“X-Men ’97” Episode 4 Recap

April 3, 2024

BY Eric Rezsnyak

After three jam-packed episodes — including Episode 3, which distilled like 18 months of multiple comic series into a 30-minute cartoon — “X-Men ’97” took its foot off the gas for a more personal, character-focused story. Or stories, really, as “Motendo/Lifedeath Part 1” is really two distinct episodes in one package, giving spotlights to two of the team’s women: Jubilee and Storm, respectively.


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“Motendo” Recap

In case the title wasn’t enough of a clue, Mojo is the antagonist for this story, kidnapping Jubilee (and Roberto, still hanging around despite his E1 protests) on her 18th birthday and forcing her to be the star in his new entertainment gambit, video games.

One thing that keeps occurring to me is that the writers behind this show are SMART. It’s not just a nostalgia jizz fest — although I’ll never say no to one of those, however you want to parse it. The show is also also making meta critiques OF the 90s even as it very much lives IN that decade. Having Mojo, a pop-culture-obsessed villain who really hasn’t been relevant in the comics since the 20th Century, move on from the dying TV medium and onto the ascendent video-game industry is a sharp take on the character.

And, of course, it also gives the show another opportunity for a nostalgia dunk, in this case the iconic X-Men arcade game from the early 1990s. The animators did a brilliant job of integrating the game’s style into this episode; take a look:

“Motendo” wasn’t just a throwback romp, though. It developed a few characters in interesting ways, especially Jubilee. The original “X-Men” series leaned heavily on Jubes in the first few episodes, having her act as the viewer POV character for the insane world of the X-Men. After that, she was often left out of the action for whole episodes at a time. That was echoed in the comics, where she burst onto the X-Men in a big way in Uncanny #251 and was a core member of the team up until the Blue/Gold relaunch a few years later, and then shunted over to the new teen-mutant spinoff Generation X, where she pretty much stalled as a character. She ultimately lost her powers, became a vampire (yes, a vampire — for like a decade!), and then a surrogate mother to a baby mutant (who is also sometimes a giant dragon?). She’s only recently returned to prominence in the X-Books, but given that Jubilee has existed as a character for more than 30 years, and been put into any number of bonkers situations, it’s actually remarkable how little she has developed — including her powers.

“Motendo” is ultimately about Jubilee needing to grow up and change as a person. It’s no coincidence that the episode is set explicitly on her 18th birthday. With the introduction of Roberto in Episode 1 of this series, Jubilee is no longer the “new kid.” She needs to be a full-fledged member of the team instead of just the newbie sidekick. Mojo — who appears to have embraced Mozempic, given his shockingly gaunt appearance at first — drags Jubilee to the Mojoverse because, hilariously, Dazzler wasn’t available. Burn to Jubilee, but also: Justice for Dazzler! He sets Jubilee, and her unwitting Player 2, Roberto, through a series of video-game stages that loosely reference some of Jubes’ adventures in the original series. Throughout, a mysterious character in a helmet, leather, and spikes referred by Jubilee as “Hot Topic” (this is not an anachronism, btw; Hot Topic first opened in the late 80s) offers Jubilee and Roberto assistance, since if they die in the game, they die in real life.

It all culminates with Jubilee thinking about staying in the game forever. Never aging. Not having to deal with the X-Men’s ever-changing drama. In a way, it’s easier. Ultimately the helmet-wearing mystery woman is revealed to be an older, more-developed version of Jubilee who was, I guess, an avatar used in the game design who somehow gained sentience (just go along with it). Avatar Jubilee explains that Actual Jubilee HAS to change and grow, and when Mojo makes his final attack, she demonstrates a variety of ways that Jubilee can deploy her powers — as a speed boost, shaping her explosions into almost buzzsaws, etc. Actual Jubilee is amazed. The two of them combine their abilities and blow shit up, and Actual Jubilee and Roberto are returned to the X-Mansion just in time for a quick Jubilee-initiated snog.

I am all for this show digging in deeper on Jubilee. She’s part of the team for the upcoming X-Men comic relaunch. There’s real potential there. In addition to her abilities — which have barely been scratched; early on there was reference to an emotional element to her fireworks that could make them spectacularly explosive — has anyone really dug into Jubilee’s actual parentage? Her relation to the pantheon of other erstwhile Wolverine sidekicks? The idea of her as the younger but still experienced member of the team also gives her great potential as a potential recruiter for the X-Men. My gut feeling is that they’re building to the actual SCHOOL part of the school, especially with Roberto in the picture.

