Monday, May 5, 2014

Review: Wolverine and the X-Men (Animated Series)

Wow, I only managed to write up two blogs in the entire month of April? I sincerely apologize to people who were coming here looking for content. If only there was a way I could make up for this; some theme that would ensure that several posts go live in May. Oh, I know: Welcome to X-Men Month! You may recall back in 2011 in the lead up to my review of X-Men: First Class I wrote a series of X-Men related blogs. Well now that we’re coming up on that film’s sequel, X-Men: Days of Future Past so I figured why not do it again. Let’s start with a review, shall we?

If you have spent any time in the archives, especially under the comic book tag, you would likely know that I hate Wolverine. Despite being the most popular character in the X-Men franchise there is no comic book character I despise more (…well maybe The Sentry…and maybe the Red Hulk…and maybe Barry Allen). I’ve talked about this several times and even started Cyclops Lovers Against Wolverine for people like me who prefer good old Scott Summers over the terribly two-dimensional, overpowered James Howlett. So with all this in mind you’ll be unsurprised to learn that when I first heard Marvel would be releasing a cartoon entitled Wolverine and the X-Men I was anything but pleased. Airing in 2009 Wolverine and the X-Men is the third animated adaptation of the X-Men franchise (fourth if you include the Pryde of the X-Men pilot) and was the successor to X-Men: Evolution, a cartoon I absolutely despised. In fact much of the production team was the same for those two cartoons. But, even with the stink of XM:E surrounding it, my main issue stemmed from the fact that in the months leading up to its debut the show was clearly hyped as being a Wolverine centric show with the X-Men merely featured in supporting roles which found to be ludicrous.

I tried watching this show when it was first aired but didn’t have time to finish it. It ended up being canceled after one season so it pretty much disappeared from television after that. From what I’ve heard there was some sort of financing problem that caused a planned second season to not happen. Five years later there has yet to be a follow-up series and there doesn’t seem to be one in the pipeline as of this writing. [EDITOR’S NOTE: There was an X-Men anime released in 2011 produced by Madhouse as part of the Marvel Anime line that Beta has yet to see. In his defense most people have yet to see those shows; that’s the problem]

While this show has a lot of negative things attached to it technically it would be wrong of me to condemn it just on that without giving it a fair chance. So let’s give it a chance now…and then afterwards condemn it.

Full review after the jump.



Because when I think good writing I think boring invincible asshole Wolverine
One year ago the X-Men were attacked at their home by an unknown assailant, leaving their mansion destroyed and leaving Jean Grey and Professor X’s whereabouts unknown. The team subsequently disbanded. However in the ensuing time the government has stepped up its military action against mutants, with its Mutant Response Division detaining many innocent Americans. Things have gotten so bad that Wolverine, always considered the least reliable team member, has decided that the world needs the X-Men more than ever and sets off to reform the group under his leadership. However even Logan wonders if any of his former teammates would come back if he is the one calling the shots.

This cartoon is clearly very influenced by the X-Men films, from the music to certain character roles and maybe the darker tone. The character designs are not really indicative of this though as many (but not all) of the costumes were based on then current outfits from the comics. This is fine however this is the first X-Men cartoon ever made that didn’t have a really awesome/catchy theme song. Even X-Men: Evolution had a pretty good opening song and that show the animated equivalent of getting a root canal. Speaking of XM:E it’s important to note that Wolverine and the X-Men is much, much better than that show in basically every single way and while that’s not saying much (being punched in the balls is still slightly better than XM:E) the quality of writing is clearly there. It takes a few episodes for it to really get going but when it does its clear the writing staff was going for a properly written, character/arc driven show and for the most part they are successful. The last few episodes get a bit dumb but the in-between stuff is solid. This is all first season as well and it’s very likely that had they gotten to produce more the following seasons would have been stronger in that regard and they already started out pretty good anyway.

