The Astonishing Animated Evolution Of The X-Men

Blair Marnell

This week marks the premiere of X-Men ‘97, the official continuation of the continuity that began in 1992 with X-Men: The Animated Series. It also marks the first time in 13 years that the X-Men have had an animated series of their own. Thanks to the success of the MCU and deep divisions between Marvel and 20th Century Fox, the X-Men were downplayed for a few years while the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy received their own animated series.

When Disney purchased Fox’蝉 entertainment assets in 2019, it paved the way for the X-Men to make their official comeback outside of the comics. X-Men ‘97 is also the first project from Marvel Studios to feature the characters it regained from Fox in starring roles. There were also a few X-Men and Fantastic Four cameos before this, in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and The Marvels. But for fans of Marvel’蝉 mutant heroes, the animated shows have always captured the spirit of the comics better than the live-action films.

To get ready for the two-episode premiere of X-Men ‘97 on March 20, we’re taking a look back at the animated evolution of the X-Men. And that starts in, of all places, a cartoon short starring Namor, the Sub-Mariner.

THE ALLIES FOR PEACE

A year before the first Spider-Man animated series debuted in 1967, The Marvel Super Heroes was the original cartoon adaptation from the House of Ideas. The featured characters included Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and as mentioned above, Namor. Although the show did capture the Marvel style of 1966, it was crudely animated at best.

The X-Men guest-starred in one of Namor’蝉 segments, which was called Dr. Doom’s Day. Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Iceman, and Angel were all present. But curiously, they weren’t called the X-Men. Instead, they went by the Allies for Peace. The story itself was an adaptation of a Fantastic Four comic, but the X-Men were subbed in because the company behind The Marvel Super Heroes didn’t have the rights to use Marvel’s first family. That’蝉 why this was a strange first chapter in the X-Men’蝉 animated history. And it only gets stranger from there.

THE AMAZING FRIENDS

In the early ‘80s, just as Uncanny X-Men was becoming one of Marvel’蝉 top-selling comics, the team made their return to animation in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. Iceman, one of the original X-Men, was chosen to be Spidey’蝉 first “friend” on the show. The second Spider-Friend was Angelica Jones a.k.a. Firestar, an original creation for the series who bore more than a slight resemblance to Mary Jane Watson.

Since both Iceman and Firestar were mutants, they were revealed to have direct ties to the X-Men in the second season of the show. The X-Men only had small cameos in The Education of a Superhero and The Origin of the Iceman, but they had a more substantial role in A Fire-Star is Born. This time, the X-Men were represented by Professor X, Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, and Angel. And in his first speaking role, Wolverine had an Australian accent that’蝉 been baffling fans for decades. The rest of the episode alternated between a flashback to Firestar’蝉 origin and a battle in the present against Juggernaut.

The team returned one last time in the penultimate episode of the series, The X-Men Adventure. Unlike their previous appearance, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Thunderbird, and Sprite/Kitty Pryde were present, while Angel and Wolverine did not return. Spider-Man even tried out the Danger Room before the X-Men and the Spider-Friends were attacked by Cyberiad, who turned out to be Firestar’蝉 ex-boyfriend, Nathan Price. Firestar dated Nathan before he became an evil cyborg and she resolved to save him once she learned the truth about his identity.

Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends was canceled after three seasons, but Firestar’蝉 popularity led to her introduction in the comics, where she has had stints on the New Warriors, the Avengers, and the X-Men.

PRYDE OF THE X-MEN

The X-Men got their first shot at animated stardom in 1989 with a pilot episode that was called Pryde of the X-Men. Strangely enough, this only happened because Marvel Productions was able to use the budget originally intended for RoboCop: The Animated Series’ 13th episode to produce this one-off X-Men episode.

Pryde of the X-Men was closer in spirit to the comics than any of the team’蝉 previous animated appearances, but still wasn’t perfect. The story began with Magneto as a captive of the U.S. Army before he was freed by his Brotherhood of Mutant Terrorists: White Queen, Juggernaut, Toad, Blob, and Pyro.

At the same time, the X-Men were introduced to Kitty Pryde as a young mutant who didn’t fully understand her powers. The X-Men team included Wolverine (again, with the Australian accent), Cyclops, Storm, Dazzler, Nightcrawler, and Colossus. This pilot episode is actually more famous for inspiring Konami’蝉 1992 side-scrolling X-Men arcade game than for anything else. But even though the pilot wasn’t picked up as a series, Marvel didn’t give up on the X-Men.

THE ANIMATED SERIES

By 1992, the X-Men were still far from a sure thing. Fox Kids already had Batman: The Animated Series, which premiered earlier than X-Men: The Animated Series. The latter was marred by production delays from the overseas animation studios, with only three episodes ready to run in 1992. Still, that was more than enough for the series to become a hit. The X-Men had arrived.

