X-Men ’97, ep. 1-5


It’s… certainly been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve got a few things in progress and some of them might still be worth releasing, but overall, things have just been a different kind of busy.

Spoiler warning, there will be ample reference to the original run and of course the new run, but both shows are available on Disney+.

Getting access to this show through a friend, I’ve tried to hit the first episode and let me say… it’s rough. There’s good; there’s bad. But getting through the episode has been surprisingly hard.

Let’s start with what it gets right.

The good

The designs are familiar and much of the old cast is back. Some of the original cast has unfortunately passed away, others simply aren’t back for reasons I can’t figure out, the original Jean now plays a different role because she just aged out of her own vocal performance and while she’s fantastic in her new role and it’s good to see her have one, Jennifer Hale, as good an actress as she is, just… we’ll say she brings a different sort of presence to the role. Like, some people just have a girth to their voice; a power that you basically can’t fake. Catherine Disher has it; Hale doesn’t. Disher introducing her new role in the same scene as Hale in her old role is both a nod and a hand-off. Hale can also do things that Disher simply can’t. I swear, the way Hale can summon a voice break gets me every. single. time. She brings a new sort of sincerity to the role that I think was maybe needed to contrast her more with Storm, whose big voice has only grown in the intervening years. The cast they have is good. Great, even. There’s some amount of voice match going on, but then there’s some amount of "even the originals don’t sound right anymore" and that’s just a hazard of all of these folks being grandparent age now. Three decades didn’t go any slower for people who were adults than it did for all of us kids who now might have kids of our own. But nobody sounds like a voice you’d reject, either.

The replacements they got are a) fantastic and b) perfectly reasonable in context. Jubilee is now being played by an Asian actress as an Asian-American character. Morph being officially non-binary is being played by a queer actor. The cast has been chosen very thoughtfully and the performances are nothing to complain about. If I had to complain, it would be that Cal Dodd seems to have had some minor trouble finding his footing as Wolverine, even though it’s his character. Even then, that’s nothing uncommon; the first few episodes are always going to be the most rushed. Even when he is in the swing, though, his lines are all slurred and/or sound like he has a mouthful of peanut butter. It’s kind of distracting. Like in an "I really hope he’s okay" sort of way.

The art style certainly captures the "comic" aspect, if not a truly nostalgic look. There are minor design changes. Beast is a much darker blue more in line with his technical canon color of "blue-black" than the much more azure color he was in the series and which he’s most often depicted with. Storm has hair much more in line with her current comics fauxhawk, rather than the thinner actual mohawk she had closer to the actual era, though here her sides are shaved. For the most part, though, they didn’t mess with too much. What I will say is that there’s just… less detail in some ways. You see a lot of this in the hair where there are just fewer lines. It feels like they went with something of a hybrid art style of all the studios the original ended up using, including the simplified redesigns of the last season, and that results in something that feels like it shares a lot of DNA with X-Men Evolution in a way that’s not necessarily bad, but not really "nostalgic." I think they could have fixed this somewhat by either going heavier or lighter on the black, because if there’s anything that was true of the comics or original run, it’s that black ink was cheapest and it was used liberally for heavy shadows that just are more subtle here. I think it’s easy to forget just how dark the original was. And when it wasn’t busy being dark, it was not all that heavily shaded at all. They kind of want to have their cake and eat it, too, here, and while it does scream "comic," it doesn’t really scream "authenic" quite as hard. I should reiterate that the new style IS NOT BAD, just very clean in a way that I feel doesn’t take me back to the same era of my younger years. It is still visually striking in a way that most TV simply isn’t, which is very much in the spirit.

It owes this to hand animation, which I feel was necessary. It’s easy to tell what sequences got the love and a lot of it animates at a solid 8FPS, but shows ALL did that back in the day. I’ve talked about this before, but the more frames you want, the more frames you have to PAY for and shows back in the day were done on the cheap. Studios literally went bankrupt for doing more than they were paid for because they wanted things to look good. As much as audiences appreciated the extra effort, popularity did not pay the bills. I’ve seen interviews where the production team was asked what they were using to get the look and nobody expected the answer to be "2D animation." Everything really is that clean and consistent and especially the way things rotate, it’s easy to see just how someone might think it was 3D. What’s there is fantastic and, I will say this, these are the best glow effects I’ve ever seen in a digital production.

Let me talk a bit about the effects for a sec here. When you talk about how effects were done back in the day, the answer was "with an X-acto knife and a steady hand." All of those glow effects owed themselves to pieces of each painted frame being cut out and replaced with translucent gels or the like, and then the frame being backlit with an incandescent bulb for its photo shoot. There are two types of warm glow that are VERY hard to reproduce: 1) that of a CRT and 2) that of an incandescent light. LCD TVs ultimately are not good at accomplishing either because of their blue-based backlight, and yet! The effects in this program are not 100% authentic, but they do represent a major leap forward. The colors manage to be warm and the glows manage to be nicely blurred and most of all the show knows how to adjust its gamma to make them POP! I have also talked about this before, but CRT TV shows knew they were working with hardware that could all but give you a suntan and on modern screens they look particularly dingy because LCD screens are simply a subtractive rather than additive technology and our white balances have long been adjusted to account for that. Old TV shows knew they could reserve their highest brightness for effects because doing anything else was just going to hurt everyone’s eyes. This show knows that and works around it very smartly by setting its effects in places like a dim warehouse or a dim rave with a bunch of colored lights. It is by far the best I have ever seen in the digital era.

Ultimately, the key word of the production is all-caps "RESPECT." There’s plenty for long-time fans, little references that made me laugh, other references to comics canon like Storm being an omega (which was not really a thing in the original run), and echoes as they introduce Sunspot as the new audience surrogate.

I mean, okay, technically he’s Roberto Da Costa, but we freaking know Roberto Da Costa is Sunspot regardless of how he’s credited, so I’m just going to call him "Sunspot" for the sake of expediency. As the new audience surrogate, they made some very good decisions with him. The show starts with him kidnapped, knocked out, and rescued, just like Jubilee back in the day. They even make motions to pair the two up as similarly aged characters. The thing is, he’s not Jubilee, because they already have Jubilee. He’s very much his own character and responds to the same situation very differently. Jubilee was quick to use her powers and athletic prowess to get out of trouble. She did the obligatory "meet the rest of the cast" by breaking out of the room they locked her in and sneaking around. Sunspot is different. He doesn’t use his powers at all. He doesn’t want them and has control enough to not have a problem with being able to hide them. They’re not out of control like hers were and as such he has a choice in the matter and would very much rather choose not to use them for any reason. He introduces himself to the Friends of Humanity as "one of the good ones." They don’t think there ARE any "good ones," but he then offers to pay them off to let him go. After his rescue, he does the same thing to the X-Men and asks for his expensive jacket back and it’s at this point that, even if you aren’t already familiar with the character being a filthy rich Brazilian playboy, he is very quickly defined by his privilege. He has the privilege of wealth. He has the privilege of not having to use his powers. He has the privilege of being able to hide them without worry. He is, in every way possible, a child of privilege. He doesn’t need the school the same way Jubilee did. He is used to being able to buy his way out of anything, wearing designer clothes, and never having to deal with adversity because his primary superpower has always been money. And it’s one he was born with. To him, being kidnapped was always a danger and the typical kidnapper is going to respond very well to "how much?" Everything about how he navigates the world reflects that money has bought him a carefree life. That is interesting. Not that the team hasn’t had that before; Angel/Archangel is the exact same way. But aside from a cameo by Morph turning into him briefly during the episode, he’s not there to be a factor. Maybe down the line, but not in the immediate sense. At any rate, Sunspot hits it off quite well with Jubes and only at the end does he reveal what his power is and that, yeah, no, his parents don’t know about it and that’s kind of a problem for him. He doesn’t stay in the immediate sense, but Jubes talks a good pitch about how maybe they’re not quite so different after all and how the X-Men are a family that accepted her, which at least gets him to give her his card. This is SUPER important because, if you remember the original series, her foster parents’ love was very conditional. They knew she was a mutant and they considered it a problem. The first scene in the first episode is them talking about how her foster father already sold her out. And Sunspot seems to feel like his parents might be the same way if they ever found out.

Morph is quite interesting because you see them in two primary forms: the original dark-haired man form and their new form with the porcelain white, noseless, bald head with white eyes that ultimately was borrowed from the comics. Morph taking that form is interesting because it’s a reflection of a reflection. Morph in the original run was a "new" character inspired by Changeling, who was very much a character in the comics. This, in turn, inspired a character by the name of Morph in the Externals, a reality-hopping team more or less all held hostage by their various unfortunate fates that would have seen him liquify and spend the rest of his life in a test tube in Beast’s lab with no cure. Less than thrilled by this, he agreed to Sliders his way to a better outcome. Ironically, that version of Morph is, in fact, his home dimension’s Changeling, where the Morph of the animated series dimension is, technically, unconfirmed. Morph of course can take whatever form they want and do so liberally. Morph also gets some unusual focus in the intro because the main villain of this season is Mr. Sinister, who you might recall a) is why they’re alive again after the first episode of the original run and b) royally messed with their head and left them with serious PTSD. It’s obvious from their desperation in that brief segment that this is going to come up.

The team in many ways has already learned far more than they ever had in the original run and it feels very by-fans-for-fans in the things they all manage to do together. They act like a team that’s been fighting together for ages. You see a certain edge to even characters like Cyclops where modern standards let them get away with far more than ’90s censorship ever would have. This is very much pushing the limits of its TV-PG rating.

If I do have to mention the intro (and I do), it’s that you probably don’t want to skip it over the course of the next few episodes, because it changes for every single one, often to update the characters for various events and display bits of stock footage from the original series. Although I must say the smartest detail is replacing Jubes with Sunspot at the sudden chain link fence clip. Yeah, you fans know what I’m talking about! It very effectively places him as the new audience surrogate in a way that’s both respectful and creative.

The bad

On a technical level, there are just times when 8FPS doesn’t cut it. What’s there is still fantastic, but there needed to be more of it for the end result to actually be good. Jubilee does some really awkward dancing that you can tell was rotoscoped and the low frame rate really makes it look stilted and not very good when it should have been a highlight moment of the episode as she uses her powers for effect. The effects are fantastic in this sequence, maybe not quite the same as the original’s very rainbow-energy thing (the sort you could get with splotches of color on clear cellophane), but you get almost the same effect from uses of points of warm light along with some very simple circles of color in the flashes before it all explodes out. The problem really comes in where she’s operating in a completely different space than Sunspot as he dances near and around her and it shows, especially during segments where she’s at a completely different FPS or is outright skipping frames that should have been taking her limbs straight through him. He ends up kind of awkwardly waving his hands in a wide berth around her in such a way you know there were two animators on the sequence who had no ability to coordinate on it, but the one who took the "L" on which role to play ultimately finished the assignment. You get the feeling someone thought they had a REALLY good idea to trace something they found on YouTube, but it was never boarded properly and they just plain ran out of time and couldn’t make it work right much less finish all the frames. I’m not even sure the entire thing is a full 8FPS; there might be bits were it dips all the way down to 6 with how choppy it is. It feels like something they might try to fix in a Blu-ray release, but they would have simply been better off animating a less intricate loop that took up less space for the portions where they knew the two would be in the same frame or else giving both characters for those bits to one person or team to work on in proper harmony. As it stands, two people, for whatever reason, simply were not communicating and it shows in the most glaring way possible.

A lot of conversations in the first episode are animated with Muppet mouth flaps and it just doesn’t look good. Let me explain how mouths work in animation for a sec: there are a bunch of numbered positions that correspond to certain sounds because numbers are pretty much universal in the modern world where foreign studios might struggle a lot more with foreign letters. These are called "visemes" and it simplifies life quite a lot to know that every sound in the English language fits into only 12 visible shapes. "Bob" would not be requested as "B-O-B," it would be requested more like "1-7-1" under whatever system everyone agreed to. This was considered quite important in American TV. This is, decidedly, not consistent in the first episode, though that might just be in the rush to get it out there on time.

