The X-Men Episode Guide 4×01: ‘One Man’s Worth, Part One’
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 Terminator with the X-Men! Don’t worry: It’s not as good as it sounds.
Previously, on X-Men:
In our last episode, Season 3 came to a pretty anticlimactic ending with an episode that was about Wolverine being sad about his past for 20 minutes, and really, that’s a pretty big disappointment. I mean, you’d think they would’ve ended on the one where he accepted Jesus into his heart, but no. Weapon X is weird and full of sinister Canadian liars. Business as usual.
It did, however, give us a chance to talk about our memories of how we first encountered Wolverine, and most readers had completely different “origin stories” for the first time they saw him. Say what you will about Wolverine being the most oversaturated character of all time (and he probably is), but it is pretty cool that you can learn about him from a dozen different comics, movies, TV shows and video games. My particular favorite story came from commenter Tom Currie, who said…
“My first memory of Wolverine was from a friend’s house at a Webelos meeting where I came across a comic that dealt with his escape from Weapon X and I specifically remember a four-panel sequence where it was him in his weird helmet SNIKTing up that bald scientist, with the last panel being a silhouette of Baldy’s head impaled on his claws Injury-To-The-Eye-Motif-style, which I think is why my mom only let me read Tintin comics. As a result, I have never slashed apart unethical Canadian scientists with my deadly claws, although I still have a bad habit of writing articles for Belgian newspapers that are filled with jovial racist caricatures.”
Also, apparently Talos was Shiva, not Stryfe, and if that sentence made sense to you, you’re one step ahead of me on this one.
With writer Richard Mueller and Producer/Director Larry Houston running the show, we open on Bard College, the alma mater of both Professor Charles Xavier and, not coincidentally, Chris Claremont. There’s a handy caption letting us know that this is 1959, but it’s understandable if you miss that, what with Bishop showing up to blast Nimrod with his double-barreled laser shotgun.
Yeah. It’s gonna be one of those.
The battle against Nimrod only lasts a few seconds before he’s shattered by a lightning bolt from storm, and we cut to an observer, watching from a surprisingly spacious broom closet with a beautiful view of the quad: Education Major Charles Xavier!
We might as well get this out of the way here: Yes, Xavier was bald at the age of 19, and no, I’m not actually sure why. I mean, given that this show thinks paralysis is part of Xavier’s “mutant power,” I’d be tempted to think that the insinuation was that his smooth, smooth dome was just another side-effect of the telepathy, but he definitely wasn’t bald in the flashbacks to his youth that we got from the Juggernaut storoy a couple weeks ago. Then again, he also didn’t have those weird Jack Kirby Pai Mei eyebrows either. Maybe it’s a gradual process.
In addition to his lack of hair, Professor X is worried about how there are now robots from the future being sent back to kill him, which is a slightly more pressing concern at the moment, especially when he trips an explosive and suffers a violent death, albeit one that happens completely off-screen thanks to BS&P and is instead represented by a computer screen warning Forge about a “Time Travel Rift” that has shown up to ruin everything.
This happens in… the future!
I love that there’s a caption showing us the year, and that they then felt it necessary to let the audience of 1996 know that the year 2055 was indeed a point the future. Once again, Forge and Bishop have teamed up to screw up the past, but this time, there’s a third member of their party: Shard, whose name I had to look up because I am pretty sure that nobody ever actually says who she is.
Now, you may have noticed that we are 43 seconds into this episode, and this whole time travel rigamarole has already gotten confusing. Rest assured that it ain’t gonna get any easier before we’re done. For now, though, it’s back to the Present Day, where Wolverine, Storm and Professor X are having the most verbose picnic of all time. They swap a few elaborate, completely unnatural quips about Eve and the Garden of Eden, and then, almost mercifully, the entire world explodes.
Wolverine and Storm grab onto each other, Professor X is vaporized by a wave of red light, and when we come back, it is the full-on Age of Apocalypse:
As much as I have complained about having to watch this show as an adult for three solid seasons now, when I was a kid, I loved it. I had a paperback reprint of the Claremont/Byrne story where the team gets trapped in Murderworld that’s one of my formative comics experiences (deathtraps forever, y’all), but the show hooked me and made me the kind of kid who begged his parents to go to the comic book store so that he could get the latest issues. I dove right in, and was thrilled by this new, complicated side of Marvel superheroics. Until, that is, we got to Age of Apocalypse. I went to the comic book store and heard that all the X-Men comics had been replaced with alternate universe counterparts and that this was going to continue for four months, and decided to just read Gen13 instead.
Which is a long way of saying that I wasn’t really looking forward to getting the same story on the show. If they couldn’t do something good with “Dark Phoenix,” then “Age of Apocalypse” didn’t stand a chance.
