The X-Men Episode Guide 3×10: ‘Savage Land, Strange Heart, Part 2′
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: Storm almost destroys the Savage Land, and at this point, I'm honestly hoping she does.
Previously, on X-Men:
In the first part of the confusingly out-of-order "Savage Land, Strange Heart" saga, this show continued doing an amazing job of making me never, ever want to see the setting where superheroes go to fight dinosaurs again. Sauron, on a mission from a giant rock named Garokk, went to New York and kidnapped Storm, bringing her back down to Antarctica for nefarious purposes. The X-Men followed and teamed up with Ka-Zar to set things right again, but Storm has been hypnotized into unleashing the power of her fully armed and operational weather control on her friends.
Our discussion in the comments about characters who have way too much going on actually produced some really entertaining suggestions, including one from reader Josh Sinason about Count Nefaria. He described the count as a "Kirby style super jacked Ernst Stavros Bloefeld who had laser eyes and whose goal was to have a WrestleMania main event level fight with Thor," but to be honest, that actually sounds really awesome -- way better than Count Nefaria is when he actually shows up, at least. The most compelling argument came from reader Elizabeth Sage, however, who brought up Comet the Super-Horse, who is actually not a horse, not from Krypton, and not even named Comet. He's an immortal centaur cursed to live in space who sometimes turns into a rodeo star and secretly dates Supergirl.
Comic books are weird, y'all.
Thanks to writers Marty Isenberg and Robert N. Skir and producer/director Larry Houston, we pick up right back where we left off, with Storm flying around shouting things that are somehow even more over the top than her usual dialogue. I'm talking some next level "RAGE, WINDS! YOUR MISTRESS CRAVES MORE!" stuff going on here.
For the benefit of new viewers, Karl Lykos, the guy that Sauron's being when he's not Sauron, helpfully explains that this is all happening because Sauron hypnotized her into losing her self-control as part of some other master plan that he doesn't really have all the details of. The point is, a typhoon raging through the Savage Land is definitely a bad thing -- and just to ram that point home, we get a glimpse of a flash flood that almost kills Littlefoot from The Land Before Time!
Phew. Good thing Littlefoot's mom was there to save him. I sure hope nothing horrifyingly violent ever happens to her and scars an entire nation of children who really love dinosaurs for life or anything.
The X-Men have to take her down somehow, and Jubilee, high off her defeat of Sauron at the end of last week's episode, decides to fly up there on a pteranodon and... you know, I don't really know. I'm starting to think she might not have thought this plan through at all, but to be fair, she needn't have bothered. Storm wind-slaps her right off her dinosaur and sends her plunging to her death -- or, you know, what would be her death if Rogue hadn't flown up there and caught her.
While all this is going on, the Rooster Witch whose name I can't be bothered to remember is reporting her success to a big frowny rock:
This is Garokk (the Petrified Man!), and as far as stone-faced bad guys created by Jack Kirby go, he's nowhere near the top of the list. He is, however, running the show pretty effectively right now, feeding on Storm's "elemental power" and growing stronger. He's not even confined to a single big boulder anymore, instead spreading his influence through the ground of the Savage Land itself as Storm continues to wreak havoc with the local weather patterns.
On the ground, Wolverine finally snaps and threatens Lykos with a stabbity murder unless he tells them how they can stop Storm from "wigging out!" You'd think this would be a pretty easy problem to solve, since their adventuring party has two (2) characters with the ability to fly, absorb powers, and knock someone out with a touch. Rogue volunteers, but Wolverine rejects this outright with the actually pretty perceptive observation that Rogue would probably just absorb whatever hoodoo Sauron put on Storm's mind in the first place, leaving them with someone who has all-powerful control of the elements and is also super-strong and invulnerable.
Side note: It's always pretty cool when an animated show pulls that trick of shifting characters in the foreground in and out of focus, isn't it?