It’s also really interesting to see so many X-Men characters who never show up outside of comics finally appearing on television. The X-Men comics are host to a shit ton of characters, probably more than any other superhero franchise. It’s actually one of my problems with X-Men: Evolution; that the creators felt a need to create brand new characters when there was such a huge supply of underused guys from the source material is a little silly (though in their defense X-23, who they created for the show, has since become a major character in the comics). This doesn’t happen in this cartoon. While most of the characters featured are little more than background fodder with no lines it’s really nice to see a very populated world that features so many characters that are clearly from the books. I was super jazzed to see the likes of Blink, Pixie, Dust and Hellion depicted at all. Similarly this is the first non-video game adaption to feature Emma Frost as a full member of the X-Men as she is almost universally portrayed as a super villain despite having reformed around 1994. That’s twenty f**king years! That’s longer than she was a damn villain at this point! Now I don’t’ think they used her as well as they could have but this is a far cry from her appearance in X-Men: First Class. Next time they make an X-Men cartoon let’s keep her on the side of angels, okay?

Not a nice person but still an X-Man
Everyone has their favorite X-Man so not everyone will be happy with the roster (Colossus is a team member for about three minutes before never being seen again) but that’s just how these cartoons go. I was relatively happy. You know, until I wasn’t but we’re getting ahead of ourselves slightly. The animation was fine though the character designs seemed to either be really interesting or kind of lame depending on the character in question. From a visual viewpoint this cartoon is decent at best, inoffensive at worst.

I should mention that this cartoon is better at one of my biggest pet peeves with adaptations of comic book superhero teams: it has several female characters in the cast. Storm, Emma Frost, and Kitty Pryde are all members of the main team with Rogue being kind of back and forth. It also features the Scarlet Witch, Domino and Marrow as reoccurring characters. Perhaps it’s still not great but compared to the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes with over 52 episodes had a grand total of two ladies on the team, one of whom was a part-timer, I have to go with this cartoon on this point.

Logan: "When are you going to learn that there's no I in TEAM, Summers?"
Logan: "Now if you excuse me I'm gonna take off without telling anyone"
Unsurprisingly the show’s biggest problem was Wolverine. It didn’t have to be; Wolverine alone doesn’t ruin an X-Men property. Just look at X-Men: The Animated Series or Josh Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men comic; their depiction of Logan was fine. But here this is his show. Recall that my major problem with every single one of the original X-Men movies was that they really felt like they focused on Wolverine at the expense of everyone else. Well this is a problem this show shares except it’s actually worse. How the hell can it be worse when the movies had far less time to develop the rest of the cast? Because Wolverine and the X-Men barely uses any of its time to develop most of its large cast. Some characters get some development. Angel has an arc, but it’s made clear that he’s not really properly part of the main cast fairly early. They try to give Rogue some development but it doesn’t work out that great and ultimately she ends up being probably her most boring incarnation ever (fans of X-Men: The Animated Series are likely very annoyed to hear that). Cyclops is a weird guy in this series as the show can’t seem to decide if he’s cool or if he’s lame. On the one hand he is most often portrayed in this show as a whiny, pathetic loser who can’t get it together following Jean Grey’s disappearance (key word; no one, least of all him, really thinks she’s dead but he stills spends a year crying in an apartment showing no real motivation to do anything about it) but then sometimes he’s portrayed as a badass loner who takes off from the X-Men whenever it suits him as if to suggest that he and Wolverine have basically switched roles. They fail at this because Wolverine never actually stops being a badass loner who takes off from the X-Men whenever it suits despite being their leader now thus Cyclops just seems redundant (and also whiny). Hell, my favorite/least favorite memory from this cartoon is an episode where Scott goes off on a suicide mission to follow up a possible lead on Jena Grey’s location and, despite kicking the shit out of damn near everyone he comes across, is saved from certain death by the X-Men and a hesitant Wolverine who yells at Cyclops for not being a team player and going off on his own. This all happened one episode after Wolverine went off on his own and two episodes before he does it again, both for personal reasons to which no one calls him on (and does the same numerous times). So yeah, clearly this f**king show doesn’t understand the concept of irony.

