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X-Men: The Animated Series – Volume 2

Marvel Entertainment/Saban Entertainment (November 13, 1993 – September 9, 1994), Buena Vista Home Entertainment (April 28, 2009), two discs, 391 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original aspect ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0, Rated PG, Retail: $23.99

Storyboard:

In 17 classic episodes from the show’s second and third seasons, X-Men: The Animated Series – Volume 2, the X-Men take part in classic adventures straight from the pages of the comic books. These include trips to the Savage Land, through time in Time Fugitives, and to space in the Phoenix Saga.

The Sweatbox Review:

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By the time X-Men: TAS was renewed for a second season, the show had become a ratings sensation for Fox. However, with new story opportunities, the producers at Saban Entertainment felt more pressure to deliver their stories and episodes on time. Delays in production mean that less season-long story arcs were in place, signaling what was to come in future seasons of the show. However, the second season of the show still stands out as building upon the characters and stories of the first season, continuing a season-long Savage Lands storyline, and setting things into motion for the Phoenix Saga that would dominate season three. Throughout the show’s second and third seasons, it continued to dominate on Saturday mornings and repeat episodes meant new fans were introduced to the characters.

Season two of X-Men:TAS attempted to delve deeper into the lives of the individual X-Men. While many of the episodes in season one dealt with the Sentinels storyline and the struggle between humans and mutants, the second season focused more on the individual characters and provided background stories for many of them. The first two episodes of the season, Till Death Do Us Part (Parts 1 and 2) developed the romantic relationship between Jean-Grey and Cyclops. The third episode, Whatever It Takes, delved into the Storm’s relationship with her homeland and the Shadow King. All three of these episodes are included in the first X-Men volume. This second volume, which contains the rest of season two and the first part of season three, continues with this trend and develops the storylines even further.

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Wolverine is perhaps the most popular of all members of the X-Men. In this volume, he gets numerous opportunities to stay in the center of the action and is the main character in several stories. In the volume’s first episode, Red Dawn, Wolverine meets his Cold War-era rival, the Soviet super soldier Omega Red. While Omega Red had made his first appearance only a year before this episode, in the comic books Wolverine confronted Omega Red while still a member of Team X in the 1960s. Another episode that deepens Wolverine’s background is Repo Man. Here, we get to see Wolverine’s association with the Canadian superhero team Alpha Flight and the Canadian Ministry of Defense. While some of the reasons he left the team are vague, it is interesting to see how this part of his personal cannon may appear in future Wolverine movies. Finally, Wolverine is also prominently featured in the two-part storyline Out of the Past, which is actually the debut of season three. In this story, Wolverine’s Japanese love, Yuriko (aka Lady Deathstrike), returns and lures him to an underground tunnel so that he can open an alien ship. The final part of this two-part episode actually sets up the Phoenix Saga by introducing the Shi’ar Empire which is the basis for that storyline.

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The other characters also get their own major storyline in these episodes. In addition to Wolverine, we get major character development for Gambit, Rogue, Beast, Professor Xavier, and Magneto. Gambit is the main character in X-Ternally Yours, a story that dives into his past as a member of the Guild of Thieves in the bayous of Louisiana. In this story, Gambit must return to Louisiana to save his brother who has been kidnapped by the rival Guild of Assassins. There, we learn more about his past with the Guild of Thieves and his relationship with the Guild of Assassins member Bella Donna. In A Rogue’s Tale, we get more information about Rogue’s past and her strange relationship with the villain Mystique. It also explores Rogue’s super strength and ability to fly and how it relates to the character of Ms. Marvel (aka Carol Danvers). Finally, in Beauty & the Beast, Beast falls in love with a patient of his, a blind girl named Carly, and we get to see some of Beast’s insecurities regarding his monstrous appearance. All of these stories provide great character depth into the X-Men world and many of the same themes would be revisited in future episodes, especially regarding Wolverine’s past.

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There are two major season-long story arches in this second season. One is regarding the Friends of Humanity, their leader Graydon Creed, and their quest to rid America of all mutants. While first appearing only earlier that year (1993) in an Uncanny X-Men comic, Graydon provided excellent story material for the season as the main villain antagonizing the X-Men. In one of the main stories of the season, Time Fugitives, the Friends of Humanity are behind a secret virus that attacks mutants, leading to fatal consequences in the future. It actually begins in the year 3999 when Cable witnesses the course of time change before his eyes. When he investigates, he sees that Bishop traveled back in time from 2055 to stop a mutant plague. In one scene, Graydon tries to convince congress that mutants are to blame for the virus by infecting himself when Beast appears to testify on the matter. The whole storyline is very cleverly divided into two parts with the first part focusing on what Bishop did to change the course of time and the second part repeating the same story but with Cable traveling back to stop him. It is very smart and I was surprised by how continuity was maintained throughout both stories. The Friends of Humanity continue to appear throughout the season and they are also featured prominently in the episode Beauty & the Beast where we learn more about Graydon’s past.

