The X-Men Episode Guide 4×05: ‘Proteus, Part II’
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: The battle against Proteus continues, and we get some daddy issues that are way over the top, even by X-Men standards.
Previously, on X-Men:
In our last episode, the X-Men went over to Scotland to help Moira MacTaggert deal with her son, Kevin, who is so out of control that even Maury would bulk at putting him on stage. Codenamed Proteus, he's a mutant with the power to both possess people and warp reality to suit his whims, which led him to slug it out with the X-Men and hand the team their collective ass in a victory that saw Wolverine torn in half twice and quite literally reduced to tears. It was pretty great.
In our discussion of familiar comic book effects that were done really well in animation, several readers mentioned both Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes and Green Lantern: The Animated Series, which is really nice to hear. One of my biggest (or, let's be real, only) frustrations with Justice League was that John Stewart never really made much with his ring other than spheres and beams, so getting actual giant constructs out of it is exactly what I want.
Also, it took me a real long time to remember that Earth's Mightiest Heroes wasn't the one from the '90s where everyone wore crazy armor that got canceled after about four minutes. It was pretty confusing there for a second, I assure you.
This week, writer LuAnne Crocker and producer/director Larry Houston are bringing us back to Scotland in the aftermath of the X-Men's first encounter with Proteus, and they are giving us one of the single best openings of the entire series. Not only do we start off with a shot of Wolverine curled up into a little ball and literally crying, but when Rogue and Beast walk over to check on him and awkwardly ask if he wants to talk about it, he stands up, tells them he's fine, and then walks over to a tree to start puking.
Seriously! I'm not exaggerating at all!
And I really can't believe that it happened, either. I mean, this is a show where Broadcast Standards and Practices was yanking their leash so tight that characters couldn't even punch each other, and decreed that Xavier's girlfriend from the last episode (Amelia Voght, for anyone keeping score at home), couldn't be shown leaving his house with a suitcase when they broke up, because it would imply that they were living in sin. And yet, they were 100% okay with wet puke noises issuing from Wolverine.
Super wet, y'all. So gross. Actually amazing.
Unfortunately, that's also where this episode goes off the rails. Like I mentioned last week, "Proteus" is one of my favorite stories in the original comics, largely because it has a moment that the adaptation skips over for no good reason. In Claremont and Byrne's original story, Wolverine is every bit as shaken as he is here, and Cyclops realizes that he has to do something to snap him out of his depression or else he's going to be so shaken that next time they fight, which is inevitable at this point, he's going to get killed.
So Cyclops straight throws a cup of coffee in his face, calls him a coward, and bodyslams his ass to the friggin' ground.
It is, without question, my single favorite thing Cyclops has ever done. It's this perfect blend of ruthless dedication to the mission above all and complete social awkwardness that encapsulates his character. I mean, I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to respond to psychological trauma by throwing hot liquids into the victim's face, but it gets Wolverine back on his feet to fight again, forcing him to repress all that fear to get the job done, just like Cyclops himself does. It's the rosetta stone to understanding his character, and it's the reason that the Cyclops of the '70s and early '80s is actually a really cool character -- especially as compared to his '90s counterpart.
I've mentioned before that this show is basically the entire reason that I hate Cyclops, but I didn't realize until I saw this that they cut out the one scene where he's actually really cool! He's not even in this episode! But that said, I still like what they do with Cyclops here, something we'll be coming back to in a few minutes.
Once everyone is done vomiting, we catch up with Proteus, who's on the hunt for his dad, Joe MacTaggert, currently running for Secretary of State of Scotland. There's actually a great scene where you see a hapless dude trying to hook up with a politically active young lady by claiming that he's dedicated to saving all the whales in Britain before getting brutally shot down. He then gets possessed by Proteus, just in time for the X-Men to show up so that Moira can plead with him to stop all this foolishness and go back to the locked room in her basement where she's kept him for the past ten years.
He doesn't go for it.
Instead, he continues with his rampage, hell-bent on seeing his father, and we get another skirmish with the X-Men. This time, he destroys (and reassembles) what I believe is Scotland's most famous landmark, the Notre Dame cathedral.
That's in Scotland, right? Eh, close enough.
Since they know where he's going, the X-Men decide that they should probably not just tag along after the power-mad teenager with absolute control over reality, and instead cut him off at the pass by going to his destination before he can figure out how to read road signs. Thus, they head over to Joe MacT's campaign headquarters, which definitely bears the proud flag of Scotland and/or Great Britain:
Listen. I know this show is an artifact of a pre-Google era, but that seems like something it would be relatively easy to look up. Just a thought.
