Tag Archives: marvel

Marvel Legends X-Men Animated Series Cyclops

The field commander of the X-Men has arrived.

I wasn’t sure he would make it in time, but Hasbro managed to ship Cyclops before the end of the year. Cyclops marks the final figure (for now) in Hasbro’s X-Men animated series subline of Marvel Legends. It has been…a ride. What was once a dream line of mine to see brought to fruition, turned into something less. I won’t go so far as to get overly dramatic and juxtapose dream line with nightmare, but basically nearly every negative thought I had going into it came true. I don’t have a high opinion of Hasbro to begin with, but they are a giant toy maker that is pretty good at getting out a decent product at a good price. It’s just in 2022, most of those things have stopped being true. There’s been a reduction in quality, content, and it’s been paired with a rising price. Initially, I tried to be positive about a line based on the show X-Men. We had those Into the Spider-Verse figures to use as examples of what Hasbro is capable of when it decides to base their design’s on a particular source material, but the company chose not to do that with this line. Instead, we got previously released comic book figures with a dash of cel-shading and little in the way of new tooling or accessories. The line is best qualified as lazy, and I hate to use that word because I know there are people who work at Hasbro who are anything but lazy. The direction of the line has sucked. It’s been inconsistent, underwhelming, and yet, I’m still sad to see it end. To a degree. I want the company to just finish the main cast so I can take a step back and assess what we have, but that’s been put on pause with no guarantee of anything past this figure.

For some reason, Hasbro (and Toy Biz before them) have had trouble with this costume, but I think they finally got it right.

Given all of that, there’s at least a chance that Hasbro saved the best for last. Prior releases of Jean, Storm, Jubilee, Mr. Sinister, and Mystique have basically been of the straight repaint variety with varying results. Mystique and Storm got new hair parts, while Wolverine got a new head and hands. Morph has been the only new figure, though in Marvel Legends fashion, his body is mostly reused from past figures. He did get to debut new legs which were re-tooled to allow for his thigh and boot straps to be keyed in and it’s a part that’s going to be reused quite a bit in the figures to follow. Like this one! Cyclops, like Morph, is a mix of old and new. His costume is based on the show, which was based on the costume Jim Lee designed for the character during his run. It’s been a bit of a challenge to get this costume to look nice in plastic because of the unusual belt. Cyclops has a belt that goes up and over both shoulders, but only attaches to the waist at one spot on the rear and front. It’s sort of like a pair of suspenders, except one side of the belt has been clipped to the other side instead of the waist. It’s pretty goofy, but it’s been around over 30 years now so it seems pretty ordinary as a result. It just stinks for a toy-maker like Hasbro which wants to reuse the main body of its figures and add belts onto it, but past attempts have made the end result look ugly and chunky. Not to mention it can make any articulation in the torso seem pointless.

The chest strap is now keyed into the sculpt so it doesn’t hinder articulation and it’s not as cumbersome.

That’s why, like Morph, Hasbro decided to re-tool some parts to better accommodate the belt. The torso for Cyclops, which I think is the same as Vulcan, has been modified slightly so that the belt can now key-in like the straps on the thighs and boots. This means the belt no longer has to be one continuous piece, it’s actually “broken” at the ab crunch, but when the figure bends it creates the illusion that the belt is sliding around, but really it doesn’t move. The bottom piece of the belt just gets hidden by the ab crunch with no gap visible between the top and bottom piece. Is it totally seamless? No, but it’s an action figure and it needs to articulate and short of just making the belt part of the sculpt, this is probably the best solution. And by keying it in, it sits closer to flush with the rest of the costume. It’s not as chunky and awkward looking, and it’s easy to see why Legends collectors more interested in the comic line are excited for this release because you know Cyclops is likely to get re-released there. Possibly on a retro card or something.

Stay away from my friends, Sinister!

Hasbro did some actual tooling and it’s for the better. Sadly, that’s a pretty major development for this line as standards are pretty low at this point. And it’s not all, as Cyclops has a new head and his gloves might be new as well since they’re a little different from other figures released on this buck thus far. And just taking him at face value, he looks fine. Maybe even good. The head seems a little too big for the body as superheroes (especially from this era and the show) tend to have smaller than normal heads. The shoulders still sit too low and the chest could use more mass. Cyclops is a big dude, and this figure doesn’t really capture that perfectly, but it does so better than before. There’s also an eyesore on this guy on the forearms. Vulcan has long gloves that go up his forearms and Hasbro decided to sculpt in a groove where that glove ends and the paint stops. Cyclops has short gloves and apparently Hasbro blew the budget for tooling on the torso modifications because they didn’t do the same for the forearms. It feels especially cheap because surely there are other figures who would benefit from forearms without that line? It’s so frustrating how Hasbro will go halfway to deliver an accurate product, but stop short of something so simple.

Yup, he’s cel-shaded. Get over it.

The major talking point of this line has and likely always will be the cel-shading. Again, I reiterate that I like cel-shading when it makes sense. I think figures seeking to emulate a specific look benefit from the effect, but only if it’s done well. This line has been an example of how not to do it well. It’s been applied in a cheap and lazy fashion. Cyclops really isn’t any different, but by virtue of much of the figure being cast in a dark blue, it’s not as bad. The darker blue used to shade the main body, arms, and legs looks good. A better figure still would have used three colors for the shading, but here it’s acceptable. The yellow parts still look terrible. They’ve been using this gold, mustard, color for the yellow which matches no source material I’ve ever seen, comic or show, but expecting them to change at this point would be equally stupid. It’s also applied the same as it was on Morph for the boots which includes this goofy, wavy, line on the right foot that makes no sense. The belt on his torso has almost no shading, so it really stands out as just being bare plastic, but the trunks and waist have a little. It’s still not good, but it’s not the worst we’ve seen in the line (that honor rests with Jubilee), but it is as expected so at least they’re consistent?

“You left me to die!” “No, I didn’t.”

If this line has a strength (aside from the very well done box art by Dan Veesenmeyer) it rests in the articulation as it’s been pretty solid. I think at this point that’s the main strength for Marvel Legends given the changes brought this year. Cyclops still uses the ball-hinge head which works fine and his design doesn’t introduce any elements that would hinder the range up there so that is good. The shoulders are hinged and come out to horizontal just fine, rotate, and we get a biceps swivel that does what it does. There’s a butterfly joint in each shoulder that works well enough, though the left one will be hindered a bit by the chest strap. The elbows are pinless and double-jointed and he can bend his arm past 90 degrees. Even though we have that “cut” on the forearm, there’s no articulation there. It only exists to be ugly. The wrists swivel and hinge in typical fashion. In the torso, there’s an ab crunch that’s rather stubborn on my figure, though that seems to be unique to mine. It works, but bending him back makes him look pregnant or like he has a beer belly. The waist rotates as one would expect. At the hips, we have ball and socket joints and he can spread his legs enough, not a full split, but enough for Cyclops. He kicks forward just fine, not really back, and we have the usual thigh cut. A lot of people remain unhappy with the placement of these straps and how high they are, but I couldn’t possibly care less about that. The knees are double-jointed and bend past 90 and we get a boot cut below the straps. It’s ugly, but you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to. The ankles hinge forward and back enough plus they have a rocker. I’ve seen more than one person have issues with the ankle rocker snapping. It does feel a tad gummy, and even though these are the same feet as what we saw with Morph, the ones on Cyclops feel different. Just be careful. This guy is going to do what he needs. It’s disappointing that the ab crunch results in such an ugly look for the figure considering this is a mold Hasbro intends to reuse over and over, but it is what it is.

If you know, you know.

What is not a strong suit for this line has been the accessory count and Cyclops is no different. He doesn’t even get a second head. The only other items in the box are a set of open hands and a two-finger pointing right hand designed to be used with his visor or his X communicator. There’s no effect parts or anything like that which feels pretty damn cheap.They’ve done Cyclops effects in the past, but I guess they wouldn’t work here. For 28 bucks, he really should have a second head that includes a blast. The fact that the Mr. Sinister figure in this wave was a straight re-paint with no accessories should have created enough savings for the entire line to get a decent spread. The open hands are also reused from Morph (and likely from other figures) and, like the gripping hands we saw shoehorned into the Wolverine set, are sculpted to be bare hands so he has sculpted fingernails and it looks rather silly. Again, Hasbro couldn’t see a benefit with multiple figures of creating a gloved, open, hand? We’re moving well beyond “cheap” with some of these shortcuts.

