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How the 90s X-Men Cartoon Created a New Generation of Comic Fans

It was exactly like the comics of the time...

 Coming your way!

Pinpointing your exact entry-point into fandom is tricky when your interest in all this stuff started sometime before you were six. I know, for sure, that I had random SPIDER-MAN and SUPERMAN comics before the 90s X-MEN cartoon’s debut. I know, for sure, that I watched the PRYDE OF THE X-MEN TV special and played its tie-in arcade game before the show began, too. However, Fox's X-MEN was unequivocally the thing that kicked my casual interest over the cliff and into the valley of fanaticism I'm still walking in.   

Back in the early 90s, when Saturday mornings were still a special time slot, kids my age had a whole slew of shows to choose from. POWER RANGERSCAPTAIN PLANET... the list would get way too long to fit here. Yet, there was something about X-MEN that made it stand out so distinctly from the pack.  After some reflection, I've concluded that it was because it was almost exactly like the comics of the time. == TEASER ==

Typically, a comics-based toon will be more of cumulative adaptation. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, for example, was meant to capture all seasons of the caped crusader at once, timelessly, rather than being a direct translation of any one era. Even the latter X-MEN shows re-tooled the comics' characters, costumes and concepts enough to have identities distinct unto of themselves. You look at images from this show,  though, and the only discernible difference from the X-books of the time is that Jean Grey opts to wear her hair in a ponytail instead of letting it flow freely. The line-up's the same as the Blue Team from the mid-Claremont period (with Jean and Storm cherry-picked from the Gold) and the characters are all wearing the costumes Jim Lee designed for them just a year prior.    

 One of these characters will die! In this episode!
The conventional thinking for adaptations is that you need to simplify, because the comics are just too complicated for new audiences. However, looking back at this, I suspect X-MEN was so appealing precisely because it was almost entirely unfiltered. Kids hate being talked down to and this show, from the get-go, had a complexity and an edge that most Saturday morning fare didn't. Morph getting killed off in the first episode established how dark things could get pretty damn quickly. Actually, I suspect this show might've been one of the last gasps of creative freedom American kids entertainment enjoyed before the crackdown Senator Joe Lieberman and his ilk instigated around '93. After that point, toons starting getting defanged and declawed on the whole, making the unhindered comics that much more enticing to migrate to. If you'd just seen a toned-down version of the AGE OF APOCALYPSE then, almost by instinct, you wanted to see it uncensored.  

   This was kids show where characters named Sinister and Holocaust showed up in a story about alternate realities.
After meeting some of the guys behind this, I realized that the animators' own fandom may have been the truly crucial factor in why this show was such an effective gateway. Since the staff was all reading the comics, they'd sneak in as many Easter Eggs as they could get away with. Hence, when Wolverine later encountered a deranged, resurrected Morph, the shape-shifter would taunt him by assuming the forms of random characters like Deadpool, Garrison Kane and Gideon who'd never been named on-screen nor referenced ever again. Rather than being confused by those sorts of winks, my friends and I were actually curious about them.
The progression of our interest would basically follow like this: we loved the show so, of course, we wanted the action figures. A lot of the action figures came with trading cards so, of course, we then wanted to get the way over-priced packs from Fleer. The packs contained cards for the regulars on the show, of course, but they also had ones for those who'd only shown up in the aforementioned Easter Eggs. With these additional kernels of information we, of course, wanted to get the full story about these characters in the comics. After seeking the comics out, we were, of course, summarily hooked.  

Why, it was almost like it was planned that way... 

Because it didn't for a timeless approach, maybe this show hasn't aged as well as BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES has. For one, the character models were often more detailed than the animation could handle sometimes. However, I wonder how well its cartoon-to-comics fan conversation rate stacks up in comparison to others, as I know many fans whose interest started with this show, too. Actually, let's put the question out to community. I'm sure most of you remember this show (though, then again,  it has been 20 years) - - how many of you Comic Vine maniacs started your fandom with this one? If your memory's fuzzy, why don't we give it a jog with this catchy ditty...? 


