Season 3 of X-Men is where things started to get murky in regards to what constitutes a season. Many episodes were aired out of order, and some didn’t appear on television until season 4 started airing. There was also more of a focus on mini series and two-parters with one-shot episodes mixed in. There was less obvious continuity for these one-shots and most functioned as stand alone tales, with some referencing older episodes (such as the return of Morph in “Courage,” for example). I personally felt a drop-off in terms of quality as there seemed to be less focus among the writing team. Some episodes were character driven, some action, and some just served to show us an animated take on a comic book plot. That said, on to the episodes!
Out of the Past (Part 1 and 2)
Season 3 began with a bang on prime time television with this episode. I’m unsure of how much the episode draws from the comic books as the main villain here is an alien entity called the Spirit Drinker. Whether he first appeared in the comics or was made up for the show, I cannot say. I’m not even certain it has a gender, or a body. It looks like it’s made up of light and is mostly transparent. Kind of a bizarre villain.
The main attraction for viewers was the television debut of Lady Deathstrike. Her origin was altered slightly to give her and Wolverine a romantic past (as if the guy didn’t have enough heart ache) but for the most part she’s the same as her comic counterpart, just with less cleavage (this is a kid’s show, after all).
The animation is different, though it did not pose a preview of things to come as this animation house was used sparingly by the series. The colors are richer and there’s more motion from the characters, some needless, but overall it’s an improvement over the usual stiff animation present in the rest of the series. Some coloring errors are made, such as Gambit’s cowl in the first part. Wolverine looks especially bad ass and is practically a Jim Lee picture come to life. It’s too bad the majority of the series couldn’t have a similar look.
Plot wise, the episodes are just okay. As I mentioned, the Spirit Drinker is the main foe so while Deathstrike wants Wolverine’s head they have to do the classic unlikely allies routine to save the Morlocks. The Spirit Drinker is freed from an alien spaceship by Wolverine and proceeds to eat the souls of the Morlocks and Deathstrike’s Reavers, before getting Jubilee as well. Xavier has some sort of psychic meltdown that leads to him being able to read the alien writing on the ship to discover it’s actually a prison ship. There’s a rather humorous scene where Xavier screams and just sounds rather odd doing so.
In the end, the X-Men work together and find a way to both hurt and kill the Spirit Drinker, while Xavier warns of the visions he received from the space craft and we’re left with an image of a burning earth with the phrase “Coming Soon – The Phoenix Saga!”
The Phoenix Saga (Parts 1 through 5)
A month after part 2 of “Out of the Past” aired, the promised Phoenix Saga debuted on week day afternoon television. This was much appreciated as the saga is 5 episodes long, and waiting a week between episodes would have proved torturous. That is, they would have if the saga was any good.
I never really liked the stories where the X-Men go cosmic. Writer Cris Claremont on the other hand, loved that stuff and he was responsible for the arc in the comics. “The Phoenix Saga” has always been less celebrated than it’s follow-up, “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” and with good reason. This one is just less interesting. We see the power of The Phoenix inhabit Jean early on after the X-Men return from a space mission (the sequence of the X-Men breaking into NASA is very reminiscent from their adventure in “Night of the Sentinels”) that Xavier sent them on for an unknown reason (even to him). Phoenix seems pretty cool, but Jean soon passes out and we have to wait until the end of episode 3 to see her do anything again.
The TV audience gets introduced to some new faces from the comics in this series, mainly the Shi’ar. Xavier meets his soul mate of sorts, Lilandra, and we also get to meet Banshee who’s now dating Moira. Other cameos include Black Tom and the Shi’ar Imperial Guard, of which only Gladiator stands out. He’s his usual mohawked, Superman knock-off self and is basically there to show us how powerful he is (by throwing the Juggernaut across the Atlantic) and then to show us how powerful Phoenix is (when she tosses him into orbit).