“Next time, I use these!”

Did Hasbro save the best for last? I wouldn’t go that far. I still think, given that this is a line of figures supposed to be based on the animated series, that Wolverine remains the best. He got two new heads which both look like they came from the show plus a fun little toss-in accessory in the form of the picture frame. Cyclops is sort of in a tie with Sinister and Morph. I can see arguments for all 3. Sinister is the most on-model, but also the biggest rip-off in many ways in the line given how little Hasbro had to put into it. Morph gets bonus points for just being Morph, but there was really no imagination put into that figure and the default portrait really looks nothing like the character from the show. As has been the case with most of these, Cyclops is a figure of half-measures. Hasbro did some good, but also did some bad, and the bad is mostly in what they chose not to do. His proportions are still iffy, but that seems to be a problem with Legends in general while the forearm thing is just annoying and it makes it look like Hasbro has zero pride in their product. Cyclops, like basically every release in this line, is a terrible value and I can pull up several other figures from different companies in a similar price-point that actually justify their cost. Nothing from Hasbro of late in the Marvel Legends line does that, but we keep buying it so it’s not likely to change.

This is it for the animated line for now. Despite my issues with it, I would still like for Hasbro to at least finish off the team and hit on a couple of the most important villains.

Given all of that, I actually find myself really drawn to this Cyclops. I’ve always loved this look for him and that combo of a rich, royal, blue with yellow just does it form. There’s a ton of nostalgia at play here which has made this figure hard to put down. Certainly if you’ve been collecting this line you’re not going to stop before you get to Cyclops unless you’re just so dissatisfied that you’re bailing all-together and selling everything off. For what this line has been, he’s good, but overall he’s more fine than good. It’s hard to get enthusiastic about any of these. If you would like to add Cyclops to your shelf he’s available on Pulse and should be available at some point on ShopDisney. He’ll set you back 28 bucks plus shipping, but once he’s gone it’s unclear if he (or any of the figures in this line) will receive another production run. Some have already started to sell out so you may not want to sleep on it. At the same time, this is the last release in the line for now with no, true, assurances that it will continue. Hasbro called it a “pause” so that it could focus on doing figures from the Spider-Man 90s cartoon, but it’s not like they’re obligated to continue it. My guess is that it’s still under consideration, but if the figures sell out then it’s more likely they return to it. This clearly hasn’t been an expensive line to produce, so any hurdle it has to clear performance wise may not be very big. I think they just wanted to space out some of the retro card releases like Rogue, Gambit, and the new Beast a bit more before tackling them for this line. We’ll probably know the fate of this one come this time next year (likely a little earlier as I imagine PulseCon is where we’ll find out), but as always, buyer beware if you feel you need the team to be complete to feel satisfied. I am, for better or worse, all-in with this line so if more come you can be sure I’ll cover them. And if you just want more animated X-Men figures to talk about, I did order the Mondo Magneto so the discussion isn’t over with 2022.

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Marvel Legends X-Men Animated Series Wolverine

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This week, the long wait for an in-person San Diego Comic Con comes to an end. For the first time since 2019, attendees, creators, and the like will be invited back into the city of San Diego for a celebration of all things comics, movies, and general “nerd” culture. One of the many panels this…

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Dec. 24 – Ultimate Spider-Man – “The Moon Knight Before Christmas”

Original air date December 17, 2016.

When it comes to doing these write-ups, I naturally trend towards older Christmas specials. The name of the blog is The Nostalgia Spot, after all, so it would only make sense for me to favor stuff that’s at least a decade old, if not more. The fact of the matter is, there’s really not enough content out there to only focus on the old, and besides, sometimes it’s fun to be a bit topical. In 2022, Marvel unleashed Moon Knight on the masses via Disney+. Since I am a subscriber to Disney+ and a casual Marvel fan, I watched it because it was there and I like feeling like I’m getting the most bang for my buck. It was a fine show and I especially enjoyed the performance of Oscar Isaac in the lead role. I believe it was mostly well-received, though I know there were some out there disappointed at the lack of Moon Knight in a show called Moon Knight which is understandable. I’m sure we’ll see more of him though because this is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, after all, and it’s always building towards something.

Prior to watching the show, my only knowledge of Moon Knight was that he was some superhero with a cool looking costume. I have an old ToyBiz Marvel Legends figure of the same, but I’ve honestly never picked up a Moon Knight comic. He always had the reputation of being a Batman knock-off, and to some extent I guess that’s true. In the hands of an unskilled writer, I could easily see his books turning into a Batman-like story. In the show, he was far more interesting though so I don’t think such criticism is warranted in that case, but what about in other media?

I guess the show had a different title in its final season? It’s just listed as Ultimate Spider-Man every where.

In 2012, Disney began airing a show called Ultimate Spider-Man. Despite the name, this show was not an adaptation of the comic book series of the same name. Like many post 2000 Spider-Man shows, it borrows from that comic, but also basically every other form of Spider-Man to create one big hodgepodge of what are hopefully the best traits of the various Spider-Men over the years. I never paid any attention to the show while it was airing, but it hung around to total over 100 episodes with the series ending in 2017. One of the last episodes of the show happens to be a Christmas one, and it also features Moon Knight, and it’s also presently the “knight” before Christmas, so now feels like the right time to take a look at this one.

Ultimate Spider-Man is a Film Roman production that was overseen by Alex Soto. It’s a 2D animated cartoon series with a pretty straight-forward approach to the character designs and scenery, unlike a more stylized series and prior Christmas spot entrant Spectacular Spider-Man. The show stars Drake Bell as Spider-Man/Peter Parker and when it begins he has already been Spider-Man for about a year, until attracting the attention of Nick Fury. This is a young Spider-Man still feeling his way around things and it seems an emphasis of the show was to feature lots of team-ups with other familiar faces from the Marvel Universe. The show was able to assemble a rather impressive writing team which included Brian Michael Bendis, the creative behind the comic of the same name, and Paul Dini, perhaps the most celebrated writer in superhero animation (this particular episode is by Elliot Casey). It would seem there’s a lot to like about this one on paper and it also looks like some money was spent making the show look good so it’s a bit of a surprise on my behalf that I’ve basically ignored the series for as long as I have.

This show loves playing with the size of Spider-Man’s eye lenses.

The show begins without any sort of opening title sequence, I’m guessing that’s to come. We find Spider-Man (Bell) decorating a…tree of some kind and talking to himself. He seems to be trying to psyche himself up to have a terrific Christmas because he needs to. He’s actually house-sitting this Christmas for Dr. Strange (Liam O’Brien) in his Sanctum Sanctorum while the good doctor is off saving reality, or something. It would seem this is Spidey’s first Christmas away from his Aunt May and he’s just trying to make the best of it. Unfortunately, this bizarre, monster, tree that Dr. Strange keeps in his home is sentient and not up for being decorated like a Christmas tree. It also doesn’t seem to appreciate Spider-Man’s sass and takes a swipe at him forcing the web-slinger to retreat into another room. Oh, and this is a show that seems to break the fourth wall via its protagonist. A lot.

It also seems to like this story device as we’ll see it again.

After running from the grinchy monster plant, Spider-Man finds himself in a fancy looking armory. It’s apparently a room he’s not supposed to enter and as he tries to recall what Dr. Strange told him about the room an apparition of the doctor appears above him. A very young looking Doctor Strange is recalled just telling him to stay out of the room because of all of the dangerous weapons and artifacts present. Spidey then sheepishly scratches the back of his head as an “Oops, my bad,” kind of thing since he’s already broken his promise to Strange. I’m getting the impression this Spider-Man is a bit of a goof.

That’s a pretty bad ass way to introduce Moon Knight.

A scream from outside gets Spider-Man’s attention. He’s supposed to look after Strange’s home, but he can’t ignore what sounds like a girl in distress! Spidey races outside to find a young girl being harassed by a strangely dressed man. That man is Moon Knight (Diedrich Bader), and it would seem that Spider-Man has never encountered this soldier of the moon before. His entrance is pretty cool though as Spidey looks up at the moon and we see the alleged hero reflected in the lens of his mask. Spidey deftly avoids him and grabs the young girl in the process before staring down his new foe. Moon Knight introduces himself, and Spider-Man makes a lame crack about him not being Santa Claus as we smash cut to the opening title. Apparently this era of the show is called Ultimate Spider-Man vs The Sinister Six as that’s what the title card says. I guess it would have helped if I had watched some of this show before jumping into one of the final 3 episodes.

