Episode 1: “Strategy X”
Daniel: That’s certainly a name for a title. I mean, I get why it’s applied here, but it makes little sense. Is the strategy to create an X-Men team? Isn’t there already one? Also, there are literally no strategies in this episode. Cyclops accidentally nearly destroys a whole high school football stadium. Nightcrawler accidentally nearly gets himself caught every two seconds. And Toad accidentally nearly gets himself killed by the Danger Room. But “Strategy X” is a simpler title than “Absolutely Nothing Goes As Planned X.”
Ken: And so begins the marvelous inconsistency of exactly how powerful Scott’s optic blasts are. One minute, they’ll blow right through a brick wall and impact-ignite a propane tank, but you’re telling me they didn’t completely liquefy Duncan? No, sorry. Based on the series’ own rules, those paramedics are scraping Cream of Duncan soup off the bleachers.
Anyway, I’d forgotten early ‘aughts animation! Rocking movements back and forth to save on budget, and the stock lone wailing electric guitar score associated with Batman Beyond, X-Men: Evolution, and Backdoor Teen Fiesta 7. Favorite moment: Jean primping, and Scott being speechless when she opens the door- despite her hair and clothes being the only hair/clothes combo she has. Scott, you’ve seen it. Which reminds me: what was it with early-00s animation being convinced baggy cargos and halter tops were a thing? I’m inclined to call it Kim Possible Couture, but it’s like animators decided high school girls all dressed like Natalie Imbruglia.
Ho-Kay. So I’m with you; no idea what gives with the title. It had to be something-X, I guess. The decision to militarize these teens as opposed to taking them in for their own protection seems fairly arbitrary. In the comics and movies, aren’t the X-Men students who’ve graduated? Thereby, you know, not endangering children. I’m pretty sure Kurt’s parents didn’t send him to the Institute under the auspices of “we’re putting together an army of child soldiers,” but he’s issued a uniform immediately, without even a discussion. And a holographic appearance-adjuster, because Fox Kids is not having it with any “teen struggles with lack of acceptance during abrupt physical change” metaphors in their X-Men. Nope, Kurt gets a watch that turns him into Adam Driver right off the bat.
At least we establish some pieces of definite lore, such as Wolverine’s trademark badassery like cold bottled water and recycling, and Professor Xavier riding around in Dick Tracy’s car.
Daniel: Man, Jean Grey’s outfit in X-Men: Evolution was how I imagined every future girlfriend of mine dressing when I finally got to high school. Just this array of bagginess and pockets. Christ, I could write a diary entry just thinking about it.
I also love the “cold bottled water” badassness of Wolverine. He just doesn’t get a bottled water. He SLICES THAT CRAP OPEN. Why? Just take the cap off, man. Also, were glass water bottles popular in, what, 1999? Did we not have plastic water bottles yet? This is a really small detail, but it’s things that I think about as an adult watching a show that was seemingly built for people stuck in a black hole between fifth grade and middle school.
That said, I do kind of like young, free-spirited Nightcrawler here. Later in the series, I think, we get some more details about his sad backstory, but here, he’s all jokes and teleportations. I like that. The show is pretty rough goings in the first episode. It’s really shoddily constructed. But there are parts of it that I dig.
What do you like about the first episode? Even if it’s just small details.
Ken: Nothing says “bad boy of the team” like insisting on recycling.
I like that they’re really efficient. This episode doesn’t waste any time with exposition about Jean, Scott, Xavier, or Storm. We don’t know exactly what’s going on, and the show is okay with that. If anything, they made Toad the POV character of the whole first episode, and that’s actually more clever than it had to be. They’re easing us in, not even introducing three of the main team yet. It’s okay doing something slightly different with established characters, and that’s okay. Kids show pilots tend to be really heavy-handed and awkwardly explain everything out loud, and this went the DCAU route of assuming everyone either already knew their way around or would get the gist.
One of my favorite shots is Todd (Toad) shifting his feet outside the Principal’s office. He’s hyperactive and acts almost a bit on the spectrum. That’s bold, and it makes him sympathetic. It can’t be easy being someone everyone thinks is horrible.
Daniel: Have I ever told you about my intense love of Toad? In all mediums? You know how people saw Donnie Darko in 2000 and really wanted to grow bangs and wear hoodies? I saw X-Men and immediately started trying to jump on top of things, like Toad. X-Men was my Donnie Darko. The point is, I love Toad, from his “YES, SIR. SORRY, MASTER” portrayal in the early comics, to his slightly more competent portrayal in recent stuff. He’s probably my favorite mutant. Who is yours?
I also like that it kind of just drops you in. I feel like that’s a positive trait that’s shared among a lot of the X-Men cartoons. The 90s X-Men series starts killing characters off in the first episode, and Wolverine and the X-Men is about Wolverine trying to gather an X-Men team out of mutants that have already worked together and hate each other. I dig all that.
Overall, though, how do you feel about how the first episode sets stuff up? Magneto shows up at the end, and they kind of play it off as “Ooooh, who could this be?” Come on, X-Men Evolution. Who else is it going to be? It’s not like he’s going to step out of the shadows to a chorus of “HOLY SHIT! GRAYDON CREED?!?”
Ken: It seems to assume a passing familiarity with the source material. Sort of like Star Wars: Rebels; they don’t introduce the idea of the Force and Jedi and all that. They kind of assume if this is your show, you’re up to speed. I appreciate that. It’s a riff on the material, but we know our way around.
I’m unironically rooting for Dazzler to get rolling again one day. Turning sound into light is just *cool.*