Tag Archives: cyclops

Dec. 3 – X-Men: Evolution – “On Angel’s Wings”

x-men evolution intro

X-Men: Evolution “On Angel’s Wings” originally aired on December 15, 2001.

Long after the X-Men animated series that originated on Fox Kids had ended, along with basically every other Marvel cartoon at that network, X-Men:  Evolution showed up on Kids WB. It’s kind of odd considering WB owned DC and yet they went in on X-Men, but X-Men were still popular and were gearing up for a run on cinema. It also didn’t hurt that a lot of talented people were attached to the show, and today’s episode features the duo of Boyd Kirkland and Frank Paur, both former directors on Batman:  The Animated Series.

snowy nyc

A snowy New York, which may have possibly been edited considering the events of 9/11 two months prior to air date for this one.

X-Men:  Evolution was an attempt at making the X-Men appeal to a younger audience. It fit-in with WB’s programming which also included super heroes like Static Shock and Batman Beyond. Even The New Adventures of Batman had placed an emphasis on the allies of Batman, including the very young Robin and the not quite so young Nightwing and Batgirl. The setup for X-Men:  Evolution was not that radical from other depictions:  young mutants were gathered at the home of Professor Charles Xavier (David Kaye) to learn how to control their mutant powers. Only in this show, basically everyone is in the Kitty Pryde/Jubilee role of being a teen and they include:  Cyclops (Kirby Morrow), Jean  Grey (Venus Terzo), Nightcrawler (Brad Swaile), Spyke (Neil Denis), Rogue (Meghan Black), and Kitty (Maggie Blue O’Hara) herself. The twist comes in that the students do not receive their schooling at Xavier’s mansion and instead attend a normal high school where they are put into conflict with a teenaged version of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Also, Storm (Kirsten Williamson), Beast (Michael Kopsa), and Wolverine (Scott McNeil) are teachers at Xavier’s home. Yes, Wolverine is in kind of a grumpy uncle role in this show, which is definitely an odd place for his character, but probably better than having a teenaged Wolverine. Thankfully, he doesn’t lust after Jean in this one. Honestly, the setup of the show never appealed to me and sounds kind of dumb. I checked out a couple of the first season’s episodes when this show premiered and they were pretty lame. Surprisingly, the show started to find itself in season two. It established some strong conflicts and the young team assembled works well. I was wrong about the show, and it actually turned out quite well in the end.

lonely warren

A lonely, wealthy man, just watching some TV. Note the lack of Christmas decor.

In season two the show rolled the dice on a Christmas episode. “On Angel’s Wings” is predictably about the character Angel (Mark Hildreth), who previously had not appeared in the show. It starts off in New York, where the wealthy Warren Worthington is shown in an isolated state. He’s ignoring his phone calls and watching television. Elsewhere in the city, a fire is ripping through an apartment building and a disabled woman is trapped inside. Her daughter is pleading with firefighters to save her mom, and this mobilizes Worthington. He flies to the sight, enters the building, and removes the woman leaving her safely on a nearby bench. No one witnesses it, but her daughter soon spots her mom and runs over to her. They embrace, and when the daughter asks how she escaped she tells her a real, live, angel carried her to safety.

scotts present

Rogue sheepishly gives Cyclops his Christmas present early. They actually would have made a cute couple.

At Xavier’s mansion, everyone is getting ready for the holidays. The kids will be leaving to head home and they’re having a little party in celebration. Two students will not be leaving:  Cyclops and Rogue. Cyclops, being an orphan, has no home to go to while Rogue is a runaway with a poor home life. There’s nothing for her to return to. As the other kids give gifts and Nightcrawler tries to steal a kiss via mistletoe, Jean looks on with jealous eyes as Rogue gives Cyclops a gift. If I recall correctly (and it’s been many years), Cyclops was one of the few to be nice to Rogue when she first showed up early on so she took a liking to him. Plus, they’re both able to kind of bond over the fact that neither is able to fully control their mutant powers. Rogue’s crush was not reciprocated in a romantic way, and Cyclops may even be oblivious, but Jean notices. And like basically every other version of the X-Men, Jean and Cyclops are romantically linked. As everyone departs, leaving only Xavier, Beast, Cyclops, and Rogue behind, Jean looks on with some sadness and worry as her limo drives away (what a tough life).

angel in action

Angel in action.

