DVD Review: X-Men: The Animated Series

The original X-Men animated series ran from 1992 to 1997 and introduced an entire generation to the ongoing soap opera of Marvel’s mutants. Disney Home Entertainment has been issuing the series on DVD, and they have just released the final season, Volume 5, which completes the show’s run. It’s a two disc set, with 14 episodes for a total running time of 308 minutes, so there’s no room for extras, but it’s still a solid package.

The first episodes in this set are a two-part loose adaptation of The Phalanx Covenant. The Phalanx Covenant was a 1994 storyline that featured an alien hybrid technological/organic virus that infected humanity, with the X-Men friends’ having to come to their rescue. The plotlines which led up to do it were much too complicated and involved to build into only two episodes of the animated series, so here we see a simplified version of it, with the friendly alien Warlock coming to Earth and assisting Beast and a number of other mutants in rescuing the X-Men from his evil alien kin, who seek to transform the entire world with their virus. As in the comics, the mutant-hating human Cameron Hodge is assisting the alien invaders. It’s a solid adaptation given the complexity of the storyline they’re dealing and the characters and concepts are introduced in an organic manner (no pun intended). The animation does a nice job of portraying the shape-shifting Warlock, and giving him the suitably comedic expressions he is known for.

The next three episodes in this final set were originally meant to air in Season 3, but were delayed due to extra work needed on the animation. You will notice the difference in the opening and ending credits from the rest of episodes in the set. A Deal With The Devil features the return of Wolverine’s Cold War foe, Omega Red, and is a nice little cloak and dagger affair that fans of Omega Red will enjoy.

No Mutant Is An Island was meant to serve as an epilogue to Season 3’s adaptation of the Phoenix Saga, dealing with Jean Grey’s death (and explaining her eventual return) and as such, it’s a bit out of place here, but this is the order it aired in, and it’s an important episode to include, so fans will be glad it made it onto the final volume.

Likewise, Longshot, featuring the other-dimensional acrobat who is the subject of this episode's title, was also a Season 3 holdover, though it’s placement is not as problematic continuity-wise. It’s an entertaining, action-filled episode, and features a number of other characters associated with Longshot’s home of Mojoworld, including the sorceress Spiral, and the monstrous television producer Mojo.

The last episode on Disc 1 is Bloodlines, which explains the background of the villainous shape-shifter Mystique, who is Rogue’s adoptive mother, Nightcrawler’s birth mother, and also the mother of the mutant-hating Graydon Creed, the product of an affair with the feral Sabretooth. Interestingly, although the Mystique/Nightcrawler relationship had been hinted at in the comics, it hadn’t been established at that point, so the show was obviously free to an extent to chart its own course independent of the comics.

Disc 2 starts with Storm Front a two-parter featuring Arkon, ruler of an other-dimensional world who seeks Storm as his queen. Arkon, who has his roots in the comics as an Avengers villain, is portrayed in a significantly more villainous manner, being a cruel tyrant, whereas in the comics he is more of an overly aggressive boor. One thing I was looking for in this episode was to see Arkon throw one of the lightning bolts he carries in a quiver on his back, but that doesn’t happen here. Still, it’s fun to see the X-Men squaring off against a barbarian warrior in a sci-fi pulpy environment; it makes for a nice change of pace.

Next up is Jubilee’s Fairy Tale Theatre which is a bit of a take-off on Kitty’s Fairy Tale from the X-Men comics. Here, as there, a young X-Man is telling a children’s story based on the X-Men’s exploits, and transforming the X-Men and their environment into a fairy tale world. The difference here is that the storyteller is Jubilee, Wolverine’s ‘90s sidekick, as opposed to Kitty Pryde who was his protégé in the ‘80s and never really was used in this animated series. It’s also amusing to see Wolverine re-imagined as a Shrek-like troll.

The Fifth Horseman deals with Fabian Cortez, the perennial fanatical cause-joiner (I bet he was on his high-school yearbook committee) seeking to restore Apocalypse’s discorporated essence to physical form. This leads him into conflict with the Beast and Jubilee (who is meant to be the host body) and we get a really nice transformation scene of Beast into an even more monstrous form.