This rescue isn’t going very well so far.

After the very brief title card is “webbed away,” we get to see Spider-Man vs The Moon Knight! Moon Knight is impeccably voiced by Diedrich Bader in what feels like a preview of the somewhat aloof Batman (in contrast with the straight-forward Batman he has played elsewhere) he will play in the future on Harley Quinn. He’s an unintentionally humorous character (as-in, the character isn’t trying to be funny in-universe, but he’s definitely written to be comical to the viewer) as he constantly keeps referring to the moon, talking about the moon, and even converses with the moon. I’m having flashbacks to the Mooninites from Aqua Teen Hunger Force here because this guy loves the moon as much as they do. Spider-Man seems annoyed with him, and Moon Knight doesn’t really seem to have a high opinion of Spider-Man for that matter and even calls him a demon. It never dawns on Spider-Man though that maybe this guy is attacking this young girl for a reason, so he decides to retreat into the safety of Strange’s townhouse, but not before whipping Moon Knight by his cape into some snow (“And that is why I don’t wear a cape!”). Unfortunately, the building has a protective spell placed on it that requires a magical command to allow additional people through and Spidey is drawing a blank on what those words are. While he stands safely behind the magical shield, the girl he’s trying to save is in harm’s way. Worry not though, for Spider-Man is able to recall those words just before Moon Knight nails her.

And now we have some wholesome, Christmas, entertainment!

As Spidey bids Moon Knight a good night, the vigilante tries pounding on the forcefield and cries out that Spider-Man is giving this girl exactly what she wants, but he’s not listening. Inside, Spider-Man and the girl get acquainted. Her name is Francine (Mary Kate Wiles) and she tells Spider-Man she’s an orphan. A recently made orphan as she lost her father not too long ago. Spidey acts like he’s going to cry hearing her sad story and welcomes her to spend Christmas with him in this lonely old house. We then go into a montage hosted by Spidey Claus! The two make gingerbread cookies that literally get up and walk away, which they have a laugh at. We then see a sequence of polaroid photos of the two making silly faces and eating candy canes. Spidey is laying in front of the fire looking at said pictures when the brief montage ends, while Francine seems interested in looking around. She soon finds the door to the forbidden room, and like most kids, immediately wants to go in once she hears it’s forbidden. Spidey tells her he’s not going to break his promise to Doctor Strange and let her in, but as he lectures her he doesn’t really pay attention and she just slips right past him.

I’m guessing this thing is important.

Francine enters the room and is immediately drawn to a crystal ball. Spidey comes over and realizes he’s seen that ball before. It belonged to the villain Mysterio, and we see a flashback of him doing crimes and battling Spider-Man. Apparently, he fell off the Brooklyn Bridge at the end of one of their encounters and Spider-Man was unable to save him. The ball is his helmet and it was magically enhanced so that it could make Mysterio’s many illusions turn real. Pretty sweet! After Mysterio fell into the river below, Spider-Man recovered the helmet, but no body. He gave it to Strange and is surprised the sorcerer didn’t simply destroy it.

It’s a lot harder to hurt someone when you can’t touch them.

A crashing sound from upstairs gets Spider-Man’s attention and ends his little story time. He hands the helmet to Francine and tells her to stay put while he investigates. He heads upstairs into what looks like a library only to find Moon Knight inside! He’s pretty surprised to see him since Strange put that spell up to keep out the unwanted, but he’ll have to figure that out later. Spider-Man attempts to web Moon Knight, but he turns intangible and the web line goes right through him. Spidey then tries to attack in a more conventional manner, but continues to encounter difficulties. Moon Knight explains that he is but a reflection in the moonlight, which is poetic, but still confusing. Spider-Man then hears a sound coming from outside and looks up to see Moon Knight on the other side of a skylight. Two Moon Knights?!

It turns out she’s the bad guy. Try to act surprised.

Spider-Man noticing another Moon Knight outside seemed to be enough for this Moon Knight to call it quits. It disappears in a blue light and Spider-Man realizes he was just an illusion. Saying the word “illusion” out loud is enough for him to figure out what’s going on. He heads back to the forbidden room and somewhat nervously pops his head in to check on Francine. He finds the girl holding the orb and she too is surrounded by a cold, blue, light. When it fades we see she’s a grown woman, and wearing Mysterio’s old costume too. She then thanks Spider-Man, and introduces herself as Frances Beck, daughter of Mysterio! It would seem she holds a grudge against Spider-Man for her father’s apparent death and retrieving his magical helmet is exactly what she needs to exact sweet, festive, revenge. This is going to be the best Christmas ever!

Just the first of Mysterio’s holiday themed not-illusions. You have to appreciate a villain that gets in on the theme of the episode.

Lucky for Spider-Man, the New Mysterio is quite new to this whole villain thing and Spidey just takes the helmet away from her via a simple web-line. He tells her she can’t handle this thing and suggests she’s not the real deal, but she assures him she is. She lifts her arms up and opens a portal in the ceiling and a horde of vicious looking elves drop in! Spidey is able to escape to the ceiling though as they’re rather short, and he and New Mysterio do the whole “You killed my father!” “No, I didn’t!” routine before Spidey bails into another room.

Dr. Strange is here to save the day! Though Spider-Man is fighting a master illusionist that has already tricked him once…

Spidey’s webs can only hold off the elves for so long as they are vicious little bastards, so he retreats back up to the library. There he finds Moon Knight, still just chilling out on the roof outside the window, before he’s visited by an unexpected guest. Or should I say homeowner? Because Dr. Strange can’t be a guest in his own home! He appears before Spider-Man and seems quite ticked off with old web-head. He let people into his home, entered the forbidden room, and has removed a powerful item from said room! Spidey tries to apologize, while Moon Knight bangs on the window shouting “Not strange!” This confuses Spider-Man more as he very much disagrees with Moon Knight and reminds him that this night has actually been very strange! He then finally realizes what Moon Knight is saying, and it’s probably helped by Dr. Strange lunging for the helmet and failing this whole thing, that he means Strange, not strange. Which, I mean, come on Spider-Man! I know you’re not a detective like Batman, but you’re facing an illusionist here and she’s already fooled you once!

More holiday monsters – I love this stuff!

The illusion of Strange then vanishes and is replaced by Mysterio. She makes a crack at Spider-Man referring to him as a joke to which he responds with “To be fair, I think everything’s a joke.” She also does some magic finger snap that just makes the helmet appear in her hands. She finally puts it on and uses the power of the helmet to summon a giant gingerbread man! Spidey points out that this is very much a joke as he dodges the massive candy cane the beast swings in his direction. I must say, I do admire Mysterio’s commitment to the season with her various summonings. Come to think of it, how did she summon the non-illusion elves without the helmet? Maybe it was the magic of the season? I guess it’s best not to think about these things.

Here comes Moony!

Spider-Man does what he seemingly does best: flees to higher ground. Up on the ceiling, he’s able to watch the Christmas abominations lay waste to what are likely some very old and likely priceless objects in Doctor Strange’s library and also regroup. He tries to recall the advice Dr. Strange gave him in the past, but all he can do is recall generic advice like wearing a hat when it’s cold outside. He then remembers something about Strange advising him to make allies out of the enemies of his enemies. Naturally, this means Moon Knight who is still banging away outside because he is one persistent fellow. Spider-Man shouts out the magic words to release the barrier and Moon Knight is finally able to smash in that very expensive looking window and join the battle!

Seems there’s a downside to all of this power, who could have foreseen that?

Moon Knight comes in wielding his baton and smashes some ginger foes! He’s ready to rumble, and it allows Spidey to attempt to appeal to Francine. She corrects him when he addresses her by that name and refers to herself as Frances Beck! She is not going to be swayed, but before she can really get into her villain speech she collapses to her knees in pain. Reaching for the fishbowl on her head, it would seem the orb is a bit more than she can handle. Spidey tries to help her, rather lamely though by putting an arm around her when he could have just yanked the thing off. She recoils from his touch and uses her power to open a portal that she and her gingerbread minions are able to escape through.