Eventually, Ka-Zar tells everyone that they might as well deal with Sauron, since they know they can beat him, and he can absorb Storm's powers without actually getting them himself. Lykos is pretty upset about this plan -- you probably would be too if some dude who looked like the Beastmaster decided to solve his problems by suggesting that you turn into a monster and then let Wolverine beat you into unconsciousness -- but since their only other option is to send Jubilee back up there to take another whack at it, they're kind of boxed in.
Anyway, here are Ankylosaurus in a Winter Wonderland:
While Parson Brown is dealing with all that, the X-Men and Ka-Zar start up their attack on Storm, distracting her by catapulting flaming lumps of pitch at her while Rogue sneaks up behind with the plan of physically throwing Sauron directly at her face:
This is basically the best plan anyone has ever had on this show. I mean, they're the X-Men. Solving problems by throwing people at them is exactly what they do. It actually works, too -- sort of. Lykos knocks Storm out, but once he starts siphoning her energy, his Sauron personality takes over and he transforms, immediately turning on his allies just as we all expected.
To the show's credit, this is actually one of the few times that they remember Rogue is the heavy hitter on this roster of X-Men. Not only does she just cold karate chop Sauron to knock him away when he refuses to let go of Storm, she also catches him with one hand when he charges back at her and then flings him away like a chump:
This whole sequence is one of the better animated bits in recent memory, too, and it actually gets more interesting from there. Sauron grabs onto Rogue's face, and they start shape-shifting into each other as their respective absorption powers duke it out to see which one wins, before basically exploding off of each other in a draw. It's neat to see two characters with essentially the same power, albeit one that has been shown to work in completely different ways, canceling each other out. Either way, it gets Sauron out of their hair and puts the kibosh on Hurricane Ororo.
As Garokk continues to spread his influence across the land, the X-Men and Ka-Zar take Storm back to the village, where the Cavemen are worshipping an idol of Garokk like extras in a bad '50s jungle movie.
Tremble, non-believers! The strength of their worship has lifted that fire at least two feet above the logs it's supposed to be burning!
Beast attempts to keep Storm sedated so that she won't go crazy and start monsooning everyone again, but nature has been thrown so far out of balance that Storm's connection to the environment (she has that, right?) wakes her up and drives her to start throwing lightning bolts at the cavemen and the giant rock they're worshipping. This prompts Beast to shoot her up with another sedative, which he gets by pressing a button on his complex TECHNO-BACKPACK, triggering a complicated retracting robotic arm that hands him a hypodermic needle:
This is something that would be completely unnecessary if he was, you know, wearing pants. But to be fair, I wouldn't wear pants either if a TECHNO-BACKPACK could handle all my pants-based needs. Hell, I barely wear pants now, and my only mutant power is that I work from home.
Sauron returns to Rooster Witch and she informs him that his part in Garokk's plan is over, his services are no longer required, and that she wishes him luck in his future endeavors. Sauron does not take the news well and attempts to hypnotize her into... rehiring him for Team Evil, I guess? Man, I honestly don't know what he's hoping to get here. Either way, it doesn't work, because Garokk shoots a few rocky tendrils out of the ground and ties him up -- and also apparently replaces the medallion that he just threw down angrily in the previous shot.
With a literal captive audience, Garokk decides that it's time to go into an origin story, and since he leads off with "In a bygone era..." you know we're going to be here for a while. Here's the short version: Garokk was once just a gray dude who basically ruled the school in the Savage Land until someone showed up, zapped him with lightning, and reshaped him into the big frowny boulder that we know today. He remained like that until the end of X-Men Season 2, when the X-Men arrived to save Professor X from Mr. Sinister, and Storm's "elemental power" woke him up. She leaves, he sends out Sauron, and once he absorbs all the energy she's throwing around, he's going to take over some volcanos and become all-powerful, and that's what you missed on Glee.
Oh, and that dude who turned him into a frowny rock to begin with? It was the friggin' High Evolutionary.
This might be the exact point where the novelty of the Marvel Universe cameos wears off and I just start wondering why we're going through all this, especially when there's a way better setup for this plot that they already had in place. But more on that later.
