X-Men Episode Guide 5×01: The Phalanx Covenant, Part 1
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're into the final season... but we've got to make it through the Phalanx Covenant first.
Previously, on X-Men:
In our last episode, we finally wrapped up Season 4 with a story about Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch and the talking cow who raised them. The High Evolutionary was also involved, and maybe Magneto was there too? I honestly can't remember, and I'm not going back to look now. Not when we're so close to the end.
In our discussion of the highs and lows of Season 4, most of the Commenteers agreed with me that there weren't a whole lot of the former, and an awful lot of the latter. Pal Gavin Jasper, however, actually stepped up to defend the seemingly endless "Beyond Good And Evil" arc, and even pointed out something I missed completely: That blathering weirdo in the janitor suit who hangs out on Rainbow Road with Bishop? He eventually turns out to be Immortus.
Commenteer Tyren Rushing, on the other hand, pointed out the definitive low point: "Not enough Scumbag Gambit." And God help me, I agree 100%.
This week, we're kicking off the final season by jumping right into writers Steven Melching and David McDermott and producer/director Larry Houston's adaptation of "The Phalanx Covenant." This was, of course, a big deal storyline in the comics around 1994, a few years before these episodes aired, but I'm going to go ahead and admit that I have absolutely no idea what it was about. At the time, I'd given up on the X-Men for the sexy hijinx of Gen13, and I've never gone back and read them because, well... just look at these things.
That's right. I am literally judging these books by their covers. That is why they have covers.
Anyway, all I really know about it is that it involves Warlock in some form, and seriously, you could not pay me to care about that dude, which I know because I'm actually getting paid for this. Even for Claremont, that "FRIENDDOUG LET US AID SELFFRIENDS" dialogue was about eight steps too far into annoying -- and that's from someone who has recently come to an entirely new appreciation of Gambit, mes amies. On the bright side, at least it'll all be fresh and new!
For our purposes, we open in downtown Placeville, where Sabretooth is causing a ruckus. You remember Sabretooth, right? Twelve feet tall, well known for his ability to throw cars?
Right, that's him in the middle there.
Since local law enforcement seems to be at a loss, the X-Men, represented by Beast and Jubilee, have shown up to see what they can do about the situation by knocking him out from the air with tranquilizer gas. Jubilee, whose secondary mutation includes the uncanny power of exposition, mentions that Wolverine sure would be mad if they knew they went to go fight Sabretooth without him. This, for the record, means that Jubilee has been paying closer attention to what actually happens on this cartoon than anyone else, including me.
She continues once they get Sabretooth back to the X-Mansion, nervously asking Professor X if mayyyyyybe they should tell Wolverine that someone who has literally devoted his entire life to killing him and everyone he loves will be chilling out under the same roof as he is, but Professor X assures her that it'll be fine if they don't mention it.
For those of you just joining us, Professor X is an idiot.
Sure enough, Wolverine finds out on his own (loose lips cause snikts), and as soon as he finds the yellow pigment that the animators left off of Jubilee's gloves in a previous scene, he heads down to the basement to confront and presumably stab Sabretooth. He gets pretty close to it, too, when Sabretooth starts talking about Silver Fox, referring to her as a "frail," a phrasing that is common among Chris Claremont and John Byrne and exactly zero other people. But what's this?!
According to Wolverine's enhanced senses, this isn't actually Sabretooth at all! Before he can figure out just what it is, however -- by using a unique variation of the scientific method built around equal parts observation and stabbing something until it's dead -- Professor X gets a Skype call from a VHS tape of Mr. Sinister:
It seems Sinister is also under attack, which has made him so desperate that he has called Xavier for help, temporarily abandoning his plans to grab Jean Grey and Cyclops and smush their faces together to make them kiss. Professor X -- who is, again, an idiot -- offers to help out as soon as this threat has been properly analyzed, and is then promptly dragged offscreen by a luminous glowing tentacle.