Look out world, Moon Knight has a wand!

With Frances gone, Moon Knight and Spider-Man are able to have a little heart-to-heart. Only, Moon Knight doesn’t seem interested in sharing any of his knowledge with Spider-Man, probably because he’s pretty much responsible for this mess they’re in. Their conversation is interrupted though by the moon. Yes, Moon Knight takes his orders from the moon and it’s played rather comically since Moon Knight can hear the moon, but no one else can including the viewer. It would seem the moon has decided that Spider-Man’s help is needed and Moon Knight is commanded to reveal all. He basically just relays that the moon warned him about Beck and that she intended to wake a dormant evil that lurked in this place, which must be the fish bowl. It also told him how to stop it: a magic wand! Yes, some wand has the power to make the helmet collapse in on itself, and it just so happens to be in this house too! Spidey is forced to break his promise, again, to Strange and admit Moon Knight into the forbidden room. There he finds the wand they need and the two set out to stop Beck.

I’ve seen this guy before.

As the two walk out the front door, Spidey asks Moon Knight (he calls him Moony – adorable!) if this wand will destroy the wearer of the helmet. He only responds with “The moon shall have its vengeance,” which is interesting because I never thought of the moon as the vengeful type. Spider-Man points out that isn’t really an answer and tells Moon Knight if his aim is to kill Francine then he doesn’t want his help. He doesn’t offer a reply as the two head outside and find Mysterio floating high above the city doing super villain stuff. She uses her new powers to summon a giant snowman monster than looks curiously like Marshmallow from Frozen.

Now Santa is getting in on this – is nothing sacred?!

Upon coming face to face with this monster, Spidey is suddenly more interested in Moon Knight’s help and willing to accept any conditions. Of course, when he looks over to the vigilante for help, he’s busy chatting it up with the moon. This guy! It would seem he’s also trying to convince his…boss…that Spider-Man is a liability, which Spidey takes offense to. The two then turn their attention to the task at hand and Spider-Man observes the Moon Knight method of dodging. Which is to say, he does no such thing. He takes a punch from the beast and explains to Spider-Man that he’d rather take the hit than waste time avoiding it, which Spidey is forced to admit is pretty badass (my words, not his). While Moon Knight tangles with Marshmallow, Spidey tries reasoning with Frances, but she just responds by turning an inflatable Santa sentient which goes on the attack. Lucky for him, Moon Knight’s aversion to dodging gets him knocked into Santa and solves that problem for him!

Hey! Quit laying around! There’s a city to save!

Spidey takes to the sky to try to get away from the monster, but ends up getting swatted instead. He crashes through a building and finds himself in a department store. A giant, novelty, present broke his fall. Moon Knight soon follows and lands on top of another novelty present and Spidey is forced to make a crack about the bad holiday décor. Moon Knight ignores Spider-Man’s joke and informs him of the dire situation they find themselves in. He also adds that the moon demands this situation be rectified by any means necessary. The duo are soon set upon by an army of nutcrackers and toy airplanes. The two leap into the scaffolding smashing toys along the way until the big snowman comes bashing in with Mysterio right behind.

I’m very surprised Spider-Man didn’t make a crack about a splitting headache here.

As Spider-Man dodges their attacks, he sees Moon Knight go for Mysterio. He calls out for him to wait, but Moon Knight leaps through the air and plunges the wand through the glass dome. Frances collapses to her knees and appears to be in a trance of some kind. Moon Knight suggests the spell is taking over and will soon end all of this, but Spidey isn’t willing to give up on Frances. He realizes that the only way to get Moon Knight to help him is to trick him. Sounds deceitful, but if this plan works then Moon Knight only has himself to blame for Spidey pretends to hear the moon. Moon Knight is perplexed, but also a bit impressed, as Spider-Man acts as if the moon is commanding him to save Frances. Moon Knight may be a badass, but he’s definitely not the sharpest knife in the drawer as he falls for it. He agrees to hold off the monstrous snowman, while Spider-Man attempts a rescue.

We all talk to the moon all the time. You’re not special, Moon Knight!

Spidey doesn’t really know what to do, so he instinctively grabs the wand. That seemed like the logical place to start, only the unexpected happens and Spider-Man gets sucked inside the helmet! He finds himself in a dreary setting, but a farm house comes into view and Spider-Man figures it must be the farm house that Frances told him about. He approaches a window and spies Francine inside seated at a dinner table with her father, Quentin Beck (Paul Scheer). They appear to be having Christmas dinner, and the decorations in the background would indicate as much. As Spidey gets closer, he finds himself transported into the house and seated at the table. There, he tries reasoning with Frances by telling her this is all an illusion and they need to get out. She insists it’s real though, that her father is real, but Spidey tells her if it was real then he’d tell her what happened that night between them. So he does!

Well, since you’re here, you might as well stick around for Christmas dinner, Spidey.

It turns out, Frances was right and this is the real Quentin Beck. He describes how he made a deal with the demon Dormammu for the power to make his illusions real, and this is the price he paid. He tells his daughter that Spider-Man did try to save him, but he refused the hero’s aid. When he fell off of the bridge, he was pulled into the helmet where he’s to remain. This also explains why Doctor Strange didn’t destroy it since doing so would have destroyed Beck. Unfortunately for the Becks, this world starts to collapse upon itself. A vortex opens above them and it’s pretty clear they need to get out. Frances pleads for her dad to come with them, but he knows he’s trapped in this prison. Or is he? Spider-Man doesn’t think so, but soon the ground opens up below them and Frances is sent falling into the void!

No daughter, I think I would prefer to remain here in Armageddon than join you for Christmas.

She stops though, bathed in a green light, lifted up by her father. He’s holding all three of them with his magic, I guess, suspended in the air. Beck then uses his powers and a green light envelops all three of them. Outside the helmet, Moon Knight is having a rough go of things. He’s being attacked by the snow monster, nutcrackers, and some nasty looking teddy bears. As he sees the helmet pulsate, he assumes that he has failed and apologizes to the moon. Then, his enemies drop dead and Spider-Man appears with the Becks and Moon Knight is forced to correct himself.

Oh look, it all turned out well in the end. That tends to happen at Christmas in TV shows.

While father and daughter have a reunion, Spider-Man remarks how Moon Knight really trashed the place. He reminds Spider-Man this isn’t the only place that’s been damaged this evening and Spidey lets out an “Oh no!” We cut to Dr. Strange finding his home in shambles. As a book crumbles to dust in his hands, he curses Spider-Man to the heavens! We then are taken to F.E.A.S.T. where Aunt May volunteers to help the less fortunate. Spider-Man, Moon Knight, and the Becks are shown enjoying a meal together and there’s laughter and happy, holiday, cheer. We then head to the roof, where Spider-Man is attempting to wrap things up for us, only he’s distracted by Moon Knight’s persistent conversation with the moon. He makes fun of him for it, but Moon Knight turns the tables since Spider-Man can’t even explain who he’s addressing. Moon Knight calls him a weirdo, and Spidey is apparently content to leave things there as he wishes us all a “Happy Holidays,” and we exit with an iris shot.

I suppose it didn’t turn out all that well for Strange. Don’t worry about him though, he can magic that glass back together or something.

That was how Spider-Man spent a Christmas. And it was a rather eventful one. I have to confess, I wasn’t much at all interested in the story of the Becks. We barely got to know Francine so it wasn’t as if I felt hurt by her betrayal of Spider-Man like he seemed to be. I also wasn’t attached to her, but I guess it’s good that Spidey wasn’t willing to take the easy way out and let the magic wand kill her. I also never saw the episodes with Mysterio so I didn’t have that to fall back on. What hurt things further though was the performance of Paul Scheer as Quentin Beck. He is so wooden in the role and the scenes with him are terrible. Was he just mailing this one in? I’m surprised they would stick with this casting because it did not work at all. Perhaps the direction for him was poor as when the vortex is swallowing them he sounds bored, like maybe he didn’t really know what was happening to his character? I also don’t understand how his powers work. I thought he just did illusions and the helmet contained the magic? Did he learn how to utilize the helmet’s magic from within it? Could he have “magicked” himself out of that thing this whole time? It’s messy.

Even Moon Knight joined them for Christmas dinner.

