X-Men Animated Was Stupid

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Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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31 Responses

  1. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    I watched the series with my kids on Saturday mornings in the 90s. The competition was things like Pokemon and Barney. It was way, way better than those.

    Most of your objections are things that, if the show was working, you’d laugh off. You’d still notice, but you wouldn’t care.

    I don’t think the first episode is the thing that made people think, “this is really good”. Most show weren’t doing season-long story arcs at the time, and certainly not a Saturday morning kids cartoon.Report

  2. Avatar North says:

    I always liked to joke about the teleporting powerless mutants. There were two mutants, a chicken headed one and another one and they’d somehow be occupying a mutant community center in whatever city the show was set in that day. Oh no, violent haters are gonna destroy the mutant community center, there’s chicken head and his pal. Same guys are in Rio.Report

  3. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    I was always bothered by the animation, it seemed so clunky and poorly done.

    And the voice acting was horrible.

    ETA: The later X-Men: Evolution was much better.Report

  4. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    X-Men Animated aired on Fox and from what I understand Fox could get rather strict about what you could put in kid’s cartoons even by American standards. Whatever network aired Batman: The Animated Series was let DC push the envelope with content but Fox pulled in the reigns strictly. That’s probably why X-Men Animated and Spider-Man animated ended up really bad.

    Americans were never really willing to allow kid’s media to get away with the things that the Japanese were willing to let in their kid’s media. It takes a lot longer for Japanese parents to flip out en mass for whatever reason. That allows manga and anime to display a greater amount of violence, maturity, toilet humor, absurdity, and plot complexity than American cartoons. GI Joe had mooks jump out of helicopters at the last minute and lasers and villains with no real discernable motive while a Japanese version would have real bullets, people dying, and some more realistically motivated villains even if they still dressed in corny costumes. There would be more overt sexuality for better or worse.

    The early to mid-1990s were an interesting time because some shows were trying to push the limits with what you could get away with in kid’s cartoons. Batman, Gargoyles, the Pirates of Dark Water, Peter Pan and the Pirates, and even Conan the Adventurer had an edge and continuity that their 1980s precedents did not. Animaniacs was a comedy rather than an action show but it made the move to be completely irreverent without any moral, something that the earlier Tiny Toons felt it needed to include at times. Other cartoons like X-Men, Captain Planet, and Spiderman still were bound by the established precedents on what you could and could not get away with in American animation.Report

    • Avatar Zane in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I have only seen a few episodes of the animated Batman and Gargoyles, but they’re both so much better than the animated X-Men.

      The voice acting in both is substantially stronger. If I recall correctly, the writers took the time to ensure that the stories were actually internally consistent and reasonable in both those series. I’m unfamiliar with the other series you mention.Report

  5. Avatar Zane says:

    Thank you for this, Will!

    I’ve long been a fan of the X-Men. I read the comics this series was based on when I was a child. (Yes, this means I’m old.) My younger friends who are X-Men fans love the cartoon series, but I’m baffled by their adoration. The voice acting is terrible, really terrible. The action sequences are dumb. I know that children’s cartoon action sequences are almost always dumb in order to pretend violence isn’t dangerous, but still. The X-Men aren’t even clever or creative in how they use their powers. The characters’ actions don’t make much sense. Let me mention the awfulness of the voice acting again; it was painfully bad.

    I would get it if my friends talked about how great the show was when they were kids, but could recognize its limitations now that they are adults. This, after all, is my opinion of the Super Friends. But they don’t. They still think it’s wonderful! (Okay, the X-Men animated series is much better than Super Friends was. But more grating and less campy fun, too.)Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:

    During the 60’s we had the live-action Batman (high camp). During the 70’s we had the Superfriends (low camp). During the 80’s, we had Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends (lower camp).

    In 1992, we finally got Batman: The Animated Series. HOLY CRAP WAS THIS SHOW GOOD. It wasn’t even camp! It just sat down and said “let’s take the characters and the stories somewhat seriously and see what we can create” and, holy crap, did they come up with a wonderful show.

    So when Marvel said “WE CAN DO THAT!!!!”

    And they tried to attempt to take the X-Men seriously.

    You can’t compare the X-Men cartoon to the bounty we have today.

    You have to compare it to Alf: The Animated Series.Report

  7. Avatar Zane says:

    Jaybird:
    In 1992, we finally got Batman: The Animated Series. HOLY CRAP WAS THIS SHOW GOOD. It wasn’t even camp! It just sat down and said “let’s take the characters and the stories somewhat seriously and see what we can create” and, holy crap, did they come up with a wonderful show.

    Does it still hold up watching it as an adult? As I mention above, I’ve seen a few episodes, and they seemed pretty good, but I don’t know if it’d be worth watching the whole series.

    (This should have been nested under Jaybird’s reply, not sure what went wrong.)Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Zane says:

      Not sure how well B:TAS holds up, but it was the model that gave us Batman Beyond, Justice League and Young Justice, both of which were excellent for adults.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Zane says:

      Well, *I* think it does.

      Here’s Season 1, Episode 1.

      Just watch the first 3 minutes.

      Then… try to stop.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird says:

        I’m seconding Jaybrid. B:TAS is still one of the most daring and mature cartoons aimed at children in the United States. Its well-animated and well-acted.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to LeeEsq says:

          Lee,
          Yeah. Run it up against the new Voltron.
          You didn’t exactly see B:TAS referencing Kids, now did you?
          (Let alone some of the other sly humor).Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Kimmi says:

            Keep in mind that the new Voltron has had twenty-odd years of expansion in What You Can Say On TV.