You can ultimately tell where the money was spent. Really, really, unfortunately easily. In some ways, making sure the fights kicked butt was smart, because, let’s be honest, we all know what we’re here for. But that came at the cost of something that should have been the episode centerpiece with that dance sequence. Let me be clear that, no, there are not nearly enough conversations that could have been sacrificed to fix that, unless you turned them into title cards, but it does mean that the episode is kinda crappy animation bookended by a couple fantastic fights with nothing holding up the middle, and the sequence that should have held up the middle being an awful little funnel that really only serves to highlight that there are conversations that got better attention than it did.

Something that’s not just an issue in the first episode is that there’s a lot of awkward telling rather than showing. Rogue goes so far as to explain her primary power and while this is turned into a sweet romantic exchange with Gambit, it feels like they really needed yellow boxes for some things and had the characters say them instead. This was handled better in the original in many ways, but the original really only had to establish things once for a new audience. This has to deal with 5 seasons of "remember when" references that they can’t rely on anyone having watched. It always comes off as awkward in these conversations because they end up doing their best to be short about regaling their best friends with some reference that they were there for. As a writer, I know it could have been done more gracefully, specifically by breaking it up with giving some of the legwork to the other person in the room.

While the animation does get better in subsequent episodes, there are just some times where you can tell they sacrificed a conversation to get it out the door. And, I think even that could have been done more gracefully if they had used older tricks, because they seem to feel the need to always have the speaker’s face visible. When you need to take an animation shortcut, you can trust an older audience well enough to know who’s speaking from behind just by the voice. In some ways, that can be more cinematic. It’s certainly something done to an extent in comics, especially Marvel comics where framing each panel is its own art.

The ugly

As much content as the first episode manages to cram into its run, there are reasons it’s hard to watch. The beginning is SUPER strong and has a "holy $#!+" moment where the bad guys make the mistake of taking off Cyke’s visor and he blows out every window in the warehouse to imply the mass carnage he wreaks on them inside. Like I said, there’s an edge to this. But that edge kind of cuts a bit deep, like a lot. The original series was very much a soap opera for kids, but that soap opera aspect feels very adult here. Professor X has a spot in the intro; we all know from the end of the final season of the original run that he’s out in space being treated with Shi’ar technology after being shot with a gun that dang near killed him by making his powers go berserk, but the world at large thinks he’s dead and the show kind of runs with that. Everyone more or less acts like, yeah, he’s really dead, and you have to wonder if it’s because they know he’s so far out of reach that he may as well be or if they for some reason believe it themselves. There’s maybe reason to believe it themselves; he was NOT in good condition and Earth tech simply was not good enough to save his life. They saw their mentor actively in the process of kicking the bucket as he got carted off to space by his alien girlfriend; they have zero closure on his fate. And Jean can’t even reach out to check on him because it’s only because Magneto’s powers can somehow boost telepathy that Xavier was able to call out to Lilanda at all. Jean’s powers simply cannot reach him, even fielded Cerebro and probably Magneto herself.

This is ultimately not just a team in pain for the loss of their leader. It’s a team where leadership has broken down and Cyclops is feeling the strain of the fact that no one is happy with his leadership, not even him. Cyke is venting it in the form of devolving into some pretty extreme tactics. At the same time, Jean is super pregnant and urging them to leave the team to raise their child. Wolverine is not blind to this and is finding any number of ways to act out and undermine him because he and Cyke are at each other’s throats on a good day. Everyone else is a casualty of the fact that The Boy Scout has been left in charge and everyone in the world is comparing him unfavorably to Xavier despite the X-Men now being government sanctioned.

The first episode also manages to cram the Friends of Humanity, Henry Gyrich, and Bolivar Trask all into one episode and I don’t know if the replacement actor for Gyrich was paid by how many words made you loathe the character, but he’s both a dead ringer for the original voice and makes every syllable completely infuriating to the point that when Jean Cerebro’s into his head, it’s like, "yeah, he deserved that and WORSE." You have an episode with three very distinct flavors of scum and if you thought the series was going to have ANY kind of subtlety in depicting the IP’s civil rights roots, get ready for a really uncomfortable ride. On one hand, WE NEED THIS. This should not be confined to Disney Plus; it should be broadcast on every channel during prime time. In a world where civil rights are at their most fragile since the 1950s, this should be injected into every eyeball in the country. On the other, that’s also what makes it so hard to watch. Seeing Republican talking points on display like this straight from the mouths of the bad guys, and worse yet, seeing so many fans who grew up with the original having not learned a thing from it, is physically painful leaving me literally sick to my stomach.

In the general sense, the series so far gives you a LOT of reason to hate Cyclops and realize, no, he is NOT fit to be the leader and he’s not growing in such a way that he deserves it. Which is honestly the biggest disappointment of the entire thing, because the first episode’s ending makes it look like he might actually be able to get his act together and by the end of the third he’s rendered completely irredeemable. Look, an entire generation HATES Cyclops because of this show to begin with; having the redemption card snatched away and set on fire certainly doesn’t help when it looks like he might maybe actually earn it.

This show is also just bizarrely sexually charged. It may be TV-PG, but that rating is hanging by a single nervous thread. It is NOT for kids. Not even a little bit. It feels like everything revolves around who’s being shipped with who and there are zero people in the show for more than five seconds who are not being shipped. I wish I was joking, but by the end of ep. 5, not even Beast is exempt. There is one proper love triangle, a whole love web, a relatively simple teen romance, and Beast getting blushy with a certain news reporter. There are more bedroom eyes being thrown around than instances of the letter "I" in the dialogue. This show often feels like it’s less a drama and more softcore porn that happens to have drama attached to it.

It’s also just not a happy series. It’s pretty explicit in foreshadowing that, actually. Everyone is miserable all the time and happiness comes only in short bursts before some even worse tragedy. Being up to ep. 5 as I try to finish this up for posting, there’s dialogue on that and I feel like it’s as much a warning to the viewer as to the characters in the conversation in retrospect. The only clean win the heroes get is in the first episode. Maybe the fourth depending on how you count it.

The plot

Extensive breakdowns ahead, so to avoid spoilers, stop reading here.

I do have to say this: the rest of the episodes don’t suffer from the same animation issues. I won’t say that Ep. 1 was crapped out, just that, like many first episodes, it was not given proper time in the oven. I feel like saying "it’s fine" isn’t really true, because first impressions last, but "it happens" kind of feels like it doesn’t leave hope for better. It doesn’t represent itself well, where the subsequent episodes do. It could very well be fixed for a DVD release because everything being digital these days, well, as long as you have the layers, right?

To Me, My X-Men

I guess to talk a bit more about the story in full, it’s really just a messy pilot. Sunspot is introduced first thing. The Friends of Humanity take him in without a fight and he tries to say he’s "one of the good ones" and they make it clear they don’t think there ARE any "good ones" and if ANY political statement feels truer now than ever with transgender people on the chopping block while gay and lesbian people whistle in a corner, I don’t think my heart can take it. This isn’t just a gut punch; it’s a gut punch with a push knife and it twists it real hard. Anyway, he offers to pay them off and they make it clear they’re not negotiating; he’s going to die. Storm makes a grand entrance hoping for a peaceful solution, but uh, nah. This quickly devolves into a big battle because of course they’re going to start it off with a bang and Sunspot is left unconscious from the encounter after making it pretty darn clear to the viewer that he is not comfortable with being a mutant, not comfortable with mutants in general, even human-passing ones, and that he’d literally rather die than end up with "one of the bad ones" (he asks Cyclops "good guy or bad guy" like it should matter who’s rescuing him).

This is where the questionable decisions start. Bearing in mind that, while subtle, he did manage to express some hesitation, the team manages to mis-handle him spectacularly.

He wakes up in a lab with the only non-human-passing person on staff, and they expect him to think that his situation has somehow improved. I’m sorry, but if I woke up in a lab, I would forgive myself from not seeing much of an upgrade from a warehouse no matter WHO greeted me. They are in a boarding school and could have found a cozier room, maybe stuck Jean in there since she’s super pregnant and could have used a reason to sit for a bit, maybe could have just gently got the info they needed. Beast did apparently make sure he wasn’t hurt while Sunspot was out cold, but is messing with some tech by the time he wakes up. Sunspot, bless him, in his state of shock, only manages to blurt that Beast is blue, at which point Jubes chimes in from the foot of the bed that she’s been there and waking up to a monkey doing science is probably not the greatest "hello." Beast, to his credit, takes it gracefully, and chides Jubilee for calling him a monkey because yeah, she really should know better after all these years, and then Cyke and Storm show up to ask him if he knows where the Friends of Humanity got Sentinel tech. He takes it somewhat less gracefully than he might otherwise and offers to pay them the same ransom to leave and seems most worried about his expensive jacket. To cut the exposition short, this scene has THE BEST "WTF" REACTION FACE EVER and he asks if there’s anything fun to do around the place while he lets them keep him for a day while they sort out the Sentinel situation, which feels like a fairly reasonable compromise on Cyclops’ part.

Jubes chooses the Danger Room.

No, I’m not joking. There’s a basketball court and whatnot and she decides that given the chance of entertaining a rich boy whose biggest concern is that he’d get his expensive jacket back in one piece, she’s going to have virtual Magneto throw an I-beam at him to force him to use his powers because she wants to see what they are. There’s a little hilarious banter where she rattles off a few potential powers including "shooting gold balls out of your chest; that would be pretty weird, huh?" And I had to laugh at this, because it’s a direct reference to the guy formerly known as Goldballs and currently known as Egg, whose power is just that, but also they’re eggs and he became essential for the Krakoan resurrection protocols because of it.

At any rate, Wolvie decides him telling her off is reason enough to tackle the kid, lay him out on his belly, and throw a claw down on either side of his head to tell him to show some respect. And when Sunspot rolls his eyes at this, Wolvie ends the simulation and gets in REAL CLOSE to threaten his life. Which explains the disturbance in The Force some weeks back as if millions of voices cried out "OH, GOD" and then had to find a box of Kleenex®.

Oh, and it gets hornier. After some more talky bits I won’t bother with, it turns out Wolvie scared Sunspot off entirely and this is where the awkward dancing happens, because he chooses to go to a rave. And this sequence made me uncomfortable. There are all manner of wandering hands and making out. It’s the kind of scene you watch hoping your mother doesn’t walk in. It does, however, show a real spark between Sunspot and Jubes. A real HORNY spark mind you, but this is the first that you see that they might actually maybe end up liking each other after a rough start. Anyway, the X-Men just being there scared off a Friends of Humanity attack and they take Sunspot back with them for his own protection. Again.

Meanwhile, Cyke and Storm go talk with Gyrich about the Sentinel tech and I’ll keep this brief because he uses what feels like five full minutes to gloat about shooting Xavier before Cyke basically tells Jean to make with the mind r@*# and honestly after his speech, she could have been less gentle. She ends up getting a completely different vision in the process, but tells everyone Trask is building Sentinels in the Sahara.

So everyone goes to the Sahara for another budget blowout battle, Trask is arrested by the UN, Cyke finally gets a kudos, everyone goes home, and Sunspot makes a pass at Jubes and leaves her his literal card before leaving because while having a family that understands his powers is tempting, his real family who don’t know he’s a mutant have a LOT of money.

Then Magneto shows up and makes a point of saying Professor X left him everything and he has his last will and testament to prove it.

BAM!

Mutant Liberation Begins

Ep. 2 is, fittingly, the Trial of Magneto, which is a big event that happened forever ago in the comics, fittingly, after the death of Xavier, though technically it was Changeling who didn’t survive the event. Look, comics are complicated, but long story short, Changeling (who is Morph in this universe) came down with cancer and took a bullet for him as his body double. The animated series just kind of inverted it because Morph had already died once and it was easier to put Xavier on a bus with a ray gun.

The episode is a lot of everyone not trusting Magneto, the trial itself, and Jean in labor with the baby with Wolvie rather than Scott at her side until Scott abandons the UN to go be with her. OMG, there is so much Jean in labor. I’m not going to say it’s the Horny Quota for the episode, but it certainly feels like it fills the same Heteronormative Sex Quota.