I gotta say, Season 5 is coming out the gate pretty strong by being completely and utterly bananas.
While all this is going on, the Beast is in his lab, lounging around and listening to jazz -- which we know because he's got a vinyl LP conveniently labeled JAZZ going on the wheels of steel -- when a being made of similarly luminous yellow lines takes shape and tries to take him out, too. Beast tries to escape, and does, but not before the rest of the team is absorbed into a giant honeycomb of pods that looks suspiciously like the same bunch of pods the Brood put them in a while back after a black-and-yellow palette swap.
In true horror movie fashion, Beast thinks that he's escaped in Wolverine's Jeep, only for another one of these mysterious invaders to appear, revealing that he's been disguised as a jerry can the whole time. It's okay, though. He's a good guy.
Yep, it's Warlock, and folks, if you thought that speech pattern was annoying in print, wait 'til you hear it out loud, faithfully preserved with a slight Canadian accent. With Warlock's chatty, shape-shifting help, which involves turning himself into a hang glider, Beast escapes the Phalanx and Warlock launches into a round of exposition that makes Jubilee sound like Snake-Eyes.
It turns out that he's the pacifist prince of a race of techno-organic conquerors called the Phalanx (natch) who was on the run with his "lifemate" when they crash-landed on Earth, leading his people directly to Earth and inspiring him to get to conquering. Beast, being the stand-up fellow that he is, offers to help out, and even gets in touch with President Kelly on a direct videophone line that they have to warn him about the invasion.
While they're chatting, I'd like to take a moment to say that despite a few rough patches earlier on, the animation in this episode is actually pretty good. I mean, keep in mind that I mean "actually pretty good" by the standards of X-Men (never, ever forget that this show was running at the same time as Batman: The Animated Series), but Warlock is very fluid and, well, animated in his movements. It's pretty neat to see, if you hit Mute every time he starts babbling about his selffriends.
Anyway, the President's a space robot now, so sucks to be a taxpayer in that universe.
Having run out of options, Beast decides to get in touch with Forge to see if he can't get X-Factor's help, with Warlock riding shotgun so that he can determine whether they're actually humans, or if they've been taken by the Phalanx. And then it's time for some good ol' fashioned nightmare fuel!
This, it seems, is (are) the true face(s) of the Phalanx, who have gone full-on BioWare villain with an attempt to construct "The Spire" and use it to subjugate the entire human race.
Beast meets up with Forge and Quicksilver in a diner, presumably because they want to remain incognito and not arouse the suspicion of anyone who might be compromised. So obviously, they wear their full superhero outfits.
Okay, okay, to be fair, they're meeting up with a mostly naked cat-gorilla who peppers his speech with Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, so flying under the metaphorical radar was probably right out the window to begin with. But still, maybe you want to make some kind of effort, fellas. If you had, maybe an angry mob wouldn't currently be gathering outside the diner and calling for your heads.
The mob is, of course, under the control of the Phalanx, but there's one more twist in the their sinister plot. It turns out that the waitress at the diner was actually one of them -- and what's more, she's actually Warlock's lifemate, who is being controlled by evil forces, presumably that weird tower of faces from earlier:
The X-Men and Friends escape out the back, but not before the Phalanx absorbs Forge's metal leg, leaving him hopping. While Quicksilver runs away as fast as he can with the excuse of "I'll get the van!" (true heroism there, Pietro), Warlock comes up with a solution, and...
Oh I don't like that at all.
Quicksilver's van also turns into one of those weird pods, and then Mr. Sinister shows up (revealing that he was the only person who actually bothered to wear a disguise to the diner) to save our heroes, whisking them off in his weird, gross spaceship, closing out the episode with a look at the Spire, a Phalanx'd up Empire State Buildling that's going to summon the rest of them to Earth.
Discussion Question: Like I said above, I've spent a solid 20 years dodging "The Phalanx Covenant," only to wind up writing about it now. What major (or at least "major") crossovers have you skipped over, and why?