In New York, the Angel makes another appearance in Central Park thwarting a mugging. An onlooker is shown and he looks rather menacing. Later, a car gets into an accident on a suspended bridge (maybe the George Washington?) and the Angel, now in a resplendent super hero costume, swoops in to make the save. The car is up against the cables and he first saves a child from the backseat then returns for the parents. As everyone celebrates his heroics, the shadowy man from the park emerges. Summoning powers of his own, he makes one of the broken, steel, cables grab onto Angel. Startled, he flutters his wings and accidentally knocks the little girl he just saved off of the bridge. He dives into the water after her and does return her safely to the bridge, though she’s unconscious. The man, obviously Magneto (Christopher Judge), then shouts that it was the angel who knocked her off. The crowd of onlookers then turns on the hero, declaring he’s not a real angel just some freak, and he’s forced to flee.

cd shopping

I miss CD shopping.

At the mansion, the X-Men have heard the reports of the angel sighting in the city. Feeling kind of restless, Rogue wants to head out and see what they can uncover and she and Cyclops are permitted to go. They have a discussion and it’s revealed that Cyclops kind of wants to believe the person is indeed an angel, while Rogue is dismissive of the concept. She does apologize to Cyclops though, fearing she hurt his feelings, but he assures her he’s fine. They go to a music store and are browsing CDs when they hear about the latest sighting. It’s quite a trip seeing the pair thumbing through music and Cyclops listening to the free previews on a headset – my how the times have changed.

On_Angel's_Wings-_Scott_n_Rogue

The city of New York is alive with Angel Fever!

We’re then whisked away to a hospital room. The little girl Angel saved is in a coma and her parents are understandably worried. Angel drops in on her and seems depressed over what happened. He swipes a doctor’s jacket and heads off into the hallway. There, Rogue and Cyclops are at a nurse’s station asking about the young girl and they’re told they just missed her parents who left to head to church. Angel overhears this and starts heading off. Rogue notices a feather wafting out from underneath the coat and alerts Cyclops that it’s him, rather loudly. This startles Angel and he takes off running. The two X-Men in training give chase, but he escapes out a window.

angel and magneto

I will admit, that’s one bad ass looking Magneto.

At the church, the girl’s parents are shown praying in an otherwise empty building. Angel is looking on from a balcony in the back, shamefully.  The camera pans and a figure lurks in the shadows behind him. It’s Magneto, now in costume, and he confronts Angel. He knows who he is and that he lives an isolated, lonely, life. He points out how quickly the people turned on him at the bridge, despite his best efforts, and uses a lot of the same arguments you’ve probably heard from Magneto before about why humanity can’t be trusted. He offers him a place for people like Angel and he, but Angel turns him down rather angrily not wanting to associate with “freaks and weirdos.” He’s a self-hating mutant.

x-men and angel

Angel meets the X-Men. They discuss tailors.

Magneto is not going to let Angel just walk away. He attacks, and Angel is forced to flee the balcony. The people below see him as Magneto uses a chandelier to wrap Angel in a chain. As he falls from the sky, a red laser beam cuts through the air and blasts Magneto out of the church through a stained-glass window. Cyclops and Rogue, now too in costume, come running in and free Angel. Magneto quickly returns as a confused Angel flees once more. With Magneto baring down on the young X-Men, Angel emerges from behind Magneto and wraps him in a bear hug. Cyclops calls for him to stand down, and pummels Magneto with more optic blasts knocking him from the sky. While on the ground, Rogue is able to get up close and personal with the Master of Magnetism and syphon away some of his energy. Now armed with the powers of magnetism herself, Rogue is able to chase Magneto through the skies of New York City. Magneto though is a pro with these powers and is able to knock her from the sky, but Angel is there once again to make the save causing Rogue to playfully remark, “I’m starting to think you are a real angel.”

gotcha

Of course, Rogue needs to be rescued by an angel since she was a non-believer earlier.

Apparently admitting defeat, Magneto is gone and the trio of heroes are back at the hospital. They’re in the waiting area probably hoping to hear how the young girl is doing. Cyclops explains who they are and gives the X-Men sales pitch to Warren, who questions how they’re any different from Magneto. As they talk, a doctor comes out to tell the parents of the girl that she’s awake and going to be all right. Warren is overjoyed and sneaks over to the girl’s room. As he does, Rogue asks Cyclops if he thinks Warren will join the X-Men and he curtly responds, “No.” They join Warren though as the little girl tells her parents she saw her angel again in her dreams. This puts a smile on Warren’s face while Rogue squirts a few tears. We’re then treated to a little montage of the other X-Men and how they’re enjoying their holiday. Jean with her family, Kitty doing Hanukkah stuff, and Wolverine kind of sadly just playing pool all by himself in a dimly lit dive. Xavier and Beast are shown last toasting a couple of hot beverages in front of a Christmas tree to close this one out.

x-men happy ending

Looks like that little girl is going to have a Merry Christmas after all!