What did work though was Diedrich Bader as Moon Knight. He steals the show and when he’s not on the screen I was definitely looking for him. He gets to be a badass with a personality as he comes across as aloof due to his constant conversing with the moon and Spider-Man is a natural foil for such a character. He takes himself very seriously, and Spider-Man could certainly be described as the opposite. As for old web-head, he manages to be charming and charismatic, but also annoying. It’s a unique quality that Spider-Man sometimes possesses. This particular iteration pushes things at times and he’s definitely upstaged in the funny remarks category by Moon Knight and his deadpan delivery, but I’m guessing that doesn’t happen in most episodes. As for Christmas, it’s here in spirit and Mysterio does her part to make sure of that. We don’t really see much of the reunion at the end so we never get a big dose of those Christmas feels, but given my distaste for the performance of Scheer, it’s probably a good thing that we ended things where we did.

After watching this episode I just have one question: where’s my Spider-Man and Moon Knight spin-off?!

If you like Spider-Man and want to see him at Christmas, this is fine. There’s some lore here to work around, but nothing that should feel too difficult for a casual Spidey fan. The animation is solid and I like how this thing looks. It did take me a bit to warm up to Spidey’s constant eye posing, but I could definitely watch more of this. I don’t know that I will, but maybe. This episode and the rest of the show is streaming on Disney+ and I would not expect to see it shown on television, especially this late in the game. This is also the show’s second Christmas episode, but the blurb on the first one made it sound like an It’s a Wonderful Life parody and I didn’t want to bark up that tree. If I’m mistaken and you think I should check it out, let me know. For now, I feel fine leaving it at this. Plus, that one doesn’t have Moon Knight!

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

Dec. 24 – Shrek the Halls

2021 marked an important anniversary in animation: Shrek turned 20. The animated film from DreamWorks is credited as really helping to launch the company as a viable competitor to Disney’s Pixar. Prior to Shrek, DreamWorks had found success at the box office with Antz and Chicken Run, but Shrek was the first to really explode…

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Dec. 24 – The SpongeBob Christmas Special

When I listed out the best Christmas specials over a week ago, I included the stop-motion A SpongeBob Christmas. And I stand by that as that special is pretty great. Before there was A SpongeBob Christmas, there was The SpongeBob Christmas Special. Confused? Well, there are only so many ways to title a Christmas special.…

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Dec. 24 – Silly Symphony – “The Night Before Christmas”

We have reached a day of great, holiday, release – Christmas Eve. And what better way to mark the occasion than with a holiday short titled The Night Before Christmas. A lot of cartoons have made use of this title, but today’s subject is the Silly Symphony short that falls under that heading. It felt…

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Dec. 18 – X-Men – “Have Yourself a Morlock Little X-Mas”

Original air date December 23, 1995.

Today, The Christmas Spot temporarily alters it’s name to The X-Mas Spot. As a sort-of celebration for the animated series X-Men turning 30 this past Halloween we’re going to look at the show’s lone holiday special – “Have Yourself a Morlock Little X-Mas.” The show X-Men was a pretty serious affair as far as kid shows go. It wasn’t very jokey or gimmicky and it technically didn’t even have a tie-in toy line. Sure, ToyBiz had an X-Men line of figures, but it was technically a tie-in with the comic book. The show undoubtedly influenced the line, there was a Morph figure after all, but the point is this wasn’t a show that went for the cheap hits so when a Christmas special was announced during the holiday season of 1995 I was pretty damn surprised.

Why does a show like X-Men then feature a holiday special? As is the answer to most things that seem unexplainable from afar when it comes to television – it was the network. Fox wanted a Christmas special from the show so it delivered one. It’s not a fan favorite and writer/showrunner Eric Lewald basically admits they made it intentionally campy to reflect other cheesy Christmas episodes of popular shows. They even got in a “Not on Christmas!” line into it. The episode is what it is, a shoe-horned concept into a show that probably shouldn’t feature such an episode, but perhaps there is still some value here. Besides, who doesn’t want to spend Christmas with Wolverine?

This is the story of Jubilee’s first X-Mas with the X-Men, which means it probably shouldn’t be assumed that we’ve been watching their lives unfold in a linear fashion or else they’ve had one hell of a year.

The episode begins at the home of the X-Men. Cyclops (Norm Spencer), Rogue (Lenore Zann), and Jubilee (Alyson Court) are decorating a massive tree in the mansion’s foyer. As they do, they’re joyously singing “Deck the Halls” and Cyclops sounds particularly awful, but seemingly intentionally so as he calls attention to his bad singing and suggests the other two carry on without him. Brooding off by the fireplace is old Wolverine (Cal Dodd) who predictably wants nothing to do with the holiday festivities despite the insistence of Jubilee for him to do so. It’s her first Christmas with the X-Men, which would seem all of the events up until now that have occurred in the show have taken place within a year, and she seems a little hurt that Wolverine won’t participate, but Rogue is here to reassure her and even lifts her up to the top of the tree to put the star in place.

Gambit is apparently impervious to boiling water.

Off in the kitchen, Jean (Catherine Disher) is preparing a Christmas dinner, but she has to contend with Gambit (Chris Potter). Despite her being the appointed chef, Gambit is sporting an apron and togue and appears to view himself on equal footing here. He rudely inquires what she’s preparing and Jean angrily retorts “It’s called food, Gambit. Normal, Christmas food.” Gambit, being from Louisiana and a connoisseur of cajun cuisine, seems to disagree strongly with whatever is boiling in a pot. When he goes for some seasoning, Jean uses her telekinetic powers to keep the spice on the counter despite how hard Gambit pulls on it. She also adds “The day that I need your help in the kitchen is the day that I stop cooking!” It’s a fine line, but Wolverine just used a similar one on Jubilee (“The day that I sing “Jingle Bells” is the day pigs fly”) so it’s a little redundant. She releases her psychic hold on the seasoning sending Gambit tumbling into the stove. He falls on his rear and the pot of water that was boiling lands on him, but seemingly does no harm. Jean gets a little laugh out of this while Gambit still insists she knows nothing about cooking a proper Christmas dinner.

In the lab, Beast (George Buza) is suspended from the ceiling mixing something in a beaker. It turns from red to green while Beast recites a poem by a “Sir Walter” that sounds festive enough. I only know the poem’s author because when Beasts tastes his “goo” he declares it worthy of the poem though he’s sure to point out this concoction is non-alcoholic (wouldn’t want the kids to think otherwise). We then cut to Professor X (Cedric Smith) and Storm (Alison Sealy-Smith) watching the goings on via the security monitors. It’s a bit creepy, but I guess someone is always watching these things for security reasons. Xavier notes that Storm seems a little blue and she remarks that seeing Jubilee makes her reflect on her own childhood. She grew up poor on the streets of Cairo, in case you were wondering as they don’t have time to discuss it further since alarms start blaring. Xavier thinks they’re under attack and Storm gets the first very, sweaty, Christmas special line “Could we be under attack – on Christmas Eve?!”

Beast is always so festive.

Cyclops receives a transmission about the alarm via his usual belt insignia. The “X” on everyone’s belts in this show were like two-way radios. The funny thing here is that Cyclops is not wearing his field uniform so rather than pressing a button on his chest he’s just touching his shirt. The X-Men race to the alarm’s origin which turns out to be Beast’s lab. They bust in only to find Beast in the process of shutting down the alarm. He’s covered in a red sauce and when Cyclops asks if he’s okay he indicates that he is, but his cranberry glaze is not. Wolverine is the last to arrive and he’s disappointed they weren’t under attack. He decides he’s had enough of this Christmas stuff and indicates he intends to go somewhere else for a bit. Jubilee then asks him if he’ll go shopping with her and Storm and Wolverine is right to point out how terrible shopping on Christmas Eve sounds. He makes a lame joke about having better luck fighting Sabretooth, but Jubilee does the whole “Please? For me?” and Wolverine responds with “Turn it off, kid.”

I’m going to have to agree with Wolverine here, the mall on Christmas Eve is something to be avoided.

