The Fifth Color | Wolverine and the X-Men captures the magic of mutants
Comedian Demetri Martin has this bit on digital cameras and how they allow us to reminisce instantly (“Look, we were so young then…”). And, while funny, it’s certainly true; things that are fresh in our minds can be shared with dozens of people the moment we experience it. You catch a glimpse of Mark Millar eating a ham samwich in Los Angeles? Take a snapshot with your camera phone and suddenly everyone on Facebook can know Mr. Millar’s deli tastes. On one hand, you lose the gloss of nostalgia, since we’re no longer looking back at the way things were when we were younger or through the haze of better times. On the other hand, you keep the enthusiasm of the moment; midnight movie showings with a full audience are great because of the shared experience.
Wolverine and the X-Men, brought to you by the fantastic folks at Marvel Animation, lasted 26 episodes. A single season, and they packed incredible amounts of story and canon and drama into their kids’ action cartoon. Sadly, due to financing issues, the show won’t see past its starkly astounding final episode. But! Thanks to the magic of DVD releases, we can now reminisce instantly and keep up that enthusiasm for what was a great, ground-breaking show.
Having seen all 26 episodes in a rabid sort of marathon this week, I can say with absolute certainty that Wolverine and the X-Men is the finest collection of Marvel’s mutant lore, current comic action and forward thinking tales that make up the best of what fans want.
We Marvel Zombies can be fickle creatures, to say the least. We want new stories that remind us of stories we’ve already read; we hate stagnation and fear change. For every “I can’t believe he’s fighting Kraven again!” there’s an equal, an opposite “I will never read Brand New Day comics!” So, it’s a hard balance to provide familiar tales that are still fresh and new for the broadest amount of fans, both young and old. The best excuse we have to put a fresh coat of paint on some treasured tales and bring them to new audiences was the Ultimate Comics line. But with Ultimatum, I as a retailer don’t have the trust in that line not to be confusing or boring to someone simply wanting a Spider-Man comic. Instead, I can turn the new reader on to Marvel Animation.
There was a point where their direct-to-DVD movies were moved toward a feeling that the fans were running the show. Less corporate intervention, less marketing pushes, but more freedom to use the comics that these shows were to be based on and to use them in a way that showed the care and enthusiasm of those making the final product. Years ago, I sat behind two of Marvel Animation’s animators watching Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow at a Comic-Con International screening. They were just as thrilled to see the final product as they were the crowd’s reaction to the stories they had made. The time and energy they put into the work is obvious, from cameos to storylines to small dramatic moments that come together in the end for a pretty heroic final moment. The next day, they told me that Wolverine and the X-Men would be screening as well, and for whatever reason, I missed it.
Thanks to the magic of DVD, I can now watch the entire show and see all the same heart and enthusiasm for these characters and the world they live in come to life with 26 episodes of breathing room. The plot is both simple and intricately complex to give the most amount of storytelling they could do. Something happens at the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters that eliminates Professor Xavier and Jean Grey. The rest of the X-Men scatter throughout the world, trying to make it on their own, until Wolverine of all people decides that they have to take a stand. Senator Kelly has stepped up his mutant registration plans and is building Sentinels, Magneto is ruling the mutant haven island of Genosha and after some sleuthing, we learn that Xavier has been tossed into a dystopian “Days of Future Past”- style future. The newly reformed X-Men have to be led by Wolverine in order to fix the present to stop a dark future from overtaking them.
From there, we have small character moments, Wolverine Team-Ups, visions of a future rebellion, politics, drama, action, everything you could think of. Watching Wolverine and the X-Men gave me a refresher course on X-Men Mythology, from Mojo and Spiral to the history of Genosha and the House of M, Project: Wideawake’s final results and, of course, the Phoenix Force’s destructive powers and how much sacrifice it demands of our heroes. Looking back on the ’90s cartoon show that brought me into comics, I have no idea how I sat through the Shi’ar trials of the Dark Phoenix, but in today’s cartoons, we get the same core story without too much of the complicated details. Whether they be the Hellfire Club or the Phoenix Society, they’ll still want to use Jean Grey’s hidden powers for their own dark purposes.
The character motivations are there; they look similar, but their purpose in the book is just a slight shift in job change. Yes, Logan makes a rough leader type, and Scott Summers as the lone-wolf brooding guy is an interesting play on them both. Emma’s always up to no good, Nightcrawler loves swashbuckling adventure, and no one has to look super young or be locked into a school story format. These stories are told from the perspective of the young adult; no one’s been de-aged, they make a point of saying that Bobby Drake is 18 and can make his own decisions, and children are protected more than they are sent out to fight.
I’m amazed by the series’ complexity in storytelling and how clear it is to follow. I’m amazed by the depth of the drama they get out of a Nick Toons-aired show. Even the animation style, definitely influenced by X-Men: Evolution, can get such a range of art depth from a very clean and simple style. What I am not surprised by is who brought all these elements together.
Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost gave us the New X-Men: Academy X stories, Yost wrote the last new incarnation of X-Force and Greg Johnson, the head writer for Wolverine and the X-Men, also wrote episodes for Transformers: Beast Wars as well as the Ultimate Avengers movies and Planet Hulk. These men have done amazing work both on the screen and off and, listening to the commentary tracks they provide, it’s amazing to hear how emotionally invested they are in their work and giving only the best to their audience.
Everyone who made this show loved it, from the cast to the crew, to the writers and, in my case, one happy happy fan. I highly recommend Wolverine and the X-Men to new readers, kids, True Believers and anyone else who wants to look not that far back in order to remember the best.