Marvel X-Men Cartoon Series
April 25, 2009

The first 33 episodes of the 1990s X-Men cartoon will be available on DVD on April 28. That takes the series about a third of the way through its third season in two volumes with two discs in each set. (In total, the show had 76 episodes over five seasons.)

X-Men Volume 1 cover
X-Men Volume 1
Buy this DVD

Me, I didn’t know there was an X-Men cartoon then. I wasn’t as into comics then as I was now, and unlike today, such things weren’t intended for an adult audience. But with the Wolverine movie coming out next month, what better time for new products for all things X-Men?

I found the opening helpful, as the various heroes demonstrate their powers and then a giant logo of their name swoops in. There are plenty of rays and blasts and explosions, too. I’m sure it seems cheesy on multiple viewings, but it’s a great quick introduction. (Until the team of good guys and team of bad guys run smack into each other. That’s cheesy no matter what.) This version of the team features — in addition to the ever-present Cyclops, Wolverine, Beast, Jean Grey, and Professor X — Rogue, Storm, Gambit, and Jubilee.

The animation is standard, getting the job done but with no particularly distinct visual style. The movement can be stiff and limited. Content-wise, there’s emphasis on action, not the quieter bits I enjoy most about superhero team stories. That’s not a criticism, just an indication I’m not going to be part of the show’s audience.

Although I’m by no means an X-Men expert, several factors were similar to what I knew about the comics:

* Angst. The first episode features Jubilee, not yet a team member, hating that she’s a mutant while her foster parents fear yet love her.

X-Men Volume 2 cover
X-Men Volume 2
Buy this DVD

* Continuing storylines. Out of the 16 episodes in the first set, six make up two-part stories. The second set is even more connected. 17 episodes include three two-part sets plus the concluding five-part “Phoenix Saga”. Many of the episodes were based on comic stories, as you can tell from the titles: “Enter Magneto”, “The Unstoppable Juggernaut”, “Days of Future Past”.

* Sentinels, the giant purple mutant-hunting robots. The series starts with the two-part “Night of the Sentinels”, in which they’re chasing down Jubilee (yet ignoring Storm and Rogue while they’re shopping in the same mall), and the robots continue to appear throughout the series, because they make such convenient opponents! They’re big and dangerous, yet they can be attacked and destroyed without falling foul of any “is it ok for kids?” rules because they’re only robots.

* Ridiculous dialogue. “Storm, mistress of the elements, commands you to release that child” demands Storm, referring to herself in the third person. Rogue immediately follows up by telling her to “lighten up”.

I hadn’t realized that Morph (currently appearing in Exiles) was created for this series. He doesn’t have his blank white head, though, and he doesn’t last very long.

The voices don’t sound right to me, probably because I have expectations from the movies. They’re generic and far from subtle. The emotions are overplayed, with too much exaggeration for my taste. Again, I’m probably too old for this, not having a young love for superhero action or a nostalgic fondness from when this first aired. But I was impressed to see them tackling the big storylines about mutant prejudice.

Plenty of continuing subplots, familiar guest stars, and long-running motivations make the series enjoyable to watch as a whole. Each episode starts with a “story so far” to aid in keeping up with them all. This is a good choice for the kid or teen looking for more X-Men entertainment. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the studio.)

20 Responses  
Ed Sizemore writes:  

I remember watching these on Fox when they first came out. I was disappointed in the animation. It looked like everyone was always flexing every muscle. I also wished that the stories were original. My biggest complaint with Marvel cartoons is that they’re slavishly tied to the comic books. I prefer DC’s method of let the cartoons be their own universe.

Olivier E. writes:  

Morph was created in the sixties by roy thomas, in the X-Men comics he was called Changeling, but at the base it’s the same character.

L. Nichols writes:  

I used to watch this quite regularly when I was a kid. I loved it back then. It was one of my favorites. I never really read the X-Men comics and still haven’t read the comics, so… I guess this was X-Men to me at the time (and is still where a lot of my basic X-Men knowledge comes from, like what their names are and what their powers are).

The thing I remember most about this series was the Phoenix Saga.

It’s kind of weird watching it now. They do seem much more oddly stiff and overly dramatic. Didn’t seem so at the time. But, looking back on old He-Man cartoons on Hulu reminded me of just how bad some cartoons were but how awesome they seemed at the time?

Anyway. I’d totally watch these for pure nostalgia’s sake. That, and I think I missed some of the Phoenix Saga the first time around because I never was very good at waking up on Saturdays.

caleb writes:  

I love the voices on this series! You’re absolutely right, they’re all definitely quite far from subtle, but that’s what I like about them. Like, everything they say sounds hilarious to me because of how ridiculously over the top most of the voices are (Basically everyone with an accent…and Wolverine…and Xavier…and Storm…)

Johanna writes:  

Ed, I thought fans generally liked it when animation kept the continuity?

Olivier, I’d heard that, but did Changeling have the sense of humor that I like so much about (the current) Morph?

L, it’s true, animation has come a long way since then, so our expectations are much higher.

Caleb, I didn’t mention the accents because I wasn’t sure how to work them in, but yes.

James Schee writes:  

I remember watching it on weekday afternoons. It was enjoyable, some more so than others but it did a nice job of hitting on the X-Men’s main themes.

The look of the characters was patterned after the Jim Lee drawn X-Men comics of the time if I recall correctly.

Ed Sizemore writes:  

Johanna, I’m probably in the minority opinion here, but I perfer what DC did with Batman, Superman, Teen Titans, etc. Take the best aspects of the hero’s history and create new stories designed for the cartoon format. If I want continuity, I can read the comics. I like each media format to be it’s own seperate universe, since what makes a great story in each format is slightly different.

