Retro Marvel TV
The Marvelous 90s in Marvel Cartoons

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 3 Sep 2014 16:00
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X-MEN (1992-1997)
Was Marvel's X-Men a popular comic in the 80s and early-to-mid 90s? Yes it was. Was it known to a mainstream audience? Well... if "kids and teenagers who didn't read comic books but were tangentially aware of them" is part of the mainstream, then yes. But as more and more time passes and we begin to see The X-Men take shape as a mass-media franchise that exists outside and beyond comics -- especially in the form of which characters are demanded for the movies and which storylines are considered "classic" and "important," -- it becomes increasingly clear that for most of the world, foundational knowledge of The X-Men begins with this Saturday morning cartoon from Fox.

As adaptation formulas go, X-Men at least had a pretty decent one: Re-do TV-safe variations on popular Claremont/Byrne X-Men stories of the 70s and 80s with a heavier emphasis on the prejudice-metaphor angle from the 60s using an art-style reminiscent of the Jim Lee takes on the characters from what was then the present. The result? A show that looked and felt an awful lot like what you assumed X-Men was if you'd mainly experienced it second hand.

To say that the series feels dated today is an understatement, but there's a lot of good to be found in here. The artwork is pretty striking -- or at least it is until something moves -- and the music/sound are remain suitably exciting. The voice acting is a cavalcade of either shrieky or gravelly voices, but that's sort of what you want for characters tasked with belting out expository-exclamations to reinforce who's doing what to whom and why. Apart from Jubilee, almost none of the main cast are even pretending to still be keeping up the "teens at school" angle, but the outsized reactions to... everything, really, nails what's so appealing about this franchise to adolescents of any era: Marvel Mutants (literally) wear their personalities and insecurities as costumes, and every IMPORTANT!!! line of dialogue feels like it should've been prefaced with "But Daaaaaaaaad!!!"

What the series did best was find a way to slip a genuinely surprising amount of the psycho-sexual subtext that (as we talked about regarding Generation X) gave the classic X-Men stories so much of their edge. It's all quite PG, granted, but you definitely get the full helping of X loves Y but Y is with Z boarding-school hormonal angst that underpins the way these characters all relate to each other.

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