‘X-Men ‘97’ is a Nostalgic Marvel of Animated Television

It’s easy to forget about the X-Men in a world where the Avengers have dominated the box office for over a decade. Despite both teams being introduced to the world with their comic books in 1963, the Avengers always seemed to edge ahead in popular culture. ‘Avengers: Endgame’ is the second highest grossing movie of all time with $2.7 billion, and ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ is the closest X-Men film to that success with $746 million. 

The debate over which team is better may never end, but ‘X-Men ‘97’ provides a strong argument for fans on the mutants’ side. The ten-episode Disney+ series picks up right after the events of ‘X-Men: The Animated Series,’ which ran from 1992 to 1997. Episodes release weekly, and the first three are streaming now. 

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New Team Dynamics

After Professor Charles Xavier was critically injured and forced to leave Earth for healing, the X-Men are left in the hands of Cyclops (Ray Chase) and his wife, Jean Gray (Jennifer Hale.) Jean is pregnant, but still fulfills her duties as the telepathic and telekinetic mutant on the team. The X-Men not only have to face off against supervillains, but also the public hatred and ridicule of mutants. This series doesn’t waste any time on exposition and instead dives right into this prevalent issue of prejudice — something a modern audience can see reflected in the real world today.

One of the most endearing aspects of ‘X-Men ‘97’ is the familial bond shared between the team. The dynamics are established in the premiere episode, ‘To Me, My X-Men’ and it’s clear that the entire group holds a deep love for Cyclops and Jean. The couple ponders leaving the X-Men to raise their child away from danger and mutant hatred, and the team obviously can’t imagine continuing without them. 

Each member of the X-Men has a distinct power and personality, the most recognizable being the ill-tempered Wolverine (Cal Dodd), honorable Storm (Alison Sealy-Smith), and quick-witted Rogue (Lenore Zane). Other members include the blue-furred monster Beast  (George Buza), shapeshifting Morph (J.P. Karliak), kinetically charged Gambit (A.J. LoCascio), time-traveler Bishop (Isaac Robinson-Smith) and newcomer Jubilee (Holly Chou). This group couldn’t be more different from each other, and yet they come together to work in sync to bring peace to both humans and mutants.

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Modernizing the Animation

‘X-Men ‘97’ is not only a thematic continuation of the original animated series, but also utilizes a revamped version of the 90s animation style. The title sequence is an impressive series of transitions between characters flying, fighting and showcasing their powers. Advances in animation technology, including a widescreen format, allow for an improved viewing experience that feels nostalgic and new at the same time. It’s much easier to stay engaged with ‘X-Men ‘97’ because of the high-quality visuals.

Behind the animation was Studio Mir, a South Korean studio which also worked on ‘The Legend of Korra,’ ‘My Adventures With Superman’ and ‘Voltron: Legendary Defender.’ Show creator Beau DeMayo worked with the studio to bring back the X-Men’s classic costumed looks that seamlessly continue the mutants’ story after the first series. The attention to detail in the costume animation is astounding, especially in episode three when Jean Grey transforms into Goblin Queen with dark makeup and a flowing black cape, and also Cyclops’s visor reflecting light in various ways to convey his emotions without access to his eyes.

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Care for the Characters

Since the X-Men were one of the first groups introduced in the Marvel Comics, they’ve grown a loyal fanbase over the years. At their core, they’re outcasts trying to fit into a society that shuts them out and tries to kill them for being different. Many viewers likely can see themselves reflected in at least one of the X-Men, regardless of if they grew up with the original show or are just becoming fans now. The characters are timeless, and some were slightly adjusted to fit a more diverse modern audience.

For example, in ‘X-Men ‘97’ Morph is portrayed as a non-binary, as opposed to previous cisgender male characterizations. This decision raised backlash from fans online who disagreed with the choice. Voice actor J.P. Karliak said in an interview with CBR, “I think what I appreciated was how much counter-backlash there was, with people like ‘Have you watched the ‘X-Men?’ Are you familiar with why they were created and what they’re about? Did you forget that?’ That was reassuring.”

While many voice actors from the original series reprised their roles in ‘X-Men ‘97,’ one notable change is Holly Chou replacing Alyson Court as Jubilee. Court stated on X that she would not be returning to the project and hoped an Asian-American actress would take on the role, which Chou did. Representation in voice acting can sometimes be ignored since the actors’ faces are never seen, but it’s a positive step for Marvel to embrace inclusion in a series dedicated to combating prejudice.

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The Return of Magneto

The most infamous X-Men villain is Magneto (Matthew Waterson), who takes over Professor X’s mansion in his absence. While this version of Magneto may be trying to do some good in the world by saving innocent people from anti-mutant attackers, he also threatens the stability of the team by engaging in a relationship with Rogue.

This complicates matters since Rogue and Gambit seem to have a very close, almost romantic relationship in the series. If Gambit learns of this betrayal in the coming episodes, the entire X-Men dynamic could be thrown off course and Gambit might do something drastic.

As ‘X-Men ‘97’ progresses, the character development and conflict only has room to grow. It very well could be the best project Marvel has released since ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3,’ and is a promising induction of the X-Men into the official Marvel Studios universe.  

Cast: Ray Chase, Jennifer Hale, Alyson Sealy-Smith, Cal Dodd

Created by: Beau DeMayo | Executive Producers: Kevin Feige, Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso

By Kaitlyn Murphy

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