Tom Pinchuk’s the writer of  HYBRID BASTARDS!  &  UNIMAGINABLE . Order them on Amazon   here  &   here .  Follow him on Twitter:  @tompinchuk

174 Comments Refresh
Posted by DarthStorm

I liked the X-men: Evolutions better but this was still good!

Posted by Doctor!!!!!

I loved This Show!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 
Amazing theme song!!!!
Posted by Gambit1024

It's because of this that made me the Gambit fan I am today

Posted by foxglove

It was not what first introduced me to the X-men, but the cartoon definitely poured kerosene on the fire. I still love how many classic X-men story arcs this series tackled, and did so without trying to simplify it for kids. 

Posted by Lvenger

I agree. It was the closeness to the source material that gave the X-Men cartoon its edge and I can say that after watching a few episodes as well so that shows how it can pull in even someone who hasn't seen the show.

Posted by haydenclaireheroes
@DarthStorm: I agee
Posted by CaptainUseless

Amazing show. So many memories.

Posted by DefaultProphet
@Gambit1024 said:
" It's because of this that made me the Gambit fan I am today "
I'd wager a good 90% of Gambit fans are fans because of the show, especially casual fans.  
I'd definitely say my love of comics started with this and Spider-man.  To a lesser extent Batman: TAS and even less so Superman: TAS
Posted by FLStyle

This, Spider-man and Batman are what taught me so much about comics in the 90s, good stuff.
@DarthStorm said:

" I liked the X-men: Evolution better but this was still good! "

I'll drink to that.
Edited by Nuec_Sol

I loved this show! It had a solid ongoing storyline just like the comic.

Posted by Kid_Zombie

2nd best cartoon of the time, batman animated series being the first. I was in grade 3 when this show came out, so you can say i was the target audience at the time. I absolutely loved this show with a passion! I remember when i was young i had one beef with it, If you missed an episode it felty like u missed everything, it was so connected to eachother. And this was the time before internet so we had to wait for reruns of the vhs to come out, which i still have all of the vhs's ha ha I'm a nerd i know.

Posted by Lawton

This show along with Spider-man, Transformers, Thundercats, Turtles, He-Man and M.A.S.K brought me into the comic book world!

Posted by Duo_forbidden

Oh man, this brings back so many memories. I watch this on Disney XD whenever I get the chance.
The tv series did get me into reading the X-men comics before the whole Onslaught saga made me stopped reading it. Now I'm slowly picking up after that event thanks to The Ultimate version, the Messiah Complex, Messiah War, and Second Coming.

Posted by Rockerclit

I was one of these people to become a comic fan from this x-men cartoon. I'm from England myself and I remember when I was a young child watching every Saturday morning with my breakfast. When the show came to a end (in 1998 i think it was) it was like the end of a era for me. Ever since this awesome x-men cartoon though, I've been a avid fan of the X-Men even today & has enjoyed it even before it was popular with the movies :)

Posted by BKole

Saw an episode of this on Saturday Morning when I was channel flicking. That theme tune, and the animation and the love and affection for the subject matter is totally what made me the sad, geeky mess that I am today. 
And I am so pleased it did. That and Hulk, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four/Iron Man action Hour!

Posted by eldestrisk

With no doubt one of the things I'm grateful with life is that I could enjoy quality cartoons like this in my childhood. 

Posted by magius

Completely agree! Though I can't lie watching it now makes me wonder why I thought it was the best looking show ever?!

Posted by The Impersonator

The best X-Men show I have ever seen.

Edited by MannyMAR

I say this show combined with Wu-Tang's music made me pick up my first comic ever.

Posted by iLLituracy

X-Men and Spider-Man's animated series is what got me into comics along with Batman and Superman. It's weird because I started by collecting Valiant comics first...