Despite all of that, Wolverine does indeed accompany Jubilee and Storm to the mall against his better judgement. We see them walking around a department store and Jubilee’s face is hidden by the amount of boxes in her arms. She’s trying to talk to both Storm and Wolverine, but can’t see, and Wolverine kindly removes the top box so she can do so. She thanks him for coming and he gives her a “Don’t mention it,” but also reiterates his desire to leave. Jubilee is pretty amped up for Christmas, but also worried she’s not doing it right as she reminds us again that she’s never had a Christmas with a family before. Storm is reassuring, and as the trio makes their way out Wolverine is accosted by a sales woman pitching cologne. She sprays it in Wolverine’s face and informs him it’s sure to make women act like animals (rather risqué for a kid’s show), but Wolverine informs her he’s about to turn into an animal before Storm intercedes.

I feel like we’re missing a conversation here: How did Jubilee convince Wolverine to go ice skating?

Storm gestures towards freedom and encourages Wolverine to make a break for it. He does looking almost feral in the process. We then shift to an outdoor scene and the crew is doing some ice skating presumably at Rockefeller Center. Storm is watching from a bench as Jubilee and Wolverine skate. Jubilee tries to get Wolverine to cheer up and encourages him to have fun, but he just tells her she wouldn’t want to know what he finds fun. He then hears some sirens and goes on alert, but since Jubilee doesn’t have a super sense of hearing she dismisses him at first until Storm hears them as well.

Ape (left) can basically turn himself or his limbs into whatever he can come up with, but often his imagination seems to be lacking.

An ambulance comes crashing onto the ice and we soon see it’s being driven by Morlocks. Ape (Ross Petty) and Annalee (Kay Tremblay) emerge from the ambulance and start taking supplies from it. Wolverine comes skating up ready for a fight and calls their actions low by their standards. He grabs Ape, who had transformed his hands into paddles that look like duck feet to carry supplies. I feel like he could have morphed them into something far more useful. Anyway, Wolverine is ready for a fight, but Storm arrives and brings a blizzard with her to conceal their actions. Annalee informs her that they’re taking supplies to help Leech, a juvenile Morlock who is apparently very sick. They didn’t know what to do as they already tried a hospital, but they couldn’t care for the mutant boy. She takes this opportunity to also remind Storm that she is the leader of the Morlocks, something established way back in season one of the show, and that she’s never around when they need her. Storm agrees to help them and she uses her powers to thwart the approaching police and to provide cover for their escape. Wolverine indicates he’s not helping sewer rats, while Jubilee is worried about her presents. Storm tells the child to leave them, but she scoops them up anyway before following.

Callisto (left) and Storm have to set aside their differences for poor Leech who is afflicted with a severe case of plot sickness.

We then see the group walking through ankle deep water in the sewer. It would seem Wolverine decided to join them after all while Jubilee is worried that they’re supposed to be home in an hour for Christmas dinner. When they arrive at Leech, Callisto (Susan Roman) is there to “welcome” them. She gives Storm a bunch of sass for not being around when they need her which gets Wolverine riled up, but Storm tells him to back off as she seemingly accepts the criticism. She does inform Callisto that they can settle their differences later, for right now Leech needs their full attention. As for the child, he’s laying on a table under a blanket apparently unconscious. Storm, citing Wolverine’s experience with field medicine, instructs him to prep the child as she wants to take him to Beast. Wolverine walks over and checks the kid’s pulse and just says, “Uh oh…”

I think this is Marianna’s only appearance in the show.

Seated against the wall, Jubilee watches with concern on her face. She soon hears something behind her and it turns out to be a small, Morlock, girl who bares a strong resemblance to Leech. Jubilee greets the little, green, girl who then emerges from the shadows to come sit with Jubilee. Meanwhile, Callisto is frustrated that Wolverine isn’t preparing Leech for transport and grabs Storm insisting she order him to do something. Storm fights back until Wolverine shouts “Shut up!” at both of them. He then delivers the bad news that Leech isn’t going anywhere. His pulse is dropping too fast and there’s no way he would survive the trip back to the mansion. This leaves Jubilee to get another sweaty Christmas special line in of, “No, he can’t! Not today! It’s Christmas Eve!” as she hugs the small girl and we pan to a tiny, Morlock, Christmas tree that basically looks like Charlie Brown’s tree, only the lone ornament is broken.

Wolverine apparently has some PTSD in his past related to trying to heal people with his own blood.

As the adults discuss what to do, it’s Jubilee who says “Please Wolverine! You’re so good at healing yourself, can’t you help Leech?” Storm seems to like this train of thought and inquires with Wolverine about a blood transfusion. He refuses, while the others persist. Storm thinks it’s because Wolverine hates the Morlocks, but he shouts back at her “Don’t you think I want to help the kid?!” He then explains he’s tried it before and it didn’t work. It was a group of 20 individuals and the last one to die was a kid younger than Leech. Still, when Storm initially asked he said “Maybe” to it working and Wolverine explains it did work once and the large group was the second time he attempted the feat. He doesn’t know why it worked once, but not again, and seems reluctant to try it here.

It turns out, Wolverine isn’t racist, he just doesn’t want to see another kid die!

Storm doesn’t really care and asks Ape if he acquired a transfusion kit from the ambulance. He just looks at her in confusion and she tells him to never mind. She finds what she’s looking for amongst the supplies and informs the others that she’ll contact the mansion to have Rogue fly Beast to them. As she does she hands the transfusion kit to Wolverine and tells him he knows what he must do. He angrily responds “You don’t know what you’re asking,” and she snaps back, “I am asking you to show the courage needed to save a child’s life!” “He wouldn’t be dyin’ if you looked after these people!” Woo! There’s some dramatic stuff right here! Wolverine’s words appear to cut Storm deep which calms her down.

The moment Ape has waited his whole life for!

Storm concedes Wolverine’s point, but then calmly tells him that even if the odds are one in a thousand, he needs to try. She tops it off with a “Ask yourself, if he were your child, would you refuse?” Wolverine just looks at the kit in his hands and the scene cuts back to Storm’s face, but it’s clearly just a single cel that they’re holding on and it looks pretty goofy. I wonder if the episode came in short and they had to find cheap ways to extend it? It cuts back to Wolverine who just silently shakes his head indicating that he wouldn’t refuse if the situation was different. Storm just says, “Good,” then tells Ape that Wolverine needs a flat surface beside Leech to lie on. You would think this is a command to get a table or something, but no. Ape walks over and turns himself into a table for Wolverine to lie one! Were they planning to eat Christmas dinner off of the guy too?

All right, I need to know more about larva guy over here. Does he do anything or does he just look like that worm that creates Slurm?

Over by the wall, the little Morlock girl asks Jubilee if Leech will be okay? Jubilee responds with a question of her own and in the process we find out the little girl’s name is Marianna (her voice is uncredited, but it’s presumably from the main cast). She asks her if she believes in miracles, but Marianna has no idea what a miracle is. Jubilee tries to sniff back some tears and holds the girl close telling her “Maybe in a little while, we’ll see.”

Good thing Cyclops is here to use his powers to make sure the stalk of celery Jean threw at Gambit didn’t connect. This is the most danger anyone on the X-Men is put into during this episode. Well, Storm and Jubilee are probably in danger of catching something walking around in a sewer.

At the snowy mansion, Jean and Gambit continue their kitchen feud. Gambit apparently did something to the ham and Jean is not happy. She demands Gambit’s removal from her kitchen and in the process refers to him as a swamp rat. Cyclops thinks they’re both acting like children, but before things can get any worse, Professor X enters to inform them of the emergency in the Morlock tunnels. Lucky for him, Rogue already ditched the holiday attire and is in her normal X-Men uniform and ready for action.

This is basically Charlie Brown’s tree, only it’s one that doesn’t magically become full and beautiful once decorated.

Back in the sewers, the transfusion has begun and the rest can only look on while Wolverine urges Leech to pull through. Marianna is still rather cheerful and asks Jubilee if Leech is better yet. She wants to show Jubilee their Christmas tree and takes her over to the pathetic, little, tree which is using a tin can as a tree stand. She’s proud of it though since Leech found it and Jubilee calls it the most beautiful tree she’s ever seen. Marianna then takes Jubilee to their Christmas feast and wants Jubilee to partake. It’s some kind of stew and probably smells awful. Marianna assures Jubilee she can have some of hers as she really wants Jubilee to share the experience. Storm them enters and Jubilee asks about Leech, but it’s too soon to tell. She then asks Storm how the Morlocks can go on having so little and she gets a little dose of Christmas wisdom. Storm tells her they have each other and that’s all they need to feel loved. She tops it off with another one, “As long as you are part of a caring family, every day is Christmas!”