Rogue, knowing that she has a past that the others might consider just as unforgivable, urges the others to give Magneto, who has been saving humans around the world, a chance to make good on his promise to Professor X. She and Magneto end up in a room together to talk about it a bit and it’s revealed that 1) Magneto packed his helmet and it was something he always wore in part because he always felt Professor X in his mind as friends, not as an invader, but as a presence, and he needed to cut himself off from that presence to do everything he did because if he’d still felt that love for him, he’d never have been able to go through with it, and 2) he and Rogue were an item in the past and it’s made pretty clear why as he tries to take off her glove. She pulls it back all the way on and leaves.

Like, real talk here, it’s easy to forget sometimes that Magneto and Prof. X are NOT Malcom X and MLK. That can be a useful comparison, but Malcom X and MLK were strangers. They had met ONCE before MLK’s death, and then only in passing. They knew of each other, but they didn’t know each other. Prof. X and Magneto are old besties who have been through a lot and deeply care about each other. They fundamentally disagree on how to best make a place for mutants in the world, but both of them see the other as misguided; a friend to save. That has always been true of Earth-616 as the main comics continuity, and it’s true here in the animated series (Earth-92131 for anyone counting, which is a cute little nod to its first season: 1992, 13 eps., season 1, with others in the show simply being the date of first appearance). Magneto joining the X-Men here makes most sense for this iteration of his character because his best friend’s assassination dramatically changed overall public sympathies and reduced anti-mutant hatred to small, vocal fringe groups. His best friend, someone he knew intimately, and who he knew intimately in return, had asked a last wish of him, and, in the aftermath of it, it looked like the world had finally changed in such a way that that wish looked feasible. Magneto makes it very clear in this episode that he’s reluctant to follow the same path. He’s invested in so much of his own that giving it up is hard. He is a deeply traumatized man who has seen the worst humanity has to offer and is coming to terms with the idea that positive change is possible when his entire life has more or less taught him that it’s not. He is, ultimately, trying to honor his friend’s sacrifice by being the man his friend wanted him to be, and it’s not easy. We know as fans of the original that Magneto knows just as well as the others that Prof. X could very well still be alive. There IS some opportunism going on here. Magneto makes that very clear in trying to take Rogue’s glove off. Old habits die hard. He is still a deeply flawed man with a LOT of baggage who is in what will be a long process of trying to change because he was proven wrong. And he admits that he would not be there if he hadn’t been. He was fully prepared to take a mutant army to full-scale war against humanity at the end of the original run and he had a LOT of support from mutants worldwide to do it. The only reason he didn’t was because they all stumbled on a way to save his friend’s life. He has been biding his time since then and it’s been at least 9 months of observing things cooling off. This is not a man who has had a change of heart; it’s a man who has been, in a very fundamental way, defeated. With kindness.

The scene overall is a very complex one with both sweet bits and sinister bits.

Then the UN shows up and Magneto agrees to face trial for his past crimes knowing full well there’s a very good chance it will be a sham.

It, shall we say, expedites the comics considerably, but Storm takes a depowering shot (this is its own entire comic arc) for Magneto from X-Cutioner, who has otherwise been a leader of the Friends of Humanity they’ve clashed with and who everyone bounces off of because, as Beast’s analysis reveals, he has alien tech armor that renders energy attacks mostly useless and he’s already past the point Rogue is guarding, whose super strength and invulnerability would otherwise have maybe been able to make quick work of. Magneto uses the fact X-Cutioner is wearing a bunch of (albeit exotic) metal to show that magnetism is not something he’s immune to by bashing him against the floor a few times and saves his own tribunal after his speech about (as vaguely as possible) being a Holocaust survivor goes over like a lead balloon where the tribunal offering the trial at all putting them as targets of the Friends of Humanity gets the point across much more clearly. His saving their butts ends up with him pardoned for his past actions because as much as he hates it, Professor X was his friend and he’s going to do his best to honor his wish. Storm takes off in the end, putting a very poignant full stop on the end of a prior conversation she’d had with Jean about Jean wanting her baby to be born human so he could have a normal life and Storm admitting she was sometimes curious what living like a normal human would be like, even if the X-Men had become her family. She ultimately leaves a letter for Jean because she knows Jean understands her reasons for leaving and can explain it to everyone else.

She voices over most of it in a montage that is, frankly, beautiful about her message about the ties that bind and how fragile they can be.

Just to confirm the prior scene between the two, Magneto and Rogue end up in a room again and they get some sweet, sweet skin-on-skin consensual hand-holding. Excuse me while I get the vapors; I’m pretty sure this is the Horny Quota moment. Gambit is around a corner as she leaves the room and drops one of his cards to the floor to punctuate Storm saying how you can watch your ties break after all the effort you put into them. It’s clear Gambit already knows he has something to worry about. I mean I kid about this, but honestly, in context, this is kind of explicitly Rogue cheating on Gambit, making a poor decision in a weak moment with an old flame she knows is trouble. They’re not going to town on a desk; they don’t have to be. Consentual hand-holding may be a small gesture, but even a small gesture is infinitely more than the "zero" Gambit can ever have. Infinity comes in many sizes. None of them are zero.

Everyone else is shown how they’re dealing with the loss, but I do have to mention that Morph and Wolverine’s is, perhaps, the sweetest, a prime example of their deep friendship that maybe never quite got the screen time it deserved, but which it’s getting a lot of in these episodes. Wolvie is sitting brooding in a tree and Morph brings a 6-pack and snacks. Wolvie kinda brushes it off, so Morph just pelts his face with a couple vending machine bags of chips before turning into Sabretooth and THAT gets Wolvie out of the tree as the two start leaping around chasing each other. Because ultimately, nothing is going to get Wolvie moving better than a fight with his archnemesis. The claws come out and the beers get totaled, but there’s something playful about this exchange because you know it’s two besties play-fighting, not Wolvie out for blood.

The ending scene is Morph trying to blithely say Storm can’t stay away from them for long and she’ll be back in no time.

And then?

The doorbell rings and they rush to happily answer it only for a woman to fall into their arms.

Jean.

DUN DUN DUNNNN!

Fire Made Flesh

Ep. 3 is where things get more interesting, because it condenses the entire Goblin Queen arc into an episode.

"Interesting," unfortunately, means "an irredeemable mess."

Buckle up; this one is a long one, but in-line edit, there’s a special TL;DR in the next segment.

In the quick recap from the end of the last episode, Morph answers the door hoping it’s Storm coming back only for Jean to fall into their arms. This is a problem because Jean was already in the room. The bigger problem is Cyke immediately fixates as soon as he sees her despite her not knowing who anyone is, putting this woman before the wife and mother of his child standing right behind him. It’s almost like he instinctually recognizes her as the real deal.

The problem is, she is. And the initial evidence of why he might even realize it is because this new woman has a much yellower skin tone than the much pinker one who’s been around the whole time. Which is kind of very messed up when you really think about it that this is when he notices. This is where things go off the rails, because this woman, who only knows she needed to find the X-Men, and who Jean reads the mind of to find vague fragments of her memories almost like she was born the day before, learns literally seconds later that somehow is the real deal. It’s like the writers couldn’t agree on how to make this make sense, so they just didn’t. She, for all intents and purposes, registers like she SHOULD be a clone, but that’s just not how the final product went.

Beast is able to confirm it with some genetic testing/carbon dating technobabble. The Jean who’s been there is understandably upset by this because there is literally no way it makes sense, and yet everyone just says, "nope, Beast is infallable here, sorry." They all treat this reveal with nearly the solemnity of Storm being gone, like suddenly she’s not the woman they knew.

Like she’s dead, even though she’s standing right in front of them.

Even worse, Cyclops immediately abandons her even though she’s functionally identical if not an upgrade. He tries to take HER BABY away from her and she rightfully tells him where to go. Everyone suddenly treats her like she’s not good enough, but he’s the absolute worst about it because he treats her like she’s not even good enough to be the mother of her own child. And it sends her into an existential spiral.

This is a vast departure from the comics where, while Jean was absolutely cloned into Madelyne Pryor, the latter was set up as a completely different person and apparent normal human at Cyke’s family business after the Phoenix Saga and it was only after Jean came back that he had an obvious choice and rushed back to the original with all her powers. A deplorable choice to abandon his wife and baby, but there was a difference. Here, there are very much two Jeans who are very much Jean Grey and him choosing one over the other doesn’t make a lick of sense, especially because he just had a baby with one. The correct choice should be obvious and he fails to make it.

Clone Jean, in the midst of having a breakdown because she’s being actively forced out of her entire life, gets her mind warped by Mr. Sinister into bringing their newborn son Nathan to him, going through a frankly awesome magical girl transformation sequence to become the Goblin Queen. Her pale skin gets even paler in the process, because visual language.

That’s when things get weird.

Wolvie, Gambit, and Morph walk out of the Danger Room and Morph seems to have had the toughest workout. They notice that Rogue and Magneto have hogged the Danger Room for tomorrow and Gambit brushes it off, then brushes it off less with Morph poking it several times in the background and Gambit agreeing maybe he should talk to Rogue about it and stalking off to find her since the two are out on patrol. Wolvie and Morph have a chuckle about it and Wolvie tells Morph to hit the shower while he goes to "see about a redhead (well, one of ’em)" and I think we know where that’s going. (Spoiler alert: by all indications, it’s going to him sitting at the bedside of a copy of the woman he loves that he might actually have a chance with.) As soon as Morph reaches the shower, Wolvie is naked in the spray with some full backside behind some light steam and heavy shadow for the viewer in another act of pushing the abused limits of their TV-PG rating and we’ll just say Morph receives this positively. Because there is still very much a Horny Quota, but unlike the straight stuff, Morph gets all of 10 seconds of it to enjoy teasing Wolvie about 2 redheads being too much to handle and offering to get the hard-to-reach places before turning into a nightmare when Wolvie says in a garbled voice that Morph jokes like he doesn’t know, that everyone knows how Morph feels about him. That taunt gets the L cut treatment.

Meanwhile, Gambit finds a door with a strange green glow pouring out (because everyone knows lime green is the lighting choice of evil in Disney) and walks in on Rogue melting – quite literally – into Magneto with both in an advanced state of undess like it’s the Savage Land with lots of foliage to match and, uh, yeah. His betrayal turns to disgust as he realizes they’re literally slopping together like Clayface making out with himself and where one begins and ends quickly can be answered with "no."

Sunspot, who is there for some reason with zero explanation why he came back after being absent for an episode is watching some high school drama with Jubes and the two are treated to it turning into The Ring in "3D," so to speak. There’s some body horror where Jubes splits it in half full Mortal Kombat style gore and all only for that to reform into Sunspot’s mother berating him for being a liar and mutant.

Meanwhile, Morph somehow has it even worse as their PTSD kicks in with Wolverine having turned into Mr. Sinister himself advancing on them as they beg "not again." Sinister pounces and we’re left to imagine Morph’s fate as their scream gets turned into another L cut over the next scene.

Cyke goes in to check on the baby because Beast has already revealed he found Sinister’s calling card in clone Jean’s cells and that just turns into a nightmare of tentacles. A teddy bear also turns into some warped, fuzzy Professor X to taunt Scott about having a baby with the wrong woman, failing to lead the team, and accomplishing nothing. So we all know exactly how Scott sees the situation here, and if anything it’s more revolting than anything else going on in the moment. Also Bishop is there and a tentacle spares Shard’s face to accuse him of abandoning her and their time. Let me clarify, Bishop has been hanging around every battle for the series up to this point and literally nothing else, so this is about as close as we get to character development for him other than a few comments from others that he’s a time-traveler. (Spoiler alert, he leaves at the end of the episode and that’s still the only thing we know about him.)

Beast gets off easy and his elevator opens to reveal a giant head with its tongue flopping out. He makes a quip that one of them has the wrong floor and seems surprising okay with it, all things considered.

Everyone ends up in the same hallway, Gambit tosses in a comment he’s never going to unsee that as he slams himself against the door he just left, Wolvie asks what’s going on, and, with the despair of someone with experience, Morph says, "Haven’t you figured it out? We’re in Hell."

Cue Dante’s Inferno and Beast eloquently introducing it, because of course he’s a fan.

