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, Xavier battles against the Shadow King, something that I'm sure we'll all care about eventually if they keep talking about it.

Previously, on X-Men:

In our last episode, Cyclops proved that we all have a little Joe Don Baker in us by re-enacting the plot of Walking Tall in a town controlled by evil mutants so obscure that most of my readers only know them from trading cards and that one sixteenth wave of Toy Biz X-Men action figures that had, like, Cable in a spacesuit and Wolverine dressed like disco Snake-Eyes. It was a thrilling solo adventure, as long as you are primarily thrilled by petulant whining and Cyclops not having the power to shoot force beams out of his big stupid face.

I may have mentioned that I don't care for him.

In our discussion of the mutant who has the grossest power, I learned from the Commenteers that there are a lot of Children of the Atom out there with the power of acidic bodily fluids, and I'm starting to think that the world might be onto something with this whole hating and fearing them thing. Stacy X and Gambit were brought up, as well as one commenter slandering Chuck Austen's greatest creation, Mammomax, but my interest was piqued by Commenteer Elizabeth Stege's description of Toad:

"Toad has had so many powers that come up once and are never brought up again. He has been shown with super breath and pheromone control and the ability to mind control frogs, and in addition and there is always some weird thing with his spit going on."

Please tell me that the ability to mind-control frogs is going to come up at some point before this show ends next season.



Sadly, this week's episode remains frog-free. Instead, writer Stephanie Mathison and producer/director Larry Houston are putting the spotlight onto the Marvel Universe's worst and least accredited schoolmaster, Professor Charles Xavier. Seems ol' Chuck is having some nightmares, something that I'm assuming is pretty common when the world's most powerful telepath chooses to live in the same house as eight people with extremely (and compellingly!) tragic backstories.

The disturbance, however, is not limited to just what's going on in side that bald but impeccably eyebrowed head. Outside, a strange spiral storm is raging, complete with orange lightning.



Well that ain't good.

Now, before we go any further, that shot of orange lightning and pinwheeling thunderheads may fool you into thinking that you are about to see some pretty exciting stuff. I assure you that this is not the case. Admittedly, this episode eventually gets both bananas and awesome, but it's one of those last-thirty-seconds sort of deals, and like Bandit and Snowman, we've got a long way to go before we get there.

Before long, the lightning crashes through the School itself, splitting up into multiple forks and going right into the X-Men's bedrooms, waking everyone up and sending them out into the hall to see what's up.



So let's talk about this for a minute. First of all, Wolverine was the only one who bothered to put on a bathrobe, although he didn't tie it up which means that we can see that he wears his boxers hiked up like the 94 year-old man that he actually is. Second, Beast also sleeps in boxers, which actually cover way more of his area than his actual superhero costume. Third, and perhaps most importantly, is that Cyclops is in full uniform in the middle of the night, which gives me the idea that he actually sleeps in that thing. Do you think he has one that he wears for daytime, and then an identical suit that he puts on before bed? Does this one have Sleepytime Tea and a good book in the pouches?

According to Cyclops, something is going on outside, so the X-Men head out to the front lawn to see what's up. Turns out that what's up is an attack by their greatest enemies and assorted phobias: Wolverine finds himself face-to-face with Cyclops, Jubilee's attacked by a Sentinel, Storm is enveloped by darkness and Cyclops finds that Mr. Sinister has kidnapped Jean Grey, who, of course, responds to this threat by using her cosmic-level telekinesis to yell "Scott!" and then immediately pass out.

As you might have guessed, it was allllll a dreeeeam.



As Professor X tosses and turns in at least two layers of pajamas plus whatever sheets they have him swaddled up in, Jean and Beast (the real ones this time) reveal that he has suffered a "slight concussion" that's causing his brain to go all weird. See, he thinks he's physically suffering even though there's nothing obviously wrong with him, and Cyclops suspects foul play.