Beast, I don’t think you’re using that properly.

Over by Leech, Callisto is growing impatient and Wolverine has had enough. He angrily rises from his “table” and rips the IV out of his arm defiantly shouting “I told you it wouldn’t work!” Storm tries to calm him down, but before she can Rogue and Beast arrive. Wolverine tells Beast he’s got to work fast and the blue one heads for the patient. For some reason, Leech is now fully clothed and not under a blanket and apparently the animation budget wasn’t high enough to have Beast check the kid’s vitals in a logical manner so he just starts running a stethoscope over the kid’s jacket. As he does so, he explains that Wolverine’s powers are not something that modern, medical, science understands and he doesn’t know what the end result will be.

This kid probably just thinks Jubilee cries all the time at this point.

As Callisto uselessly demands that Beast “Do something,” he continues to examine the child while Wolverine can’t bare to watch. Leech’s eyes soon flutter though, and we get a shot from his point of view as he focuses on Beast. He lets out a cry of surprise which causes Beast to laugh as he notes he doesn’t have the most reassuring of faces. This whole time, Leech has been depicted with yellow eyes and I have to assume it was an error since we see he has eyelids for his waking up shot. Or, it’s not an error and they just decided to give him eyelids for that one shot to make it more obvious that he was waking up. Jubilee is sobbing with Marianna in her arms and tells the girl that Leech is okay and she just matter-of-factly responds with “Of course he is!”

Leech is all better and seemingly over his fear of Beast. Hooray!

Storm then demands Callisto hand over the ceremonial scepter of power. She’s reluctant to, but Storm asserts her authority as leader of the Morlocks and offers no explanation. She then forces the woman to kneel before her, which she probably enjoys humiliating her one last time before announcing she’s transferring her title as leader back to Callisto. Callisto says nothing but rises and takes the scepter. Wolverine then strolls over to break the ice and asks what a guy’s gotta do to get some orange juice and a cookie around here? Leech (John Stocker), who is seated in the large arm of Beast, then announces he’s hungry too which produces a laugh out of Beast who then prescribes food for the patient. Wolverine then thanks Leech “for making it,” while Storm offers her apologies to Wolverine for not treating him with the same compassion he showed Leech, adding that she should have known better than to question his heart.

She’s just handing over a few gifts, Storm, let’s not turn this into something bigger than it really is.

Callisto announces that all X-Men are welcomed to join them for Christmas dinner, though adding they don’t have much to offer. Jubilee then announces that most of the presents she’s been dragging along contain food and offers those. Storm double-checks that she’s all right with doing so since it meant a lot to her to give these gifts out back at the mansion, but she’s totally cool with it because she learned her important, Christmas, lesson. She then encourages the kids, Leech and Marianna, to help her open them.

All right, I have some questions. Number one, which member of the X-Men was in-line to get a toy plane for Christmas?!

Jubilee then gets the customary “You have done something noble,” from Storm acknowledging her Christmas lesson, even though her act of nobility is just giving stuff away. She lives in a freakin’ mansion, for crying out loud. She gives Wolverine a hug as she says “I learned from the best,” and he gives her a reassuring pat on the back and a “You’re a good kid.” Beast then summarizes the events of today by reminding us this wasn’t the Christmas Jubilee had envisioned, but it will be a memorable one. Rogue gets to have a little chuckle here adding “So will a couple of cooks I know.”

Jean is enjoying this. I’m surprised they can’t still eat some of the dinner since there’s still 4 of them there, but Jean probably refuses and I’m guessing Cyclops is in the doghouse if he partakes in Gambit’s meal. Xavier is wise to stay out of it as well.

We cut back to the mansion where Jean has seemingly ceded control of the kitchen to Gambit who has prepared what he feels is a flawless Christmas dinner. Word comes down that the others are having Christmas dinner with the Morlocks, and Gambit does not take the news well that the whole crew won’t be getting together for Christmas dinner. Jean gets to suggest that they can heat it up tomorrow which just irritates the cook further. Gambit retorts in the third person with “Gambit does not make TV dinners!”

Oh no! He’s melting!

By the fire, we see Xavier taking a phone call from Jubilee who is concerned that he’d feel hurt that they’re not spending Christmas together. Xavier assures her that’s not the case, and while their presence will be missed, he’s proud of their actions today. He even refers to her action as a “generous sacrifice,” which seems to be quite the exaggeration here! He tacks on a whole thing about how she’s giving him the best gift of all by acting like a true X-Man in recognizing that she is where she’s needed most. We pan outside the mansion to the giant tree out front where the camera holds and the message “Merry Christmas from all the X-Men” appears to announce that this one is over.

Wolverine wished me a merry Christmas, you guys!

In the intro, I mentioned how out of place it felt for a show like X-Men to do a Christmas special. Now that it’s over, I don’t feel any different, but I do have to commend the show for just going for it. It’s a very dramatic show with a lot of heavy-handed line readings and this episode is no different. Except that this one gets to play with the overly dramatic Christmas special motif we’ve seen in other shows. It almost feels like an episode of Full House as a result, only with mutants, and it takes place mostly in a sewer. It has all of the usual holiday staples though in that we have a character excited for Christmas and the pageantry that accompanies it. Jubilee isn’t portrayed as a selfish child, but she is consumed by the act of Christmas and not its message, but it comes from a healthy place as she reminds us more than once she’s never really had a traditional, Christmas, experience. And she’s forced to adjust on the fly to her first Christmas with a family changing its setting, and even some of its participants.

Wolverine’s heart grew three sizes that day…

We also get the tried and true “some kid is sick at Christmas and needs a Christmas miracle to survive” via the Leech plot. Wolverine, who naturally functions as a Christmas antagonist of sorts, is brought into the story that way and it makes sense that the show would want to involve its most popular character in the plot. It finds a role for him, and we get the added drama of Wolverine being sort of racist against the Morlocks, but forced to save one. That angle isn’t really played up though. Wolverine just assumes the worst of the group, and he’s not entirely unjustified in doing so based on their prior interactions, and also gets in some cheap insults before they come upon Leech. It’s enough for Storm to assume the worst though and adds to the drama. Her and Wolverine’s argument is definitely the height of the special as far as the drama is concerned and the line readings from Sealy-Smith and Dodd are very much over-the-top, but in an earnest way.

Fans of the show probably weren’t asking to spend Christmas with the Morlocks, but the fact that they’re a poor family does lend itself well to a Christmas story.

And then, of course, we get the comedic B plot at the mansion involving Jean and Gambit. I feel like we actually could have used one more scene between the two as clearly Jean just gave up on preparing her idea of Christmas dinner at some point to let Gambit go full steam ahead with his oyster loaf and other foods. It’s fine and we actually get to see a different side of Jean in these scenes, who is normally rather buttoned-up and, frankly, boring. It also allows the whole team to get some presence in this one which is probably an important thing since Christmas is traditionally about family and it’s not like the show was planning on ever doing another Christmas episode.

At least we get to see how the X-Men decorate for Christmas. And they certainly go big.

As an episode of X-Men, this one is a bit of a failure. It’s plot feels out of place and the corny Christmas lines stand out far too much. It also doesn’t get to redeem itself with any special production values. The Christmas décor looks fine, and some of the characters are in outfits we’re not accustomed to seeing, but that’s about it. As a Christmas special though, it’s not that bad. Admittedly, there’s a ton of terrible Christmas specials out there so the bar isn’t exactly high. The messaging in this one is fairly simple and it really doesn’t beat you over the head with it since it’s largely contained to the show’s final minute. Xavier lays it on a bit thick right before the credits roll, but that’s hardly unusual for a Christmas special. It gets bonus points for having actual stakes, and while Leech is basically afflicted with “plot sickness,” the miraculous capabilities of Wolverine’s healing powers mean he could have legitimately been sick with something awful and Wolverine’s powers are just that good. There’s no Santa or anything like that, but it does have a human mutant story at its heart so that helps give it a solid foundation. Plus, it features the X-Men and you don’t get that too often in a Christmas story.

