The X-Men Episode Guide 2×09: A Rogue’s Tale
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: "A Rogue's Tale," in which Rogue's origin explains everything but her dubious hair choices.
Previously, on X-Men:
In our last episode, we took a break from this season's string of episodes focusing on single characters and their backstories for a time-twisting epic starring Cable and Bishop. Bishop and Cable both tried to fix the past -- which, it should be noted, had no discernible effect on their respective dystopian futures -- and eventually they sorted out a plan for saving everything. As you might expect, it basically boiled down to "throw Wolverine at it."
We also saw Cable's teenage son Tyler, who looked exactly like Cable down to the classic "vest and metal arm" look that was so popular in the '90s, which led to our discussion of which characters we'd really want to see teenage versions of. Some of you suggested characters like Jimmy Olsen and Spider-Man, and if you were among them, I have some pretty good news about your chances of seeing stories about them as teenagers. Reader Matt Brown, however, suggested Teen MODOK, and there are so many places you can go with that. How do those tiny little legs ride a skateboard? I am willing to find out.
Sadly, we have no skateboarding in this episode, but we do get some teens as we find out way more than we ever wanted to know about Rogue!
Has there ever in the history of comics been a character less in need of a complicated backstory than Rogue? She can absorb anyone's powers and memories by touching them, but she can never touch anyone for any other reason without that happening. It's one of the classic Marvel powers, something that's as much of a curse as anything else, that isolates her and sets up a really interesting dynamic, and it's the easiest thing in the world to explain and relate to. Throw in the origin story about how it manifested with her first kiss, and you have as much psychological ammunition as you would ever need to build a character.
And yet, here we are, with writers Robert N. Skir and Marty Isenberg ready to take us on a trip that winds through the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and the Avengers, all in an effort to end up right back where we started.
We open with a young lady walking through a rainstorm who is suddenly accosted by a tough with a goatee who wants to "share her umbrella," if you catch my meaning. Now, street harassment in the real world is pretty terrible, but in the Marvel Universe, it has got to be a pretty risky proposition. Best case scenario, you're still a creep, and worst case, it's the Punisher in disguise and now you have a brand new .45 caliber hole in your face. What happens to this guy is somewhere in between:
Yes, it turns out that catcalling a shapeshifter is not the best idea. He beats feet, presumably to go join the Mad Gear Gang, and she heads to a dark room where she reveals herself to be Mystique in disguise. It's worth noting that the show really misses a great opportunity for the reveal here -- she's in a room that's pitch black and lit by flashes of lightning until she lights a candle. The obvious way to go about this in a cool way would be to just have the woman replaced by Mystique between the flashes, or when the light finally comes on, but she just casually shifts to her regular blue skin/white dress/skull belt form when she's done lighting the candle. I guess the idea here was that they didn't want to get too clever in case someone was just being introduced to Mystique and her powers, but she's been on the show several times at this point, and it seems obvious to the point where it's weird that they didn't do it.
Until, of course, you realize that they were saving that little trick for the other person in the room.
And right about then was when I realized it was going to be one of those weeks.
Mr. Sinister informs Mystique that Professor Xavier is "no longer with the X-Men," a phrase that implies that he's working at a new job rather than, you know, being trapped in an Antarctic dinosaur jungle. Either way, the X-Men are now "like sheep without a shepard," which will give Mystique the opportunity to reclaim her daughter. So all that Season 1 craziness about Rogue's secret mom? It is about to pay off.
But first, a trip to the fair!
The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants -- Avalanche, Pyro and the Blob -- attack what appears to be the world's crappiest carnival in an effort to lure the X-Men into action. Well, that's what Avalanche and Pyro are in it for. Blob, true to form, seems to be mostly about the ice cream. Either way, it works, because as we all know, the X-Men are sworn to protect the state fairgrounds that hate and fear them.
They leap into action, and Storm -- you know, Storm, second in command of the X-Men, controls the very forces of nature itself, occasionally worshiped as a goddess for her incredible power? -- gets taken out immediately when the Blob throws an empty tub of ice cream at her.
I have no idea how I came away from this show liking the X-Men as much as I do. They are the worst.
While her fellows are being summarily trounced by a dude whose mutant power is really liking ice cream, Rogue has a vision of a strange blonde woman that causes her head to explode into blue light. This is normal for the X-Men, but it's painful enough that it knocks Rogue right into a commerical break. When we come back, she's floating in the same pink psychoscape that we saw wayyyy back when we started this whole episode guide and Professor X was poking around in Sabretooth's noggin:
I don't think Sabretooth had a giant floating Christmas ornament of Gambit's head, though. But I could be mistaken on that.
There's also a weird lizard monster wearing a mask in there too, but we'll come back to that. When she wakes up Rogue mentions that she's been having these crazy dreams ever since Professor X disappeared, and casually mentions that she's been working with him, and while she can't remember exactly what their sessions were about, she knows he "blocked a bunch of memories." You know, like you do when you're an older man working with a younger woman at your school. Perfectly normal.
At this point, Jean walks into the room -- without falling over, yelling for Scott or being possessed, which I think we can call a victory at this point -- and announces that the woman Rogue saw "really gets around." It turns out they have surveillance pictures of her at a bunch of different places, like anti-mutant rallies, house fires and car accidents, because that's apparently what the X-Men keep tabs on.
