“X-Men ’97” Episodes 1-2 Recap

March 20, 2024

BY Eric Rezsnyak

Uncanny! Astonishing! Amazing! Various other comic-related superlatives! That’s my reaction after watching the first two episodes of Marvel Animation’s “X-Men ’97,” released today exclusively on Disney+.

It has been a long road for this series, officially announced in 2021, and expectations were stratospheric. The series acts as a direct continuation of the beloved “X-Men” animated series that aired on Fox in the early 90s, picking up just a few months after that show’s cliffhanger ending. So in addition to satisfying 90s nostalgia, placating often prickly comic fanboys (and girls), and debuting at a critical and commercial lowpoint for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the show had very little room for error. If the two-part premiere is any indication of the quality of this season, they absolutely nailed it. Let’s break it down; SPOILERS AHOY!


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Episode 1, “To Me, My X-Men,” serves as a solid pilot for this new iteration of the series. It sets up the basic premise, core characters, and relationships, and parcels out just enough information so that you can jump in without ever having seen the original. While you can do a full rewatch of the original Fox cartoon — which I did, all episodes are available on Disney+ — you don’t need to. If you have even a passing awareness of the X-Men property from the films and comics, you’ll be fine here. The only critical piece of information you need to know is that Professor Xavier is dead, having been assassinated by Henry Peter Gyrich at the end of the original series.

Here’s an official recap video if you need it:

Episode 1 picks up a few months later, with a few notable developments in the meantime. Time-traveling mutant Bishop, a recurring character in the original series, is now a permanent fixture on the team, and Cyclops and Jean Grey are expecting a baby, as Jean is very pregnant. Everything else is pretty much as it was, although Morph has a new look and attitude more in line with his “Age of Apocalypse” version, and Storm has a kicky new ‘do.

“To Me, My X-Men” reintroduces the Friends of Humanity, the anti-mutant hate group that repeatedly plagued the X-Men in the original series, now outfitted with Mega Man-like arm cannons extrapolated from Sentinel technology. The FOH are kidnapping and ransoming mutants to an unseen force, and this episode their victim is Roberto DaCosta, a young Brazilian mutant whose attitude is on par with his family’s bank accounts — overflowing. After Roberto is rescued by the X-Men, the team realizes Sentinel tech is being trafficked by someone, and they track down familiar face Bolivar Trask and his most notorious invention for an eye-popping showdown.

The action sequences in both episodes were extraordinary. The X-Men in the original series were no joke, but the inventive, impressive use of the team’s mutant powers in these episodes were on a whole different level. In animation, you don’t have to worry about a special-effects budget, so you can get incredible scenes like Storm using lightning bolts to fuse desert sand into glass, the absolutely nuts Wolverine/Gambit iteration of the fastball special, etc. These are sequences clearly written BY fans of the characters FOR fans of the characters, and they were total nerd-boner material.

Speaking of the writing, I will ding the first episode in particular for having overwrought dialogue. That issue seemed to have been fixed by Episode 2. It still included the expected speechifying from Storm, Magneto, etc., but felt more organic than what we got in Episode 1.

Regarding Magneto, that’s the big twist at the end of the premiere. The will of Charles Xavier left all his earthly possessions — including the mansion and, I guess, his private mutant army — to his once-friend and now mortal enemy, Magneto. Obviously the X-Men, particularly Cyclops, aren’t overly welcoming of this new management. But as Episode 2, “Mutant Liberation Begins,” demonstrates, it was probably for the best. Not only is Magneto — sans bucket helmet, now wearing his largely reviled 80s body-stocking costume (I love it) — being proactive in his defense of mutantdom, he’s also providing actionable solutions for some of the long-running problems, such as the sewer-dwelling Morlocks. I lived for him dragging the X-Men for just passively allowing that situation to exist as it did for years.

Rather than go over the specifics of the plotlines, I’m going to go through the main cast character by character, sharing my impressions of where they stand post-Episode 2.

Beast: Beast looks and acts almost exactly as he did in the original series. If anything, he seems even more tech-savvy, at one point operating the shell of a destroyed Sentinel. The writers seem to have toned down his over-the-top monologuing, but he’s still intellectually exhausting in the best possible way.

Bishop: Bishop is now fully integrated into the main team. While he isn’t given much to do outside of battle in the first two episodes, he does make a cryptic reference to having “seen a lot of futures, and Magneto leading the X-Men is a new one.” That’s interesting. His personality so far seems more stoic than the version we got as a guest star in the original series, but again, we haven’t seen enough to fully make any calls.