Old Soldiers is probably my favorite episode of the bunch, just because of my affection for Captain America, who teams up with Wolverine in this flashback episode to World War II. You really can’t go wrong with a Wolverine/Cap team-up, because they are such good counterpoints to each other. The Red Skull and his Sleeper robot also make an appearance, and Cap’s shield gets to defy the laws of physics, which is always fun. To top it off, the episode is written by Len Wein, one of the best-known and best-loved writers in the industry having written dozens of classic runs for both Marvel and DC, and who happens to be the co-creator of Wolverine.

Descent is another excellent episode, going back to Victorian England to explore the roots of the X-Men foe Mr. Sinister. Maybe I just like these historical-based stories! Anyway, Charles Darwin guest-stars (yes, THAT Charles Darwin) and disses Sinister’s crackpot theories of “forced” evolution (don’t worry, he’s not being prejudiced just because he’s talking to someone named “Sinister”; the name comes later). There’s also an ancestor of Xavier involved, which may be a bit cutesy, but it works here.

Hidden Agendas introduces Sam Guthrie, AKA Cannonball, the Kentucky-born son of a coal miner, who was first featured in the comic book series New Mutants. The story is a pretty standard “X-Men must rescue a young mutant from those who fear him or want to exploit him”, but it does it well. Interestingly, Sam’s hair is colored brown instead of his typical straw-yellow.

The final episode of the series is Graduation Day, which is a bit of a tear-jerker. The episode opens with Henry Gyrich, a government agent who is portrayed as hysterically anti-mutant to the point of being violent. This is a bit odd, as in the comics, Gyrich is essentially a bureaucrat who is a bit of hardcase and loves to give ALL superheroes (mutant or not) a hard-time, but he typically stays more or less within the boundaries of the law. Here, he attacks Charles Xavier with a device targeted at his powers in order to expose him as a mutant, and is quickly arrested, but the damage is done. Xavier’s on the verge of death, and the only one who can save him is Lilandra, his alien lover from another galaxy. This provides the opportunity for a farewell, both to the series, and from Xavier to his students, as he speaks to them one by one and reminds them how important they are. He then ascends into “heaven” (AKA space) with Lilandra, bringing this seminal series to a close.

Overall, if you’re an X-Men fan or even just a fan of animated adventure series, this is a buy for you. The animation may not be at the level of today’s technology, given that this series ended 13 years ago, but it still holds up if you put it in the context of its time. It’s a largely faithful series, produced by people who clearly know their comic book storylines. Plus, with Disney’s acquisition of Marvel, if fans support this, there will surely be more classic Marvel animated series collections to come.


Matt Adler isn't afraid to admit he cries over cartoons.


  1. Whoa, it sounds like I missed a ton of X-Men episodes when I was a kid.  I think the last ones I saw were the epic 4 part Apocalypse story (which seems to be season 4), I thought it ended there this whole time.

  2. @gobo-Yeah, me too.  I had no idea it went on for more. 

    I guess that this is one more good thing about Disney’s acquisition.

  3. I think this was the first cartoon to do so-close-but-different adaptations of stories from the comics. Which led me to warn my friend "You can’t trust the cartoon."

    But I must have missed the Logan Tron episode shown above.  

  4. Whoever did Wolverine’s voice was perfect.

  5. You’re gonna have a rough time at the Canadian border for that comment AmirCat.

  6. this series is why I love comics.  it led me to where I am now.  I only have the first two volumes and need to catch up to see the final episodes.  I don’t think these episodes were replayed over and over like the earlier seasons, which is why many of us have not seen them.

  7. I watched this and the 90’s Spider-Man cartoon the whole way through when I first got home from college three years ago. I love the series, except the last few episodes when the animation and voices change.  I may need to give them another shot after reading this, though.


  8. Huh, i never know how the series ended, that’s awesome

  9. Man, I hated this series as a kid.  Hated the animation, hated the serialized soapy overdramatic aspect of it (which is really part and parcel of comics, I recognize)… I basically hated that the X-Men weren’t given the equivalent animated treatment of the WB’s far superior "Batman: The Animated Series".  Now THAT show (and just about all of its subsequent spin-offs) was awesome.

    I’ve liked the episodes I’ve seen of "X-Men: Evolution", though, and "Wolverine and the X-Men". 

  10. Matt Adler, you really know what articles to keep me coming back.

    I have to hand it to that series, the MOJO episode was the best. Every time it shows up on ondemand I watch it. This series, X-men: Children of the Atom, and the X-men arcade beat-em-up is what introduced me to the issues and is what got me into comics in the first place.