“On Angel’s Wings” is what I consider a quiet Christmas special. It takes place around the holiday, but Christmas just serves as a backdrop for the events in the episode. Tying Angel to the holiday is a smart move, since his obvious biblical appearance lends itself well to the theme. Though despite his presence, this doesn’t go full Hallmark Channel on the Jesus stuff. Beast quotes the Bible at one point, and other than the brief talk of Cyclops possibly believing in angels, the episode chooses not to dive into that subject. There’s also no Santa Claus or anything of that nature. The episode is also very stand-alone as it doesn’t aim to resolve anything like Jean’s jealousy or Wolverine’s loner tendencies or even what Warren Worthington will do next, but it’s still a satisfying little story. The ending is a bit sappy, but the montage was rather tasteful. Also, it should be noted, this show looks terrific and is miles ahead of the old animated series. New York City looks especially authentic and I always enjoy the cool tones of winter in a cartoon.

kitty hanukkah

We need to slide this one in for the Jewish fans.

The voice cast for the show does leave a little something to be desired. Our leads are pretty good, and I think Xavier and Beast sound about right (though Beast is basically a carbon copy of the same character from Fox’s X-Men), but there is also a woodenness to some of the performances. Not every line is crips. The tone of Megneto’s voice is rather intimidating, but the inflections aren’t there (especially when he can’t just be scary, like when he was shown among the mob on the bridge). The character designs are fairly simple and work well. Cyclops has a bit of an X-Factor vibe to his costume, but with the open Jim Lee cowl. Magneto looks rather imposing as his face is often entirely black when in costume, the shape of his helm also reminds me of Age of Apocalypse Magneto. Rogue’s costume is a bit on the bland side though and I never much cared for the design. It has an odd piece of green armor across the chest that’s rather boxy looking. And in general, the female X-Men are drawn rather maturely. It’s a tad creepy how sexy the animators made these children.

X-Men:  Evolution has seen an incomplete home video release. It’s also no longer on television, but good news, no one seems to care about it so it’s easy to find online for free. If you want to spend the holidays with Marvel’s most famous mutants then go for it. It’s better than the other X-Men Christmas episode and it should put you in the Christmas spirit.

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Previously on X-Men: The Making of an Animated Series

previously

by Eric Lewald, published by Jacobs Brown Media Group LLC

A lot of cartoons made an impact on me as a child. My first love was The Real Ghostbusters. It’s goofy cast of characters and excitement were plenty of fun and there were interesting toys to supplement the series with, which was pretty much the goal of all cartoons in the 80s. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would come along and supplant Ghostbusters for me. For several years I was all about the Turtles, with a flirtation with Bucky O’Hare mixed in, though sadly the funky fresh rabbit never made it past 13 episodes.

In 1992 things changed, in more ways than one. My family had just been uprooted moving from the cozy confines of New Hampshire to what felt like a different world down in Virginia. For the first time ever, I was a fish out of water. As I was gearing up to start 3rd grade in a new state, a new town, a new school, I would be tasked with forming all new friendships either at school or in my new neighborhood. It’s not a task I’ve ever been particularly good at. Shy and a tad awkward, I wasn’t outgoing, nor was I particularly talented in anything so I had few ways of attracting people. As a result, my television was sort of my best friend for a time and thankfully I had a new friend in Batman who had just debuted on week day afternoons on Fox Kids, a network I really only knew of thanks to The Simpsons. Batman was all fine and good, and I consumed every episode as it aired (and have since gone on to write about, if you hadn’t noticed), but it never hooked me like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, even though that was a program I found myself outgrowing. What did resonate with me almost immediately though was the cartoon that premiered not long after Batman, I’m talking about X-Men.

The X-Men were known to me in basic terms before the animated series premiered on Fox. About a year prior to the show debuting Marvel had launched a toyline complete with TV spots, even though there was no companion television series to pair it with. I suppose the toys could have been developed in conjunction with the Pryde of the X-Men pilot that had premiered and failed in 1989. The roster was pretty similar, though then relative newcomer Archangel replaced Dazzler in that initial run of toys. Aside from that though, I don’t think I had ever picked up an X-Men comic book and I may or may not have played the side-scrolling beat-’em-up arcade game that was also based on Pryde of the X-Men. And I didn’t even actually catch the sneak peek preview, which aired on Halloween of 1992. I had seen all of the television spots leading up to it and was very interested in the show, but I had tricks or treats to get and wasn’t good at working a VCR.