Cyclops: Cyclops comes off brilliantly in these first episodes. The writers have a firm grasp on Scott’s strengths and character flaws. He is a total badass in battle, throwing down some real alpha vibes throughout. But privately he has a major inferiority complex, and specifically daddy issues relating to Xavier and his apparent lack of faith in him to lead the team in his absence. Cyclops can often come off as a humorless pill, as he did in the original animated series. I found him dynamic and commanding here, and I’m excited to see where they take him.

Gambit: As in the original animated series, Gambit seems like a bit of an afterthought here, played largely for himbo comic relief. Thank god he still talks in the third person! He was deployed much more effectively in battle, especially in Episode 1, and there’s an interesting subplot developing with him, Rogue, and Magneto. I would like to see them do something meaty with Remy, because I would argue he is the least essential team member in this line-up.

Jean Grey: Like Scott, Jean is also a more grounded and sympathetic character so far. Her pregnancy is fascinating — Jean herself never had a baby in the comics, and the Episode 2 cliffhanger suggests there’s more going on there than it seems. With Xavier gone, she is now the team’s premier telepath. I loved her interactions with Storm and Wolverine in these episodes. Original animated Jean often seemed overwhelmed and, outside of her Phoenix arc, largely underpowered. This Jean seems much more comics accurate, which I welcome.

Jubilee: Jubilee was our introductory character in the original series, so it’s fitting that she spends most of her time here guiding the NEW introductory character, Roberto. I enjoyed their dynamic, and was thrilled to see much better animation not only for her powers, but also for her character design — apparently some viewers of the original series never realized Jubilee is an Asian-American, which is…wild. Just wild. I hope they have some significant plans for Jubilee, because she was more or less forgotten by the original animated series for a good chunk of its run.

Magneto: Brought in at the very end of Episode 1, but featured heavily in Episode 2, Magneto is the most exciting element of this revamp so far. Putting Magneto in charge of the team is taken directly from the comics — although it happened in the 80s, not the 90s — and it almost instantly shifts the energy for the team. Magneto is one of the most dynamic characters in X-Men lore, and there’s plenty to mine here. They did speed through his trial in Episode 2, but at the same time, I’m glad they didn’t pull a “TAS” S1 Beast, where he sat in prison the whole season while everyone else went on adventures. Great, great work on Magneto. And I for one am here for the purple leotard look, which is again taken directly from the comics.

Morph: Morph is now in the credits! And has been significantly retooled for this. The original series introduced Morph solely to provide a shocking death early on, and when he was reintroduced via the Sinister arc in Season 2, and recurring after that, he was frankly awful. Annoying. Generally useless. And, it must be said, a hideous character design. So far all of that seems to have been massaged. The Morph in “X-Men ’97” is actually comic relief, has a great dynamic with Wolverine in particular, and uses his shape-shifting powers in interesting ways. This is the cartoon version of making lemonade out of a lemon.

Rogue: I think they’re struggling a bit with Rogue. The folksy sayings feel forced, the voice acting sounds off. That’s remarkable, because it’s the same voice actor as the original series, Lenore Zann. But of all the characters, Rogue feels like the one that is furthest from the initial series, in ways that don’t seem deliberate. I do think the subplot developing with her and Magneto and a heretofore unknown (in the animated series, anyway) personal relationship between them, has lots of potential. And will almost certainly splash over to Gambit, who needs something to do beside fry beignets and play basketball shirtless. (Not that I’m complaining about either.)

Storm: Storm comes off well here, as she did in the original series. The minor redesign looks great, and if anything, Ororo comes off even more regal than she did in the original series. Episode 2 delivers a significant new challenge to Storm that will, again, feel familiar to 80s comic readers. I look forward to where this takes her, as it is one of comic Storm’s most memorable plotlines.

Wolverine: They nailed Wolverine. The sparring with Cyclops, the brooding over Jean, the cocky dick-swinging with the new kid, and the commitment to as much Logan shirtlessness as possible — 10/10, no notes.

Episode 2 ends on another cliffhanger that, again, will mean a great deal to 80s comics readers. I was also delighted to see the relatively obscure villain X-Cutioner brought into this, and used quite effectively in Episode 2. These writers seem to know the source material and have a deep affection for these characters.

That’s what excites me the most about this project. The original animated series was solid, although it absolutely slid in quality as it went along. You definitely got the sense that the people behind it largely were not superfans — it was a job for them, and they were doing their best to fulfill the brief. So far, this series feels like it has been created by real FANS of the property, and while it is a job, it’s also very much a responsibility they take very seriously (while still also having a tremendous amount of fun). Marvel needed a win right now, and if the rest of the season is anything like these episodes, I think they got one.

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