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: We head back to the Savage Land, and no, I'm not any  happier about it than you are.

Previously, On X-Men:

In our last episode, the Phoenix Saga ended with virtually no involvement whatsoever from the X-Men, which, if you ask me, is a kind of lousy way to run a show called "X-Men." The M'Kraan Crystal's vague power was thwarted when the Phoenix volunteered to take it into the heart of a sun and keep guard over it forever. Unfortunately, this involves taking Jean's body into the heart of a sun as well, meaning that she will be gone forever. Or, you know, three weeks, until the Dark Phoenix Saga starts up and we get to see the X-Men can be bothered to do anything about that. I'm guessing no.

In our discussion of the best cosmic storylines of superhero cartoons, I was expecting the nods to stuff like Justice League's "Star Crossed." I was not, however, expecting so many of you to mention the 1998 Silver Surfer cartoon, which I had actually forgotten was a thing that existed. I mean, I remembered the action figures, but I don't think I ever saw the show -- which makes sense, as it only ran for 13 episodes before getting the axe. If you're not familiar with it, it's actually kind of interesting that they made a show that was explicitly designed to evoke Jack Kirby's style, but significantly less interesting once you try to actually watch an episode and realize that it has the dialogue and voice acting of a cartoon about talking potato chips that want to teach you Bible stories. Oh well.

Now let's head down south with "Savage Land, Strange Heart, Part One!"



Okay, before we actually get into this, a quick note about episode order. This is the point of the show where things start to get pretty astonishingly screwed up in terms of when you're supposed to watch them, something that's kind of important when you're doing a show where one of the major selling points is that it's telling an ongoing saga just like the one in the comics. Going by script number, the next episode would be "No Mutant Is An Island," which actually aired as part of Season 5, two years after it was supposed to -- which is especially weird, since that episode is apparently all about Cyclops dealing with Jean's death. From there, it bounces back to Season 3 for the episode that's two after this one, then back to season 5, then the end of Season 3, then finally back to where this two-parter is supposed to start, and it's A Whole Dumb Thing.

Rather than try to sort all that out, I'm just going to go with the episodes as they're presented on the DVDs, for the simple reason that it's the order they actually aired in. Obviously, this is going to be a little confusing, and will probably lead to me complaining about how nothing makes sense, but let's be honest here: This show wasn't exactly following a strict, logical continuity to begin with. I think it's more important to look at the show as it was presented, rather than how it was intended to be.

In other words, they've had 20 years. It ain't my fault they didn't put things in the right order before they made the DVDs.

And that brings us back to "Savage Land, Strange Heart," where Sauron, the pterodactyl man who is also a hypnotic psychic vampire with John Cena's wardrobe, is being menaced by cavemen.



The caveman in question is, of course, Ka-Zar, who is apprently still pretty miffed about that whole thing back in the interminable Season 2 where Sauron was trying to kill his wife and enslave his people. That's the sort of thing that people tend to be angry about for a long time, even if you send them a fruit basket and a little card with a sad drawing of your favorite Pokémon on it saying that you're "Bulba-Sorry."

Before Ka-Zar can finish skewering Sauron and bringing this show to an abrupt end that would free up my afternoon pretty handily, the bejorted pterodactyl-man is suddenly saved by what I think is a cosplayer doing a truly terrible attempt at the Sorceress from He-Man:



Either that, or she's doing an equally disturbing job as "Sexy Rooster." We could go either way here.

She knocks Ka-Zar out and escorts Sauron through a hidden passage to the back door of Mr. Sinister's castle, where they find a one-man airplane left there by Magneto when he came down to the Savage Land. Through some handy exposition, we learn that she serves Garokk, something that is worshipped as a god by the people of the Savage Land, and that He has decreed in His wisdom that Sauron must leave the Savage Land. See, he needs to feed on the energy of mutants in order to maintain his powers, and there aren't any mutants left in the Savage Land after the finale to Season 2.

Sauron turns back into his equally shirtless, equally bejorted civilian form, failed search engine magnate Karl Lykos, and agrees to leave, hopping in and hitting the autopilot to...



The New York Comic-Con! Nuff Saidi!

This, by the way, never comes up in the actual story, other than a scene a little later where some dudes who look like they're drawing comics look out an office in Manhattan to see Sauron flying by. It's just a way to show the shift in location, which is a shame, because "The X-Men go to Comic-Con" is a story I think this show could do an amazing job with. Like, the potential in Gambit alone, charging up and exploding rare Magic: The Gathering cards, taking upskirt shots of cosplayers, trying to sell Bluewater bio-comics with forged autographs of their celebrity subjects... I could go on, and I would watch that in a heartbeat. But alas.

Instead, Storm and Rogue are engaging in a bit of horseback riding down in Central Park, which is way more boring than watching Gambit trying to meet an editor so he can pitch "fairy tales, but dey dark, and les filles is all grown up, if you know what I mean, cher."