Posted by Bobby X

Yup you pretty much described my experience exactly, Tom.  
At least as far as Marvel comics goes.
Posted by KZR
@Gambit1024:  Gambit is such an interesting character that watching x men without him can be unbearable.
Posted by xerox_kitty

I remember the creators admitted that the first two seasons were pretty much a game of 'spot the mutie', especially with episodes like Slave Island where there were countless cameos as enslaved mutants.  It was so much fun trying to spot everyone... it's not far a million miles away from watching modern X-Men movies (which are less fun & less recognisable) :p

Posted by Riezner

The VHS episodes I had were some of my most prized possessions. Especially the Genosha episode where theyr'e locked up on the island.

Posted by Grimoire

The show had the one same problem as the Spider-man show of the time. The stories were told in a rapid-fire motion trying to cram an entire story arc into a few episodes. lol

Posted by Joe Venom

to this day when I read X-books I interpret their voices from the ones they used on this show, my favorite episodes were the ones that included Morph or Archangel.

Posted by robokungfu

I think it's a no-brainer this was a huge reason a lot of kids born in the mid/late 80s picked up X-Men and Marvel books.  DAMN WAS THE SOUND OF GAMBIT'S CARD CHARGING COOL. The quality went down after the first two or three seasons. I did love everything about the phoenix/dark phoenix saga. I remember being disappointed with The Brood's depiction who were like a race of lizard men called "The Family" than the huge creepy insects they were in comic form.   
Still, as every bit as good as this show could be it couldn't hold a candle to Batman the Animated Series. It's an unfair comparison because of how absolutely perfect it is and rewatchable over the years. It also stood apart from X-Men in an important way. As serious as X-Men took itself it was alomst too serious to the point of pretentiousness. Batman was serious but it was full of pathos and morality plays that affected me more deeply than anything X-Men could do. X-Men was ambitious in the broad story arcs it told (and often very well) but Batman, as episodic as the structure was in contrast to X-Men, was way way more memorable for the characterization and emotions.

Posted by Bestostero

Loved this series, it stayed very close to the comics and I loved that all the characters had great screen time and the show didn't favor one or the other :)

Posted by Kamitosis

This is definitely what made me an X-Men fan and is the reason I'm also a huge Jubilee fangirl. This and the 90s Spider-Man cartoon really made me a big comic fan!

Posted by Thunderscream

I was hanging at the edge of my seat when Psylocke finally got some screen time....but it was totally wack that they made her an art thief with an American accent and that she could shoot her psy-blades....and the weird, reference to her and Angel's relationship in the comics where, after the psychics defeat Apocalypse, Warren rushes to her and says "I don't know why, but I was worried about you." blah.
Anywho, Rogue and Gambit were definitely my favorites in the show. Rogue's hilarious southern sayins' were priceless "You look as nervous as a long tailed cat in room full o' rockin' chairs." lol

Posted by xerox_kitty

I wonder if any of the subsequent animated series will have the same loyal nostalgic fan following?  Or if they converted anyone into comic readers? :)

Edited by ddaann1985

Very true, I still remember what a great fan I was from the beginning. It was just different then all the other cartoons on Saturday morning. These where heroes, but they where hated and feared. It may sound a bit much, but I think that this cartoon helped me realize to not judge someone by his or hers appearance, their religion or their country. I remember going on holiday and being able to buy two comics books for the ride, it where the Dutch versions of X-men Adventures number 1 and a Wolverine comic. Many more would follow :) I can honestly say that the cartoon brought me into comics! And I'm glad it did :)

Posted by Jordanstine

X-Men the Animated Series is what got me into Marvel Comics. 
Before that, I only read Superman, Green Lantern, and Justice League (all DC books).   
The X-Men books was also what got me from casual buying comics, into a serious comic collector, since I now had to read X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, X-Force, and Excalibur. 
Oh the joy!
Posted by JoeyF

 I used to so look forward to Saturday mornings' because of this show.  My wife and I actually re-watched this entire series last year.
Any of you guys remember the FIRST X-Men animated pilot -- where Wolverine was Australian and called people "dingo's"?  Whoo-boy.  