X-men_pryde_of_the_x-men_cover

The first attempt at brining the X-Men to television did not go very well.

At school, I would hear about it though. They had cool powers, but people hated them. Why? It seemed like such a foreign concept. One character got arrested and another died! Wow! Perhaps morbidly, I really wanted to see that character death, whom I’d come to know as Morph. Frustratingly, it would be awhile before I finally saw it. Somehow, whenever “Night of the Sentinels:  Part 2” was aired on television I would miss it. I wasn’t allowed to stay home alone, since I was only 8, so if my family had plans on Saturday morning I had little say. My mom even enrolled me in CCD, or church school, which convened at 11 on Saturdays, much to my horror. I think I only went to two of those classes before my mom got sick of the revolt each Saturday, finally freeing me to enjoy my new favorite program in relative peace.

In no time I was obsessed, and X-Men was my favorite show for basically as long as it aired. I still have the many toys I amassed during that period in my life, and though I no longer read the comics, I still enjoy revisiting this cartoon. It’s why when I heard that showrunner Eric Lewald was releasing a book all about his experience in making the show and bringing it to television that I had to get a copy. I received a copy last November, and I’m a bit disappointed in myself it took me this long to finally finish it and get to writing this post, but life is hectic.

Previously on X-Men is an account of how this unlikely hit came to be. When Fox premiered X-Men and Batman it was still a fledgling network. The Tracey Ullman Show and Married… With Children got the network its initial audience, and The Simpsons would then establish it as a viable alternative to the big 3:  ABC, CBS, and NBC. It was still struggling during the other parts of the day with programming often ending before 11 PM. Recognizing that there was a place for children’s programming, Fox brought together a web of studios and producers in a mostly haphazard manner that somehow led to network dominance. Shows like Bobby’s World and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes were filling out the kids portion of the programming early on, and while it sounds like they did okay numbers, they weren’t going to raise the network’s profile much. It would fall to the superheroes to do that.

lewaldscelebrating_orig

Julia and Eric Lewald

Lewald’s book does a great job in capturing those early days while also contrasting X-Men with its daily counterpart Batman. Batman was a show with tremendous financial muscle behind it in the form of Warner Bros. and DC. It was coming off two successful Tim Burton movies and featured a character recognized around the globe. As a result, it was largely an internal production at Warner and Fox got to reap in the benefits. And then there was X-Men, the troubled property that seemingly no one believed in. Thanks to so many television failures by Marvel in the past, there was almost zero enthusiasm for a show based on the property. Margaret Loesch, who formally headed-up television at Marvel and was hired away to run Fox Kids, was one of the few who believed in it. Having failed to get the show going while at Marvel, she knew a producer who she had hired and fired on more than one occasion that could handle the task. That man was Sidney Iwanter, and he produced the show along with many others for Fox Kids. Citing a belief that kids were smarter than network executives gave them credit for, he demanded excellence from the writing staff of X-Men, who were overseen by Lewald. These three probably deserve the most credit in getting X-Men to television and for it being the number one kid’s show when it finally did get there.

haim-saban

Haim Saban, who is both a hero and a villain in this story.

The first 200 pages of the 400 page book are devoted to the development process and it’s a fascinating read. Lewald, who had no experience with the X-Men before getting hired to run the show, was entrusted with those initial 13 episodes. He had people at Marvel he could go to with questions, but in a pre-internet world that meant a phone call, fax, or worse. It wasn’t like there was a Google equivalent in 1992. Artist Larry Houston is credited with the look of the series, as he was one of the few onboard who was a fan of the comic. Also the Edens brothers, Michael and Mark, were Lewald’s main contributors in the writing department. Lewald’s wife Julia was also a part in the initial season and contributed to the book as well. It’s very interesting to read as Lewald takes the reader through that initial writing process, and it’s easily the most captivating section of the book. Their approach to character showed in the episodes, so a lot of what is said here was previously assumed. Such as the belief that killing off poor Morph in the second episode would create stakes and pull the viewer in.

fox kids

The early days of Fox Kids.