Is this something you can actually do in Central Park? Just show up one day dressed like a cowboy and ask for a horse? I wouldn't think that would be practical, but I've only been there once and didn't stick around because I watched a lot of movies from the '80s when I was a kid and was worried the Baseball Furies would show up and give me a beating for being on their turf.

While Rogue and Storm are having the kind of equestrian fun that doesn't involve fedoras and Rainbow Dash, the other members of the team -- Beast, Wolverine and Jubilee -- are leaving the Museum of Natural History, thoroughly unimpressed. They stop to get a hot dog on their way out, and are approached by Lykos, begging for help. Wolverine assumes he's a homeless man and goes to give him a few bucks...



...only to get energy vampired for his trouble. Having absorbed Wolverine's mutant energy, Lykos turns back into Sauron and --

Wait, is that Nick Fury?



That dude is never mentioned again in this episode, but that is way too distinctive a character design to go unnoticed. I wonder if there's an episode of Spider-Man from around the same time where Fury talks about going undercover as a hot dog vendor, or, failing that, fan-fiction about it. If nothing else, I think we can all agree that Nick Fury's WEENEES shirt needs to be brought back into continuity toute de suite.

It's worth noting that when Lykos hulks out into his Sauron form, he does so in something that looks a lot like Sailor Moon's transformation sequence, complete with the camera spinning around as he changes, and that the same thing happens again a few seconds later when Storm zaps her clothes with lightning and turns them into her uniform (unstable molecules, yo!) so that she can fly off to join the battle.

It doesn't exactly go well. As Storm and Rogue confront Sauron in the air, he hits Rogue with his psychic hoodoo, hypnotizing her into seeing Storm as, well, this:



Oh Rogue. Your southern upbringing has at last revealed its shameful racism.

With their most (situationally) powerful teammate out of commission, the X-Men are trounced pretty handily, giving Sauron a clear shot at knocking out Storm and carting off to Magneto's plane and back to the Savage Land. This turns out to be exactly what Rooster Sorceress's plan was all along, getting her to cut loose with her weather powers so that Sauron can absorb them and make his transformation permanent, but since the X-Men already know that Sauron lives in the Savage Land, they're off in hot pursuit before too long.

When they land, Rogue flies off to "take a look-see," leading Wolverine to announce "I'll take a smell-see!", quite possibly the worst thing he has ever said in his forty year history. If a T-Rex hadn't shown up and tried to kill the team right after that, I would've turned this thing off with no regrets.


X-Men cartoon screenshot


Please note that Wolverine just straight up bails on Jubilee, leaving her right there in the path of an oncoming Tyrannosaurus. In an episode without Cyclops or Gambit, I think we have found this week's recipient of the coveted title, The Worst.

Sadly, there are no fatalities. The T-Rex gives chase for a little bit, but is wrangled into a pit trap by Ka-Zar, giving Wolverine the opportunity to cuddle with Zabu while he provides even more exposition. It seems Sauron has been busy, capturing Ka-Zar's people and rebuilding Mr. Sinister's fortress. Ka-Zar led a rebellion, only to be thwarted at every turn until a statue of Garokk mysteriously appeared in his village:


X-Men cartoon screenshot


With the power of a frowny rock on their side, the villagers overthrew Sauron and drove him out, which is where we picked up eight or nine hours ago at the start of the episode.

No sooner are we all caught up than the village is attacked, leading to a fight scene between the X-Men and cavemen riding pteranodons, which actually is about as awesome as it sounds. Sauron shows up sounding for all the world like Lemongrab, and starts knocking people out of the sky, putting Beast on pretty much permanent catch-my-teammates-before-they-die-on-impact duty, which is a pretty interesting way of juggling multiple characters in a fight scene. Plus, we get this:



You are welcome for your new tattoo idea.

As Sauron attempts to retreat, having been confronted by the undeniable majesty of Wolverine flying around on a goddamned dinosaur, and gets a ton of rocks knocked onto his head for his trouble, Rooster Sorceress is praying to her giant rock, which starts talking to her because this show decided to get really friggin' weird for the last five minutes. Turns out that Garokk is definitely 100% real, and commands RS to free Storm, who promptly freaks right the hell out and starts raging in the sky, throwing lightning around like it's going out of style.

Finally, we get the single best thing about this episode, the one thing that makes me forgive this show for being yet another two-parter set in the stupid, stupid Savage Land:





And then the word "continued" EXPLODES. Heck yes.

Discussion Question: Sauron is terrible. Like, that's not even a question and we don't really have to discuss it, right? He's just awful, but he does have the distinction of being a character who has so much crammed into him. He's not just a dinosaur man, he's a hypnotic energy vampire dinosaur man. So what other characters just have way too much going on? Who "overpouches the belt," as Adam P. Knave says, or "really Deathstrokes the Terminator" as I like to call it?

Next Week: More Savage Land! More Garokk! More (ugh) Sauron! The conclusion of "Savage Land, Strange Heart!"