Posted by HT101

I love this series and it also taught me to hate Jubilee for being the most worthless character ever.  No matter what has happened with her since then, I can't like her because of this show.  The stories were all well done but I do agree that the show has not aged very well.

Posted by LoganRogue24

this show made me fall in love with Rogue Lenore Zann nailed Rogues voice perfect. wolverine was a badass to i loved this show i watch my dvds alot to.
Posted by Mbecks14

Can we get a review of the Batman the Animated Series? aka the greatest cartoon of ALL time.

Posted by stuamerica

Definite dittos here.  Almost everyone in during my grade school years watched this show religiously.  It is probably the biggest factor in my being the comic book kid in my high school (with about thirty kids in my grade in a public school there weren't a whole lot).
Seeing Morph die and the genuinely respectful take on Nightcrawler's faith were truly breaths of fresh air, and a nice alternative to my other cartoon addiction of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Watching the junk called cartoons today with my nieces and nephew really makes me pine for anything resembling sophisticated storytelling that this show flirted with.
I still pick up some TPBs today just from my fandom heyday of this show.

Posted by Icemizer

Absolutley enjoyed this program when it was on and even had a half dozen of the old VHS tapes when the came out. Todays kiddie drivel just cannot compare. I wish Marvel would give us a good older audience program but economically I just dont see it happening. I believe this show more than the comic was responisble for Patrick Stewart as Prof X.
Posted by PhoenixoftheTides

I was 12 when this series debuted and it single-handedly made me a huge comic book fan. Prior to that, I had a casual interest in cartoons. After this show came on, it reminded me of some old commercial showing an entirely different team of X-Men (this was the "Pryde of the X-Men" special that had commercials stating 'Meet the original X-Men...'). Once I found out that the cartoon version featured comparatively watered down versions of the original story, I started researching, buying and reading as many X-Men comics as I could find, starting with the reprints of the original X-Men and going forwards in time until I knew more about their history than most other fans. Sure it wasn't that pretty at times, but the show made me want to be a mutant and started a hobby that continued for years.

Posted by Chesapeake

The only reason I like the X-men
Posted by The_Warlord

This is the cartoon that made me a long-time fan of the X-Men

Posted by DiscoDuck8k

Nice timing, I just started looking this up again yesterday. Brings back some good memories. 
I think watching the show as a kid is probably what got me into X-Men.

Posted by zombietag

i didnt even read the whole article yet and i already agree with you

Posted by zigx

Awesome article and pretty much sums up the exact path I took to my comic fandom today.  Pryde of the X-men > X-Men Animated Series > Trading Cards > Comics. I can also say it was because of the series that I was a Marvel only fan for so long. There was an understanding growing up that DC was always "old fashion" comics with boring characters and plotlines.  
Makes me wonder if the recent movies are having the same affect on kids today. Might just be me, but I don't think The Super Hero Squad Show quite lives up to the dark feel of the original animated series.

Posted by Kid_Zombie
I'd just like to add that i am very happy to see so many from my generation on this site! 
  I remember that! The video game (x-men arcade) based on that old pilot just came out for download on the playstation network and xbox. I'm glad we got this series, but missed colossus on the team. 
Posted by darkcloakx

x-men rule.  i loved watching this show when i was kid back in the 90's.  

Posted by The Psyentist

Ah, I did/do love that show.

Posted by punkelias
@The Impersonator said:
" The best X-Men show I have ever seen. "
Not only that, but for me it is the best Comic-book based show I've seen
Posted by MikeDanger1

The 90's BELONGED to the X-Men and their characters. God bless them... now the 00's belonged to the indy's.