Image by ZacharyTirrell via Flickr
This world, my friends, is at its core a delicate balancing act between disparate forces. Between darkness and light. Between yin and yang. Between Marvel and DC.
Okay, maybe I overstated myself there a bit, but I got your attention.
Hot on the heels of Cartoon Network’s kid-friendly take on DC’s brooding moneymaker, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Nickelodeon and the House of Ideas have brought their own new animated superhero series to the table. It’s truly the cartoon that eight-year-old me always craved: an X-Men team headed up not by the analytical Cyclops or the unflappable Storm, but by resident fan-favorite bad-ass Wolverine.
But is it good? Hit the jump for my take.
Wolverine and the X-Men, much like its distinguished cartoon competition, is a marble-mouthed name for a fairly straightforward concept; due to sinister circumstances beyond the control of any mere mutant, the X-Men have disbanded and it’s up to Wolverine to bring their dysfunctional little family back together again. Why Wolverine? Well, because kids dig Wolverine.
Kids also dig wanton destruction and gratuitous property damage, which this show provides in spades. So, while the superhuman combat is often sanitized via dazzling cuts and off-screen attackers, police cars, military bunkers, stately homes, and factories seem to be fair game for spontaneous demolition. But this collateral damage is merely a backdrop for what is a fairly compelling, though admittedly predictable, plot progression.
The three-part introductory arc "Hindsight" – only two episodes of which have yet to air in the US – introduces our heroes via a series of flashbacks which reveal that high-level psychics Charles Xavier and Jean Grey have disappeared in the wake of the destruction of Xavier’s school/mansion/mutant training facility. One year later we find the title mutants in hiding from the growing threat of detainment by the government-sanctioned Mutant Response Division, the brainchild of Byrne/Claremont-era mutie-hater Senator Robert Kelly. After a brush with the authorities following the rescue of a child from the flaming wreckage of an RV, Wolverine returns to the site of the former mansion to find Henry McCoy holding down what’s left of the fort, and their mission to restore the world’s foremost outcast super team to its former glory begins in earnest.
While the show seemingly brings in plot and characterization elements from core Marvel continuity, the Ultimate universe, and even the recent movie adaptations, it’s very much a product of its own design, which will certainly enrage as many fans as it appeases. But with the glaring exception of making the man who’s the best there is as what he does unable to perform that dastardly task, the show tends to hit the right notes more often than not. Cyclops is a bundle of neuroses, and Beast, though re-imagined as a nigh tee-totaling pacifist, is the scientific voice of reason. The show’s Iceman brings back the earlier, fun-loving Bobby Drake, and its Rogue channels the movie’s just-a-lonely-gal-trying-to-find-her-place archetype ably. The bulk of the rest of the roster has yet to be thematically cemented as of episode two, but the opening salvo does provide a few nice cameos from characters, both classic and modern, with Official Handbook-appropriate names and abilities.
Because it’s an X-Men story, there’s a strong social undercurrent inherent in the narrative that deals with the obligatory issues of prejudice and xenophobia. And while this show could potentially provide a means by which to broach these subjects with your brood, it’s doubtful that little Tommy will approach you with questions regarding its mutant-hating police state. He will much more likely be interested in the car explosions and metal ribbons ripped from pretty much everything on screen by Wolvie’s adamantium claws.
Aside from the incessant shock and awe and the show’s weighty undertones (which might be lost on younger viewers), there’s little to gripe about concerning Wolverine and the X-Men. Sure, much like The Brave and the Bold, there’s the occasional CGI element shoe-horned into the otherwise delightfully stylized animation, but such is to be expected in the modern ‘toon.
I understand that revisionist history and oddly-weighted team dynamics can be an instant turn-off to the diehard X-Fan, but this sanitized version of the X-Men will likely prove fun for the whole family. In a sea of tween dramedies, it’s another great television option for GeekDads to share with their geeklings. Just try not to think too much about the fact that Domino appears to be the leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Seriously. Just let it go.
WIRED: Strikingly stylized look and feel. Interesting pacing. Genosha travel billboards aplenty. The promise of an ever-growing mutant roster.
TIRED: Flashbacks and social subtext may prove confusing for younger viewers. Again with the pointless CGI flourishes!