If there is an MVP character for the book though it just might be Haim Saban. Saban was a newcomer to television when Fox Kids partnered with him to bring the X-Men to air. Saban collected a fee for those first 13 episodes, but then it was on him to pay the writers and editors. Graz handled the art, while AKOM was contracted to do the animation. Saban is a notoriously cheap man, and reading about all of the accounts of his cheapness is both hilarious and frustrating. It’s well know now, but bares repeating to emphasize how cheap he was that Saban docked the pay for all of the returning writers for season 2. His reasoning? The show was a success, so now more people would want to write for it and therefore he could pay them less. The man is now a billionaire, so obviously he’s pretty good at making money, though he’s also a reminder of a lot of what’s wrong with modern capitalism. The second half of the book is comprised of interviews with the cast, writers, producers, and other executives and almost all of them have a comment about how cheap Saban was, and likely still is.

Many battles took place to bring X-Men to Saturday morning. Some I knew about before reading this book, and others I did not. It’s probably common knowledge that the first episode from AKOM was utter garbage in terms of animation quality. It’s a big reason why the show had to premiere as a sneak preview because the studio couldn’t get them right to premiere in the normal Fall window. A lot of money was spent getting it right, and it almost blew everything up. The original voice cast also had to re-do the initial episodes because the first takes were so bad. Saban, in order to save money, hired Canadian actors to voice the show because they were famously non-union, so casting, supervising, and ultimately editing the audio for the show was cumbersome. Having to send individuals up to Canada in order to re-dub the initial episodes was obviously time consuming.

X-Men (FOX) [1992-1997]Shown from left: Wolverine, Morph, Beast

Oh Morph, I still mourn for thee.

And then there was Stan Lee. Stan Lee is a pretty famous guy. I’m not sure if he’s today more known for all of the comic characters he had a hand in creating or if he’s more famous for being that old guy who cameos in every Marvel film. Stan Lee created the X–Men alongside Jack Kirby in the 60s, but after that initial unsuccessful run, he turned it over to other writers and artists so he could focus on other things. As a result, come 1992 he basically knew nothing about the modern X-Men and yet he insisted he knew what was right for the show. Lewald and Iwanter had to fight with Stan on everything in those development days. He insisted on narrating the episodes, as he had done with previous Marvel television shows, and his approach was entirely wrong for the show they were trying to create. Supposedly, even proposed the premise of the show should be a few members of the team driving around and solving mysteries. They somehow managed to placate him, without really giving him a voice in the show, and eventually he went away as the show moved along through its first season and became a smash hit. The frustration in having to deal with Lee and the many other challenges is felt in reading this and I ached for Lewald even though he’s more than 25 years removed from this aggravation.

spiderman 94

The success of X-Men helped pave the way for more Marvel cartoons like Spider-Man.

That first season was only 13 episodes, a far cry from the 65 episode order Batman received. Fox was so unsure about the property that it wouldn’t commit beyond that, forcing basically everyone involved to move onto other shows. Lewald went on to helm Exosquad with the Edens, and thankfully that too only received a 13 episode order so he was available to return to X-Men when it finally received the full episode order. Others did not, because that’s how television works. If a show isn’t in production, you’re not getting paid. That first season’s decision to present itself in a serialized fashion also presented problems for the network, as production delays on one episode messed up the order of everything. As a result, the network demanded that season 2 be more episodic, but Lewald and his talented team of writers still managed to give it a serialized feel with The Savage Land segments and reoccurring villains like Mr. Sinister and The Friends of Humanity. A wise move, since the serialized nature of that first season is a big reason why it’s so special.

Nightcrawler (1)

“Nightcrawler” is frequently cited as a favorite episode of many of the creators involved with the show. The book also contains a deep dive into its creation.

Like the show itself, which I think produced its best work in those first two seasons, the book somewhat suffers from a strong first half that isn’t matched by the second. The many interviews that span roughly 200 pages are informative, but some more than others. The voice cast mostly repeats itself with remarks about how it was fun to work on something that felt different and how they came to understand their roles. The actual writers and producers offer the more interesting nuggets. There’s a lot of praise thrown around which might get tiresome for readers, though they all have reason to praise each other since it’s easy to forget how successful this show was. Especially when taken alongside the production and development hurdles. Of the interviews, I think I actually enjoyed the executive ones the most. Loesch and Iwanter were candid and did a great job of transporting me back to the early 90s and the hurdles they faced in backing this show. It’s fun to read about how close these people were with these characters that meant so much to me as a child. They cared about them, which is ultimately why the show ended up being as successful as it was.

X-Men-92

Marvel has resurrected the 92 X-Men for its comics line, but the results weren’t enjoyed by this blogger.

