X-Men: The Animated Series Vol. 1 & 2
by Jef Burnham
Now available from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.
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I was fortunate enough to be 8 years old when X-Men premiered in 1992. That year, cartoons changed, thanks to X-Men and Batman: The Animated Series. Whilst Batman was at the forefront of advocating filmic pacing and atmosphere for children’s programming, X-Men proved that we were able to retain information about characters and storylines, especially when it comes to characters like the X-Men. Cartoons before that tended to be more episodic, with very few, if any, continuing storylines more complicated than good guys perpetually fighting the bad guys. Watching any three or so subsequent episodes of G.I. Joe or Transformers is evidence of that (and don’t get me wrong, I still love both of those).
The storyline of X-Men: The Animated Series was so sprawling that each episode required a minute-long “Previously on X-Men…” at the beginning of each episode. There were multiple storylines running concurrently with storylines that had seemingly come to a conclusion resurfacing later in the series. Sure, there was a lot for children to remember, but we did, and we still do. In revisiting the series in these first two volumes, I found that there wasn’t an episode that I did not recall enormous portions of from my initial viewings as a child.
The thing is, we kids were attracted to X-Men precisely because it didn’t insult our intelligence. Children are capable of so much more than 99% of adults give them credit for. I recall being very disturbed by the treatment of mutants by the series’ discriminating public, and can honestly say that I still consider watching X-Men as one of the more formative experiences in my understanding of racism. It’s not just good guys vs. bad guys. It’s much more complicated than that. There are the mutants who want peace with the human race, the militant mutants who want to dominate them, and humans, with factions blinded by prejudice and others accepting of the mutant race.
Let us not forget, of course, that this was based on preexisting material. And truth-be-told, it follows it quite loyally, considering the time constraint of a cartoon episode. Much of the series is derived from the legendary run of X-Men comics by Chris Claremont in the 1980s. And, unlike many licensed series of today, it seems that the whole Marvel universe was at the creators’ disposal, as innumerable characters from the comics pop up, sometimes for as little as half a second.
Now to the DVDs themselves! Though the sets perfectly follow the chronology of the show as originally intended, they are not exactly seasons. It’s complicated: The first volume covers the 13 episodes of the first season and 3 episodes of the second season, whilst the second volume finishes off the second season and dips 7 episodes into the 1994 season—that’s 16 and 17 episodes per volume, respectively. As such, volume 2 concludes with the 5-part “Phoenix Saga.” Unfortunately, there are absolutely NO special features, which is a damn shame. But don’t let that deter you from a purchase. These sets are reasonably priced and, frankly, X-Men is just as cool as I remember it being when I was 8.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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