Probably the most interesting part of the arc occurs when the X-Men meet the Starjammers. The space pirates are lead by Corsair, whom Jean discovers is actually Christopher Summers, the father of Cyclops. Corsair is an interesting character because he’s easy to relate to. The Shi’ar emperor murdered his wife, and he’ll risk the whole fate of the universe for revenge.
Shi’ar Emperor D’Ken is the main antogonist. He wants the sacred M’Kraan Crystal to unlock its powers and grant him immortality. The Crystal, once unlocked, will destroy the universe but like most villains, D’Ken doesn’t seem to care about that minor technicality. In atypical fashion though, D’Ken succeeds and gets all that he wanted and more. In order to stop the Crystal from sucking the whole universe into its being, the Phoenix must seal it and bury it within the heart of the sun so that no mortal may ever reach it. Doing so will apparently destroy Jean (even though Phoenix appears to be the embodiment of flame, but whatever), so we get a very teary farewell that also feels rather rushed. It’s kind of odd that the conclusion of a plot that took up 5 episodes would be rushed, but just watch it. Cyclops proves inconsolable back on earth once everything is wrapped up, and Lilandra is set to be crowned empress now that her brother D’Ken is gone, trapped within the M’Kraan Crystal for all eternity. Xavier gives us a piece of foreshadowing when he reminds Cyclops that the Phoenix is known for rising from the ashes anew. Wolverine says “Jean!” and cries, by now we’re all sick of hearing him say that.
Basically, I don’t care much for this saga. The plot is just too “out there” for me and what could have been a great moment for the show (the death of Jean) was botched. It didn’t help that hardly any of the future episodes dealt with Jean’s absence. One would think losing someone like her would cast a black cloud over the team for at least a few episodes, but no. And the one that dealt with this the most, “No Mutant is an Island,” was delayed until season 4!
No Mutant is an Island
This is that episode that was meant to deal with the fall out from The Phoenix Saga, but as I also mentioned, it wasn’t shown until season 4. I don’t really know why, production delays are the given excuse, but it’s too bad as by the time it hit television it was both confusing and without impact.
Remember how I mentioned Cyclops, who didn’t get his own origin tale in season 2 like a lot of the X-Men did, would get his due in later seasons? This is one of them. In this episode Cyclops returns to the orphanage he was adopted from after leaving the X-Men. His grief over Jean’s death has left him unfit to command (in his eyes) and this is where his heart takes him. He reconnects with an old friend, Sarah, who is now in charge of the orphanage. Sarah is teased as a potential love interest for Cyke, and if this show were made for adults it’s likely the two would have had at least a one-night stand where Cyclops seeks the comfort of an old friend in his time of need.
Sarah informs him that a wealthy local man has adopted all of the mutant children, and Cyclops meets the last of them, Rusty. Cyclops doesn’t trust the motives of this gentleman, and of course, he’s proven right when it’s discovered the kids are being programmed to hate all humans by some crazed purple-skinned guy.
The plot kind of loses me once the kids take over. It seems the episode would have been stronger had it focused solely on Cyclops but I understand the writers needed to put him in danger to prove the character could still function as a leader. It works to some degree, though the main foe was pretty lame and seemed like a pretty weak threat. At the end of the episode Cyclops, predictably, returns to the X-Men where he finds out that Xavier has found Jean, alive and on earth.
Archangel returns for this one-shot. We hadn’t heard from Warren Worthington since season 1 when Rogue freed him from Apocalypse’s control by sucking the evil out of him with her powers. Here, as the title implies, we see an obsessive Archangel franticly searching for a way to destroy Apocalypse. His researchers discover a lone scroll that indicates Apocalypse has a point of weakness on his back that Archangel eagerly sets out to exploit. His tangles with Apocalypse gets the attention of the X-Men, who step in and prevent Apocalypse from destroying the blue-skinned mutant and take him back to the mansion.