There’s a big battle with a bunch of demons and OriJean wakes up just long enough to counter NewJean’s powers with her own before NewJean runs off with the baby. OriJean spends much of the rest of the episode with her powers out of control and Beast keeping her sedated. Morph volunteers that they know where Mr. Sinister’s lair is (again, they have every right to and to know exactly what Sinister can do to someone’s mind, transforming into their own form from that period to punctuate it).

They storm the lair and Morph ends up in Magik’s form mind controlled by NewJean to attack the others and let’s just say Magneto’s suit gets shredded for just a touch of extra horny as he tries to fight full telekinesis with magnetism by breaking a bunch of windows, which you might note tend to be a lot more glass than metal. Cyke ends up blasting her to keep her from finishing Magneto off and apologizing profusely and it doesn’t take much for her to render him helpless enough to play some tonsil hockey with.

OriJean ends up waking up again and Wolvie of all people helps get her mind back in order and has her read his mind while they’re at it, revealing just how much she means to him. They share a romantic moment before she ends up bailing everyone else out in a psychic battle that is, I must say, EXCELLENTLY BOARDED AND WRITTEN, and NewJean is able to break free of Sinister’s control. It’s then time to face Sinister and get the baby back, but Sinister was trying to infect him with a techno-organic virus to make him invulnerable and interrupting the process condemns the kid to having it fully take over his body… in due time. Beast knows he can’t solve it in time, but he DID fix Bishop’s time travel bracelet and Bishop "knows a guy" in the future who can help, someone who can build anything. And Cyke simply can’t accept that and walks out on his son, his wife, and everyone else. He can’t even find it in himself to see off the thing he’d been fighting for the whole time. NewJean has a heartbreaking scene telling her newborn son everything she can think of, how much she loves him, how much they’ll think of him every day, and wonder how he’ll grow up, with Cyclops nowhere in sight.

I. cried. y’all.

And she hands her son off to Bishop, alone, to start almost immediately crying, because Bishop is not mommy or daddy and babies do that. Bishop walks off to the future with NewJean’s baby, and NewJean has to deal with the fact her husband and the father of her child can’t bring himself to love her anymore with her exact twin around, and she can’t even go to the future with her son because apparently the device just doesn’t have the power left to handle more than Bishop and the baby. And all she can do is let go. There isn’t a choice in this. She is left utterly alone and in tears. The two Jeans meet and feel a sort of sisterhood, even discussing what they do and don’t remember, which is its own problem. Somehow the original (who now seems to have lost her yellower skin tone in favor of a ponytial) ended up with memories of "almost everything" to the point that neither of them has any idea when the switch happened because everything matches up so well, even though that in itself makes zero sense because in their psychic battle, OriJean said she thought she could tell their individual memories apart, even if she didn’t sound very confident about it. But it doesn’t matter. NewJean had already been looking to exit the team and feels she no longer has a place in it, or a husband, or her baby, or any reason to fight to be Jean Grey anymore. She says outright it’s not fair. But she steps aside anyway. She talks a good game about her next life being her own, but she leaves looking tired, telling OriJean to call her Madelyne Pryor before walking off into the night with nothing but a small bag and the clothes on her back. Literally everything has been taken from her and she’s done fighting.

OriJean and Cyke end up in their ruined bedroom and just awkwardly stand across the room from each other as he sets down a photo of him, his wife, and his baby. And we all know if he cared at all about his wife that he’d be chasing after her. No, the baby is the only thing – and it is very much a thing – that he’s cared about all episode other than an unconscious woman on the couch. He has not shown a lick of concern for anyone who can speak for themself. There’s no jumping into anyone’s arms. Things are not okay.

And honestly, thank God for that.

Cut to a lonely desert saloon where you think she might end up, but no, it’s Storm, wearing a biker outfit that’s a direct reference to her time de-powered in the comics, which is fantastic. And Forge (a man who can build anything; take notes on this) sits down next to her to hint at the next leg of that plot thread to offer her powers back. It should be noted that Storm never actually leaves the intro, but that other people very much are in and out of it as the cast rotates.

*DEEP BREATHS*

This episode has PROBLEMS and all of them deal with Cyke. On paper, it feels like there should have been an obvious choice. There were two perfectly good Jeans, one that Cyke had spent more time with, had a baby with, and had had no problem with until the original stumbled through the door with amnesia. By the end, she is 100% free of all villain control. There was every reason to choose her. With ALL of the heteronormative BS crammed into this show, you would THINK that they would make him AT LEAST role model enough to stand by his woman, but apparently that’s just too much to ask, because Cyclops doesn’t stand by his woman; he stands by the one and only original Jean Grey, which isn’t even as generous as the comics offer, because the comics only have one actual Jean Grey. It takes what could be mistaken as devotion and turns it into physics. Cold, heartless physics. NewJean needed someone, anyone, in that room to speak for her, and couldn’t rely on her own husband to do it. And all she could do is lament that Storm would have if she’d been there. Even if she was maybe hard-wired to want to exit the team, there was little reason at the end to do so from a logical standpoint if not for Cyke. She didn’t have a baby to take care of. She’s just as powerful as the original. If Cyke had had any shred of humanity, her being a clone wouldn’t have been a problem and Wolvie maybe could have had one to himself that he’d admitted his full feelings to. Or even if they’d freaking switched, Wolvie certainly would have treated her with all the same love regardless of which he ended up with. It’s not like he wasn’t just as present for NewJean as Cyke was, maybe even more. Frankly, the fact that every last one of them bailed on her just for being a clone, ignoring who she was as a person, does not reflect well on a single one of them. They should have stood by her as people who loved her and were committed to helping her no matter what. Sinister warping her mind should have been treated as the rescue of a wife, a sister, one of their own.

Instead, she took on a new name, a new identity, and stepped aside for the one everyone actually wanted. She was forced out of her home, her marriage, her family, and the only life she’d ever known for no good reason. She lost everything. Even if that was in part because she simply had more experiences and needed a change, the only one who really made her feel welcome was… herself. Her other self. OriJean tries to stop her from leaving and says it’s her home, too. But… it’s not. Not to anyone but her. Storm already made her exit; that would have been her other main support. There was literally nothing left for her to do than make her own exit because she still had the itch to leave and the others had made it clear there was no reason for her to stay. She walks out into a world that fears and hates her, if maybe less than before, with no real hope of a normal life with all her powers intact, because she has nowhere to go because everyone she considered family turned their backs on her. She had wanted to leave, but to live a happy life with a loving husband and baby boy. She ends up leaving with no plans whatsoever, no husband, no baby, because just because she wasn’t the original meant she couldn’t even be herself. The only self she knew. They talk about an uncertain past leading to an uncertain future like there wasn’t an uncertain past. She knew she had a certain past. She just also knew that everyone else was going to deny it to her.

But the one who made it unbearable was the man she loved most, who she’d had a baby with, had emotionally supported through his darkest times, treating it all like a shadow of the real one to cast aside for no reason whatsoever. Because she WAS just as real. She had, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, been through everything the original had and more. And all Cyke could think of was taking away her baby, that she carried for 9 months, and birthed, because, I dunno, did he honestly think he could just give it to the one he liked better? And then in the end he’s worried exclusively about not abandoning the baby because he himself is effectively an abandoned child, but he certainly has no freaking qualms about abandoning its mother and can’t even see his son off to the future. Yeah, he abandons them both.

That is ALL just so incredibly crappy, TBH.

Her being a clone simply should not have changed anyone’s opinion of her. Everyone around her put her through an existential crisis because they casually threw away everything they’d been through, whether she was the physical body there for it or not. And, for at least some of it, she was. Probably for the entirety of Season 5 of the original run based on the fact she uses that design with her hair free where OriJean keeps it in a ponytail like the first 4 seasons, which is reflected in the intro, though the ending turntable stat screens always had the ponytail design because those are expensive to do in 2D (they were 3D in the original). Nothing about her being a clone changed who she was as a person. And yet, it did to everyone around her. The outcasts cast her out because of the circumstances of her birth.

That literally makes them no better than the humans who did the same to them.

Storm was different. It was her choice to leave. And NewJean KNEW that, and that Storm wouldn’t have treated her any differently. And maybe it’s easy to say that line with Storm unable to speak for herself, but I honestly think she’s right, that Storm’s bonding with her over the course of her pregnancy and the feelings of sisterhood Storm explicitly stated would have been retained. Storm would have honored her memories regardless of anything else if she hadn’t felt that she, herself, no longer had a place among them. I think, honestly, that Storm left because she knew that people wouldn’t be able to look at her the same way, just like they couldn’t look at NewJean the same way. She had the additional baggage of having lost her powers, which it’s clear was very much losing an entire sense to her, but the way the others treat NewJean, I think if she hadn’t left that there would definitely have been a lot less there for her. The difference is everyone got to be sad and tell themselves otherwise. They all got to treat it like another death in the family, crying over it. But they treated the reveal that NewJean was a clone with almost the same sadness, like she was suddenly a ghost before them and simply didn’t realize it.

I see no reason they shouldn’t have welcomed having two Jeans among them, both incredibly powerful mutants who could have, potentially, combined their powers to unimaginable levels. Kept and consoled one who was hurt by the loss of her newborn son. Shared in that loss with the father of the child.

If ONLY Cyclops could find it in the cold, blackened raisin of his tiny, shriveled heart to JUST LOVE THE WOMAN HE ALWAYS HAD.

There is plenty of reason to hate comics Cyclops. There is plenty of reason to despise him for leaving Madelyne in the comics because he knew she wasn’t really Jean, just a substitute he’d latched onto after his loss. Because comics Madelyne was a completely different person with completely different memories from the get-go, who he thought just happened to look like the love of his life, and who he got together with despite that. When the real one came back was it loathsome to dump her and their baby? Absolutely. But at least then he could reasonably see them as two different people. It meant Madelyne could have been replaced with a red mop, but you could at least see some form of perspective on it that he just didn’t love her like he loved Jean. She was good enough, but second best. Garbage as Cyke can be, that’s not even the only time (kissing Emma Frost on Jean’s fresh grave comes to mind). It’s a "frog and scorpion" situation; Cyke is always going to go running right back to his one and only Jean as soon as she gets better from her latest case of death. Anything else is temporary. But it’s because there’s only one woman for him and that woman is Jean, and there is only one Jean.

That’s not what happened here. He had a Jean. A perfectly good Jean who was every bit as much Jean as the original in every way that mattered, AND YET! When the original stumbled back into his life, he decided that she just arbitrarily wasn’t good enough. As her husband, father of her child, if anyone should have come to her defense, it should have been him. If he didn’t notice a difference before, any man of honor would have accepted that there wasn’t one and stood by her. But Cyke is not a man of honor; he’s a pathetic worm who wants the original as a thing to have. That’s the only difference here. The woman passed out on the couch didn’t rush tearfully into his arms; she passed out in Morph’s not knowing who anyone was. If he was concerned about the person, he would have been concerned with the one standing distraught in front of him who’d been his emotional support through his recent dark times. Because this entire episode shows Cyke cannot think outside of Cyke. In every way possible, he makes the entire situation about him and what he thinks he owns.

This episode has, probably among many others, rendered Cyclops completely irredeemable. He is a traitor, an abuser, an attempted kidnapper, a cheater, a coward, a control freak, and a deadbeat. It’s really at the end of this one that you realize that literally anyone deserves leadership more than he does and there’s a good reason Professor X chose Magneto to do it. Ultimately, he knew both Cyke and Magneto intimately and he knew that Magneto could be better trusted to turn on a dime than Scott could be to grow a decent personality. I honestly don’t want to see the series try to rehabilitate Cyclops from here, but I’m really afraid from interviews that it will. Cyclops very much wants to be the leader despite all else. That’s always a reason someone shouldn’t be. Honestly, it should have been Storm. If the rest of things play out a certain way, it just might be.