X-Men: The Animated Series took its visual cues from artist Jim Lee, whose run on both Uncanny X-Men and X-Men had set comic book sales records. Unlike their previous animated appearances, almost all of the modern X-Men were included: Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Rogue, Gambit, Jean Grey, Beast, and Jubilee with Professor X as their mentor. Morph, an original creation inspired by a minor comic book character called Changeling, was introduced in the two-part series premiere so he could be killed off. That set the stakes much higher than any of Marvel’蝉 previous shows.

Naturally, Morph proved to be too popular to stay dead forever, and he was resurrected as a brainwashed villain in Season 2 before recovering his true self. Over time, the series introduced other X-Men mainstays, including Colossus, Angel, Nightcrawler, and Bishop. Others, such as Iceman and Psylocke, only briefly appeared.

Fox Kids had been unprepared for the response to X-Men: The Animated Series, but the network wasn’t about to waste a hit. Spider-Man: The Animated Series was launched in 1994, and featured a crossover appearance by the X-Men in Season 2. X-Men: The Animated Series ended up running 76 episodes before it came to an end, but the conclusion left the door open for more stories to be told. And that’蝉 where X-Men ‘97 will begin.

THE EVOLUTION CONTINUES

The X-Men were so popular that it only took three years before a new animated series premiered in 2000: X-Men: Evolution. This time, it was the fans who weren’t ready for a radical reinvention of the team as teenagers. The only adult X-Men featured on the show were Professor X, Storm, Wolverine, and Beast. Everyone else was in high school, including Cyclops, Jean Grey, Rogue, Kitty Pryde, Nightcrawler, and Spyke, who was Storm’蝉 nephew and an original creation for the show. Even the Brotherhood of Mutants—Blob, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Toad, and Avalanche–were teens.

X-Men: Evolution’蝉 biggest contribution to the X-Men mythology was the introduction of Wolverine’蝉 female clone, X-23. Marvel quickly integrated X-23 into the comics, where she has headlined her own series multiple times and joined the X-Men–she even shares the Wolverine codename with Logan.

This series also embraced serialized storytelling to a greater degree than its predecessor, which led to a final season that built towards a final confrontation between the X-Men and Apocalypse. The final episode left some seeds for what the fifth season of X-Men: Evolution could have been, but the show wrapped up most of its plotlines in a satisfying way.

WOLVERINE GETS TOP BILLING

A third X-Men animated series premiered in 2009. This time, the show was called Wolverine and the X-Men, and it placed Logan in the unlikely role of team leader following the disappearance of Professor X and Jean Grey. In a nod to the X-Men comics of the time, Emma Frost a.k.a. White Queen was permitted to join the team alongside Storm, Iceman, Nightcrawler, Beast, Angel, and Kitty Pryde. Rogue was also a member of the team following an extended stint with the Brotherhood of Mutants.

Although Wolverine and the X-Men only ran for a single season of 26 episodes, it had a long arc that reached its conclusion in the final episode. However, the cliffhanger ending teased an Age of Apocalypse adaptation that was abandoned when the show was canceled.

X-MEN: THE ANIME SERIES

Anyone who has seen the kickass Japanese opening sequences for X-Men: The Animated Series has probably hoped to see an entire show in that style. That’蝉 not quite what fans got in 2011 when the X-Men got their own 12-episode anime series. This series was part of a larger collaboration between Marvel and the Japanese animation studio Madhouse that encompassed shows for Blade, Iron Man, Wolverine, and X-Men. Each series also featured cameos or guest appearances that connected the shows.

X-Men largely drew from Grant Morrison’蝉 New X-Men run and Joss Whedon and artist John Cassaday’蝉 Astonishing X-Men. In the aftermath of Jean Grey’蝉 apparent death, the X-Men reunited in Japan to rescue Armor from the U-Men, a group of humans who harvest the organs of mutants for their own agenda. Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Beast, Emma Frost, Armor, and Charles Xavier were the primary characters, but a few other X-Men had short cameos in the final episode.

THE RETURN OF THE X-MEN

In 2019, it was reported that the creative team behind X-Men: The Animated Series had pitched a revival series to Marvel Studios. Marvel ultimately went forward with that idea in 2021 using a different creative team led by Beau DeMayo. However, the original showrunners, Eric and Julia Lewald, and director/producer Larry Houston signed on as consulting producers.

Almost all of the surviving cast members from the first show are back for X-Men ‘97, including?Cal Dodd, Lenore Zann, George Buza, Catherine Disher, Chris Potter, Alison Sealy-Smith, Adrian Hough, Christopher Britton, Alyson Court, Lawrence Bayne, and Ron Rubin. Because of various reasons, only Dodd, Zann, Buza, Sealy-Smith, Hough, and Britton are reprising their roles as Wolverine, Rogue, Beast, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Mister Sinister. The rest of the original cast will be voicing different characters.

So far, story details from the first season of X-Men ‘97 are under wraps, but we do know that a second season is in production. Whether that means a third season will follow remains to be seen.

X-Men ‘97 will premiere on Wednesday, March 20.

Blair Marnell
Freelance writer for almost every major geek outlet, including Fandom!
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