Gambit urges Rogue to look at the picture -- NOTE: if Gambit urges you to look at a picture do not look at it -- and promptly has another episode where she starts freaking out with repressed memories:
The other X-Men ask what's wrong, and Rogue claims that she just needs some air to deal with these persistent hallucinations, so she flies out of the school and starts wandering around. It doesn't help, though, and in fact, it actually gets worse. She starts seeing this lady everywhere she looks, projected onto the faces of Cyclops (where it calls her "girlfriend"), Gambit, and even a shirtless, wood-chopping Wolverine:
Rogue collapses and finds herself back in "the lower depths of your mind," arguing with this blonde phantom -- who, for the record, is not to be confused with the Blonde Phantom. It seems her newfound headmate is more than a little pissed off at Rogue for stealing her life, and when she snaps out of her fugue state, she's lost her southern accent and her memories.
At this point, the rest of the X-Men realize that they have a problem, particularly when Jean takes a peek and realizes that there are two mental presences at war inside Rogue's skunk-striped dome. Of course, they realize this just as Rogue blasts her way through three stories' worth of ceilings and flies off to New York City, where she's plagued by even more hellish visions.
Eventually, Rogue is led to a hospital, where Mystique is laying in wait to take advantage of her secret daughter's new set of brain problems. As Mystique uses her powers (and the minimal help of the Brotherhood) to deal with Storm and the rest of the X-Men, Rogue finds herself in a hospital room with "Sleeping Beauty," a comatose Jane Doe who's been there for a long while. Mystique finally reveals herself and tells Rogue that this is all part of her past, a past that she -- and we, now that I think of it -- wanted to forget. And then, just in case there weren't quite enough Claremontean sapphic overtones to all this, she pipes in with "touch me... and remember!"
What follows is a flashback to Rogue's origin -- which is fantastic, because it includes a voice for "Teen Rogue" that's just Regular Rogue with the pitch shifted up a few octaves -- that leads into a weird sequence very loosely inspired the events of Avengers Annual #10, sort of. See, after Rogue runs away from her father, she's taken in by Mystique, who was posing as a kindly old waitress, and trained along with the rest of the Brotherhood.
The reason for all this training? A daring heist at an Air Force Base, which leads off with Rogue straight up walking under a fighter jet and making cartoon sexy poses at an army guy:
I'll be honest with you: I have no idea how military training works in the real world. I do genuinely hope, however, that "if a sexy girl in a catsuit who is definitely not supposed to be on the base walks up and starts flirting with you, do not stand there gawking at her because you will either be knocked unconscious or die" is something they cover somewhere in the first week. I'd prefer it to be day one, but I've seen Stripes so I know that's mostly reserved for pushups.
Anyway, Rogue takes off in the plane, but before she can get clear, there's one more player in our little drama. The blonde, Jane Doe -- or, as she is more properly known, Carol Danvers, Ms. Marvel!
Now, up to this point, we've seen bits and pieces of a larger Marvel Universe here and there, what with the Punisher appearing in a video game and Captain America making a brief cameo during Omega Red's origin, but I think this is the first large-scale interaction that we've seen with someone that shows there are heroes out there outside of the X-Men. That alone is actually really cool -- I've written before about how crazy it is that this cartoon went all-in as far as recreating the convoluted continuity of the '90s, but that stuff didn't exist in a vacuum. There was a larger Marvel universe out there providing a context for it, and it's always pretty cool to see that creeping in around the edges.
Anyway, Ms. Marvel flies off after Rogue to bring her down, but Rogue grabs her in mid-air and, at the insistence of Mystique, holds on far longer than she'd ever made contact with anyone before.
The end result is that Rogue permanently absorbs Ms. Marvel's powers, which are very handy to have when the show doesn't forget she has them, and that Ms. Marvel herself goes into a coma and gets carted off to the hospital, Kill Bill style. The thing is, while her body is in the hospital, Ms. Marvel's mind persists within Rogue, eventually getting bad enough that she leaves the Brotherhood and heads to Professor X, who offers her help.
Of course, his "help" is just wiping her brain so she forgets about everything. Good job, Professor. Great hustle out there.
The X-Men show up just after we get all these shocking reveals, finding that Rogue is all hopped up on Mystique's powers and bad memories and in the throes of a full-on freakout:
Also, it's worth noting that everyone is in full costume except for Wolverine, who clearly had other plans today, possibly involving all that wood he was chopping while shirtless.
Rogue flies off with Mystique in tow and Storm gives chase, but -- surprise! -- she is completely unable to keep up. Fortunately (I guess?), Rogue is unable to outrun the speed of thought, and Jean decides to make herself useful by Cerebro-ing down to the root of the problem:
Jean drops into Rogue's mind, where a lizardy version of Ms. Marvel promptly puts her into a full nelson, because we are now watching fanfic that I wrote when I was 11, I guess. Rogue and Ms. Marvel brawl their way through the psychic landscape while a giant Jean just sort of stands around watching until she finally puts Ms. Marvel into a concrete cage and drops her way down into Rogue's mental basement.
With that, Rogue's problems are more or less solved. She tells her secret mom Mystique to take a long walk off a short pier and, the next day, puts on a tank top and heads over to the hospital for a visit with Carol Danvers. So that's today's moral, children: if you have troubling thoughts, bottle them up forever! That's the only way to deal with brain problems, because talking sure doesn't help! That's how the X-Men do it!
Discussion Question: Remember being a kid and thinking that Rogue's real name not being revealed was the most important thing in the entire world? I do. It wasn't. So that's what we're going to talk about this week: What were the plot points and storylines that you obsessed over that ultimately turned out to not be all that big a deal? They can be non-X-Men-related if you want, but Lord knows there's enough there to work with.
Next Week: It's a tale as old as time and a song as old as rhyme as we watch "Beauty and the Beast!"