until a bunch of guards show up and blast him with their laser guns. Wolverine refuses to help for reasons that I think we’re all pretty well aware of, but Cyclops, The Absolute Worst, decides to save him and fly him back to the X-Mansion for treatment. This does not sit well with Wolverine, who tries to drag Sabretooth out of the building, hospital bed and all, until everyone shows up and tut-tuts him into letting him stay.

The whole thing is interrupted by a Magneto Alert!, and as they’re walking out, Wolverine snarls “How come we’re supposed to trash your old enemy, but go easy on mine?” while electric guitars crank out power chords in the background.

It is pretty awesome.

It turns out that Magneto’s attacking a missile base, in a scene that’s very loosely adapted from Uncanny X-Men #1. Magneto demands “mutant liberation,” and now we get to find out about how magnetism can also hack into computers and start launching ICBMs. And that’s why you don’t ever let a magnet get near your hard drive.

The X-Men — represented here by Wolverine, Cyclops and Storm — show up with an amazingly goofy sequence of entrances from different sides of the military base. Then, in what is an accurate plot summary for most X-Men comics printed between 1991 and about mid-2000, they give Magneto an ultimatum, and he responds by blasting them.

Oh and then he launches some nuclear weapons at them. Say what you will about Magneto, but that dude does not f**k around.

Cyclops tries to blow up three missiles while the rest of the team (and all the soldiers) are standing right there, and then whines a little when Storm tells him that this is a stupid plan. She flies off and Professor X teaches her how to disarm nuclear weapons while she’s flying, which is pretty cool. The missiles get short-circuited with lightning, Wolverine catches Storm when she falls back to the ground exhausted, Wolverine calls Cyclops “buddy,” and everything works out more or less okay.

I mean, except for the part where Magneto’s still running around trying to blow up the world.

But that brings us to the end of this week’s episode, so — and I think this is the first time I’ve ever written this on ComicsAlliance — let’s have a conversation. The series is streaming on Netflix, so you don’t even have to dust off those Pizza Hut tapes to follow along. If you’ve got thoughts or a particular memory about this episode, let’s chat about it in the comments. I’ll actually read ‘em. And failing that, here’s this week’s…

Discussion Question:

This show’s theme song holds up better than just about anything else about the show. It’s still the music that I think of in my head when I’m reading X-Men comics. So what’s your favorite part? For me, it’s definitely the church bell.

Next Week: The X-Men make the worst possible decision with regards to occupational safety.

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