This episode is nothing short of a disaster for the legitimacy of the team and the message of the show. It simply didn’t need to happen. As visually striking as it is, it completely undermines the ideal of found family that serves as a pillar for the entire franchise. Storm leaving was one thing because it was her choice and there is ample reason to expect her to return. There’s a well-established arc surrounding it. But forcing out one of their own is simply not like that. There is not a well-established arc to cover that. Madelyne Pryor is, after her rejection in the comics, a character who ultimately runs on both side of heroism and villainy, but this episode is a speedrun of anything before her villainous breakdown. Like, seriously, she’s currently queen of Limbo (again) with a demon army and it’s about the most heroic she’s been in ages because she’s dedicated the place to outcasts, albeit after a deal with Jean where she’d stop turning New York into literal Hell for memories of her son back. But that’s literally all she’s ever wanted. All she’s EVER wanted out of the heroes, even at her most villainous, is her FAMILY. To be LOVED. Time and time again, she’s tried to work with various incarnations of her own son (of which there are multiple; don’t ask), because he is her beautiful baby boy and whether he’s old enough to be her father or from a different reality entirely is not going to change that. And she has faced nothing but rejection after rejection. Madelyne Pryor is a villain, quite literally, of the heroes’ own creation. Mr. Sinister may be the one who cloned her, set her brain up, and tried to kill her multiple times to try to cover his tracks, but that isn’t HALF of what she’s suffered from the heroes despite everything she’s done for them over the years. Mr. Sinister made her; the X-Men made her a monster.

I honestly have no idea what they plan on doing with her from here, but I assume they do have plans for her since they didn’t kill her off or send her far into a convenient future where she’ll never bother continuity again. Not that killing her off would actually matter; she’s probably died as many times as Jean at this point in the comics; neither of them can stay dead. But you don’t put someone on a bus if there’s no chance of them coming back. I honestly want to believe that once Storm rejoins the team and hears about everything that happened that she’s going to knock Cyke’s block off and go find her. The team would honestly be better off with two Jeans and zero Cyclopses at this point. Or if they can’t manage that, then maybe it’s time for Storm to lead Gold Team. The show is loosely based on Cyclops’ Blue Team around the time of the run, but you were NOT going to have a show without Storm in it despite her being Gold Team leader at the time.

YOU KNOW WHAT?

I think I finally pinned down just why this episode irks me so much. You know in the movies where Mystique gets de-powered to save Magneto and he turns around and says "sorry, but you’re not one of us anymore?" That’s basically this episode. Only the clone Jean isn’t de-powered. There is literally nothing wrong with her. Everyone shows much more sympathy to Storm for BEING de-powered in the last episode than they show NewJean for simply existing.

The ENTIRE episode is the Kick the Puppy moment from the movies that showed Magneto was irredeemable. And the whole team is in on it. But especially Cyclops, and it removes every last one of his virtues in the process.

Motendo/Lifedeath – Part 1

This one is a half-and-half episode, so let’s address both halves separately.

The first half is Jubilee and Sunspot getting sucked into a video game based on Jubes’ memories. She treats it like a victory lap while Sunspot more or less sucks the whole way through and still refuses to use his powers. The original voice of Jubilee cameos as an older virtual version of her. She still sounds fantastic. There’s lots of flashy action, plenty of excuse for sprite work, and a baton pass. They defeat Mojo (who decided after poor TV ratings to branch out to video games) and the game and older Jubes are deleted, the kids are dumped back out in front of a fried console, and Jubes learns a lesson that everyone has to grow up. Oh, and they kiss in the glow of fireworks. Scratch one off the Horny Quota. It’s a light and fruity diversion from the dark tone of the run.

Right, with that out of the way!

The second half is focused on Storm and Forge and basically speedruns the comic arc of him trying to restore her powers and her finding out it was his tech that ended up removing them in the first place. There are a lot of things Forge actually does to help her feel some unity with nature again like she’d been missing, taking her horseback riding, showing her beautiful vistas, giving her pep talks, and ultimately sharing a romantic scene, but, like in the comics, his love for her pretty much ends with him being slapped for his sheer audacity after lying to get her there and Storm runs off only to come crashing back through the roof because of a demon owl named Adversary that feeds on misery.

Uh, yeah, that is ALSO in the comics.

Anyway, that’s going to get a resolution next week.

This is worth analyzing a bit because the de-powering tech was ALWAYS traced back to Forge, even in the comics, and like in the comics, he helped build it with the best of intentions, naïvely thinking that it would help protect people because, as a soldier, he trusted the government. In all cases, he was lied to, but the tech now existed and he had no way of controlling it. Storm treats it here like he was using her to try to overcome his own guilt, but while that might be true, it certainly would help other victims.

What they end up doing is going to be much more interesting, because in the comics, Storm goes through a LOT before getting her powers back, rejoining the team, kicking people’s butts, kicking Cyclops’ butt to win leadership, and ultimately getting thrown into an alternate dimension for a year with Forge and making amends before Forge manages to get her powers working again so she can zap a device with enough juice to get them back. This is, most likely, going to be significantly condensed. It should be noted that the intro has never reflected her leaving the roster, while it HAS reflected Professor X doing so, Magneto joining to replace him, Jean being replaced with her original design, and Bishop leaving.

What’s unlikely to happen is Storm getting her powers back immediately. Even if the situation the two are left in leads to her forgiving him, there’s just plain too much story that works too well with her de-powered to give them back so quickly. Outlets have noted that they’re already approved for a second season and that that would be a good time to give them back. But when it comes to the comics, Storm simply does not stick around after the betrayal for him to complete his work. If that’s going to change and they’re going to streamline everything that happens in between her leaving and him fixing her powers, it’s going to completely streamline out any hope for them addressing things that really need to be addressed. And if that’s what they end up doing, I’m not sure I’m going to keep watching. This arc isn’t one that can be so simply condensed; it has far-reaching ramifications for team leadership, team structure, and Storm proving herself as a valuable member of the team without her powers. This is one case where the story really needs to crawl before it can fly.

Remember It

Oh, F*(% this.

I think has made me fully stop liking the show.

First, a small subtlety: Storm is out of the intro. This doesn’t mean she’s out of the picture; there’s obviously a Part 2 we’re still waiting on for her. It does mean she’s off the team for now, though.

Anyway.

For all the problems I had with Cyclops, and all of the problems I continue to have with Cyclops, it somehow pales in comparison to the bloodbath that terminates this episode. As if my Google feed didn’t spoil it with a headline, this episode kills off half the characters in the show, accounting for those who appeared in the original run.

Madelyne Pryor is first casualty of the surprise attack and gets to see Cable all growed up and finally recognize him by his eyes (because, y’know, he’s kinda met everyone before) before his time travel warps him out of the way of the blast. Banshee and Marrow are subsequently incinerated, Sebastian Shaw (Black King of the Hellfire Club) gets killed off-screen, Callisto dies of her off-screen injuries on-screen, Moira MacTaggert eats it and she’s not even a freaking mutant, Magneto gets incinerated with the entire rest of the Morlocks trying to protect them, and Gambit makes a heroic sacrifice to take the otherwise unstoppable "Godzilla Sentinel" out by charging the entire thing with his powers and leveling what little of the city wasn’t already.

The only notable survivors of the massacre are Rogue, Nightcrawler despite taking a Sentinel blast to the back and almost eating it, and Emma Frost (White Queen of the Hellfire Club) by virtue of not being shown after the attack starts, which makes her MIA, but not KIA. The trio comprise what’s left of what was to be the ruling body of Genosha, the majority of which ended up in the list above. Oh, and Val Cooper, who is seen during the fray directing civilians to safety and not getting vaporized in the process.

Let’s start back at the beginning.

The episode, like any episode with anything happy in it, is a bait-and-switch. Gambit insists on going to Genosha for its inclusion in the UN when Magneto would otherwise truck Rogue along without anyone else. Magneto is led off to be offered the position of king under the kinder title of "chancellor" and says he’ll agree on one condition.

Meanwhile, Nightcrawler reconnects with Rogue and Gambit for some happy romantic times in the beautiful, vibrant city with various mutants including Dazzler performing in the square, finally giving her screen time after a reference or two between the show and tie-in comic. Nightcrawler recognizes the spark between the lovebirds and tells Gambit to get on with marrying her.

And let me just say, I freaking love Nightcrawler. He’s just the right bit of impish and lighthearted and wise and he’s freaking adorable, teleporting around all smiles and whipping an apple to Gambit with his tail while accepting head pats from the fruit stall vendor. I mean this guy is in the ruling body of the newly-recognized country and accepting head pats, for Heaven’s sake, he is a puppy. And a shameless one at that. If you’d never heard of the character before in your life and all you had to go off was the first few minutes of footage of him in this episode, I don’t think you could find it in yourself to dislike him.

At any rate, they focus the drama on everyone back at the X-Mansion where we get to see a cute, blushy exchange between Trish Tilby as the resident news reporter for the show and Beast. It’s a nod to the comics where they ended up being an item for a bit. And these segments are actually kind of technically interesting because they’re displayed at 4:3 like a TV screen at the time, driven home by fake scanlines. It’s done quite well for what it is, keeping the idea without making it distracting. You might not even realize the resolution change at first depending on your set and/or how dark your room is.

Anyway, Jean is off at a lake being Moses with the water and tossing her memories in balls of it like the Power Rangers Viewing Globe and Wolvie comes to check on her. She’s still having trouble with her powers and memories. And she ends up surprise kissing him. He ends up actually kind of hurt by this because, of course, as much as he wants it, he tells her outright that she and Cyke are the couple and she just forgot that for a moment. It’s one of those things that, as Jean and Cyke speedrun their marital issues, is a) not helping and b) offering a viable alternative.

Cyke makes an @$$ of himself on-camera when his baby is brought up and he does manage to say they gave him up, but he gives a self-righteous speech about how mutants ARE different from humans and humans wouldn’t be there without them before storming off.

Back to Genosha, of course Magneto wants Rogue as his queen as his precondition and says as much to her. She takes it… poorly. He’s able to sweet-talk her and actually seems to show a little camaraderie with Gambit over loving her, and you kind of realize he might be right that they’re both more than a little broken and she makes them better.

Cyke and Jean end up trying to have a moment together only for Madelyne to already be in his mind have an "excuse me" moment and Jean ends up PISSED, because being in each other’s heads was kind of their thing. This devolves into an argument where Jean says some really unfortunate things about him hanging onto her clone, who, by the way, everyone else seems to be okay with now, so you kind of know this is a "heat of the moment" thing, but Cyke tries to say he loves both of them and she calls him out on his bald-faced lie. He tries to turn it back on her asking if she really loves him or if she only has happy memories, but this ends up being interrupted as Jean has a psychic event.

Rogue takes the offer back to Gambit and tries to have an honest conversation about her reasons for agreeing, how much good it will let her do, and her history with Magneto. Gambit, understandably, takes it hard after everything he’s put into the relationship despite her never wanting to commit to it, and warns her that it’s not going to work out, but expresses that he’ll treat her as a friend until then. To her credit, Rogue agrees with him. She knows Magneto. She knows it’s not going to work and is just begging him to understand why she’s doing it anyway. Being told they’re just going to be friends is a gut punch to her. It’s a rough scene of betrayal between two people who really do care about each other.

There’s a cut to the UN recognition gala where Val takes Magneto’s new position poorly, saying making a terrorist their leader doesn’t work for her. Magneto, preciently, observes that many world leaders choose terrorism after getting the role. Rogue and Magneto have a rather nice aerial dance given both can fly with just as many wandering hands as the first episode, but despite his seductive wiles, she ends up ending it by telling him she knows Gambit is right and that she can’t go through with it. She makes her choice.

Unfortunately, Gambit has already bowed out, unable to watch, and never gets to hear it from her before the end, but it does spare him from getting creamed along with everyone else at the party, of which the only confirmed survivors are Rogue and Magneto, who both have powers that let them burst out of the rubble after a, frankly, excellent representation of what it’s like to experience a catastrophic event. At the same time, Gambit calls her "chère" instead of "amie" as they’re fighting together in the ensuing bloodbath. On some level, I think he knew, or at least knew that Magneto being taken out first meant he was next in line. But the way they fought together, the way Magneto sent the two out together, I think, said everything it needed to. I think he knew without having to be told.

