Remember how TV stations used to show those previews of future Saturday morning cartoon shows in order to get kids excited about them? In the time leading into the Fall 1992 season, my brother was very excited for a show called X-Men. I was not even remotely interested, and was simply looking forward to more Animaniacs. However, since we shared pretty much everything, I watched the premiere episode with him, and even before it was done, I was hooked. I was particularly enamored with Rogue, since she was pretty, Southern, and could kick more butt than most of the boys on the team. I also really loved Wolverine and Gambit, who both seemed to define cool in their own ways. I taped the entire first season of this show as it came on and watched it religiously until the next season aired. As such, I didn't have to watch anything in order to do this review. These episodes are deeply imprinted within my memory.
The thing that was really quite genius about the X-men cartoon is that with a few exceptions, they really went out of their way to make the characters in the cartoon close to their current comic continuity counterparts. They made the team smaller and merged some details together for simplicity's sake, but they were extremely close. It was genius because those of us who had never read a single comic book before in our lives but were really interested in these characters could go straight to our local comic shop and pick up an X-men book off the shelf and recognize who these characters were and fairly quickly get a feel for what they were doing. This, along with the excellent Batman: The Animated Series, was a major cause for the rise in popularity of comics during the early 90s. I don't know how many times I've now heard people say this was when they got into comics, and as an added bonus,the majority of those people are also female.
Morph's death in the second episode was also a really smart choice and helped separate this from your typical children's show. As a kid I always appreciated shows that didn't talk down to me, and this one definitely qualified under that category. Rogue's desire to be cured, the slave labor on Genosha, the Morlocks hiding from the surface: these were all pretty serious issues, much better than the "let's all play nice" kind of lessons you frequently learned from 80s cartoons.
The nice thing about this season is that though most episodes can stand on their own, there's also a linked storyline running through the whole season about Beast's imprisonment and Senator Kelly's rise to power. It all culminates to the final two part episode "Days of Future Past" and its epilogue, "The Final Decision". Merging the Days of Future Past storyline from the comics with Bishop's future was a logical choice and worked really well, and the epilogue helps to establish that Magneto is still the X-Men's main villain.
In my opinion, the main thing they got wrong here was Jubilee. She's a terrible self insert character. I suppose we're supposed to sympathize with her "you always treat me like a kid!" but considering how often it happens, it becomes annoying really quickly. Robin on Batman: The Animated Series also occasionally had this complaint, but he also actually got to fight crime with Batman, whereas more often than not Jubilee is left behind at the mansion doing nothing. The Jubilee of the comics, by comparison, was often being thrown into serious situations that exceeded her age and forced her to grow up more quickly. Well, at least until they shoved her aside into Generation X and then basically forgot about her.
Another thing I will never, ever understand is Gambit's speaking in third person. This isn't even remotely a Cajun trait, and it's just plain weird. No character should ever do this. His accent isn't true Cajun either, by the way. I'm not sure any version of Gambit has ever gotten his accent right.
As a kid, I really hated Scott and Jean. Scott because he was always being a jerk to Wolverine for no good reason, and Jean because she just seemed so weak. Whenever the two of them were together, I used to think of the old Looney Tunes joke: "John!" "Marsha!" because they were just that melodramatic with each other. It was a strange thing for me to jump over to the comics and find a Jean Grey who was much more confident and sure of herself, and was actually a character I really enjoyed. Scott was still a total stuffed shirt though.
If there's any episode of this season that could be completely thrown out and not missed, it's "Cold Vengeance." Wolverine wanders the supposed Canadian wilderness, and runs into a village of what are basically Eskimos, who he helps out before Sabretooth catches up with him and attacks them. It's boring and really adds nothing to the season as a whole or to Wolverine's character development.
My personal favorite episode is "The Cure." It's a Rogue centric episode and it's where we first really see how she struggles with her powers. The best episode overall is probably "The Unstoppable Juggernaut." It shows the X-Men all truly working together as a team to accomplish a goal. They start off having difficulties, but they eventually use their individual assets together to take down Juggernaut. It also has a really fun and funny guest appearance by Colossus.
In terms of animation quality, there's a lot of weakness here. Coloring inconsistencies, and sometimes the characters just look a little strange. But given the severe quality of storytelling going on, you can certainly look past it. If you missed out on this series when it originally aired and you enjoy superheroes, it's worth the investment now to give it a chance. All of season one and a bit of season two can be found on Volume One of the DVD collection. I've also heard that the entire series will be available for streaming on Netflix some time this summer.