            Like, when “BTAS” was showing up, it was considered crazy envelope-pushing to have open homsexuals as characters, let alone recurring or supporting ones.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to DensityDuck says:

              DD,
              I’m pretty sure that had Kids existed back then, they could have managed the reference. It’s oblique.

              But, yeah, if they managed to put gay people on a kids show — wow, that is pretty revolutionary. “Here. This Exists. It is A Thing” is meaningful.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Jaybird says:

        Thirding. Batman TAS is art and as such it holds up remarkably well. It has it’s hokey bits of course but it is art.Report

      • Avatar Zane in reply to Jaybird says:

        Because of the hearty endorsement of Jaybird, LeeEsq, North, and Tod Kelly, I’ve now seen the first two episodes of Batman: the Animated Series and plan to watch more.

        It’s pretty fantastic. It has a very specific and appealing look. I love the art deco touches, though that Batmobile would have a terrible turn radius. The voice acting is phenomenal. It feels like a bit of a hot drop into Batman’s story (the second episode has Robin suddenly, where was he the first episode?), but it’s great.

        Doctor Jay said this about the X-Men cartoon:

        Most of your objections are things that, if the show was working, you’d laugh off. You’d still notice, but you wouldn’t care.

        This is quite true. The 2nd episode of BtAS involves the Joker escaping prison on a rocket powered Christmas tree and then immediately unleashing a plot involving (among other things) giant animated killer robots and a remote controlled cannon installed into an observatory. Where did he get the money and the technological know-how? And the time for construction? Did the astronomers not notice the cannon being installed?

        But that’s all okay, because the show is strong enough I’m willing to overlook it (mostly).Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Zane says:

          It feels like a bit of a hot drop into Batman’s story (the second episode has Robin suddenly, where was he the first episode?), but it’s great.

          Dick is in college, so he’s part time and kind of comes and goes. If I recall, they put him in college because the censors had issues with having a child get beat up but an older Robin was okay.

          They did add Tim Drake later on, as a kid. At that point they were on The WB and not Fox, so that may have allowed them to. Though I remember them saying they were kind of hobbled in what they could do with Tim.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Zane says:

          The box sets are all strong and they’re all worthwhile (and are even worth watching in order).

          On top of that, the Batman Animated movie “Mask of the Phantasm” was the best Batman movie that we had until Nolan gave us one that was worth arguing over. (Prior to the Nolan movies, it was Mask of the Phantasm in a walk.)Report

  8. Avatar Pinky says:

    I remember it being interesting at the time because of watching the sides form. New characters weren’t guaranteed to turn all good or bad. Also, it was my first encounter with the Kitty Pryde character, who won my heart.

    I saw a few episodes of it recently. It does not hold up well. Maybe now I’ve got so many more superheroes and supervillains series under my belt that its low quality stands out more. The X Men cartoons focused on the discovery of powers and the choosing of sides, which also happens to be the aspects of the superhero story that Heroes hit out of the park. I know, Heroes bashing is big these days, but if you look at the first season, there’s some amazing work.

    The Batman and Superman shows (collectively referred to as the DCAU) were really good. I saw them as an adult. A lot of animation focuses on the things you can’t do in live action work without an enormous CGI budget. The DCAU was more drama than action. It felt more like Law and Order than X Men.Report

    • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to Pinky says:

      I agree that the first season of Heroes was really good.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Doctor Jay says:

        I liked it a lot. And it focused on a certain kind of origin story, one that doesn’t involve a lab or an incantation. It was normal people with normal problems realizing they had powers. They also got into Primatech and choosing good or evil. When they stuck with those elements, the show was gold, even in later seasons.

        Origin stories are the easiest to tell. Most first superhero movies are the origin stories of the good guy and his top rival. Ordinary people mutating for unknown reasons, that’s a bit of a challenge to tell compellingly. Of course Heroes was able to do a better job of it than X Men – is was a live-action hour-long drama about adults versus a half-hour cartoon about teens.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Doctor Jay says:

        And then it nosedived off a cliff. Oh the horror.Report

        • Avatar Pinky in reply to North says:

          They had twenty-some episodes worth of good ideas in the first season, and maybe three episodes worth in later seasons. There was some stuff I’m glad I watched, but man it was a let-down. Still, better than the X-Men cartoons. (OK, not Maya and her brother. They were terrible.)Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to North says:

          Wasn’t Heroes burned by the writer’s strike?Report

          • Avatar Pinky in reply to Kazzy says:

            That only explains the second season. If they’d turned it around, the strike would be a good excuse. They actually turned it around some, but not enough.

            The show’s creators wanted to start fresh every season with new characters and story lines. The network considered that, then considered playing it safe with proven characters, then (being network executives) thought about barely legal white girls kissing each other, and they went with their gut.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Kazzy says:

            And Breaking Bad was saved by it. HoHum. Either you worked with the extra time or you didn’t.Report

    • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Pinky says:

      The X Men cartoons focused on the discovery of powers and the choosing of sides, which also happens to be the aspects of the superhero story that Heroes hit out of the park. I know, Heroes bashing is big these days, but if you look at the first season, there’s some amazing work.

      Amazing? Ha. Yes, they actually sat down and worked out some character arcs the first season, with reasonable reactions to powers and how to behave with them, including some mysterious organization keeping tabs on people.

      That’s…not amazing work to do that. That’s, like, the premise of the series!

      ‘Didn’t completely fuck up their premise in the *first* season.’ is not a stunning endorsement of the series. 😉

      And none of Heroes was amazing in my book. The first season was *moderately interesting*, with the way it threaded the needle of the ‘realistic superhero’ everyone pretended they wanted at the time (Before we realized, wait, that’s stupid, if you’re going to give us superheros, just give us the ones from the comic books.) with far-out randomly-distributed superpowers.Report

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