If there’s any saving grace to this episode, it’s that it calls Cyke out in-universe on just how self-centered he is and Jean (the only Jean who ends up surviving) is the one to do it after all the crap he’s pulled. Once again, things are not okay between the two of them. That said, she can’t actually claim the moral high ground, because she’s playing tonsil hockey with both Wolvie and Cyke in back-to-back scenes. Wolvie to his credit does have the moral high ground because she surprises him with it and he’s able to step back and say it shouldn’t have happened. Unlike Cyclops, he is a man of honor. I will say that Jean trying to sort through her powers and memories does give more dramatic weight to the idea that neither copy can tell what’s actually theirs by the end of their psychic battle, even if it still makes zero sense. Jean is dealing with a husband who didn’t notice a difference between her and another woman, had a baby with her, and is still keeping contact despite having ostensibly made his choice. A wrong choice, but a choice. She seems genuinely interested in the baby and she’s trying to carry emotional water for Cyclops, but he’s not offering her a good reason to stand by him any more than she is for him to stand by her. And honestly, the healthiest thing for both of them would be a clean break. This series being what it is, the best we can hope for is incredibly messy drama, but the ideal timeline would have had Cyke stand by Madelyne and Jean pair up with Wolvie.

If there’s a second saving grace, it’s that it certainly sets up a power vacuum in leadership that needs filling. Which means that there’s reason for Storm to come back to kick Cyclops to the curb. After this episode, he’s well overdue.

Rogue ends up losing both of her prospects and crying over Gambit’s charred body. Nightcrawler ends up okay enough to be peering over the edge of the crater. Chances are he’s going to be able to offer her some comfort and spiritual wisdom as both her adoptive brother and a priest. The two may not have the strongest bond, but Rogue is unfortunately very short on bonds at the moment and he’s certainly the closest friendly face.

I feel like this episode was a statement on what was going to end up on the cutting room floor, because if you didn’t already know who all of these characters were, you’d have no investment in them getting obliterated. It’s like they were less focused on establishing anyone for who they were and more crossing possibilities off the list in blood. The fact it’s Genosha and not Krakoa feels especially poignant, because with the Krakoa era ending in the comics, having this sort of parallel in the show underscores that there is no happy ending. Nobody is coming back.

The worst thing is it looked like there were going to be resolutions to at least a couple ongoing plot threads where Rogue was going to choose her romantic partner to go forward with and Madelyne was going to get the happy ending she deserved, but apparently this series is just going the full Nier route where everyone dies and bonus points if they go crazy first and happy endings are for girls.

I can’t stress enough how fundamentally defined by misery this series is. If next week’s episode doesn’t make it feel like this series is still worth watching, I might just tap out. If I wanted to watch carnage and misery, I’d turn on the news.

The only real way out of all of this carnage is if they pull the "actually they were just sleeping" card on everyone and Magneto managed to weather the Godzilla Sentinel blast long enough for it to give up and then Leech (one of the Morlocks whose power is to disable mutant powers) just turned his powers on to make Magneto not an Omega anymore and otherwise hide everyone else’s powers in the immediate area.

I mean it would be a cop out, but this is a cartoon based on a comic. Death is a revolving door in both.

If that IS the case, then really the only casualty of note is Gambit, who is very, very dead given he’s skin-on-skin with Rogue and she’s not absorbing anything. But hey, maybe that’s why they fired the lead writer.

If there’s anything notable about the voice cast, it’s that the original voice for Gambit apparently returned to play Cable instead. The original voice for Cable has already been doing X-Cutioner and additional voices.

The characters

With all that out of the way, a bit of commentary on the characters up to this point.

Sunspot

For being the new audience surrogate, the kid is barely in the thing. And he certainly does nothing useful, nor does he really attempt to. He is very much just there for the most part even when his life is on the line. Which is a waste, because while I don’t expect him to be Jubilee 2.0, he serves little to no purpose. His personality so far is 1) rich, 2) hates video games, and 3) more than a little self-loathing. I feel like the others have failed to properly react to #3. The thing is, when he actually uses his powers, he seems to have halfway decent control of them and if anything he might even be more powerful than Jubilee. It’s going to take time to coax it out of him, but he certainly ends up hanging around the X-Mansion a lot, if only because he and Jubes hit it off and the two are, for lack of any better explanation, dating after his apparent departure at the end of ep. 1.

I feel like the privilege he enjoys really could have come through in more varied ways. You see it coming up in certain ways whenever he’s on screen for more than a few seconds at a time, like when he tags along Jubilee’s focus half-episode and he’s most concerned with not using his powers because his parents might see, which is fantastic. Jubes gives him an "and you thing everyone is going to be focused on you," which he answers with an emphatic "yes!" And it’s true, because he’s rich. Like real talk, rich people have kidnapping insurance. That’s just something you have after a certain tax bracket. You have to be worried about every move you make in case there’s a camera somewhere because ending up in a tabloid is a thing that can actually happen. You can understand in the moment why he’d avoid defending himself properly because there’s something so much more important to defend. Dying is one thing; being disinherited is something he’d have to live with. At the same time, when there is zero risk in using his powers, he still doesn’t do it. When faced with Hell and literal flying demons, he makes no attempt to do anything but duck and cover in his own defense. And you see his powers go just a bit out of control when confronted with a vision of his mother. On one hand, it means that literal demons scare him less than the disapproval of his family, but on the other, that should make literal demons the easy part. His privilege is really the main thing that makes him interesting, but he’s not growing much as a character over the course of his appearances and he’s not being put in enough situations where he needs to be doing any puzzle-solving to balance his physical safety with his financial safety.

I want to see more of him. I want to see more situations where he needs to get creative to hide his powers. I want to see him get forced into using them more.

Bishop

Speaking of "little to no purpose," Bishop’s primary contributions are two extra colors of laser to battle. He exits the team entirely at the end of ep. 3 having done nothing to establish himself as a character to the new audience. He’s out of the intro of ep. 4. Nothing of value was lost. I’m pretty sure they didn’t get his original voice back because the contribution to the series would have been easily recorded in a few minutes. Seriously, his lines would fit on a postage stamp.

Jubilee

She turns 18 in ep. 4 and the video game is a victory lap based on her memories. She has kind of a right to not take things as seriously with her age, but at the same time, she pitted a stranger who didn’t intend to stick around against Magneto and didn’t seem all too worried about pasting him with an I-beam. There are limits. As much as her combat skills are put on highlight, and as much as she learns from her older self, she still has a lot of growing to do as a person, and a lot of that is shown in growing she should have already done.

I feel like them having the opportunity to let her turn legal is something they pounced on for the sake of the horniness of the show and that doesn’t reflect well on the show overall. I’m not against the idea of a teenager dating; I’m more against the idea that the focus of the show is primarily on everyone’s romantic exploits and having her turn legal while she’s dating another teen roughly her own age has less fortunate implications on what is and is not "okay." Like, it’s not like the show is suddenly going to go TV-MA, but they sure do a lot of indulgent kissing and using her birthday to do some of that with literal fireworks just kind of feels dirty.

Cyclops

He sucks more than usual because he actually threatened to maybe make me like him for a change. The fact he gets an entire Kick the Puppy episode is frankly more than most villains are afforded and I honestly hope they don’t try to rehabilitate him. They had their chance.

The biggest problem with Cyclops is he is well into the process of abdicating his moral authority by the time we meet him in the first episode, which is the only authority he has. He pulls a false surrender. That is, literally, a war crime. And you can see how much he enjoys it. He could have simply not gone through the dramatics if he was actually going to be a Boy Scout about it. He then proceeds to treat almost everyone around him like garbage, butt heads with Wolverine especially (must be a day that ends in "Y"), and throw a hissy fit when Magneto shows up to assume leadership, even though Cyke knows his leadership isn’t working. Cyclops has something to prove. He’s grasped the reins because he felt it was owed to him and he felt that the authority was owed to him and it’s only after he’s had time to cool off that Magneto is able to talk some sense to him.

Cyclops shows time and time again that his first concern is Cyclops. He makes everyone else a casualty of that, even his own wife when she fails to meet his unreasonable standards. And as high of standards as he holds everyone else to, he really doesn’t reserve any for himself. You might think he has standards for himself, but that requires them to be consistent, and that simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. When Storm is de-powered, he takes the opportunity to say he shouldn’t have left the battle to rush to his wife crying out to him for comfort in the middle of being in labor with their son. If he hadn’t gone, and specifically if Rogue hadn’t taken him there, he could have lost both his wife and their baby, and the answer would have simply been more wrong than Storm losing her powers. In a situation where he took the right answer, he makes a production of it being his fault that something bad happened that he would have had little to no power to prevent. It’s not that he didn’t engage X-Cutioner; he very enthusiastically bounced straight off him. He finds a way to make the situation about himself no matter what the situation is. And he’s darn lucky nothing bad happened to Jean, because Wolverine would absolutely have gutted him for trying to make anything like that about himself.

You can be a self-centered prig and still have a moral compass if you hold yourself to the same standards as everyone else. Heck, many self-centered prigs like to think they hold themselves to HIGHER standards than anyone else. Cyclops simply doesn’t do that. As reasonable as he seems at first blush in the first episode when dealing with Sunspot, as much as his issues look like a product of the strain of trying to hold things together, and as much as the ending makes it look like he might actually be a little gracious with the recognition he finally gets for his efforts, the subsequent episodes show just how toxic he really has become. How attention-seeking he is.

As I said above, Cyke is beyond redemption at this point because of how he treated his wife. If you have to take anything away from my extensive list, it’s that he’s an unfaithful husband, and that comes double because he’s cheating on both his wives with each other. This is nothing either of them agreed to; it’s not a polyamorous relationship or even proper polygamy; it was not communicated to either of them for proper consent. He’s a cheater and he just expects both of them to be okay with that because for all the standards he has for everyone else, he keeps none for himself.

It’s why he really has no business being the leader. His trajectory is on a sharp downward trend. Magneto may be coming from the opposite direction, but he’s also heading the opposite direction.

Jean Grey

Honestly, the whole time of her being pregnant is interesting because she really just is thinking about the rest of her life, the kind of life she can offer her son, and that comes with some thoughts she’s ashamed of. She ultimately ends up being the most self-sacrificing member of the team in the act of giving up her baby and leaving her entire life behind because there’s simply not room for 2 of her in everyone else’s eyes. The other copy ends up with most of the same memories and it’s clear that there are going to be lingering problems from this, because she has to bear the weight of knowing how badly everyone else treated her. I would not be surprised if she ends up telling Cyke where to go and ending up with Wolvie, who just confessed the true extent of his feelings to her. Whether there’s going to be any appreciable difference between the two is going to depend on a few factors including just how much of an @$$hole the remaining Jean is going to decide Cyclops is and that depends entirely on whether the writers think there’s any coming back from that. Cyclops really doesn’t deserve the Jean he wants if he’s going to toss away the Jean he had and any self-respecting woman is going to know this. With the baby out of the picture, they’re going to need to find a way of making her interesting and the most interesting thing they could honestly do is have her tell Cyke to go f*¢% himself.

I will say this, the Jean Cyke had the baby with was faithful to Cyke. Madelyne did nothing but stand behind him only for it all to be tossed away, and then not really. The Jean who’s being unfaithful is simply not the mother of his child and in an ideal timeline, she would have just been able to pair up with Wolvie, everyone gets theirs. She woke up with Wolvie there fighting for her and telling her just how much she meant to him and that was ultimately what let her reassemble her identity. She low-key imprinted on him. I’m not saying that makes it right that she seems to think she has options; it doesn’t. But it gives her a reason to feel something that Madelyne doesn’t and reinforces that the right "option" is Wolvie, rather than trying to catch Cyke on the rebound and resume a marriage that he had simply consummated with someone else. I think Jean’s emotional investment in Cyke’s marriage to Madelyne is most telling. Having thought about it more, her asking Cyke about someone else’s baby is maybe not the most healthy, especially because she was there to have seen it for herself. She’s trying to insert herself in someone else’s place for that and whether it’s some misguided form of love or desperation, I don’t think it’s healthy. It’s clear she wants time that she knows is simply not hers.

