X-Men ’97

Data Point 1: I grew up on the X-Men. Thanks to Power Comics, I had access to X-Men stories from issue #1 (in Fantastic). I could also follow The Avengers in Terrific. Both of these became firm favourites because they had reasonable female characters (unlike British comics which were very gender-specific). Janet van Dyne was my role model—the sort of capable, independent and fashionable woman I hoped to grow up to be. But Jean Grey was my big sister—the closest thing I had to a character to identify with.

Data Point 2: By 1969 I was able to buy the actual Marvel comics. I adored the magnificent Neal Adams artwork towards the end of the original run. But sadly the book was cancelled. Then, in 1975, it was relaunched with some guy called Claremont in charge. He did awful things to Jean. I was furious and stopped following the book.

Data Point 3: The 1990s were a difficult time for me, ending with moving to Australia and gender transition. I entirely missed out on the original animated series.

Bearing all that in mind, what did I make of X-Men ’97?

The trouble with the X-Men movies is that both series felt the need to climax with the Dark Phoenix storyline. It is a terrible story, and inevitably ends your movie sequence on a massive downer. In contrast, X-Men ’97 takes place after Jean has regained control of the Phoenix force, and we are back to what passes for normality in the X-Men world again. Jean and Scott are recognizably Jean and Scott, and are doing typical Jean and Scott things. Hank is his usual loveable self. Ororo is serene. Logan is grumpy. All is right with the world.

Well, almost. At the end of the original animated series, Professor X is assassinated. He’s actually still alive because the Shi’ar have spirited him away just in time, but everyone on Earth thinks he’s dead. In his will he leaves his school to his old friend and sometime enemy, Magneto. Scott is not happy.

Poor Scott, he always has something to be unhappy about. The series piles on the agony with a very truncated version of the Madelyne Pryor plot, in which Mister Sinister creates a clone of Jean to infiltrate the X-Men and Scott is totally fooled.

Mainly, however, the series arc focuses on The Sentinels and the growth of anti-mutant sentiment. The season finale is a three-parter called “Tolerance is Extinction”. As we all know by now, Magneto was right. X-Men has always worked brilliantly as a queer allegory, and it has never been more important than it is now, with anti-trans legislation becoming commonplace in both the US and UK, and further anti-queer legislation likely to follow. It is notable that the script has America showing far more sympathy to mutants after a genocidal attack than it is currently doing to the Palestinians.

Neither the original animated series, nor this new version, is a direct book-to-screen version of the X-Men story. There is far too much of it for that. It is, effectively, a re-boot, and that allows the scriptwriters to look at the original stories with the benefit of hindsight and, hopefully, make them make more sense. The stories do get heavily truncated, and sometimes that shows, but you can live with it because it is a cartoon and therefore liable to be a bit weird.

Apparently a second season is currently in production and a third in development. This is a big relief because the first season provided some massive cliff-hangers. I want to know what happens next.