‘X-Men: The Animated Series,’ Technology, and Character Development

In between my Breaking Bad binges, I’ve been revisiting a bit of X-Men: The Animated Series, of which I saw a few episodes in my largely TV-less childhood. Aside from the fact that the creators clearly don’t trust public-private collaborations very much (I would love to see a Government Accountability Office audit of the Mutant Control Agency), and the extent to which the show clearly tries to balance out the fact that Magneto is right and Professor X is wrong by surrounding Magneto with morons like Sabertooth and giving Professor X cooler henchmen, the thing that’s striking me most is how the animation seems to impact the storytelling.

By contemporary standards, the animation’s really just passable. Things like wildly distorted body proportions, which have never really been comics’ strong suit especially when it comes to women, don’t bother me that much. But it is clear that to keep things simple, most of the motions that are animated are necessary to drive events forward rather than to establish character, and the show isn’t wasting a lot of time animating, say, chit-chat. As a result, a lot of the dialogue can sound a little bit portentous. Jean Grey and Wolverine don’t spend a lot of time flirting before he’s very seriously declaring his affections for her. People don’t spend a lot of time discussing tactics: they boil down to the core question of whether it’s right or wrong to leave Beast and Morph behind at the Mutant Control Agency. When Storm beats Callista and has her rule over the Morlocks in Storm’s place, they don’t discuss the condition of that new regime: Storm pretty much does a lightsaber drop and walks out. We may be walking into an established universe along with Jubilee, but we have to take a lot of things on faith rather than on evidence.

I understand it’s also a kids’ show, and thus intended to be simpler. We don’t actually need Wire-level of complexity here, or First Class-level debate. The show’s still quite entertaining, and quite good at laying out issues of governance, morality, and politics. But if this was in production today, my guess is that it might be a somewhat chattier show (and folks who have seen the whole thing, maybe it does during the run?). And man, would Jubilee have lost that outfit.