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Another season-long story arc is one featuring Professor X and Magneto’s adventures in the Savage Land. This prehistoric, tropical land in the middle of Antarctica first appeared in 1965 and was featured in many Uncanny X-Men comic book stories. In the television series, Professor X first crashes onto this hidden oasis in the Middle of Antarctica with Magneto in the episode Whatever It Takes (back in Vol. 1). The island is a lush, tropical paradise filled with prehistoric creatures and a mysterious band of humans. As they explore the dangerous land in the next few episodes, we also learn that there is a race of mutants (called the Savage Land Mutates) living on the island, which have come into conflict with the indigenous inhabitants. Among the mutates are Sauron, Vertigo, Brainchild, Amphibius, Barbarus, and Lupo. Throughout the episodes in season two, Magneto and Professor X attempt to evade being captured by the mutates who are trying to take them prisoner. Along the way, they also meet Ka-Zar and Shanna, two humans who cohabit the island and who mistrust the mutates. Eventually, Prof. X and Magneto are captured and are led to their base where they learn the true identity of the villain behind the mutates. In the conclusion of this storyline, in the episode Reunion, the remainder of the X-Men come to the island to rescue their professor after finding out that he has been captured. This sets of a dramatic conclusion to the season, where we meet up with an old foe from the previous season.

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This seventeen episode release culminates with the season three, multi-episode story of The Phoenix Saga. However, before the Phoenix Saga begins, we are treated to a story that introduces us to the Shi’ar people. In Out of the Past, a half-cyborg woman named Lady Deathstrike attempts to claw her way through an alien spaceship. However, while her adamantium claws do the work, she keeps getting electrocuted due to the circuitry in her body. She then decides to lure Wolverine to her in order to manipulate him into opening the ship. We quickly learn that Lady Deathstrike is Yuriko, Wolverine’s former lover in Japan. The episode hints at what is to come and the end of the episode and even features a title card that announces the arrival of the Phoenix Saga. The Phoenix Saga is perhaps one of the most acclaimed storylines in the X-Men (and indeed perhaps Marvel) universe. The storyline even served as one of the storylines for the third X-Men movie, X-Men: The Last Stand. The storyline is divided into two parts and the second part, known as The Dark Phoenix Saga, aired later in season three. In the first episode, Sacrifice, a Shi’ar emissary called Erik the Red takes over a space station, and the X-Men, acting upon a premonition by Professor Xavier, go on a mission to the station to see what is happening. However, at the end of the mission, Jean-Grey must sacrifice herself to save the other X-Men upon their return to Earth. The next three episodes, The Dark Shroud, Cry of the Banshee, and Starjammers, gradually introduce viewers to the Phoenix, Lilandra Neramani, and the mystery of the M’Kraan Crystal. It all culminates in the fifth episode, Child of Light, where Jean-Grey, as Phoenix, must save humanity from the power of the crystal.

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Here is the full list of episodes on the disc:

Disc One

17. Red Dawn
18. Repo Man
19. X-Ternally Yours
20. Time Fugitives (Part 1)
21. Time Fugitives (Part 2)
22: A Rogue’s Tale
23. Beauty & the Beast
24. Mojovision

Disc Two

25. Reunion (Part 1)
26. Reunion (Part 2)
27. Out of the Past (Part 1)
28. Out of the Past (Part 2)
29: Phoenix Saga (Part 1): Sacrifice
30. Phoenix Saga (Part 2): The Dark Shroud
31. Phoenix Saga (Part 3): Cry of the Banshee
32. Phoenix Saga (Part 4): The Starjammers
33. Phoenix Saga (Part 5): Child of Light

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Is This Thing Loaded?

As in the first volume, this second volume only includes trailers to recent Buena Vista releases and new theatrical releases. When you start the first disc, you are treated to a preview for G-Force, Monsters, Inc. (on Blu-Ray), Lost: The Complete Four Season, and a commercial for Disney Blu-Ray titles. The sneak peaks section of the disc also includes previews for The Black Cauldron: Special Edition and Morning Light.

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.

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As in the first volume, the cover features horribly off-model characters from the show. This time, we are “treated” to a horrible-looking Phoenix, Cable, Jubilee, and Nightcrawler (who doesn’t even appear on the show until season 4). Cyclops and Wolverine are also featured on the cover, but they are at least closer to the show’s model. The back cover features an actual still frame from a Phoenix Saga episode. For some reason, the back cover also features a typo. There are clearly 17 episodes on the disc, but the blurb on the back cover says there are 16. Apparently, someone at Buena Vista was unable to count correctly.

Ink And Paint:

The designs from the show are basically ripped right off the pages of the comic book. Looking back at some character designs from the early nineties, we see characters that look exactly as they do on the show. This is important because there was never intent to portray these characters as realistic-looking human beings. All episodes feature the show’s trademark vibrant colors and animation. The quality of the prints is mostly good with a few scratches and dust here and there. Everything is presented in the original 1.33:1 original aspect ratio.

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Scratch Tracks:

I have always enjoyed the musical themes of the show, and it was fun to hear them again when replaying the show. This includes the opening theme which is a memorable rock tune. 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:

Only three of these episodes had previously been released by Buena Vista. Out of the Past, Parts 1 and 2 were included as the main episodes in Disney’s only previous release – X-Men: The Legend of Wolverine. This was in anticipation for the second X-Men film which also included the villain Lady Deathstrike, portrayed by Kelly Hu. The complete Phoenix Saga had previously been released on DVD in 2000 by Universal Studios (who owned the rights to the show until they were sold to Disney), but the disc only included the five episodes. Universal also released Reunion (Parts 1 and 2), and Out of the Past (Parts 1 and 2) along with No Mutant is an Island (most likely to be included in X-Men: Volume 3) in its own release. This just goes to show the popularity of these storylines with fans of the X-Men TV show. The third season even offers extensions of the storylines included here, including more of Phoenix Saga (in the Dark Phoenix Saga storyline), more Savage Lands (Savage Land, Strange Heart), and even more Mojo (Longshot). We also dive deeper into the background for Cyclops as he continues to grieve over the fate of Jean-Grey. Overall, I am very happy with this release and as you can see, I can hardly wait for the third volume.

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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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