The honest truth is that of the two, Madelyne is the better Jean, and she got screwed in every way possible. Really, Madelyne is the only one of the four who can’t be blamed in whole or in part for any of it. Jean really, honestly, does not have the moral high ground here, but her infedelity comes after Cyke’s, so I’m comfortable in calling him worse. He also simply could have made the right decision with the mother of his child and that would have simplified things for her if her head being messed up was actually a factor. I honestly don’t think it is, but I don’t see her arguing with it, either. Wolvie was always a solid #2.

Wolverine

On that subject, as much of a jerk as he is in ep. 1, it’s really in response to Cyke being a worse jerk in a position of authority. In his own way, he’s very protective of the people he cares about, defending Jubilee’s honor and being there for Jean a heck of a lot more than her own husband even though she does nothing but have Cyke’s back until he turns on her. With a new Jean who didn’t have a baby with Cyke and who knows enough to maybe have some lingering problems with how he treated her twin, and memories of just how present Wolvie was for her the whole time, always staying with her and taking a lot of the dirty work, maybe she’ll make a different choice than usual. At the same time, his deep friendship with Morph is also apparent and the two have some of the most honest conversations so far. It’s clear he and Morph have interactions that he simply cannot get from anyone else.

If there is a gripe to leverage, it’s that he is criminally underutilized in combat including the battles where he would have easily defeated enemies that gave everyone else some form of trouble. X-Cutioner would have gone down like a punk to him and never reached Magneto and Storm to begin with, but he was never informed of the effort and ended up sitting on the couch watching everyone else with Jean and driving her to the hospital to bear someone else’s child. In fact, almost every question of "Where’s Wolvie" can be answered with "next to Jean." Because Jean sees so little combat herself, that almost universally keeps him out of it. Whether that’s because his primary combat ability it turning people into giblets sounds like a resounding "yes" until you take a look back at just how much gore there is already in what counted as their horror episode. The answer isn’t so simple; or rather it’s very simple; they need him there next to Jean because Cyke sure isn’t.

I guess just to address his role in the drama, I can’t say for sure whether it was a good idea for him to put his focus on an amnesiac woman who’s barely conscious because she’s an apparent copy of a woman he knows he can’t have, but it does ultimately work out for getting her head somewhat in order and it’s probably less questionable than hanging out with the one who’s just had someone else’s baby. The fact of the matter is he cares about Jean regardless of which Jean it is and he was going to help the one who needed it most. I keep repeating this, but if Cyclops had had a shred of human decency and stood by the mother of his child, everyone might have ended up happy and Wolvie’s little stunt telling the "free" one just how much she meant to him would have maybe been the start of something beautiful. I don’t actually blame him for doing this. Did it indirectly cause problems? Yes, but ultimately there was very little indication that it might not be moral at the time.

Morph

I was kind of afraid Morph would be sidelined and I am happy that I could not have been more wrong. The new voice does a fantastic job with them, bringing a lot of nuance and humanity to what is otherwise a comedic character. They receive quite a lot of screen time, maybe even more than Sunspot, and use it to be a stand-out character. Morph does more than crack jokes; they are a true jester, in the traditional sense, using humor to speak truth. All of their antics are used to challenge, reflect, and punctuate. Most of all, Morph enjoys nothing more than bringing joy, and is willing to put themself on the line to keep the people they care about from being hurt, even by the villain who irreparably hurt them. I freaking LOVE them.

It’s clear that Morph is deeply damaged and that reinforces why they’re such a clown. You really do see that in real people. The ones who have been hurt worst are often the funniest, kindest people because they don’t want anyone to go through what they did and humor gets you in good graces quickly. At the same time, there’s a certain pessimism to the character, which I think is revealed a lot more when contrasted with Nightcrawler later on. And that’s also natural.

Beast

Not much to say here; you like the bouncing blue boy from the old series, there’s more of him here. Maybe not a LOT more, but there’s time. It seems like he mostly ends up getting left behind for various reasons, mostly to make sure everyone is patched up. While he lets a lot of it roll off his back, his appearance is the butt of a lot more jokes than it should be. Jubes calls him a monkey, Sunspot can’t help but blurt that he’s blue, and Wolvie refers to him as "the blue Rogaine commercial" like he’s one to talk. Though I honestly have to say there’s nothing actually wrong with his portrayal. He’s the same Beast the series has always enjoyed, replete with literary references and classical music and all the technobabble and thesaurus abuse everyone expects.

Storm

It’s Storm, back and fantastic, bringing her presence and vocal power. She is an angry goddess, a gentle friend, warm, wise, commanding, loving, and human. Her getting de-powered is an interesting thing to bring in so early after showing just how powerful she is. To understand just how in-tune she is with nature, to feel it as an entire sense, is really cool, and to see her recapture any of that by doing something like riding a horse is heartwarming. I honestly want to see her arc play out, because it’s one of the most interesting times for her in the comics, where she proved she didn’t NEED her powers to be a force of nature, and it might be neat to see her realize that, rejoin the team like she did in the comics, even become its leader by beating Cyclops in single combat without them, and bring that wisdom to leadership. Honestly, Cyke could fall in a well at this point for all I care; I want to see what happens with STORM!

Rogue

Rogue making references to dirty pasts is both true and, I think, necessary, because it’s a main reason she and Gambit work so well together. Rogue was in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. She did some bad stuff under Magneto’s command. If anyone is going to set him straight, it’s her. She tells him outright that when she switched sides, she needed to EARN their trust, where he came in demanding it. It shows a very human side of her where she understands him the best of anyone and knows his path forward. It’s a path she took herself.

As much as she can wring an honest conversation out of him, and as much as she might help his path to salvation, there is a very clear and present danger of her being dragged back into things that simply are not good for her, and she falls into the trap almost immediately in a moment of weakness. I’m not saying this is her fault; sometimes toxic relationships are dangerous because parts of them can feel like Heaven even as they’re killing you. When I say this show isn’t for kids, it’s things like that that really punctuate it. It would be so easy for someone with a limited view of the world to blame her, just like it would be easy to blame an ex-smoker for having that one puff to cause a relapse. We cannot always be our best selves. There wouldn’t be a word for temptation if temptation didn’t exist. Sometimes when that temptation is in front of you, waving itself in front of your face, all it needs is a little push for you to do something you regret. That little extra bit of stress in the cracked walls to make them come tumbling down.

Rogue is part of a family whose walls are largely all at their breaking points and losing Storm is a wrecking ball for all of them.

That she ultimately chooses Gambit shows that she really is stronger than her weakest moment.

Gambit

What I WAS going to say here is:

Gambit has his own storied past. Having been a street kid and thief in his youth was the fun part. This season seems very keen on anything that’s going to tear the team apart and I wouldn’t put it past them to do a big reveal on the dirtiest secret in his past – one that, in the comics, destroyed his relationship with Rogue. Magneto being there would certainly offer an alternative. Gambit has always been most interesting because he’s comfortable with himself, though. He is charming, confident, and easygoing, and while he absolutely has flavors of being a womanizer in the original run, it’s the kind of flaw that added to his roguish persona, more Puss in Boots than Quagmire. Rogue ultimately makes sense as a partner; they are, both at first blush and even once you dig a little deeper, a perfect pairing. His flirtatiousness and charm is never wasted on her. He finds ways, even in this run, to pull her up, saying just the right thing when her own confidence is taking a dive. You see a lot of that off the bat only for there to be increasing insecurity on his part after Magneto enters the picture and starts taking up more and more of her time in ways that, frankly, no one else has done before. Gambit seeing the two dressed in tatters in the middle of a jungle probably is a reference I missed, but I only have to assume he knows the two can touch or he wouldn’t have been presented with the vision of them doing so, liberally. (VERY liberally.) And he’s clearly not taking the threat well, because he’s nurtured his relationship with Rogue for years. You see it in a lot of subtle gestures; he and Magneto are already adversarial. I foresee that coming to a head.

What I have to say now is:

They did both him dirty killing him off. And even though it was certainly a spectacular send-off, they basically did him dirty every episode up until that point. I am NOT happy about this.

If there’s any hope to the situation, it’s that Mr. Sinister and Gambit have a past history in the comics and it’s something that might come home to roost. To explain what happened there, Gambit had lost control of his powers, so Sinister basically did a minor lobotomy to get them back to levels Gambit could manage. Then of course came the price: "assemble a team of Marauders and if you could just take a stroll in this sewer, that’ll do." Easy enough, but when Gambit took exception to them massacring the Morlocks, Gambit became a casualty. Rogue finally touching him and learning this broke them up. I had kind of been waiting for that particular shoe to drop to send her into Magneto’s arms, but having Sinister in the spotlight as primary villain does open up the possibility of him doing to Gambit what he did to Morph.

I’m not holding my breath on them actually bringing him back, just illustrating a path forward if they wanted to. I mean literally the first in-universe death (Morph) got reversed. Death is not sacred in this franchise and not even in this show. The only real question is whether they’re going to bother when the whole point of the season seems to be the entire team dropping like flies.

Magneto

Magneto is interesting here because he’s trying, but he’s still just not a hero. Maybe an anti-hero. And I say that because there are just aspects of him that he’s not going to let go of. He is arrogant to the team, reluctant to engage with Prof. X’s methods, and opportunistic. A creep, really. Trying to take Rogue’s glove off when they’re alone in a room together is, let’s be honest, a form of groping. One she’s quick to rebuff, but they both know there’s a temptation. She comes back later in her moment of weakness and makes a poor decision and he encourages it. It’s clear Magneto wants to rekindle the old flame and he frankly doesn’t care about Gambit’s feelings on it, in part because Gambit has given him no reason to. And he really doesn’t have Rogue’s best interests at heart for it, either. He knows full well that her speaking up for him would not be taken well if the others knew they’d been an item, and yet he’s already giving her special treatment. Ultimately, he is charming, attentive, tender, and thoughtful – all things Rogue appreciates in Gambit – and can give her things they both know nobody else can, but that doesn’t factor in everything she stands to lose from everyone else. And that’s what makes it toxic. She knows he’s toxic. But toxic people can be very dangerous that way, especially if it looks like there’s hope they’ll improve.

It’s honestly rather interesting to compare him to Cyclops because of how similar the two actually are, and how poorly the differences reflect on Cyke. The extreme tactics Cyke used are forms of abdicating his moral authority, which was the only authority he could ever claim. But where Cyclops was getting more and more extreme as he tried to assert control over the team, Magneto has f*¢%-all to prove. You see this in how he shuts down Gambit joking about making him a cappucino if he’s taking orders: "luckily, I am giving them." Gambit doesn’t like it, and he doesn’t have to. Magneto is comfortable in his position. Unlike Cyclops, there is no need to get defensive, because his authority is not in question.

Prior to presenting himself to the team, he’d already started saving humans as a bit of practice, and using non-lethal methods to deal with adversaries. Maybe methods that the team still balks at a bit, but he’s not killing anyone, either, which is already an improvement. The thing is, objectively speaking, the methods he used are less extreme than Cyke’s. There is zero reason to balk at his use of his powers to pin his attackers when he’s being businesslike about it. It’s certainly less potentially lethal than Cyke blasting out every window in a warehouse and he’s not even committing any war crimes while he does it, which is more than Cyke can say.

His treatment of Rogue, toxic as it is, is at the very least attentive and appreciative. Rogue is ultimately the one loyalty Magneto has on the team and she sees quite a bit of benefit from it, admittedly as a double-edged sword with the threat of her reputation. Cyclops had no loyalty to the mother of his child. He was constantly leaving her with Wolverine. He didn’t even always communicate his plans to her and quite frankly had a mind to put the team before raising their child in a safe environment. I can’t honestly think of a single gesture he offered her while she was pregnant. He never got her a chair, never gave her a random kiss just because, never did anything to date her. Let me sling some advice here, dating does not end at "I do" in a successful marriage. "I do" is not "mission accomplished," it’s "heck yeah, let’s be TWICE as awesome!" I’m not saying they’re not both toxic, but Cyclops is worse. Magneto at least shows signs of being able to think outside of himself when someone else is in front of him. For that matter, he has some really interesting perspectives when it comes to questioning things like why the X-Men never thought to move the Morlocks to Genosha after it became a free mutant nation where they’d be accepted. He ultimately thinks quite a lot about other people, maybe in broad strokes, but he is a leader of his people and his people are all mutants. Like his methods or not, his goals were always altruistic in some capacity.