James Schee writes:  

I’m sort of with Ed in this too. I know for instance at the end of the first Spider-Man movie I groaned a little at the death of the Green Goblin. Since I’d seen that scene in comics before and knew as soon as it was framed what was going to happen.

Jay Faerber writes:  

I watched this when it originally aired, and it always struck me as pretty sub-par. The animation was clunky and yeah, the stories tried too hard to stay close to continuity.

I much preferred X-Men Evolution which, like the DC cartoons, had its own continuity, not based on any incarnation of the comics. Just a fun cartoon, with a real emphasis on the character interplay over the save-the-world stuff.

Jim Perreault writes:  

I watched the series occasionally when it first aired, and my reactions where the same as yours:

1) Nothing exciting about the animation
2) Too much emphasis on explosions at battles.
3) Dialogue way too overacted.

Still, I think it is a significant show for a number of reasons. It was the first time the X-men broke out of the comics and hit the mainstream. Second, it’s use of continuing storylines is novel for an American cartoon.

And I loved their adaption of the Phoneix Saga. It has the best Superman/Juggernaut fight I’ve ever seen.

The later X-men cartoons are better, but this one historically important.


X-Men Animated Series « moonlit garden writes:  

[…] X-Men would be released to DVD.  Thanks to Johanna from Comics Worth Reading for noting its release. She comments that the voice acting is not the best and the writing and animation a bit subpar […]

Johanna writes:  

Jim, and yet, in spite of all that, I kind of liked it!

Paul O'Brien writes:  

The original Changeling was a minor shapechanging villain introduced in Roy Thomas’ first run, and later used to retcon Professor X back to life.

He was dusted off for the cartoon series because they wanted an expendable X-Man to kill in episode 2. By this point, Marvel had done nothing with him for 20 years, and DC was using the Changeling name in Legion of Super-Heroes, so he was renamed Morph.

The bouncy comedy version of Morph was created by Scott Lobdell and Joe Madureira during the Age of Apocalypse storyline, where he shows up as one of the dystopian X-Men. The editorials confirmed that he was supposed to be the same character.

The Exiles version is technically a different Morph from a different (and happier) world, but he’s broadly inspired by Lobdell’s version.

There’s room to argue about who created Morph. He’s officially the same character as the Changeling, but they really have nothing in common. Even their powers are different: Morph is Marvel’s answer to Plastic Man, while the Changeling was just a mutant master of disguise.

~chris writes:  

I enjoyed the series at the time, simply because it was the first X-Men adaptation (of which I was aware). I like well-told stories I can enjoy whether or not I’ve read the comic. In this case I liked the Phoenix Saga story the best, despite the made-for-kids changes from the un-retconned original Claremont/Byrne story (Dark Phoenix destroys an uninhabited planet; Jean Grey does not “die”), probably just because the other TV stories were inferior. Worth watching once I think, but not worth purchasing.

Watch X-Men Cartoon Online at Marvel » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[…] the same day the 1990s X-Men cartoon was released on DVD, Marvel announced that they would be streaming episodes online. There’s a […]

Next Two X-Men Cartoon Volumes Announced » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[…] up on the first two sets of the X-Men cartoon, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has announced that Volumes 3 and 4 will be released on […]

ken vargas writes:  

i loved the animated series. i remeber watching almost all the episodes on weekdays after elementry school. and being so stoked for it on the weekend,..sat mornings if i remeber ….man was that ever the bomb. when i have enough money i will get the whole collection…i really want it. :)

Leslie writes:  

I have always loved these cartoons – they inspired me to read the comic books which I did for nearly 15 years. Yes, the animation is a little clunky, but so was just about all animation back then. There have been many improvements since. Personally, I love that they follow the comics fairly closely and I always felt that their voices were well suited. If you read older comics they were overly dramatic at times – so maybe that’s the style they were going for in the series. I love these cartoons and have waited for years for them to be released on dvd. I’m really excited that I can finally own them all!

J R Altman writes:  

You are all so wrong about X-men I don’t know where to start…

1st of all I totally disagree with Ed about the continuity, I could not afford all the X-men comics and I enjoyed following the story on TV, even though it is basically on fast forward at all times.

About the drawings, yes they are simplistic, but the emotions they evoke are not exagerated besides a few episodes where they cry.

You all are just fans of dumb azian animation, which I personally hate, and which is the style of X-men evolution which is the biggest disaster in the X-men history in my opinion… I mean just look at the juggernaut!
He has a woman’s waist and the shoulders of a gorilla, the truth is he would not even be able to stand with this type of body!

Not to mention that X-men evolution is based on the movie, which is based on the cartoon, which is based on the comics… Basically it’s not even X-men.

An X-men cartoon (or movie) where rogue isn’t sexy = middle age men disaster…

And wow I am re watching the 90s X-men and the voices AND a lot of the dialogue has been changed, making me sad, also making me understand your points of view if you have seen the newer versions…

I truly was mad when they changed the words of mastermold when he simply says: “Whatever!…” it always made me laugh so hard… and now he tries to be serious… ruining his character.

When watching X-men think of the messages hidden between the lines, it is a morally uplifting.

All in all:

-Astonishing X-men 9.5/10 (If you have not seen them you will love it)
-90s X-men 8.5/10 (Uplifting, morally good for all)
-X-men Evolution 2.5/10 (would not even watch 1 animation way too azian)
-X-men (movie) 1 7/10 (Why is rogue ugly and weak, she has Miss Marvel’s powers by that time… or she should)
-X-men (movie) 2 5/10 (entertaining but that’s it)
-X-men (movie) 3 1/10 (Just ridiculous, mutant powers overloaded)
-X-men Wolverine 9/10 (Even though gambit looked like crap, very fun)

Thom writes:  

Uh, most of the comments are favorable to the cartoon…


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