Thanks to the Disney/Fox deal and the launch of Disney’s seemingly unstoppable juggernaut of a streaming service – DisneyPlus – it’s never been easier to see the 1992 X-Men cartoon in its entirety. Back then, it was a huge deal to see Marvel’s Merry Mutants outside of their usual comic book format – but it was also a time when the X-Men comics absolutely dominated the sales charts.
Though the X-Men comics in the 90s had become a ridiculously unwieldy and new-reader unfriendly mess of continuity with a ridiculously sprawling cast and insane number of titles to attempt to keep up with, the animated series – at least to start with – keeps the action focused on a core group of then-popular mutants – though a huge number of other mutants do end up making cameos throughout. Not only that, but they still find time to cover some true milestones in X-Men lore, with Apocalypse and Days of Future Past being adapted two decades before being seen in live action form.
Then there’s that iconic intro, which does a fantastic job of wordlessly introducing the team and their powers. Though the fashion for cartoons in the 80s was for cartoon theme songs to run through the setup using lyrics (with Defenders of the Earth perhaps being the most famous example of this with its Stan Lee-penned song), the 1992 X-Men instead goes for an instrumental theme and lets the visuals speak for themselves. It’s fantastic.
The costumes, as you can see in the intro above, are comics accurate to how they looked in ’92. Though we didn’t think anything of it at the time – as we were used to this kind of thing over decades in the comics – it’s odd that they don’t have a single unifying look, but that’s not the fault of the series creators who stick faithfully to the source material visually. Wolverine’s claws emerging from metal sheaths even when he’s out of costume is a bit jarring, but no doubt insisted upon so the blades aren’t just coming through his skin. The fact that both heroic and evil mutants are in costume even when not on missions or in any sort of conflict is a little odd as well – but again, this was a standard thing in comics until relatively recently.
It’s refreshing that they stick so closely to the character conflicts from the source material though; it’s clear that Cyclops isn’t particularly well-liked by a few members of the team – Wolverine especially. Gambit seems to rub everyone up the wrong way too.
It may seem a little odd to viewers more used to the movies that Magneto barely features; instead, the giant, robot, mutant hunting Sentinels feature an awful lot more as antagonists. There’s an awful lot of ground covered in these episodes though, with the aforementioned Apocalypse and even Cable (now made more well known to mainstream audiences due to his appearance in Deadpool 2) making appearances in several episodes.
Though the animation quality and voice acting is variable, the writing really shines through and the music is of generally high quality. It’s excellent to see so many classic comic characters – and stories – given the animated treatment and it’s hard to overstate how exciting this all was back in the early 90s, when there was no notion that we’d ever see them in live action (though it was long rumoured – and various productions came and went before we finally did get an X-Men movie in 2000).
There’s a lot more ground covered in later seasons, of course, with a sprawlingly epic treatment of The Dark Phoenix Saga, which has now been done badly twice in live action (firstly with X-Men: The Last Stand in 2006 and then with last year’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix). Season One lays the groundwork really impressively, however, particularly for a Saturday morning cartoon, in a period where animation was often seen as little more than a vehicle to advertise ever more elaborate and expensive toy lines. That the series was able to cover themes such as oppression, prejudice and hatred of ‘the other’, way back in 1992, still feels pretty amazing; these themes being even more relevant than ever today is fairly depressing, however.
That the stories told still hold up in this regard though – despite the often cheesy execution in some areas, which does give it a certain charm – is nothing short of miraculous. Though I’m aware that budgetary constraints and production demands of a more child-friendly tone hampered later seasons, the first season does remain an impressive slice of Saturday morning escapism with worthy, if occasionally heavy-handed, subtext. Well worth watching.
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