Nostalgia November: X-Men ruled the 90's
The X-Men Ruled the 90's
by Frank Landau
When you think of the most popular comic book series, there are a few that come to mind. Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man are normally the top three people mention. Often overlooked are the X-Men, who hold the record for best selling comic book of all time.
In the 80's, the X-Men established themselves as one of Marvel's top selling books, but things were about to get even better. It was 1991 and Chris Claremont, a long time writer of the X-Men franchise and new superstar artist Jim Lee teamed up for a new project. The X-Men had been in publication since the 1960's under the title Uncanny X-Men. Marvel felt it was time for a revision to the X titles (X-Men, X-Factor, etc). They used their new super team to start a new series entitled, simply X-Men. It reunited the original characters: Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Archangel and Iceman with some new favorites like Wolverine, Gambit, Rogue and Colossus.
They divided the X-Men into 2 teams, the Blue team and the Gold team. The Blue team consisting of Cyclops, Wolverine, Psylocke, Gambit, Beast, Rogue, and Jubilee.
The Gold team is Storm, Jean Grey, Archangel, Iceman, Colossus, Bishop and Professor Xavier himself. The two teams were chronicled separately; the Blue team in X-Men the Gold in Uncanny X-Men. Both would cross over in the respective other titles though.
The new series built the groundwork for the X-Men for years to come. It dealt with classic arch-nemeses like Magneto, Apocalypse, Sabertooth and introduce a few new villains such as Omega Red. If you haven't read this series let me give you one suggestion: PICK UP THE FIRST 3 ISSUES!
Quick run down on the first 3: The X-Men take on their greatest foe, Magneto. His new group of followers, the Acolytes, are trying to convince mutants to come to Asteroid M for refuge from humanity. Magneto raises a Russian Submarine that he sank years before and takes it's supply of nuclear missiles. This is his version of an electric fence and a "No Tresspassing" sign. The X-Men try to stop him but Magneto is able to escape with the missiles in tow. During the rematch, he defeats the new Blue team and uses Moira McTaggert to brainwash them into joining his cause. The Gold Team comes to the rescue and manages to smack some sense into their Blue Team counterparts. The X-Men reveal that Magneto is being duped by one of his Acolytes, Fabian Cortez, into making himself a martyr. With Magneto's death, the mutant cause will have a symbol to unite under. The X-Men leave Asteroid M before a Russian attack obliterates the asteroid. Magneto and his followers refuse to leave. Most of the Acolytes perish in the attack but Magneto lives to fight another day.
The stories were compelling and brought new fans to the series. It was so successful, Fox Television finally green-lit the long discussed X-Men animated series. The character design and costumes were highly influenced by Jim Lee's original run on the series.
Debuting in October of 1992, X-Men: The Animated Series was an immediate hit. It was able to showcase one of Marvel's greatest properties to more kids than comic books alone could ever achieve. For the most part, the stories for the cartoon were original. They still tackled the issues the comics raised such as racism, bigotry, tolerance and religion. Not to leave the long-time fans clamoring for classic story lines, the cartoon had versions of the Phoenix/Dark Phoenix Saga, Age of Apocalypse, Days of Future Past and the Legacy Virus. The show ran with new episodes until 1997 but remained on TV in syndication. Some of the episodes of note:
1. Night of the Sentinels
This was the 2 part series premiere. Professor Xavier dreams of a world where humans and mutants can co-exist peacefully. A group of paranoid humans feel differently and they design and build gigantic robots made to capture and kill mutants called the Sentinels. They attack Jubilee at a shopping mall after her foster parents gave her name to the Mutant Control Agency.
The X-Men find out that anyone on the Mutant Control list will be a target of the Sentinels so they sneak into the Registration offices and destroy the files. Their mission complete, they're on their way back to the Blackbird when they run into the Sentinels. They kill Morph (yeah, no one knew who he was before this show) and they capture Beast while the rest of the team escapes. After a tense fight between Wolverine and Cyclops over leaving Morph and Beast, the team decides to attack the Sentinels home base. They manage to save Jubilee and take out the Sentinels.
2. Enter Magneto and Deadly Reunions:
Beast is sitting in his jail cell peacefully reading Animal Farm when the prison is attacked by the master of magnetism: Magneto. He tries to break Beast out, but he wants to remain and wait for his day in court to show that mutants are not a threat. Magneto disagrees with Beast and leaves him as he obliterates the guard forces. He later attacks a missile base and uses the nuclear weapons to attack the military installation. Cyclops, Wolverine, and Storm manage to disable the missiles but Magneto escapes. He later attacks a chemical plant in an attempt to draw out Professor X and the two duke it out. the Professor shows him who's boss in the end.
3. THE FREAKIN' PHOENIX SAGA!
This was a 5 part story and it was INCREDIBLE! It all starts with the X-Men going into to space to check on a space station that has been malfunctioning. They find that an emissary of the Shi'ar Galactic Empire named Erik the Red has brainwashed the astronauts and taken over the station. The X-Men defeat Erik the Red and escape the space station only to have their space craft damaged. The radiation leaking in the ship will kill the pilot while the rest of the X-Men are safely in a shielded cabin. Jean Grey selflessly pilots the ship and gets possessed by the Phoenix Force. The plot grows intense as we find out that the Phoenix Force is the protector of the M'Kraan Crystal, an artifact of immense power that can make it's owner the ruler of the universe. We get to see the Shi'ar Empire, ruled by the insane Emperor D'Ken. His sister, the rebel Lilandra knows her brother's lust for power and has stolen the crystal to keep it safe. She has been contacting Professor Xavier telepathically because she could sense his power and knew the he and the X-Men would help. Jean Grey becomes a bad ass with the Phoenix Force powers at her disposal and manages to stop D'Ken and his quest to rule the universe.
The X-Men were bigger than ever. Fox held the rights to animated series and films for the X-Men (as stated by Pete Rogers in his article about movie rights for comic book franchises). They decided to take the X-Men to the next level and put them on the big screen. The movie was released in 2000 (technically this is the last year of the 90's). It was met with high praise and box office returns. The casting was superb, with Jean Luc...I mean Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Ian McKellen as Magneto. X-Men showed that comic book characters not named Batman and Superman could be successful as well. It's success played a big part in the current comic book movie bonanza we enjoy today.
When I think back to how I got started with comics, it all leads back to the X-Men. Jim Lee's run starting in 1991 was the first comic series that I made sure to buy every issue. The art was awesome, the stories were compelling and you saw that both men and women could be superheroes. Often times, the women were stronger than the men! The X-Men tackled big issues in our world and showed that we could all work together to live in harmony...and shoot lasers out of your eyes and wear boss sunglasses (Cyclops was always my favorite).