And when you’re not trying to make him the butt of the joke, he’s comfortable enough to do it himself. Cyke walks up with a cup of coffee and Magneto asks, "Poison?" Cyke is able to joke back, "Dark roast." He’s able to take a goodwill gesture and turn it on its head at his own expense to elevate his conversation partner and leave himself intentionally vulnerable. Cyke’s response, which can be taken any number of ways, but is ultimately benign, tells him everything it needs to, and they’re able to have a respectful conversation. Magneto is able to share some actual wisdom with Cyke, even puts a hand on his shoulder to warn him that tragedy is on the horizon.

It shows that when you approach him on appropriate terms, he has the leadership qualities the team actually needs. He is a class act: witty, wise, secure, and, if you give him reason for it, caring. Is he perfect? Oh, heck no. No, not at all, there are problems. He is not a good person. But he’s trying to be a better one and that’s important.

I guess I have to add that his last act is to comfort a child in the face of their imminent demise after having World War II flashbacks for the entire preceding battle. He does not die a perfect man, but he dies a kind one. And he tries to make sure Rogue and Gambit are protected by keeping them out of the blast radius. Rogue needed it; Gambit didn’t. So in at least some small way, he honored her choice while he was at it.

Val Cooper

I mention her because as a UN contact and new role for the original voice of Jean, she has quite a lot of screen time. She is… kind of interesting, actually. She’s very much a bureaucrat, but she also ends up on the front lines more than that would imply. She certainly keeps her cool dealing with Cyke, which deserves a medal, and manages to keep a metered tone with Magneto even when she has every reason to be wetting her pants. She’s not fearless; she just has less fear than average. A perhaps somewhat less than appropriate amount of fear, but that’s what makes her interesting. It lets her contrast herself with everyone else around her and keep a cool head and measured approach in any situation. She’s fantastic.

Forge

Let me put this one out there: Forge is not new to the series. The only question is what he’s doing bumping around the present, because he’s very much present in Bishop’s future as the one who sent him back and his past depictions place him at about the age this version is. As a character, well, he lied to Storm, through omission, but the bond the two were forming up until that point seemed pretty genuine. The problem of Forge being in the future is a distinctly cartoon-based one; comics canon places him solidly in the present. So either he at some point builds a device to travel forward and just decides he likes it there or, more likely, he found reason to travel to the past and got stuck just like Bishop, which means we really have to hope Bishop goes back to a point in time where Forge hasn’t left for the present yet. If I have a complaint, it’s that they mangled the explanation of his powers. So if you’re confused by the word salad he spits out during the episode, the simple explanation is that he’s an intuitive inventor; he thinks of a thing, he does the thing, and then it’s up to everyone else to figure out HOW he did the thing, because he honestly couldn’t tell you, but it works. That puts his explanation in a bit better context, because someone else managed to reverse-engineer his inventions after he’d already booked.

Nightcrawler

On one hand, I would love to see more of him; on the other, I would hate for that to be at the expense of Morph as a similarly impish character, because if anything seems true of this show, it’s that if the original voice didn’t return for any reason other than lack of a pulse, the character is probably slated to be written out. Morph has already been through a LOT as a character and I don’t want to see them sidelined that way. Morph’s close relationship with Wolvie in the show was a direct replacement of that with Nightcrawler in the comics. There is simply not room for both of them on the team.

Nightcrawler being a more prominent supporting character I’d be happy with. Seeing as he was only a minor character before, getting him in for an episode or two without ever making him a member of the team would just be an expansion of what he was in the original run. Maybe Genosha really just does need someone with his optimism around in what is going to be, generously, another interim government after the island nation’s near-total destruction. As the only one of the ruling body explicitly shown to be alive minus Rogue, someone has to do it, and it’s clear he has rapport with his people. You don’t get to pose for head pats if people don’t freaking adore you. Seriously, I know I’m a little focused on the head pats, but when was the last time you gave or received head pats in real life? Head pats are not something people exchange on a daily basis; that’s like grade-A furry stuff and he just queues up and gets them. There is a story behind that.

Actually, people are surprisingly touchy-feely with him and he’s quite touchy-feely in return, outright glomping Rogue when he sees her. Gambit gives him a headlock noogie and he seems to enjoy it. The way he teleports around and never stops moving and all the physical contact he has in the episode must have made him ridiculously expensive to animate. That’s probably a factor in what they’ll end up doing with him. I’m not saying he couldn’t be a main character; he was in literally every cartoon before or since, just not this one. I just expect that his dynamicity is likely to be toned down if they do keep him around.

If they honestly do intend to keep him, I think the major difference between him and Morph is optimism. Morph is a deeply damaged person, which is expressed through their humor, but does come with a side of pessimism. Nightcrawler is a priest and his faith props him up, letting him trust that everything is going to be okay. In some ways, I could see the two being an interesting reflection of each other, where Morph can look like anything and Nightcrawler is stuck looking like one of the most unfortunate things possible and still manages to be a swashbuckling hero. It’s not that their powers are in conflict and the two might even make a fantastic team provided Nightcrawler could fully trust a shapeshifter after being betrayed by his mother. And I think that his faith could easily play off Morph being non-binary and probably some form of pansexual, or at least having the hots for Wolvie, which as a masc-leaning person is, for lack of a more informed term, gay. The two could, in many ways, stand to learn from each other in part because of their similarities. If the team does end up getting split, I feel like having one on each side would be of significant benefit. Their wisdom comes from very different places and their methods of delivering it could not be more opposite. Nightcrawler’s antics stop abruptly at advice, where he takes on a much gentler tone.

Cable

I’m only going to mention him because there are really two possibilities: 1) it was a one-time cameo to get Gambit’s original voice in a booth to say a few lines, or 2) he’s actually going to be quite important this season.

I have a feeling it’s the first option, honestly. If Jubilee’s cameo is any indication, getting them into a focus episode with their old character as a baton pass seems to be their way of honoring the bits of the cast who aren’t otherwise slated to return. Cable honestly does nothing of note in his appearance other than get recognized by his mother and apologize to her. It’s really just an accessory to her send-off. She gets to see that the baby she gave up turned out okay(ish) before she bites the dust. And canon gets to be recognized and lampshaded a bit here because it’s certainly not the first time he’s come poking around the past. She recognized him as Cable; they’ve met before in some fashion. It’s only seeing his brown eyes (which are at a surprising premium among this cast) that finally makes it click for her.

That all is nothing he does. He doesn’t actually accomplish anything in his brief appearance, or rather he fails to accomplish his apparent mission of evacuating the gala before it’s blasted. It’s not even a matter of him wasting time on her; nobody is listening to him.

I don’t honestly think there’s anything constructive they could actually do with him. Cyclops isn’t going to feel better realizing Cable is his son, because Cyclops doesn’t care about anyone who can speak for themselves. His son being a newborn baby was perfect that way. Cable being his own person who he’s met before isn’t going to register the same way. If anything, Cyke is liable to take it personally that he never said so before. If they really cared about having a time-traveler, they could have done more with Bishop, who was already a member of the team.

Thoughts and predictions

With the way the show has already struggled to manage the cast, breaking it up into teams might not be the worst idea, but if Storm is going to lead one, I feel like they’re going to be split down the line of who would otherwise have left entirely. This isn’t as out-there as it sounds; the whole reason there WAS a Blue Team to base the cartoon on was because there were 11 active members in the comics and Blue Team happened to be the more dysfunctional, and therefore more interesting, side of things, with Cyke leading Wolvie, Rogue, Gambit, Jubes, Psylocke, and Beast. Psylocke simply got switched out for Storm and Jean because if Marvel printed money, Storm would be on the $20 bill, and Jean was simply too useful for various drama and story purposes NOT to have. Gold Team at the time was the much more functional and thus much less interesting Storm, Jean, Colossus, Iceman, Archangel, and Bishop. Blue Team ran in the original Uncanny X-Men while Gold Team launched X-Men and the two crossed over at times. The writers simply understood that there were too many characters to give proper focus to in one book.

That’s really what’s happening here. Team members are dropping like flies in this season with Bishop leaving completely after having zero focus, Storm basically having her own solo series for a bit because that’s easy to manage, and both gaining and losing a Jean Grey. That last one really grinds my gears, because it feels like there was a total lack of consistency there. Everyone shunned her except her own twin, so she left, but you don’t put someone on a bus if you don’t want to leave the door open to do something with them later. Then suddenly everyone but her own twin is 100% fine with her, zero awkwardness after all that, and she gets killed off. Pick one, seriously.

I really hope that Storm coming back to find that situation leads to an inciting spark. It would certainly give her an excuse to decide Cyke isn’t fit for leadership. As powerful as Cyke is, Storm beat him without her powers in the comics and having a healthy dose of rage about the mistreatment of her sister and a reminder that she is a goddess regardless of her powers is ample reason to think she’ll freaking embarrass him, because ultimately Cyke has nothing to fight for at this point and he’ll have less than nothing if Jean rejects him for rejecting her twin, which they have the perfect setup for with Wolvie having been there for them both and revealing the full extent of his feelings for her. As cute as "Motendo" was, it’s filler and having a half-episode of filler tells me "Lifedeath" is getting the exact amount of time it needs.

At any rate, there’s a lot to like, but the stories, I will say, are very much not for kids. This is a TV-PG rated show that pushes the boundaries of that rating like a jeweler turning a ring into a bracelet. I have no idea how it’s not TV-14 and the answer probably has a lot to do with technicalities and some very high hopes of selling toys to as young an audience as possible, but the content is simply nothing that’s going to resonate with an audience that hasn’t hit puberty yet and the story is not going to resonate with anyone who doesn’t have bills. This is aimed squarely at fans of the original and whatever horny teens they can kidnap for the ride. It has matured from "soap opera for kids" to just "soap opera."

All that said, I have tempered expectations after "Remember It" and if "Lifedeath – Part 2" doesn’t knock my socks off, I’m not sure I’ll be able to stay invested. There’s every reason to think it will, because it’s a Storm episode, but with the episode titles released, after that, we’ll get "Bright Eyes" (which could be anything) and three parts of "Tolerance Is Extinction" to finish out the season, which is obviously a backlash to mutants’ sudden popularity as if that hasn’t been building up all season.

The massacre at Genosha in "Remember It" was orchestrated by Cassandra Nova in the comics, but the showrunners drew a big question mark after that and, to be honest, it’s probably Mr. Sinister this time around because he’s already the season villain and Cassandra Nova only makes sense when Professor X is around given she’s his evil twin. Mr. Sinister enjoys a bit of mass murder as I mentioned and it would certainly provide tons of mutant DNA from a bunch of people no longer in a position to complain about it. Mutant DNA is kind of his thing, as the season has solidly established. You can’t be the season villain with only one appearance; he’s absolutely going to get some spotlight.

But is it good?

I want to say I can recommend it, but the honest truth is I can’t. Maybe that will change with the whole season out where I can judge it as a whole, but this show is often incredibly hard to watch despite its merits, under-serves much of its sprawling cast, and for what is visibly a fully-planned season doesn’t seem to have particularly good consistency. The heroes very quickly lost my respect when they failed to rally around one of their own, and then suddenly the show had the gall to pretend that never happened when the whole setup of the episode doesn’t make sense otherwise. Cyclops in particular is nothing short of a spineless worm.

The show gives you very little reason to care about these characters if you don’t already. It does a lot of telling rather than showing and is constantly making awkward references to past canon, even ending up lampshading it with "oh, right, you were there." If everyone would maybe spend less time making out and all but f*¢%ing on the dance floor, it might save a little time for actual character development. What character development there is is centered squarely on everyone cheating on each other. That’s not the only thing going on, but everything else certainly revolves around it.

The first episode is a promising start that gets the rug pulled out from under it. The action is good, but then they knew it had to be. It’s visually striking. The cast is acting their @$$es off. That all might string you along through the rest.