Published on September 14th, 2016 | by Brando Quiring0
X-Men: The Animated Series
Some of the best animated series came out in the 90s, from Batman to Spider-man. We look at the shiny, but often adult X-Men cartoon.
I remember watching the 90s X-Men cartoon every Saturday morning and it always stuck with me, but I could never really figure out why. When I spotted it on Netflix and started watching it again, the reason became clear: X-Men was super harsh.
Unlike a great many cartoons that are flowery or really only geared to sell a toy or just keep the kids quiet for twenty minutes, X-Men hits you across the eyeballs with a garden hose made out of real-life problems, that were brightly-coloured and preceded by an awesome theme song. In the first five minutes of the first episode, we see two foster parents who have registered their mutant foster daughter with a mutant control agency. The kid feels like a total outcast, questioning her own birth and the parents are ashamed that their beautiful foster daughter is a freak. Oh, and a giant robot punches a hole in the side of their house.
Let’s cut through the metaphors here and look what is actually going on.
Two parents have registered their kid with a public supported, government-funded agency meant to keep track of members of a specific minority. I am sure Jubilee’s gold star pin was in the mail.
The aforementioned girl feels awkward and ashamed of a change that has recently happened within her body, in her early teenage years.
The parents are worried what the neighbours will say, when they find out there is something different about their daughter, and they can’t keep up to the Joneses with a daughter who is a little different.
Then an agent, sent by a government AGENCY, abducts their child from their home, in the dead of night, for no known reason.
Three minutes into the very first episode of a children’s television cartoon show, and they have touched on issues that include racism, body horror, and child abduction. Now there is a cartoon with a message.
The X-Men always dealt with fairly hefty subject matter, given that they were created as an analogy for racism. But to see it dropped so plainly into a cartoon was not something I was ready for as a kid. I doubt the first time I watched it, I was even really all the way aware of what it was I was seeing, but I knew that there was more than just flashing lights and cool action scenes happening. That was hammered home again later in that first episode when one of the X-Men was killed.
That’s right, in the first two episodes, one of the characters gets shot by a giant robot and he dies. Now we have added death, grief, and guilt added to the mixture of super heavy stuff us kids are supposed to process.
Now, none of that means the show is all harsh lessons in how rotten the world is. There are plenty of super cool fights and interesting characters, and the show touches on many of the storylines I remember from the comics: the mutant cure, the Dark Phoenix, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, just to name a few, and all of them do justice to the comics that came before. They don’t pull punches or shy away from any of the underlying themes that made the stories so endearing.
There are a few episodes that revolve around mutant castaways who have powers that make them gross, and so humans and mutants both shun them. They are thus forced to live in the sewers and steal to survive. It really strikes home the message of how much discrimination can hurt and damage people, and shows that by accepting the differences found between us all, that we can accomplish some pretty great stuff.
Great stuff like this cartoon, which is incredibly adult themed a great deal of the time, and mostly only aimed at kids in that it has lots of bright lights and colourful super heroes, all of whom are super cool. Even the eggheads like Beast are fun, when given a chance to shine, even if it is really only to show how prejudice is present in the American justice system.
Important lessons on tolerance and self-acceptance are stuffed inside a fun wrapper and aired for us to watch as part of our Saturday morning routine, the lessons about which are made a part of our balanced breakfast. We don’t even really realize that we are being given lessons on how to navigate the very harshest and darkest part of our world while we are watching the adventures of some of the world’s most iconic super heroes.
Harsh lessons, when laid out for us in the guise of entertainment, are lessons we should all learn when we are young. It’s an added bonus that not one of them was taught to us by an annoying sponge.