To its credit, the show spends a lot of time making things as visually interesting as it can. The X-Men are all geared up in their postapocalyptic costumes, complete with Beast wearing a weird computer monocle, there are killer robots that alllllmost infringe on some Lucasfilm copyrights but pull back right at the last minute, and Wolverine and Storm are both sporting wedding rings! Also, nobody knows who Professor Xavier was, and the X-Men are instead led by this guy:
It’s actually pretty cool to see how many cameos they work in during this sequence. Mimic shows up in his classic Silver Age costume, Mastermind makes an appearance, having apparently figured out how to project illusions that can fool giant robots, Mr. Sinister is just wandering around in the background, and there’s more in there too. The best, though, are these guys:
It’s the Evil Avengers! With, and this is not a joke, what I am almost certain is meant to be Tom DeFalco filling in for Thor.
It’s a pretty fun fight (largely because that scumbag Gambit gets critically injured during the fracas), but after it comes to an end, Bishop and Shard show up, looking for the X-Men. The, uh, regular X-Men, I mean. Not the Mad Max cosplayers that they are here in the Alternate Present. Thus: Exposition!
After enough monologues and flashbacks to satisfy even the most Claremontean of viewers, Bishop and Shard recruit Mr. And Mrs. Alternate Wolverine And Storm for the cause, taking them back to 1959 to rescue Professor X, but not without a bit of conflict. Wolverine realizes that in the “correct” timeline, he and Storm aren’t in love and that they’ll be “workin’ together… not bein’ together!”, and he’s willing to sacrifice the entire world for the sake of his marriage.
Storm, understandably, thinks that’s a little weird.
The mission is to stop a mutant traitor called Fitzroy, who sold out to Master Mold and who looks like Punk Rock Dracula, which is actually pretty cool:
Please note that this will be the only cool thing about Trevor Fitzroy. And that there is a wavy border because they are presenting this as a flashback to something that has not happened yet.
Now that everyone’s up to speed, they head back once again to 1959, where Student X is having a conversation with Jean Grey’s dad and his moustache.
He’s just there, having a good time, enjoying his legs, when Bishop jumps out of a hedge and tells him time travel is possible, which is a pretty alarming thing to happen even in the best of circumstances. But since this show has finally remembered that its characters have super-powers, he scans Bishop’s mind, realizes he’s telling the truth, and the whole gang heads over to the local coffee shop to discuss how they’re going to prevent the end of the world.
While they’re enjoying their warm beverages, however, the metaphor about racism at the heart of the X-Men suddenly turns literal, as the guy running the place sees Wolverine and Storm holding hands and LOSES HIS MIND about the potential miscegenation going on:
And look: That’s not funny at all, and it’s actually a surprisingly sophisticated move for this show to remind its viewers that the “idyllic” ’50s weren’t so hot if you weren’t a white man. At the same time, shouldn’t this dude have been worried when these people walked in and two of them were dressed like characters from a Fallout game and one of them was CARRYING A GIGANTIC GUN? I will say, though, that I do like the idea of a dude being so racist that the laser shotgun isn’t as big a problem as interracial hand-holding. That would be a pretty great metaphor, if it wasn’t exactly how racism actually works.
Anyway, he sics a couple of stuntmen from Batman ’66 named Moose and Rocko on them, who are soundly and satisfactorily thrashed by the X-Men as the past version of their future founder beats feet to get away from all the craziness. This, as you may have already guessed, is bad news, since it means Xavier is unattended while a time traveling killer robot is trying to murder him.
Which is exactly what happens.
Nimrod shows up and makes a pretty strong effort, but ends up being busted up into tiny pieces by the assembled might of the Council of Cross-Time X-Men, only to start reforming, T-2: Judgment Day style. The hilarious thing, though, is that while they’re clearly going for the Liquid Metal Robert Patrick effect from the movie, but it’s animated as just solid pieces of Nimrod, complete with wires and gears and such, just kind of wobbling back together and then hey, it’s Nimrod.
No, wait. The hilarious thing is that Storm goes Full Storm with her finishing move, flying up and bellowing “CRACK THE HEAVENS! REMOOOVE THIS ABOMINATIONNNNN!”
So the X-Men have won, sort of. They stopped Nimrod, but they lose Fitzroy, which means that they can just keep sending killer robots back to murder Young Professor X until one of them gets the job done. Which, it seems, one already has: Bishop and Shard, who have actually been through this before, seem to have forgotten that whole thing where they set a bomb to blow up Professor X even if Nimrod fails, and they fall for it twice, prompting a slow motion zoom on Wolverine:
Please note that it’s actually that blurry on the show: They literally just zoom into a pre-existing shot of Wolverine. So far, Season 4′s budget ain’t giving me high hopes.
Discussion Question: Since we didn’t get to do this last week, let’s talk about Season 3. On paper, this should’ve been the best season — they finally did Dark Phoenix, the X-Men story, but it fell completely flat for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that episodes were shown out of order, blunting any of the consequences that these stories might have had. If, you know, they had bothered to make them stories with consequences, which they didn’t. They also maybe stuck a little too close to the comics, because when they got further away from strict adaptations, there was actually a lot of good stuff in there. It’s basically a gigantic mess of a season, but maybe I’m missing something from the highs and lows.
Next Week: Is Young Professor X a mere splatter on the wall? Find out next week in “One Man’s Worth, Part Two!”