Wednesday, May 25, 2016

'Wolverine and the X-Men' animated series nails the mutants' universe (retro-review)

"X Marks the Spot" is what I've been calling this series of flashback reviews and features about the X-Men leading up to "X-Men: Apocalypse." That phrase also could refer to the 2008-'09 highly-recommended "Wolverine and the X-Men" animated series, which remains one of Marvel Comics' best animated efforts!

Jan. 26, 2013 — Wolverine is the leader of the X-Men. Scott Summers/Cyclops is acting irresponsibly. And Professor X gives Logan an attaboy.

The creators of the 2008-2009 “Wolverine and the X-Men” animated series are right; they’ve broken all kinds of so-called “rules” (expectations, really) we fans associate with Marvel Comics’ world of mutants.

Even as I’m slightly more than halfway through watching the 26 episodes I got for Christmas — and I gotta say, “Wolverine …” feels just right.

The thinking–outside-of-the-Marvel box is only slight. The creators have managed to take a dash of this interpretation of this X-Men (in the comics) and that one (the films), mix it together and come up with a best of everything.

But I gotta say it always bothers me when animation/live-action creators only invoke their inspiration from fairly recent X-MEN comics — and somehow forget about what brilliant directions that writer Chris Claremont took with the characters.

I absolutely adore what Joss Whedon did in his powerful, must-read/must-own ASTONISHING X-MEN run and I can respect and have enjoyed most of Grant Morrison’s NEW X-MEN run, but forgetting Claremont’s contributions?!?! Tsk tsk!

When I saw the first three-part story arc several years ago — reviewed as the “Heroes Reborn” DVD — I knew this series had a lot of potential.

The premise of taking Professor X out of the scenario (in a coma, but disconnected from his body as he lives in an apocalyptic future) with Logan taking it upon himself to reform and lead the X-Men (who are in disarray after a still yet-to-to-be explained explosion) is nothing but tantalizing.

I wanted to see how the story progressed, but never saw the entire series for a price I wanted to pay — and then it disappeared off the shelves! … Santa Claus was good enough to get this for me this Christmas after I finally saw if available again.

At just over the halfway point, I’m not disappointed.

And my complaints are minimal. (More on the later.) So I thought this would be a good time to review what I’ve seen so far.

The homages to the comics are too much to mention (and I’m sure I’d overlook a lot!), but the allusions from the first live-action "X-Men" trilogy and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” abound: Senator Kelly; Logan always wears his military dog tags in his civilian clothes; Wolverine has gaps in what he knows of his own past; the uneasy relationship between Wolverine and Rogue, etc.

What’s been tweaked has been nothing but refreshing.

It seems like Bobby Drake/Iceman has a thing for Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat. And the connection between Wolverine and Mystique’s past in Weapon X – what a bombshell! It’s the biggest way the series deviates from the “norm” of the X-Men universe, but I love it.

Since I’ve always had a soft place in my heart for the Scarlet Witch, I’m glad she’s been characterized as kind. (Although as Nightcrawler’s tour guide of Genosha, she was kinda duplicitous in only showing him the paradise-like aspects of Magneto’s mutant society!)

In the comics, Summers has always been a brooder — especially in Claremont’s hands. This version could teach the original a thing — or six! — about the art of brooding and playing the a**hole card.

However, the animated Summers is hard to take for long periods of time. In that respect, I’m glad he hasn’t been getting a lot of screen time; this version of Summers simply is not very likable.

On the plus side, Emma Frost isn’t as much of a prissy, cold b-word as contemporary writers tend to characterize her. I miss the witty and sarcastic Frost in the comics I’ve slooooowly grown to adore and appreciate. 

My complaints about “Wolverine and the X-Men” are few and far between.

Jim Ward’s Professor X voice has such a strong accent it’s hard to understand what he’s saying, unless you use the closed-captioning option.

Also, I understand why Logan calls Professor X “Charles” since it shows the respect he has for him. But I miss the Claremont days when Wolverine would call him “Chuck” since he knew it irritated the professor. Here, “Chuck” could more of a term of affection.

Many times, the story deviates from the mystery of what happened to Professor X being sidelined with solo stories. But they are so well done, it’s hard to miss that storyline much. The Nightcrawler story with the mutant kids is simply one of the best episodes in the series.

Many episodes into it, I began wondering if the writers were ever going to actually let Rogue use her powers at all. (And Frost hadn’t gotten much screen time, either at that point!) The came the episode “Battle Lines” and Rogue got to stut her stuff. Finally!

Who knew Rogue could mix the powers she receives from two people? In the comics, it’s clear when Rogue touches one person, their power becomes dominant and the previous one disappears.

Regardless, having her combine the strength and invulnerability of Juggernaut with Shadowcat’s phasing power is unique and brilliant way to have her defeat the rage monster created by the little girl within. Doing so frees the girl. When the girl wakes up and asks Rogue who she is, the mutant identifies herself as being an X-Man — something the writers had me wondering.

It turns out Rogue was a spy inside the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants beforehand; we’ll see if her allegiance to the X-Men remains intact. It also will be interesting to see how this impacts Wolverine and Rogue’s mutual distrust of each other.

In the closing moments of “Battle Lines,” Xavier assures Wolverine he’s doing a good job of being the X-Men’s leader and making a difference — one life at a time. Who’da thunk?

Grade: A

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