With Garokk in absolute control of the land itself, the X-Men are essentially put into the exact same fight they had with D'Ken a few episodes ago when they were sucked into the M'Kraan Crystal. The only real difference is that the Imperial Guard and the Starjammers aren't around this time, so they have to do things themselves, which is actually a pretty refreshing change. Unfortunately, all this turmoil cuts through whatever Beast was dosing Storm with, and between that and Garokk stressing her out by collapsing the hut she's in around her and aggravating her claustrophobia, she hulks out yet again.
In other words, we are exactly where we were at the start of this episode, with no actual plot advancement having occurred in the past ten minutes.
We even get some more insanely overdramatic Storm dialogue, although this time she's positively bellowing "I SUMMON THE BITTAH WINTAH FROST!" That's right, folks: She is attacking a big stone face by snowing at it.
This plays right into Garokk's plan. Apparently he can just absorb the "elemental force" of whatever the hell she's doing, whether it's snow, typhoons or smog, so every second that Storm is in her berserker fury, he's just getting stronger and heading for the volcanos that will (somehow) give him absolute omnipotence. Storm going Full Force a la Jumpin' Jef Farmer is just making things worse. Storm's teammates try to talk her down, but she's too far gone at this point, and she even breaks out of Rogue's dreaded bear hug finishing move:
With storm fueling him to new levels of power, Garokk reaches the volcanoes, and uses the power to forge himself a brand new gigantic body, which comes complete with a hilarious gigantic loincloth:
Apparently volcanic omnipotence also comes with a heaping helping of modesty.
Even though Garokk is at his most powerful, Sauron manages to free himself, and decides that he has to go one-on-one with Garokk in order to get revenge for his earlier betrayal. So Sauron, whose powers have been explicitly described for two episodes to be based around absorbing energy from mutants -- not even normal people, just mutants -- suddenly has the ability to absorb geothermic energy himself by shoving his hands directly into lava. This causes him to also grow giant-sized, complete with his own giant-sized pair of jorts:
I haven't actually been keeping track, but this has got to be the single dumbest thing that has ever happened on this show.
So once again, the final battle is taken right out of the hands of our title characters as Saurozilla and Mecha-Garokk duke it out for control of the Savage Land, eventually blowing each other up with eye lasers. and putting an abrupt end to that. There's a minor fake-out where the show spends twenty seconds pretending like Storm and Rogue died in the explosion only to reveal that, no, they're fine, let's all go home and get some burgers. The only good thing about this is that we get one final shot of Garokk, back in his big frowny rock, saying "I waaaaas sooooo cloooooooose" and sounding for all the world like he just ate too much pizza.
Discussion Question: Okay, here's why this episode bugs me. At the end of Season 2, Mr. Sinister is defeated when Jean basically splits him apart at the molecular level and scatters him all over the Savage Land, where he won't be able to pull himself together and pose a threat again. The teaser at the end, though, shows Sinister's face forming in the sand, suggesting that the opposite happened -- that Sinister's control was spread beyond his body and into the land itself. So here we are in Season 3 with a direct sequel to that episode that actually uses footage from it in the flashback, where the villain is a bad guy whose consciousness is spreading to take over the actual land, and it's not Mr. Sinister. It's a new guy who has to bring up the High Friggin' Evolutionary to explain what his deal is!
Now, look, it's not like I want to see Mr. Sinister come back -- the record will show that I pretty much never want to see Mr. Sinister -- but if you're going to do this story, the setup is right there. If you swap out Garokk for Mr. Sinister, everything suddenly makes a lot more sense and the X-Men have a personal stake in the fight rather than just being mildly concerned about some cavemen and Littlefoot. It just flows better from the previous episode. So for this week's discussion, let's talk about stories that seemed like they were being set up to follow on an earlier plot thread, but took a left turn into something completely different. Has it been done well? Are there worse examples than this? I doubt it, but you guys might know one.
Next Week: We are finally out of the Savage Land for our last week before the Dark Phoenix saga starts with "Obsession!"