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X-Men: The Animated Series – Volume 1

Marvel Entertainment/Saban Entertainment (October 31, 1992 – November 6, 1993), Buena Vista Home Entertainment (April 28, 2009), two discs, 368 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original aspect ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0, Rated PG, Retail: $23.99

Storyboard:

In these 16 classic episodes from X-Men: The Animated Series, the X-Men encounter new enemies and old foes in their quest for peaceful coexistence with mankind.

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The Sweatbox Review:

Over the past decades, DVDs have seen a meteoric rise in popularity. One of the major beneficiaries of the DVD phenomenon has been television fans who have finally been seeing their favorite shows released on DVD. Just about every major, popular show has been released on DVD. A few have encountered copyright problems, lack of interest, or reluctant distributors. Cartoon television properties are facing the same issues with some distributors refusing to release them on DVD. This is the case with Buena Vista, which has been the most reluctant about releasing their television cartoon properties on DVD. In fact, even for the few cartoon properties it has released, most have been abandoned, leaving fans of these shows frustrated at the gap in their collection (See Gargoyles, Duck Tales, Tale Spin, Darkwing Duck, Rescue Rangers, and Gummi Bears). Considering that this is Disney and that it owns the rights to dozens of other popular cartoon properties (Muppet Babies, Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Aladdin, etc…), it has become a particular worry for fans everywhere. For this reason, I am only cautiously optimistic about their latest release of X-Men: The Animated Series.

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When the X-Men: TAS release was first announced a few months ago, I was ecstatic. The popular 90’s show has been at the top of my list of shows that must be released in a season or multi-volume format. Up until now, despite the growing popularity of the X-Men franchise and three successful movies, releases of the show by Buena Vista have been restricted to one multi-episode compilation about a particular character (The Legend of Wolverine) similar to what they have done with Spider-Man: TAS. Since these are shows that build slowly over the course of several episodes, these releases have felt at times disjointed and lacking the inertia of the back-to-back episodes. So far, the only show that has been released in its entirety is the 1994 cartoon series Fantastic Four. I should point out that three no-frills X-Men: TAS releases from Universal Studios came out between 2000 and 2001 after the first movie premiered in theaters. Shortly thereafter, Disney conducted a buyout of all Saban Entertainment properties (including other Marvel superhero shows and Power Rangers), and began airing these shows on their own networks.

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X-Men: TAS has a dedicated following of fans that grew up watching the show in the 90s. The popular show premiered on Fox on October 31st, 1992 as part of their Saturday Morning Fox Kids block. The first season, reviewed here, was a landmark in animation as it was one of the first times a cartoon show had released 13 continuous, overlapping storylines. In fact, watching these episodes on DVD in their original order almost feels like watching one long movie, which is one of the reasons fans have been eagerly anticipating such a release. Before the show aired, producers were worried that it would not catch traction with children and there was great fear the show would fail and be cancelled after the first season. After Pryde of the X-Men, an aborted X-Men pilot featuring Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat), failed to entice fans in 1989, Marvel had mixed expectations for this new adaptation. This was the reason for why the show wraps up the Sentinels storyline on episode thirteen. However, the show became a number one hit for Fox who promptly ordered an additional 39 episodes (Seasons Two and Three). The show has become the longest-running Marvel animated show to air on television with a total of 76 episodes over its five seasons.

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In the premiere two-part episode Night of the Sentinels, viewers get introduced to Jubilee, a teenage Chinese American orphan who we discover has the power to generate fireworks from her fingers. Loosely based on a similar Uncanny X-Men storyline, Night of the Sentinels begins with images of unrest between humans and mutants. We are then introduced to Jubilee’s foster parents who have registered her under the Mutant Registration Act, believing it will help her cope with her abilities. We soon see giant robots called Sentinel looking for Jubilee in her home and later at the mall where they attack her and try to apprehend her. Luckily for Jubilee, Storm and Rogue are also at the mall and save her from the robots. This leads to Jubilee being introduced to the X-Men and her eventual membership on the team. It is through Jubilee’s eyes that we are introduced to their world and the different powers that they have. We soon find out that the Mutant Registration Act, originally designed to help mutants, is actually designed to track down and imprison mutants. This leads to an inevitable confrontation between the X-Men and the Sentinels when the heroes decide to destroy the files.

