Review Details

Review type: Book

Title: X-Men ‘97

Director: Chase Conley, Emi Yonemura, Jake Castorena

Studio: Disney+

Release date: 20th March 2024

X-Men ‘97

Reviewed by: Matthew Palmer

X-Men ‘97 by Chase Conley, Emi Yonemura, Jake Castorena

Matthew Palmer

It seems hard to imagine that back in 1992, ‘The X-Men’ were a pretty obscure property. If you had never read comics, it’s likely you would never have heard of them before two actors dressed as Cyclops and Wolverine burst out of an oversized comic book to menace Philip Schofield on the set of ‘Going Live’. That rather surreal event burned itself into my thirteen-year-old brain, eyes glued to the TV, waiting for the debut episode of ‘X-Men: The Animated Series.’ I had already been collecting comics for a couple of years at that point, but this was the first time I had seen characters I loved brought to the screen in such a faithful fashion. In many ways, that premiere was a precursor to the blockbuster Marvel Cinematic Universe that has dominated our screens so recently.

When it was time for the House of M (that is M for Mouse) to bring the X-men back in animated form, it was a bit of a surprise that they would choose to pick up right where ‘The Animated Series’ left off ‘with X-Men ’97’. But does this revival of a 30-year-old show stand up to modern eyes, and is there value here for new viewers who might never have seen the original?

The answer? Well, buckle up, because the makers of X-Men ’97 are not messing around. With their mentor, Charles Xavier, fatally wounded and travelling across the Universe in search of a cure; Cyclops is committed to carrying on the dream of peaceful Human/Mutant co-existence. When the X-men rescue a New Mutant, Roberto DaCosta, from the bigoted ‘Friends of Humanity’, they discover that the mutant-hunting giant robots named sentinels have been re-activated. Once again, the X-men must protect a world that hates and fears them. That task is made that much harder when it is revealed that Professor X has asked the X-Men’s mortal Enemy, Magneto, to run the school in his absence…

Let’s be clear about one thing: This show is very much a new season of the old show. It wastes very little time getting new viewers up to speed and dives headfirst into bringing several classic X-Men stories to life. Most of the inspiration in this series comes from stories from the classic Chris Clairmont run. It dilutes the essence of storylines that, in some cases, ran for years into twelve thirty-minute episodes. When I put it like that, it sounds like the writers have given themselves an impossible task, but like the X-Men themselves, they certainly rise to the occasion.

Even though this show is set in the 1990s, it has a distinctly modern sensibility, with spectacular action, sparkling dialogue, twists and surprises that have launched a thousand reaction videos. It understands the assignment one hundred per cent: the X-men have always been a mix of superhero action, theatrical philosophising and soap opera, and every single episode delivers each of those in spades. It sidesteps the temptation to focus on that perennial spotlight hog, Wolverine, and remembers that the X-Men are an ensemble. We see a crisis in Scott and Jean’s marriage. Rogue has to choose between a man she loves and a man she can touch. A personal crisis that shakes Storm to her very core. Jubilee has to step up and mature to guide Roberto into the X-men’s world. Looming large behind those threads is a crisis and a villain that could very well doom not only Mutantkind but all of Humanity as well.

While it draws inspiration from many classic X-Men Stories, it also is in conversation with them in ways that keep it engaging and unpredictable. The high points for me are when it unexpectedly delivers justice to a particularly hard-done-by character from X-men lore and the Jaw dropping episode 5: ‘Remember it’. That episode will be remembered as a high watermark, with a climax that will be remembered as one of the all-time great X-Men moments. As it moves to its conclusion it engages with a premise the central metaphor of X-Men has long struggled with: What is the appropriate response to those who would commit genocide? Something the creators of the show could never have predicted would be so topical when they were producing it.

If it does have a flaw, it is that the breakneck pace with which it rattles through its storylines can be a little overwhelming. The Animated Series took five episodes to bring ‘The Pheonix Saga’ to life in faithful detail, but here we can barely catch our breath between upheavals and tragedies. With a second season on the way and two more in the early stages of production, I hope that the writers can let the pupils of Xavier’s School for the Gifted catch their breath a little.

Overall, the show is a fantastic watch, so much so that I almost feel pity for the people who will have to follow it when the X-Men inevitably join the MCU. Fans and those familiar with the Animated series should make sure that they don’t miss this. For people who are new to the X-men, this isn’t the best jumping on point. It’s probably better to with the Animated Series, but taken together, both shows are a fantastic way to experience the greatest hits of X-Men, and I can’t wait to see what storylines and characters they show us next.

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