Heroes & Villains – An Animated Appreciation Of X-Men: Evolution

Next week is American Thanksgiving which means I am now in a dead sprint to make it to the end of the year. Last week the BBP! bullpen gathered via Zoom to discuss holiday gift guide ideas and I had considered appearing with a paper bag over my head to maintain my mystique. However, I began wondering if frequent Gong Show guest The Unknown Comic would be too dated a reference and decided against it.

The continued fallout of the election has broken my brain and I’m grateful for the escape that comics (and comics-adjacent media) have offered me over the last couple of weeks. Genre shows such as The Mandalorian and Star Trek Discovery have been consistently entertaining and I have definitely made use of the substantial back catalog Disney+ has (not so fast, CBS All Access).

I had wanted to do a longer piece on a cartoon that’s celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and infuse it with my patented moaning about the inescapable passage of time…but that’s the thing about time, it makes fools of us all. Or there’s not enough of it. Pick one.

The cartoon in question was X-Men: Evolution and as of this writing I’m about halfway though rewatching its run. In my humble opinion it’s a superior cartoon when compared to the 90’s Fox X-Men cartoon. That one is on my list of cartoons to rewatch at some point but I did watch a few during my first go-around with Disney+ last year and it falls solidly into the “Not Good” category. Don’t @ me, nerds.

Evolution, as I recall, caught some flack around my local comic shop due to its reimagining of the X-Men mythos. Most of the characters were aged down to be high school students, Wolverine and Storm were instructors at the Xavier Institute, and Storm had a totally radical skateboarding nephew code-named “Spyke.” With the exception of that last one, the show largely worked. The character and costume designs were simple but great, the voice acting was a marked improvement from the last cartoon, and the show had nice serialized story that ramped up over the first two seasons.

At the time, I was working, going to school, and balancing a relationship so my Saturday mornings were reserved for sleeping as much as I could and not watching cartoons. For whatever reason, the show never got full season DVD releases back then (and never did, as far as I know) so I was lucky if I caught the odd rebroadcast of it here and there. The show also only lasted 52 episodes over 4 short seasons.

Admittedly, it did seems out of step with what Marvel was doing with the X-Men property at the time…the movies were an unexpected success and the Ultimate X-Men title was decidedly different. Marvel did publish a kid-friendly tie-in comic book (the collected edition of which is out next month, ask your local comic shop) but the show seemed doomed from the outset. It also probably didn’t help that it aired on the Kids WB network here in the states and not the Fox network which owned the Marvel X-properties at the time.

Stepping back and taking in the big picture of the X-Men’s history in cartoons, the 90’s cartoon is probably held in such high regard because it lasted the longest and was an essential part of afternoon viewing for anyone who was into comics at the time (I’m contractually obligated to point out that Batman: The Animated Series ran in the same programming block and it hurts my brain thinking that two cartoons so wildly different in terms of quality were coexisting). The Nickelodeon network had their own go at it with Wolverine and the X-Men which lasted for only one season and should be checked out as well. Voice acting titan Steve Blum provided the voice for Wolverine in that show and was probably my favorite actor to take on that role to date (Disney has used him as Logan’s voice in a few subsequent appearances, wisely).

Who’s to say what the X-Men’s animated future holds? There’s been talk of a revival of the 90’s series and I’m not sure how to feel about that (well, I am but I just don’t want to be overtly negative about it). I would much rather see Disney, the gold standard of animation, do something new with the property that has the potential to be really special.

Time will tell. For now, I’ve got three more chapters of freaky-deaky X of Swords to get through.

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