It should come as no surprise that, as a longtime fan of the show, I fully recommend Previously on X-Men to other fans of the show. Even if you were only a casual fan, but tuned into the animated scene at the time, you might enjoy reading this one. It’s fun to read the comparisons of how this show came to be with the experiences these people had with other shows. X-Men was a production mess, a wonderful, beautiful, mess. It was still garnering good numbers when it was cancelled, and one has to assume it was due to costs. By then, Saban had Power Rangers and was able to bring more stuff in house. X-Men had all kinds of hands on it so a lot of people had to get paid, and as we already covered, Saban wasn’t a fan of paying people. Even so, it’s hard to argue that the show was cut-down in its prime or anything, but reading this book and revisiting the show really made me realize how much I’d love to come back to this world. Marvel did launch an X-Men ’92 comic, but it did not satisfy me nor did it read like an episode of the beloved cartoon, rather it felt more like a parody. Marvel is now under the gigantic Disney umbrella and its films basically print money. With the Fox acquisition though, suddenly the X-Men are back in play. Marvel hasn’t bothered with animated films in awhile, though it’s sort of bringing that back with Into the Spider-Verse. Maybe a direct to video follow-up for the 92 X-Men could one day be in play. Pretty please? At the very least, how about a Blu Ray collection with episode commentaries, Disney? The people who created this wonderful show obviously wish to talk about it and they still have a lot to say.


X-Men ’92

X-Men '92 (2015)

X-Men ’92 (2015)

Nineties nostalgia is running wild over pop culture like never before. Apparently enough time has passed for the 90’s to truly be considered retro. There’s a new Power Rangers movie in development, Jaleel White is appearing in Scion commercials, Nickelodeon has resurrected its 90’s programming via The Splat, and now Marvel Comics has turned to the X-Men for a new series of comics based on the early 90’s team featured in the popular cartoon. X-Men ’92 is a tie-in to Marvel’s ongoing Secret Wars, it too a resurrected plot from the past (only this time, the 80’s) that appears set to bring about more 90’s relics. Written by Chris Sims and Chad Bowers, X-Men ’92 is not exactly a continuation of that team from the cartoon series, but seeks to emulate it’s tone and characters in telling a new story in a new setting.

Being a tie-in with Secret Wars, X-Men ’92 has its origins rooted in the story that preceded it. Not being a regular comic book reader myself, I found it to be somewhat confusing but also not really important how we reached this point. Magneto has apparently been defeated and the X-Men are celebrities of sorts residing in Westchester, New York. Baron Robert Kelly, complete with cape and warwolves, rules over Westchester as an ally to the X-Men and Dr. Doom is some kind of god entity. The story begins much like the animated series did with the X-Men getting into a tussle with some sentinels at a mall. The camp is strong in this scene, particularly with Storm, and the first chapter of the story (which consists of four books split into two chapters apiece) reads more like a parody than an homage to the X-Men cartoon.

The plot moves fast and consists of the X-Men traveling to Clear Mountain, a sort of Betty Ford clinic for evil mutants. The director of the facility is Cassandra Nova, who longtime X-Men fans know as the clone of Charles Xavier from the New X-Men comics. The mission is one of peace and the X-Men are Nova’s invited guests. Of course, it’s a trap and Nova, allied with the Shadow King, imprisons the X-Men and back at the mansion psionically attacks Charles Xavier, rendering him unconscious. Nova’s plan is then to psychically infiltrate each member of the X-Men to determine which ones she can take advantage of through their personality flaws and ultimately brainwash. The ones she cannot are tossed into a cell. Her ultimate goal is to create her own X-Men and assassinate Kelly with a monstrous sentinel referred to as Ten-Sentinel (because it’s ten sentinels in one, naturally) while making his death appear to be the fault of the X-Men.

Cassandra Nova is the chosen villain here, which is odd considering she's a villain from the 2000's.

Cassandra Nova is the chosen villain here, which is odd considering she’s a villain from the 2000’s.

As the situation grows dire for our heroes, some familiar allies resurface in the form of X-Force. Consisting of Cable, Domino, Bishop, Archangel, Psylocke, and Deadpool, X-Force attempts a rescue mission at the mansion and Clear Mountain. As they too seem to have been left behind in the 90’s, it makes sense to resurrect the alternate X-Men for this story (though Cable is severely lacking in the pouch department) and they seem mostly true to their old personas (save for Deadpool, who’s more in-line with his current one). X-Force is able to free the X-Men, who are then left to do battle with the Ten-Sentinel, Nova, and their brainwashed former teammates. Everything ends with multiple epilogues and cliff-hangers, so apparently X-Men ’92 won’t be limited to these four issues.

