I recently decided to go through this animated show again, and when I went back to the blog I was shocked to see I had only given it a couple paragraphs before, and most of them bitching about how Wolverine isn't a leader. Overexposure or not, the fact is that he really is a leader of the X-men now. There's an ongoing comic series with the same title, though that one is a very different situation. This series actually does address the fact that Logan is far more loner than leader, and how having him lead the X-men is quite a challenge. It's also fantastic and really needs to be talked about.
As the show starts we get a nice little intro to who the X-men are, and there's no silly narration or new character arriving that they can info dump on. We just see Kitty, Colossus, and Nightcrawler in the danger room, before Logan ups the difficulty on them as a prank as he says goodbye. It's not really clear why he intends to leave, but it does largely mirror what happens at the end of the first X-men film as Rogue is upset about his leaving. We also see Beast, Storm, the Professor, Jean and Cyclops until suddenly the two psychics fall prey to some kind of attack and everything goes white as an explosion occurs. We jump ahead to months later from here, and I really like this intro, setting up a mystery that will not be solved until close to the end of the season (which is sadly also the end of the show).
As usual for the X-men in any continuity, anti-mutant hysteria is ramping up and the government has put the Mutant Response Division into place. They are responsible for rounding up mutants that are seen as a threat to humanity, which of course pretty much means every mutant. And when Logan helps save a little girl who gets buried under rubble, they also round up her and her parents for helping him escape. It's some pretty disturbing stuff for a kids cartoon - they hook the father up to a sensory overload machine (kind of like the A Clockwork Orange torture device but the things go over your eyes rather than propping them open) trying to torture Logan's location out of him. Once Logan learns of this, he wants to go in and save the family, but he can't do it alone.
So he returns to the mansion (which is still largely a mess) but finds no one home but Beast. The professor and Jean are missing, so Cyclops has gone off to pout in an apartment, Storm went back to Africa, and the younger mutants have all been sent home since the school is closed. But Logan convinces Beast to help him out, and we get some really great moments where Hank says he's a pacifist and doesn't want to fight the MRD guards but is left no choice. They rescue the family along with young mutants Rusty, Boom Boom, and Dust.
That is essentially the end of part 1 of the episode, along with Logan and Hank deciding to reunite the X-men but acknowledging that it won't be easy. I really appreciate that there's no hand holding here, or long drawn out bits of exposition. The characters are introduced in a way that shows you their powers and personalities and allows you to figure out what's going on relatively quickly. The MRD are bad, the X-men are good, and that's all you need to know. As we get into part 2, we're introduced to the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, showing us that there are at least some mutants out there that have helped to start the hysteria brewing among the humans.
This Brotherhood is primarily Mystique's version, though she herself is absent at this point. We've got Toad, Blob, Avalanche, Quicksilver, and Domino. We also quickly see that Rogue has been drawn to them now, upset over Logan abandoning her. I also like that while this Brotherhood does take things too far, you can also see their position - they're trying to stop the government from putting sentinels in place. When Domino pleads their case to Rogue, you can see why she's tempted to help them.
We also get scenes of Logan going about trying to bring the X-men back, primarily Iceman (who had moved back home and whose parents aren't too crazy about him leaving again) and Kitty, who was on her way to Genosha but quickly abandons the idea when Logan comes calling. In this series we skip the part of history where Genosha is enslaving mutants and instead go straight to the part where Magneto rules the area as a haven for mutants. But we won't see Genosha proper until a bit later in the series.
The X-men try to thwart the Brotherhood's attack on Senator Kelly, but it turns out that there never was a planned attack - they simply had Rogue tell Logan that was the plan so the X-men could show up and disrupt the presentation, making them look like the bad guys. Which is a little counterproductive to the Brotherhood's purpose if you think about it - making any mutants look bad seems like a bad idea for them - but I guess the idea is that Kelly's presentation of sentinels got interrupted regardless.
Angel also makes an appearance in the episode, and while most of the other mutants have been about the same relative age as they appeared in the movies, he's an adult and not a teenager. But his father is still anti-mutant and Warren is trying to change things from within. He refuses to rejoin the X-men at this point but we'll definitely see him again.
The second part of the episode helps bring back some of the core team that we'll be seeing for most of this series, as well as to establish Rogue's defection. It's a lot more action oriented than the first episode, emphasizing the tussles with the Brotherhood and MRDs rather than story. But it does help get the ball rolling for a lot of the main conflicts in the first part of the series.
In part 3, the X-men start rebuilding the mansion with help from a young Forge and Emma Frost shows up on the doorstep, saying she wants to be an X-man and they're going to let her join because she's the only one they have now who can operate cerebro. Once again, this is a great way to introduce a character and show us exactly who they are. Logan begrudgingly lets her in and sure enough she located Xavier - he's on Genosha.
They take the blackbird over and this is where the show does get a little inconsistent - in the prior one Kitty was ready to head to Genosha on her own, now that they're going to confront Magneto she's suddenly afraid to do so. It's a little odd. The blackbird's stealth equipment isn't working and so Magneto is ready for them, and we're shown just how much of a powerhouse he is as he disables them all one by one. While Logan is being his typical hothead self, Magneto assures them that he wasn't responsible for the attack and that Xavier, in a coma, simply washed up on the island and he's taking care of him. The X-men request to bring him back home and he agrees.
They set the professor up in the mansion and here's the part where things get a little odd - the professor is somehow able to use Cerebro to send messages from 20 years into the future back to Logan. Basically, this is their way of doing Days of Future Past and just sort of hand waving away the actual time travel bit. And the professor doesn't come to stay in his current body, he just sends Logan messages and then goes back to his own time. He tells them that the future is in ruins ruled by sentinels and they have to reunite and put a stop to it.
He literally tells Logan that he has to be the one to lead them right in front of Cyclops, who quickly starts to turn and walk away. The professor tells him to stay because they need him, but doesn't really provide any kind of explanation to his former leader on why he can't be the one to lead. And since the professor apparently only recently woke up in the future, he has no good solid reason either. The answer is that the show's title demands it, or that it makes for a more interesting series, you take your pick on what you'd like. It's just a shame they couldn't have handled it a little better. Regardless, the show now has a clear goal - preventing the nightmare future - and we'll hit the ground running from there.
What I like most about this series is that it pulls a lot from the comics and the films, but it still manages to feel very much like its own thing. It does a great job of showing that there are universally appealing elements to the X-men legacy, and you can easily adapt them to this medium. While I felt like X-men Evolution went a little too far off the rails with the high school problems, this cartoon feels much more spot on. Similar to the original X-men cartoon, but actually doing a better job in terms of the writing and maturity of the stories while still being appropriate for all ages.
The story takes a lot more twists and turns from here, so strap in, it's going be quite an adventure.