Speaking of Roberto, I’ve found his inclusion in “X-Men ’97” interesting. It’s obviously why this character is there. 1) New entry point for people who had never watched the original show; 2) romantic interest for Jubilee; 3) additional element of diversity to the team, as I can’t think of another Latin/South American mutant to appear earlier. But it is odd that they chose to go with Roberto, who historically has not been connected to Jubilee at ALL. He’s from a completely different “generation” of mutants, debuting in the early 80s as an original New Mutant; he was being written out of the books as Jubilee was being introduced. But thinking about it, there really aren’t any Generation X-era male mutants that would work here. Chamber is cool, but you can’t have a guy whose entire chest is a blown-out, energy-spewing cavity as an entry point. Synch is great, but power wise is basically “Rogue, but better” — that’s a problem. Skin isn’t exactly super compelling, and would make an odd love interest for Jubilee. Mondo is a concept, not a character. Generation X was definitely a ladies’ first book. (Showrunners: please bring in M, Husk, and Penance.)

So Roberto it is, I guess. And I’m OK with it. Roberto actually has a spectacular character arc in the comics. He goes from spoiled rich-kid brat — as he is here — to, personality-wise, almost the Tony Stark of mutants. He’s gone from running away from the New Mutants to being a bona fide Avenger, and then leading at least one offshoot of the Avengers team and becoming Storm’s right-hand man on an alien planet. Here, Roberto is terrified of using his powers, because then everyone will know what he is. To me, it reads very much coded to being gay in the 90s but taking care to never be open about it public. That said, I’m curious what they’re doing with his powers here, as in the comics he was strictly super strength for a solid decade-plus, but in this episode he’s already shooting bolts of sunspot energy. That’s a pretty big leap. Watching Roberto’s slow development on this show has become one of my favorite subplots, although I would love an actual scene in which he explains to the team — and viewers — if he’s actually in or out on Xavier’s.

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“Lifedeath” Part 1 Recap

If “Motendo” was “My So-Called Mutant Life,” “Lifedeath” is “Mutant 30Something.” Picking up from last episode’s coda, a depowered Storm is now hanging in the American Midwest with Forge, who has promised her that he’s going to give back “what has been taken from her.” Things are going well enough with horseback rides and bowls of bison chili, until Forge reveals that he actually developed the tech that was the basis for the X-Cutioner’s mutant-inhibitor shot that took out Storm in Episode 2. Storm, understandably, freaks out, and in the process of her desperate escape from Forge’s hideout, encounters a series of reality-warping scenarios until she is confronted by a terrifying owl-bear-looking demon that makes short work of Forge before fully biting Storm and introducing himself as The Adversary.

This was a huge tonal shift from not only the first half of the issue, but also for the show in general. It’s very adult, very serious, and that mirrors the comic stories this arc is directly lifted from. These were a deliberate departure from typical X-Men stories, almost experimental in the scripting, the artwork, and even the themes. The “Lifedeath” story is about personal reflection and character growth, and figuratively as well as literally conquering demons. So bear that in mind as these vignettes play out. (The fact that each Storm/Forge scene fades to black instead of just transitioning feels like an intentional direction choice to separate this arc from everything else in the series.)

We got a few interesting developments here. First, it is confirmed that they’re keeping the previous series continuity that Forge was leading the government-sponsored X-Factor team, although he doesn’t acknowledge what happened to that team. (I also can’t remember if Storm was present for the X-Men’s tussle with that squad in the original series; I think it may have been one of the episodes where she was off.) He also mentions that although he created the tech used in the mutant-suppression shot, it was fully engineered by “some scientist in Scotland.” Was that a reference to the Mystique/Apocalypse arc in Season 1 of the original series? Or is that a hint for something else? Given that Moira McTaggart has become arguably THE big villain of the Krakoan Age in the comics, could it be a hint that Moira has gone sideways in this continuity as well?

The chemistry between Forge and Storm is excellent here, and made me miss that couple from the comics. They’ve been broken up since the 90s, and while Ororo has gone on to at least one other high-profile partner (*cough*Black Panther*cough*) I can’t help but feel that Storm and Forge are actually the OTP. There was always a push/pull there, especially since — you know — Forge was responsible for stripping her of her powers. But their ultimate break-up was largely based on a misunderstanding. I would love to see this couple revisited in the comics, and I’m excited to see the two of them entangled on this show. Forge is a great character, and Storm never felt in any way diminished in that partnership. Basically, Forge knew his place, and understood that Storm is as close to a goddess as it gets without being an actual deity.

I’m also excited to see the show take on The Adversary. I was surprised that the series went this direction, given that Adversary has not been heard from/used in nearly 40 years in the books, and also has some REALLY dark elements vis-a-vis Forge that I’ll be shocked if they make it to Disney+. My assumption was that they would move the Shadow King to this role, since there are similarities in their approaches, he’s an established character from the original series, and he has every reason to target Ororo. But I love all the — ironically almost all 80s, not 90s — comic lore being explored in this show, and I’m so excited to see what they’ll pull out next.

Did You Miss Our Recaps for the Previous Episodes? Read Them Here:

Episode 3 Recap

Episodes 1-2 Recap

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