In case you were wondering, Joe MacTaggert, Family Values Candidate, is a complete scumbag to a truly hliarious. degree. When Moira and Professor X tell him that Proteus is on the way, he refuses to believe that he's in any danger, and when Moira asks him to speak to him because all the boy really wants is his father, he tells her to "tell him Charles is his father." That is an a m a z i n g dick move, and as you might expect, does not do much to endear him to the X-Men.
At Big Joe's political rally the next day, the X-Men are on stakeout trying to prevent Proteus from crashing the event, but since they are in fact the worst superheroes of all time, they fail completely.
The X-Men immediately bum rush the stage to try to protect Joe, calling on Wolverine, who has been down in the basement wearing a bolo tie getting spooked by rats, to help them. He runs upstairs, but immediately after opening the door, he's overwhelmed by a flashback to having his own body warped by Proteus's powers and just flat-out turns around and runs back to the basement in a fit of complete, Scoobydoovian terror.
Rogue and Beast are left to battle Proteus on their own, which does't go so well, mostly because he transmutes a metal catwalk into a piano and drops it on them.
Seriously, these are my favorite episodes yet.
Once the battle is over, we get another really good scene about Wolverine being so terrified of Proteus. One of the reasons that the original story works so well is because Wolverine wasn't the absolute unstoppable badass that he would become during the Dark Phoenix Saga. Since his only real power at the time were his enhanced senses (at the time the story originally ran, I don't think they'd even clarified whether his claws were part of his body or just special gloves that he wore), it was easy to believe that not being able to trust them would be a crushing blow for him.
Here, on the other hand, we have a Wolverine who starts out as a super badass, and has already been through the Dark Phoenix stuff to boot. Having him be so shaken up doesn't quite feel like it works, until Beast points out that Wolverine has never been afraid in his entire life. And that's amazing.
I mean, yes, it's super over the top and (God forbid) cartoony, but it makes sense. What does Wolverine have to be afraid of? He can heal from any injury, so you can't harm him physically -- even pain is just a passing sensation with no real consequences. You can harm him emotionally, but since he has trouble with his memory, is there even any indication that emotional pain would even be lasting? I mean, I always thought it would be a cool explanation for his memory loss by establishing that he had a sort of emotional healing factor to go along with the physical one, where he just overwrote painful aspects of his past and friends he'd outlived so that he wouldn't have to suffer from that knowledge. Whether or not that was the actual explanation (it's not), that's kind of how it ended up working in practice. So when you have a character who can never truly be hurt, what does he have to fear? Nothing. Wolverine has never experienced fear.
Until he runs up against something that he just cannot process, in which case he gets terror that hits him on a Lovecraftian scale, and he has no idea what to do. It's a really cool idea, and the more I think about it, the more I like it, at least in the context of the simplified characters of the show.
Also, when this is brought up by Rogue demanding an explanation for why he wasn't there to help them stop Proteus, Wolverine's response is "Back off, Cornpone!"
And that is delightful.
It's also worth noting that this episode has one of the all-time great Professor X Is A Jerk! moments, when the X-Men are talking about how they don't really fancy another round against Proteus, and X just lays into them, yelling "She may try to destroy her own son! Do you know what that means to her? To ME?!"
I'm not sure this one is really about you, Chuck.
Eventually, Proteus shows up at yet another one of Joe's press conferences, and Moira brings the laser they were using on him way back at the sart of Part 1, claiming that on its highest setting, it could kill -- excuse me, destroy Proteus for good. But rather than use it, Professor X floats over, informs Kevin that he's a doctor (he is not), and offers to let him into his mind so that he can calm his ass down a little bit.
And he does.
It's... well, it's kind of anticlimactic, really, although I do like the idea that this entire destructive rampage can be avoided if you just talk out your problems with a doctor. Or, you know, an adult who claims to be a doctor but who is really just some dude in a green suit with a glowing forehead.
Discussion Question: Professor X is a jerk! This is pretty inarguable continuity. So of all his dick moves over the past 50 years, what's your favorite? I expect each of you to have a different one, no matter how many people actually leave comments.
Next Week: IT'S ASTEROID M, MAGGLE! WE'RE WATCHIN' SANCTUARY, PART 1!