X-Men ’92 exists seemingly purely for its nostalgic value. As I mentioned earlier, the personalities of the various X-Men are very much inline with their personas from the first season of the show. Wolverine is stubbornly independent, Beast is bookish, Gambit flirtatious, and Storm takes herself way too seriously. If anything, certain characters are magnified in their portrayals with the Gambit/Rogue dynamic being a point of emphasis. It’s sometimes hard to tell if the writers are poking fun at the old nineties team or just having fun with it. In the backgrounds lurk many cameos from the era and the final issue even features a few surprise cameos that I was not expecting. Easily the greatest joy in flipping through X-Men ’92 is scouring the pages for all of these callbacks, some of which are also worked into the dialogue.

Issue #3 is my pick for best cover. Note Deadpool's 90's era "selfie stick."

Issue #3 is my pick for best cover. Note Deadpool’s 90’s era “selfie stick.”

Unfortunately, the plot for X-Men ’92 is severely lacking. While the characters feel like parodies of the old cartoon, the story feels more like a rejected plot from the cartoon. It’s messy and Nova is such a typical children’s cartoon villain that it renders her as dull as a butter knife. The confrontation with the massive Ten-Sentinel is actually pretty boring, and the art is too busy to really appreciate what it’s trying to depict. The art, in general, is basically good enough, though the style of artist Scott Koblish doesn’t really fit the whole 90’s theme. Cyclops in particular is rather lean and appears a little short compared to how he would have been drawn 1992. Given how Sims and Bowers seem to enjoy poking fun at the era, it’s surprising they didn’t take a few shots at how over-muscled and glamorous the characters often appeared in that era.

If you are like me and expected X-Men ’92 to be a tie-in with the old cartoon then you’ll probably be disappointed by it. It has some nostalgic value, but the plot and pacing is so poor you would be better off just grabbing one issue out of the four (and it doesn’t really matter which, but I suppose the first issue was the overall best) if you really want a dose of X-Men nostalgia. The ending of the final chapter is slightly interesting in terms of what it foreshadows, but I suspect the featured villain will not be handled well by this writing team. The series must be selling well for Marvel to be continuing it beyond issue #4, but I bet those who have latched on would not mind it at all if Marvel hit the abort button and started over with X-Men ’92 where the animated series left off. That’s a comic I’d consider buying.


Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge

Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade's Revenge (1992)

Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge (1992)

Expectations influence just about everything we come in contact with.  Expectations can help lead to a more fulfilling experience when those expectations are met.  Other times, they can help make the bad seem worse when something fails to meet though expectations.  When I was a kid and I heard there was going to be a video game featuring a team-up between Spider-Man, possibly the most popular character ever created by Marvel Comics, and the X-Men, easily the hottest comic at the time, I was giddy with anticipation.  This seemed like a no lose situation and Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge vaulted to the top of my list of must own Super Nintendo games along with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV:  Turtles in Time.  One of those games would turn out well and provide me with hours of entertainment, that game was not Spider-Man and the X-Men.

What went wrong?  Well, let’s backtrack a bit first and see how this all came together and if my expectations were even justified.  At the time of the game’s release, Spider-Man had already been enjoying a run on the Sega Genesis and Game Boy as a platform star.  Perhaps star is a bit strong as his games weren’t really great, but they also weren’t particularly awful.  The best was definitely The Amazing Spider-Man vs The Kingpin for the Genesis.  The game was pretty difficult, at times frustratingly so, but it did a great job of making use of the Spider-Man license.  It was also quite popular and one of the best-selling titles at the time.  The X-Men, on the other hand, really only had the one NES game titled The Uncanny X-Men.  It was horrible and it tricked many uninformed gamers into renting or buying it with it’s X-Men branding.  Arguably, the best games for both franchises were the arcade beat-em-ups Spider-Man:  The Video Game and X-Men.  The Spider-Man game came first in 1991 and for some reason it isn’t as well loved and remembered as the X-Men game that followed in ’92.  It was a typical brawler allowing up to four players to join in and included playable characters Spider-Man, Black Cat, Hawkeye, and Sub-Mariner.  It’s selling feature was a more platform inspired design where the camera would zoom out allowing the players to take on gigantic enemies including a super-sized Venom at the end of the first stage.  The X-Men game was similar, but it’s defining characteristic (aside from the comical mistranslations) was the double-monitor cabinet allowing up to six players at once.  Both games were hard as they were designed to suck quarters out of its audience but they were a lot of fun, especially with a group of friends.

