Spotlight on the animated series “X-Men” whose first two seasons (out of five) are available on Disney +. And you would be well advised not to miss it.
1992 was a great year for superhero and animation fans. Only a few weeks after Batman (launched in September, several months after the release of the second film by Tim Burton), the X-Men made their small screen debut on October 31 on Fox Kids. In France, the series is broadcast on Canal +, and young viewers of the time keep fond memories of it, obviously embellished with a touch of nostalgia linked to childhood. But its qualities, aesthetic and narrative, were very real. And the presence of the first two seasons on Disney + makes it possible to remember it.
If the cult that surrounds him is not as high as for Batman, X-Men is very far from unworthy and even presents itself as essential. The entertainment is certainly a bit stiff at times, and the French dubbing is not always very happy. But the whole is very solid, and this from the pilot in two parts, entitled “The Night of the Sentinels”, in reference to these machines used by the American government to track down the mutants they want to file and put away from society. From the outset, the show sets the tone and shows that, despite its lively nature, it does not intend to turn into something childish and simplistic, but to remain faithful to the comic books of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, in making his characters anti-heroes, the oppressed.
At the time of their birth in 1963, the X-Men served as a metaphor for the Civil Rights Movement, which fought for African Americans to have the same rights as the rest of the population, led by Martin Luther King or Malcolm X, of which Professor Xavier and Magneto have become the counterpart on paper. When the series begins, in 1992, the subject is still relevant and it was notably symbolized by the riots that shook Los Angeles between April 29 and May 4, following the acquittal of the four white police officers who had passed by. to tobacco Rodney King, a black motorist whom they had arrested. And that doesn’t change today, with the recent protests that have taken place around the world around the Black Lives Matter movement. This political and social aspect may escape the youngest (who may also be impressed by some violent passages where death, even off-screen, is present). But they will cling to other qualities.
And in particular this opening credits, which remains in the lead:
Among the main qualities of the series is its storytelling. Feuilleting. Each episode has of course its own issues, but these are part of a more global and continuous framework, still in line with the way in which serial writing has evolved in recent years. This allows the writers to develop real arcs, and they don’t hesitate to dig into the comic books and adapt some of his most famous stories: “Days of Future Past” (season 1), where it is a question of returning to the past to save the future, or the saga of “Black Phenix” (season 3), to name a few, which the big screen has also taken hold. Besides Magneto, presented in a complex way from his first appearance and who remains the main antagonist from start to finish, several iconic villains take advantage of these different stories to have a significant screen time and come to face the X-Men. Who are not left out.
Both for fans and neophytes, the series uses a classic but effective method to present the heroes to us, relying on us a newcomer, who discovers the protagonists at the same time as us. Or rather a newcomer: the young Jubilee, chased by Sentinels when her parents, frightened by her powers, report her, and rescued by the X-Men she meets in a shopping center. The show takes the opportunity to compare the mutations with the changes linked to adolescence, as in the comic books, and it is through his eyes that we get to know Wolverine (or Serval in the French version), Cyclops, Rogue , Tornado, Gambit, Jean Gray, the Fauve and their leader Professor Xavier. In the space of a few scenes, the characters of each are well defined (even if it means bordering on the archetype), as are their relationships.
On the strength of this solid base, the series can then take the time to attach to each other in turn, and even offer origin stories to some. Or allow Deadpool to make some cameos. And it is also in this that the television format suits the X-Men well, by allowing to better develop its many characters where the films, even the most successful, struggle more, to the point where Gambit or Jubilee have too often remained on the edge of the key. Feature films that owe a lot to the show. The first successful adaptation of a Marvel comic book during the 90s, its success convinced Fox to afford the rights to the title to bring it to the big screen, with actors of flesh and blood. The case will take longer than expected, and it is thanks to Bryan Singer that the mutants landed in the cinema in 2000 with an opus that has similarities with the animated series in its setting up: because it is thanks to Rogue ( Anna Paquin) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) as we enter Heroes’ HQ.
The public and critical success of the film, along with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Christopher Nolan’s Batman, will bring superheroes back to the big screen. And, by extension, to become the kings of Hollywood and the global box office. It is therefore important not to forget the important role played, casually, this animated series, both solid as such, and faithful to its model, going so far as to take up the aesthetics of comic books, then drawn by Jim Lee since the early 90s, for the look of the characters. And what if the last episodes, broadcast in 1997, are a little less successful: the whole remains a little gem to (re) discover as soon as possible. Thanks to the first two seasons available on Disney +, and by crossing your fingers that the next three arrive quickly.