To be fair, Cyclops suspects foul play when they're out of milk -- "Curse these powers that have led a world that hates and fears us to deny us simple dairy products!" -- but in this case, he's actually right. I know, I was surprised too.

While the X-Men try to figure out the cause of this mental malady, we're treated to a weirdly blue-tinted fantasy world inside Professor X's head, where he is given a sort of paradise to keep him from fighting the mental influence. So hey, what exactly is Professor X's idea of paradise?



Confirmed: Son is a straight up creep.

As we already know (mostly because I mentioned it in the opening paragraph), the culprit here is the Shadow King, and the show finally gets around to that little plot point with an animated version of a few pages of His Majesty's introduction from Claremont and Byrne's X-Men #117:



I don't think that stuff actually came up the last time the Shadow King showed up back in Season 2. Either way, when it happens here, it actually leads to one of my favorite moments in the show, when Professor X suddenly realizes that the only reason he's having this flashback is because the Shadow King must be involved with what's going on now, and that is amazing. Not only did he bust right through the Fourth Wall like a metatextual Kool-Aid Man, but he has displayed a heretofore untapped knowledge of dramatic structure and clichés. Good job, Charlie.

It's worth noting that the show's version of the Shadow King's physical form is not the obese fez-rocking dude that Byrne draws in the original. Instead, he looks more like Benton Quest -- y'know, Jonny's dad? -- until they head up to the Astral Plane, turn into Kirby monsters and start wrestling with each other:



Having successfully flashbacked us up way more exposition than we require, Professor X realizes that he's trapped on the Astral Plane with the Shadow King, who he claims has been kept there ever since their initial encounter 20 years ago, shackled through Xavier's pure, indomitable will. Well, except that one time two years ago when he got out and tried to kill Storm's godson, but other than that, he's been 100% trapped and locked up. Ahem.

Now, though, the Shadow King is going to try to escape and seal Xavier up behind him, and in Xavier's weakened state, he's got a pretty good shot at it. Xavier psychically calls for help from Jean, who alerts the X-Men that he's in a pitched mental battle, causing Cyclops to immediately turn around and pound the wall while yelling "How can we fight what we can't see?!"



For those of you keeping score at home, the total elapsed time between Cyclops finding out what the problem is and then completely giving up on it is 3.4 seconds.


For the record, no one is surprised when Cyclops proves to be completely ineffectual at solving their problem. They are surprised, however, when Professor X wakes up and starts floating, There-Is-No-Dana-Only-Zuul style, and reveals himself to be possessed by the Shadow King. Once again, the X-Men are faced with their nightmares, and even though Jean assures them that it's just illusions being cast by the Shadow King, they prove to be even more useless than they normally are.

So once again, it's up to Jazzy Jean Grey to solve everyone's problems, which she does by astral projecting herself into Professor X's mindscape.



That's something she can do, right? Right. Also, not to talk about this any more than I have to, but... weird boobs. Super weird boobs.

While the animators struggle to remember what a woman looks like, the Shadow King morphs his Sinistar-esque floating-head form into an armored cyborg-lookin' dude, and Professor X turns himself into a super-buff Roman gladiator:



And this is where things actually get super awesome for about thirty seconds. As Jean just sort of hovers nearby, X and Shadow Kinng just straight up pull out lightsabers -- complete with sound effects -- and start cold cutting each other in half.




It's awesome, and amazingly goes off without a single mention of the lightsabers being the focused totality of their non-copyright-infringing psychic powers. And that ends up doing the trick, too: After being sufficiently hacked into pieces, Xavier throws the Shadow King into some kind of black hole that Jean whips up with her telekinesis, and that is pretty much that.

Discussion Question: I didn't collect all of the X-Men trading cards that were around when I was a kid, but I'm pretty sure that I had Jean Grey's, and I'm equally sure that it did not list astral projection or creating psychic black holes under her power set. Then again, it didn't mention constantly returning from the dead, either, and we all know she can do that. What other powers does Jean Grey have that we (and this show) always forget about?