I hate these stupid clowns and their stupid stage.

I hate these stupid clowns and their stupid stage.

It would seem to me that a track record was in place that at least suggested a console game featuring these two franchises could be great.  If I had been a little wiser as a kid and more aware I would have taken note of the LJN logo on the box and realized right away the game was going to be a giant turd, but sadly I just wasn’t.  Before I get into what the game did wrong I suppose I should point out what it did right.  First of, Spider-Man is represented fairly well given that he is able to stick to walls, shoot webs, and even make use of his spider-sense in the game.  The roster for the X-Men side is pretty solid as well as it features the obvious choice of Wolverine along with Cyclops, Storm, and Gambit.  Wolverine has an interesting dynamic to him as he retains his mutant healing power but it only works when his claws are retracted.  The game is packed with villains too like Apocalypse, Shocker, Juggernaut, and Carnage.  Arcade is kind of a weird choice for the main villain, but at least his Murderworld offers a lot of possibilities for level-design.

That’s basically it as far as what Spider-Man and the X-Men gets right, and unfortunately it’s a pretty small list.  So what makes this game suck so hard?  Well, lets first start with the presentation.  I’m usually not one to have much of an opinion on the audio within a game.  I expect it to do its job and often times I have to make it a point to touch upon it when doing these reviews because I tend to overlook it.  Here it’s easy to not overlook because the sound is so bad.  The score is okay at times, though certain levels (Wolverine’s) feature an annoying soundtrack.  It’s the FX that really bug me though as they just sound like, for lack of a better word, shit.  A lot of the characters, good and bad, let out a scream when they die that sounds fuzzy and distorted.  The machine sounds are just as bad and Spidey’s web blasts sound like they could be grenades.  The graphics are also piss-poor.  The characters are really small, except Storm but I’ll get to her later, and lacking in any sort of detail.  Wolverine even looks like he only has two claws on each hand while Gambit doesn’t have a face.  Some of the villains are almost unrecognizable, especially Apocalypse who looks like a blue bug or something.

Hey Gambit, where's your face?

Hey Gambit, where’s your face?

Perhaps what bugged me more than anything as a kid was just how un-super these super heroes felt.  Spider-Man and the X-Men is a pretty hard game made so mostly because these characters can’t seem to take a punch.  They die so easily and it’s a frustrating experience.  I get that it’s hard to make a super hero game because on one hand the super heroes need to be super powerful, but the game also needs some challenge.  That’s why we have super villains though, and Wolverine shouldn’t be getting annihilated by a jack-in-the-box with a tommy gun.  The X-Men games that would follow on the Genesis were hard, but at least those X-Men felt like powerful super heroes (well, for the most part), these ones are push-overs.  The level designs are also fairly lacking.  Spider-Man’s are just weird looking and kind of confusing as they’re intended to be maze-like.  The player is supposed to use his spider-sense to navigate but it just gets tiresome.  Cyclops’ stages feature an annoying mine cart premise where touching the tracks means death.  Gambit has to outrun a giant deathball and might be the best levels, which isn’t saying much.  Wolverine is in a circus and there’s nothing noteworthy about the first stage while the second stage he has to outrun the Juggernaut.  It’s basically the same concept as the Gambit stages, though at least LJN incorporated something from the comics to make it feel relevant.  Storm’s stages are quite different and probably everyone’s most hated as she has to navigate a flooded laboratory.  They’re swimming levels, but unfortunately Storm’s mutant powers over the weather don’t let her breath underwater.  Just about everyone hates the underwater Sonic the Hedgehog levels for the same reason, this is worse times ten.

The red guy is Carnage. That gray blob?  He's Rhino.  I think.

The red guy is Carnage. That gray blob? He’s Rhino. I think.

If the player manages to actually beat all of the levels then they get to take on Arcade as Spider-Man.  You kind of have to be a glutton for punishment to even make it that far as the game is both really hard and really bad.  That’s the worst combination.  As a kid, I never had much success and never made it past any character’s second stage so making it all the way to Arcade wasn’t in the cards.  Playing this game was a depressing endeavor as a game featuring a team-up between these two should have been awesome.  I remember a few years after I got it Toys R Us started their first trade-in program where people could trade in games they no longer wanted for store credit.  I grabbed my copy of Spider-Man and the X-Men and, thinking I’d get maybe 15 or 20 bucks, was offered only four.  I elected not to trade it in but in hindsight I should have taken the four Jeffry Dollars.  I could have used it for some Fruit Stripe gum or something.