No one gets screwed over more than Storm. While Rogue is boring and Cyclops is basically little more than damaged goods at least they both get to do something during the series, which is more than can be said for Storm. After her reintroduction episode she pretty much does nothing at all for the remainder of the cartoon with the exception of being heavily implied to be Angel’s lover in a late season episode. And no, that never once came up before or after the episode and really in that episode all she did was fly around at him and make googly eyes. So to recap Ororo Munroe, the most powerful member of this show’s main cast (as Jean Grey is not part of the main cast in this season) , a woman who was not only the leader of the X-Men during the eighties but was basically the main character of the book Uncanny X-Men for the whole damn time, is reduced to being Angel’s girlfriend/prop. For ONE GODDAMN EPISODE before fading into the background! Now there is a serious problem with Storm in that ever since Chris Claremont, the writer responsible for all her great character development in the 80s, left Marvel Comics in the early 1990s the character has pretty much never been interesting. I know a lot of people love Storm but let’s face it; the most noteworthy thing she’s done since Claremont originally left was marry Black Panther and that was obviously a publicity stunt. But in this cartoon she has reached a whole new low. Why couldn’t we have a little more focus on Storm? Because we needed to have half the goddamn season revolving around Wolverine’s solo misadventures that seem to completely contrast with the major theme of the series: Logan putting such stuff aside because he’s the leader now. If the writers were just going to use Storm as Angel’s girlfriend and nothing else they shouldn’t have had her in the show at all, plain and simple.

Even the bombastic, speech giving Storm of the 90s cartoon was better written
The focus on Wolverine is why this show, despite its strong writing, ends up falling well short of being one of Marvel’s best cartoons. Every single member of the main cast suffers because so much time is spent with Logan. Now it’s true that he’s clearly the main character but I’ve always believed that the main reason the X-Men work as a franchise is because there is no one person who is more important than anyone else. That it has so many diverse and interesting characters is the reason that I have loved the group since before I could read. Having them as Wolverine’s sidekicks is troubling and distracting from any good points in the cartoon. There are a lot of good scenes and good choices in the show but I was so busy being annoyed with the terrible characterization of the cast that I couldn’t focus on it. What should have happened is that this show should have just been a Wolverine solo cartoon, not Wolverine and His Uncanny Friends. The opening sequence, with mansion being destroyed, could have stayed the same and instead of reforming the X-Men Wolverine just has his own adventures and maybe have occasional X-Men guest stars and maybe one or two team members as part of his supporting cast, like say Kitty Pryde or Jubilee. That way the writers could continue making that badass Wolverine they clearly love doing but without sacrificing other (better, in my opinion) characters to do so and avoid the piss poor arc of Logan growing to be a good leader. Because the way they presented it was not very well done.

I’ve kind of ranted a bit so I should point out that Wolverine and the X-Men is actually a pretty good cartoon. It possesses a lot of strengths, such as its writing, but also can be overly dark and confusing (such as how the government could legally arrest people for being mutants prior to the Mutant Registration Act being passed) or silly (how can Iceman be a founding member of the team when he’s the same age as Kitty Pryde?) and is really poor to its characters that aren’t Wolverine. But the show is not bad, not by any stretch of the imagination. I’m actually pretty bummed no second season was produced. You will likely enjoy it, though unless Logan is your favorite X-Man you probably won’t love it. And unfortunately it’s nothing compared to Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, a show that is much better at the team dynamic (and also supposed taking place in the same continuity), and is not nearly as good as the 90s X-Men cartoon.

Pictured: Wolverine and, I dunno, his butlers or something?
 I give Wolverine and the X-Men 3 Uncanny Xs out of 5.


Pros 

-Strong writing 

-Good use of overarching storylines 

-Makes use of several severely underused X-Men characters 

-Cyclops has a cool trench coat 

Cons 

-Terrible characterization of too many X-Men not named Logan 

-Can be very uneven in tone 

-The show’s major theme is poorly executed 
 

X-Men Month continues later this week as I check out my favorite X-Men villains.

2 comments:

  1. I absolutely agree that this show had potential and that Wolverine was the weakest part of it. I hated how we were constantly told that he was this great leader despite him either doing his own thing, making bad choices, being a hypocrite and the others flat out not listening to him. I also hated how all the episode that deal with his past are always about how noble he was after all, even when working with Weapon X.
    But I also thought that the episodes in the future also weren't good. How does this work, if Xavier tells the X-Men to fix something in the past, it actually changes the future (as seen clearly at the very end). So how does he tell them what to do, afterall it should never have happened now. Time paradox, anyone?
    I have more complains, like Forge being nothing but a butt-monkey, the stupid reveal that Jean was in a hospital two hours away the whole time, things not making sense like the Iceman thing, a lot of characters having no arcs or storylines (Storm, Iceman, Shadowcat).
    The best parts to me were the episodes that centred on Nightcrawler, the relationship between Rogue and Domino and the Cyclops flashback episode (and even that had them blow sugar up Wolverine's ass).

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    1. Excellent points. I pretty much agree with everything you just said.

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