This first episode really focuses on Jubilee’s character and dealing with a paranoid mistrust of mutants in the regular world. Her character gradually develops to embrace her powers and join the X-Men in their struggle to coexist with the human population. This use of a young, female mutant to introduce the characters has become a tradition of sorts in recent versions of X-Men (see Shadowcat in the previous version, as well as Rogue in X-Men: Evolution and the X-Men films). While not as popular as some other young mutants, the character of Jubilee was added to the show after the failure of the previous pilot with Shadowcat. In fact, the character of Kitty Pryde never once makes an appearance in this series. The members of the regular X-Men team, however, do make appearances. Throughout the episode, we are introduced to Professor X, Cyclops, Storm, Beast, Jean Grey, Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit, Storm, and Morph.

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For most of the next episodes, the characters are developed and we are introduced to new villains and heroes. In the third episode, Enter Magneto, we are introduced to two major villains – Sabretooth (Wolverine’s nemesis) and Magneto. Magneto is organizing a group called The Brotherhood of Mutants and he wants to begin an all-out war between the mutants and humans. This is in direct opposition to Professor X and his teachings which call for peace and coexistence with humans. This conflict between the two men and their groups is well explored in episodes such as Deadly Reunions, leading to the season finale, Final Decision. Many of the other episodes develop existing relationships between the X-Men and there are individual storylines developed for Wolverine (Cold Vengeance), Rogue (The Cure), Cyclops & Jean-Grey (Captive Hearts, Till Death Do Us Part), Professor X (The Unstoppable Juggernaut) and Storm (Whatever It Takes). The love triangle between Cyclops, Jean-Grey and Wolverine is well established throughout the many episodes, but particularly in Till Death Do Us Part which has continuing implications in the second season. We are also introduced to many other villains and groups that are well-established in the comic books such as the Morlocks (Captive Hearts), Juggernaut (The Unstoppable Juggernaut), Mystique and Apocalypse (The Cure, Come the Apocalypse), Mister Sinister and the Nasty Boys (Till Death Do Us Part), Master Mold (Final Decision), and The Shadow King (Whatever It Takes).

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Almost all of the storylines from these first few episodes were taken from classic comic book storylines. The island nation of Genosha was first introduced in an Uncanny X-Men issue in 1988 and was meant to serve as an allegory for the American South prior to the Civil Rights Act or Apartheid South Africa. While modified for the television show, many of the same themes are explored in the episode. Another popular storyline is the Horsemen of Apocalypse storyline developed in The Cure and Come the Apocalypse (the idea of Rogue seeking out a cure for her mutation would also serve the basis for the third X-Men film). In this storyline, mutants seek out a cure for their mutation, but end up being transformed and controlled by the powerful mutant Apocalypse. This storyline first appeared in the X-Factor comic books in 1986 and featured the mutants Autumn Rolfson (Famine), Plague (Pestilence), Abraham Kieros (War), and Archangel (Death). In the television series, we find Mystique as a close ally of Apocalypse, although this alliance between the two characters was never as explored in the comic books.

Finally, perhaps one of the most popular storylines adapted from the comics is the Days of Future Past storyline which first appeared in 1981 in the Uncanny X-Men comics. In this version of the popular storyline, it is combined with the character Bishop and his belief that there is a traitor among the X-Men. In the two-part episode, we learn that Bishop has come from the year 2055 where mutants are being sent to concentration camps because one of them assassinated the anti-mutant Senator Kelly. It is then up to the X-Men to find out how this happened and reverse the course of history. Bishop would later return in seasons two and four for more time-travelling adventures along with the other time-travelling hero Cable. The very end of this episode leads to the season finale, Final Decision, where the Brotherhood of Mutants, the Sentinels, and the X-Men fight for the future of mutant and humankind.

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X-Men: TAS came out around the same time as another popular and dark superhero show, Batman: The Animated Series. While playing in rival channels, and while Batman has since received greater critical acclaim, both dealt with darker, more adult themes. In the first episode alone, the series deals with discrimination, persecution, intolerance, betrayal, alienation, violence, and death. The show has a very serious nature, and most characters, while sometimes good natured, are very serious. The comic relief of the show is mainly provided by Jubilee and her nascent mutant powers and Gambit, who is featured with his characteristic smooth-talking personality. His love/hate relationship with Rogue is developed over the course of the series and is very interesting to see. The X-Men universe has always been a great allegory for racial or other types of discrimination and this is very prevalent in this first season. The most interesting moment to me was during the trial in Enter Magneto when Beast provides an elegant defense of mutant rights. The same episode even deals with very adult topic of the Holocaust when looking back at Magneto’s origins. I also think that the addition of Morph as a side-character was very interesting and I loved what they did with his character on the show. Overall, this first season stands as one of the best ever made for television and provided an excellent launching point for the X-Men franchise’s rise in popularity throughout the 90s.