Archangel is something less than grascious and he soon takes off to resume his fight, with Rogue in tow. Rogue understands his pain because of the experiences she felt when touching him, and decides she has to help. The four boys of the X-Men take off in pursuit as well, and the plot takes them to the ship of Apocalypse. Beast establishes some weird bond with the ship’s AI, who assists him in setting a trap for Apocalypse.
Such a thing is impossible though, as Apocalypse proves he’s one step ahead by issuing an override command that forces the ship to abandon the trap. He also reveals he planted that scroll for Archangel’s researchers to find, apparently just to screw with him. Archangel goes ballistic, and the only casualty ends up being the ship leaving Beast in an odd state of mourning. Archangel is still consumed with rage, and once Rogue insists it’s not the way for him to live, he feels abandoned and takes off. The episode offers a welcome glimpse into the mind of the Archangel character. At the end it made me wish we saw more from him, but alas, he goes into hiding until season 5.
Another episode that got pushed to season 4, this was also another done by the Philippines animation studio that handled “Out of the Past.” As a result, it looks great (though Wolverine’s hair is a bit outlandish), but the episode is a true dud. Mojo’s episode in season 2 was one of my least favorites, and this one is no better. Longshot, trying to escape from Mojo, ends up on earth. He encounters Wolverine and Jubilee, who develops a crush on him (apparently she digs mullets) and gets herself involved in the conflict between he and Mojo.
The rest of the episode plays out like some bad reality TV game show, where the X-Men once again have to tangle with Mojo’s men in order to win the game and save the girl. The predictable happens, and the less said the better. Thankfully, this is the last we see of both Longshot and Mojo.
More awesome animation from the Philippines, and this time they get to animate for a story worth seeing. I’ll admit, I’m biased towards this episode because Iceman was my favorite member of the X-Men growing up, so when the title of this episode displayed on the screen I geeked out like crazy. It just had to refer to Iceman, and sure enough, within moments he makes his presence felt.
Iceman is faithfully portrayed as a cocksure prick, and that’s why us Iceman fans love him. He attacks some government base, which attracts the attention of the X-Men due to his mutant signature. Xavier, Cyclops, Wolverine, and Beast go off to confront him, which leads to Iceman’s capture. We get a nice piece of backstory, and the show acknowledges for the first time that the original X-Men consisted of Cyclops, Jean, Angel, Beast, and Iceman. They also throw in Lorna Dane, aka Polaris, for the sake of the plot as we learn she and Iceman left the team to be together. They also left because Iceman couldn’t get along with Cyclops and Xavier as their respective personalities clashed in a big way. Iceman was the youngest and most chid-like of the group, and Xavier was unable to reach him.
Jubilee learns all of this, and then overhears Iceman telling Beast he’s just trying to find Lorna, who disappeared not long ago leaving behind a trashed house. Iceman fears the worst, but Beast and the X-Men won’t let him go until they know more. Jubilee is sympathetic and springs him loose, she also has a crush on him (probably a good thing that this episode and “Longshot” aired out of order given the overlap in plot) and tags along as they go after another government building.
Here they meet X-Factor; Havok, Strong Guy, Wolfsbane, Quicksilver, and Multiple Man. The boys show up and we get a little X-Men vs X-Factor action where the X-Men demonstrate their superior tactical abilities. Forge soon shows himself and explains to Xavier that he set this whole thing up as a means of testing his new team. X-Factor is a mutant super group formed by the government to deal with mutant issues. Lorna also shows up and we find out she left Iceman of her own will, and has also fallen in love with Havok. The writers also teased the audience by showing how Havok and Cyclops are immune to each other’s powers. That’s a trait common to mutant siblings, but apparently the two of them are unable to put two and two together.
In the end, like most cameo characters, Iceman is offered a place on the team but declines. At least his reasons are mostly logical when he remarks he’d just piss everyone off within an hour (not his actual words). Jubilee is bummed, and so am I, as Iceman rides off into the sunset. Unfortunately, “Cold Comfort” would be the only episode to feature the arctic mutant but it’s one more than Thunderbird got!