Friday, May 24, 2024

The Emotional Roller Coaster Called X-Men '97

 *Trigger Warning: Death, grief, child death, disability*

Well, that's one way to start an article about a super hero cartoon. 

Optic Blast From The Past

X-Men '97 is a continuation of the hit X-Men cartoon from the 90's, in case the title wasn't obvious enough. We pick up with the X-Men one year later after the show ended. Xavier is in outer space with bird aliens while the world thinks he's dead, Morph and Bishop are full members of the team with all our familiar faces, Jean is pregnant with Scott's baby, and Storm has P!nk's haircut. 

I won't bother recapping the story from the OG X-Men cartoon, since it's been out long enough that most people know the basic stories and characters (Phoenix Saga, Cyclops/Jean/Wolverine love triangle, Gambit and Rogue's whole thing, Jubilee is annoying, time travel, Mr. Sinister being a problem etc.) but needless to say it's all canon. Out of the hands of Fox and away from children's prime time, the new series manages to tell more engaging, deeper stories with incredibly emotional results. 

Spoilers ahead. 

You ARE The Mother

First major shocker: Turns out the gal at the X-Mansion pregnant with Cyclops's kid is NOT Jean Grey-it's Madelyn Pryor her clone. After she has the baby it's revealed that the OG Jean has been kept in a coma by Mr. Sinister who sent in his clone puppet to... Make a baby with a couple that were already going to do that? Let's be honest, Mr. Sinister isn't the smartest mutant in the game. This leads to Madelyn having a Sailor Moon style transformation scene and taking little baby Nathan to Sinister, who then injects him with a techno/organic virus for... Reasons... but they interrupt the process and for other reasons the X-Men have to send the baby to the future to meet Forge and get him cured. 

Okay the convoluted drama aside what this adds up to is Madelyn and Scott mourning the loss of their baby, which is a tough concept rarely tackled in serious dramas much less a show where everyone's principle outfit is made of yellow spandex. They don't get over it in a single episode. Scott takes out his anger on a reporter who tries to probe him for information on his now complex relationship with Jean and Madalyn and the baby, and Madalyn takes off from the X-Mansion to start a new life without him. 

Longtime X-Men fans of course know that the baby they sent to the future is none other than Cable, everyone's favorite midlife crisis mutant, who comes back in time to make the relationships even more complicated. He has issues about not being raised by his parents and his parents have issues about not getting to raise him, which is a legitimate family dynamic in real life. 

Storm Cycle

Elsewhere in the show we have Storm, the OP Omega level mutant who is shot trying to protect Magneto (Let's not get into it) with a beam that takes away her powers. While losing powers in other superhero media is seen sometimes as a temporary problem (Like with red sun radiation on Superman) or can be used for comedic effect (Flash trying to restore the speed force in The Flash, if anyone saw it) here it's used as an analogy to becoming disabled. Storm's powers helped define who she was, they were part of her like a limb, and without them she finds herself lost and vulnerable. Even the treatments to restore her powers resemble medical tests that many newly disabled people have to endure when trying to see if they can restore their former abilities. Storm eventually does with the help of Forge (Again let's not get into it) which is a mixed bag, since while good for Storm to become Storm again the analogy falls apart for those not fortunate enough to regain their former capabilities. 

Remember It

The turning point of the entire series comes with the massacre of Genosha. The island has become a haven for mutants and invites Magneto, Rogue and Gambit to come on over and celebrate while they try to court Magneto into being their king. Turns out Xavier left the X-Men to him when he went to space and he's trying to behave (Which is this whole other story I don't have time to get into) and he agrees to be king under condition that he gets his old flame--Rogue--to be his queen. We find out that in the spirit of Age of Apocalypse Magneto can touch Rogue because of his magnetic field or something. She has the "let's just be friends" talk with Gambit explaining that no matter how much they love each other they can never be together without her killing him. 

Then a giant Dark Souls villain with a Sentinel skin attacks. 

During the fight we get a fake out kill from Magneto as he's kidnapped by the real boss, but we get a real death when Gambit, while skewered like a marshmallow, charges the entire giant Sentinel with power and blows it up. 

The results are Rogue holding him in her arms crying that she can't feel him. 

The heartbreak of Gambit's death resonates with Rogue through the rest of the season, as she challenges anyone preventing her getting justice for her beloved swamp rat. Rogue tears into Captain America, the US army and later the big bad of the season Bastion on her quest, and even joins Magneto after his sudden but inevitable betrayal.

A Study of Grief and Trauma

The original X-Men series was able to demonstrate raw grief at times when Jean turned into Phoenix and Cyclops was dealing with his business, but now we can deal with grief on multiple levels. Loss of a child, loss of a loved one, loss of a lifestyle, even loss of a dream with Genosha's destruction. The show, like many of us, has grown up. And hopefully, like many of us, has become even better than the original. 

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