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The following episodes are included in this release:

Disc One

Night of the Sentinels (Part 1)
Night of the Sentinels (Part 2)
Enter Magneto
Deadly Reunions
Captive Hearts
Cold Vengeance
Slave Island
The Unstoppable Juggernaut

Disc Two

The Cure
Come The Apocalypse
Days of Future Past (Part 1)
Days of Future Past (Part 2)
The Final Decision
Till Death Do Us Part (Part 1)
Till Death Do Us Part (Part 2)
Whatever It Takes

Is This Thing Loaded?

With two discs packed with episodes, I never expected these discs to contain any special features. Each disc packs in nearly three hours of episodes, so there likely was no space for any additional features. Otherwise, I would have loved to have listened to select audio commentaries from the series producers and writers. There is a disclosure for audio commentaries featured before the discs begins, but it only serves to get your hopes up as there is nothing included here. Previews are available under Sneak Peaks for G-Force, Monsters, Inc., Lost: The Complete Fourth Season, The Black Cauldron: Special Edition, Morning Light and Disney Blu-Ray.

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Case Study:

The two disc set is housed in a single black keepcase with a locking mechanism. Inside the case, the two discs are separated by a disc flap that holds the first disc. The only insert available is an advertisement for Buena Vista Blu-Ray discs already out on DVD.

The cover features horribly off-model X-Men members including Wolverine, Gambit, Jean-Grey, Storm, Cyclops, Rogue, and Beast. In the background, there is an image of another off-model Magneto. I do not understand the reason behind the off-model characters, but some of the designs look nothing like the characters of the show (Jean-Grey, Magneto, and Beast are of particular concern). The back cover features three Sentinels. Something that will be interesting to note for fans of other Marvel properties owned by Disney, is that this release is being billed as part of the “Marvel DVD Comic Book Collection”. Hopefully this will mean Spider-Man, Iron Man, and other Marvel cartoons DVDs are on the horizon. As for me, I only expect to get the full X-Men series, and beyond that one can only hope.

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Ink And Paint:

The animation style in these first episodes was influenced by the Jim Lee character designs from the comic books of the early 1990s. This is important because some of the characters are not designed to look realistic and every male character is featured with enviable muscle definition. While not as visually innovative as its contemporary, Batman: TAS, the show does feature some impressive animation. Early animation for this series was done by Graz Entertainment and featured bright, sometimes neon, colors and mostly realistic backgrounds and set designs. There is a good cleanup for most of the video, but occasional blotches appear indicating that some of the frames were beyond repair. Still, the video looks great and the colors look as vibrant as they did in original airings. I am happy to report that end credits and previously-on segments are intact and that the show is featured in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Chapter markings are available in order to skip previously-on, opening credits, and end credits.

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Scratch Tracks:

The opening scene of the show featured the instantly-recognizable X-Men opening theme playing to images of the different X-Men using their powers. The show featured clever musical themes to their suspenseful and action-packed fight sequences. There are also great sound effects used throughout the show. The show is being released with English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are also available.

Final Cut:

As mentioned above, I believe that X-Men: The Animated Series is one of the best superhero shows ever to air on television. It is a landmark series that was part of the current wave of serious superhero cartoons with season-arching storylines. This was in sharp contrast to the campy superhero cartoons of the 60s and 70s like Challenge of the Superfriends, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and Fantastic Four. I was thrilled to see the show finally come out on DVD and the episodes from the first volume are some of the best in the whole series. Volume two, also recently released, includes the rest of season two and half of season three with another amazing batch of episodes. With 43 episodes left in the series, there should be 3 more volumes released, each containing 14-15 episodes from the remaining 2 ½ seasons. With some leftover space, they might even contain the X-Men/Spider-Man crossover episodes as bonus features. However, I’m only cautiously optimistic as Buena Vista does not have the greatest track record when it comes to their cartoon properties on DVD. Here’s hoping our good fortune continues with the next volumes.

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Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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