“Have Yourself a Morlock Little Christmas” gets a tepid recommendation from me. I suppose you have to be a fan of X-Men to get the most out of it, but at the same time, hardcore fans are possibly more likely to have a strong negative reaction to this one since it feels a bit silly to see the characters in this setting. This one is basically searching for the overlap on the Venn diagram of X-Men fans and fans of corny Christmas fair. At the end of the day, it’s only 23 minutes so you’re not sacrificing much to give it a look. And it’s fairly easy to find since the whole show is streaming on Disney+. It’s also available on DVD if physical media is still your thing. At worst, maybe you’ll be inspired to try some new dishes at your own Christmas dinner?

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

Dec. 18 – The Legend of Prince Valiant – “Peace on Earth”

The early 90s saw an influx of cartoons produced solely with the intent to sell to cable networks. Previously, most cartoons were packaged from film or created for broadcast networks which would get the first run on major network affiliates and then gradually migrate to smaller stations. With cable becoming more affordable, it was fast…

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Dec. 18 – Dumb and Dumber – “Santa Klutz”

After doing write-ups for the two cartoons inspired by Jim Carrey films from 1994, you must have figured I’d do the third today! Just as Carrey stormed the cinematic gates with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber in ’94, the television world followed suit in ’95 with an animated series based…

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Dec. 18 – Little Dracula – “The Bite Before Christmas”

There was a huge demand for cartoons in the early 90s. Cable was expanding and needed content for all ages while a new broadcast network was also making noise. That network was Fox, and after scoring primetime hits with Married…with Children and The Simpsons, the network started to look at other areas where it could…

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Marvel Legends X-Men Retro Card Series Apocalypse

“I know more of this world than you could even dream, that is why I must…destroy it!”

It is Halloween and that means it’s time for costumes, candy, and spooky fun. It’s also Halloween 2022, a pretty important date if you grew up loving those mutants who ran around in colorful spandex fighting for a better tomorrow. That’s because 30 years ago on this very night, the animated series X-Men premiered on the Fox network. The decision to debut a cartoon in prime time with characters still on the periphery of mainstream appeal was both a bold choice and one brought about by necessity. Fox had done the same recently with Batman – The Animated Series, but that hardly feels like a gamble considering that was coming hot on the heels of Batman Returns. You see, the show should have premiered in September on Saturday mornings, but the project was fraught with delays and the early animation sent back from studio AKOM was said to be a disaster. And since the show wasn’t going to be able to premiere as planned, the producers involved decided to focus on the first two episodes to get them ready for a Halloween premiere with the rest of the season to follow in early 1993. Marketing dubbed it a sneak peek, and it must have worked because before long the show was a ratings hit and the rest is history.

Given that it’s such an important day for an elder X-Men fan like myself, it only felt appropriate to forego something spooky this Halloween in favor of something celebrating that show. Now, I originally intended to debut my review of Hasbro’s Morph, but I received that figure in late September and I was just too eager to talk about Morph. The timing just didn’t make sense, so we’re pivoting to something else. Had Mystique, the next planned figure in Hasbro’s dedicated X-Men animated line, arrived this month she would have been featured here. And she even embodies a bit of that Halloween look with her blank eyes and affection for skulls. Instead though, I think we have the next best thing with one of the major villains from the show: Apocalypse.

This card is stupid big.

Hasbro’s retro card series of Marvel Legends has caused some confusion in the collector community, and I’m afraid this Apocalypse only adds to that. It started a few years ago as an homage to the classic ToyBiz line of figures from the 90s. Hasbro created updated blister cards based on those styles and packaged Legends in them. They had to be slightly oversized to accommodate the larger Legends figures compared to the classic ToyBiz ones, but who in the collector community doesn’t love a good dose of nostalgia? They’re definitely neat, and since the designs of the figures are largely based on their 90s appearances they hit pretty hard when it comes to nostalgia. It was successful enough that Hasbro then did the same with Spider-Man. Unlike the old X-Men line, the Spider-Man line from ToyBiz was a direct tie-in to the animated series that premiered on Fox (in sneak peek fashion as well since it worked so well with X-Men) in 1994. As a result, collectors weren’t sure if these new Spider-Man retro card releases were based on the animated series as well. I’ve seen many collectors refer to the Hobgoblin, especially, from that line as being animated inspired, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. The only one released that is definitely based on the cartoon is the PulseCon exclusive Venom from last year (which is being followed-up with an animated Spider-Man this fall).

The actual figure though? Not really that big. I would have actually liked a little more height out of this guy.

Now adding to any confusion that still exists out there is this Apocalypse figure. Apocalypse had multiple releases in the ToyBiz days so a retro card release makes sense. However, this particular figure features a purple and blue deco. That is significant because that’s the color scheme Apocalypse had in the animated series. No where else has Apocalypse ever looked like this. And to drive the point home further, he comes with an interchangeable gun attachment for his arm that is pulled right from an episode of the show which has left many to ask “So why is this not a release in the VHS line?” And the answer is, “I don’t know.” I don’t think any of the marketing team for Legends has explained that one. My guess is that someone on the team really wanted to do this character in this look, but the budget for the VHS line couldn’t accommodate it so they did it this way. It’s bizarre, because this figure does not feature the cel-shading paint job of the VHS line so it’s not just a difference in packaging. This figure is also based on the build-a-figure Apocalypse released a few years ago, so disassembling it to fit in a VHS box would not have been problem. Plus, as illustrated with Mr. Sinister’s VHS box, Hasbro is willing to adjust the sizing when necessary on those boxes so there’s really nothing stopping Hasbro from releasing the figure in that line from a design standpoint. I know the cel-shading is a bit of a contentious topic in the community, but this figure is so cartoon specific that I can’t imagine there was a ton of demand from collectors not interested in the animated series. This version of Apocalypse has always been viewed as a little “goofy” because of those colors so comic collectors are most certainly not the target audience, but here we are.

This is unquestionably supposed to be Apocalypse from the cartoon, you can’t fool me Hasbro!

Because of the colors on this guy, I definitely consider him to be part of the animated series line of action figures. It’s bizarre, and if it’s simply a matter of budget then I don’t know why they didn’t just hit this guy with more paint so he would fit in, but here we are. That said, I’m happy to have Apocalypse in this deco as it’s been perhaps the figure I’ve wanted most to come out of the animated line next to Morph. This funky color palette just hits right for me. Like most kids in the early 90s, I was confused why Apocalypse looked like he was painted for Easter in the show and would have preferred him in black and blue, but over time this look has just become a hallmark of the series for me and I appreciate it more as a result. Plus, Apocalypse is so bad ass that he can look like this and still be feared!

The figure does come on the aforementioned blister card and it is pretty massive. It’s almost comical to look at how big this thing is relative to other retro card releases and even more ludicrous compared to the 90s cards. It features some nice artwork, though not in the animated style aside from the suit colors, and definitely has that old school ToyBiz feel. Many like to keep these releases mint-on-card, but I am not one of them. If you want to preserve the card as much as possible, I recommend slicing the bubble from the bottom with a blade which will allow you to slide this big boy out. And once removed, he is indeed rather big standing at around 8.25″.

Even this gun attachment is taken right from the show.

In looking at this figure, what immediately stands out as “animated” aside from the colors is the sculpt of the chest. I mentioned earlier that this figure is based on the build-a-figure from a few years ago, but it’s been re-tooled in several places and the upper torso is one such place. The musculature has a very soft look to it which is in-line with the show. There’s basically just a hint of pectorals and nothing more. The other details of the costume, such as the shoulders and the collar area, look as they should. The only parts not exactly screen accurate are the boots and the gloves. The boots are just all-together busier in their design, something an animated show would strive to eliminate. The hands are similar, but they’re also just not sculpted right as he should have a blue knuckleguard on each hand. Lastly, the cables that connect his arms to his back should plug-in around the elbow and not the forearm. Obviously, these inaccuracies exist because Hasbro is reusing old parts and I would say it’s mostly fine. While I would love to buy action figures that are committed to matching the source material to a more exact specification, I know that’s not Hasbro’s approach. They do things mostly with cost in mind and basically think giving us a new torso is good enough. The issue now is that approach was more acceptable when these figures were a lot cheaper. It’s something that will bother some folks, and for others it won’t. In my experience Hasbro has done a good job of conditioning its fanbase to accept these figures for what they are so my expectation is most will be unbothered.

In typical Hasbro fashion, they give you some of what you want, but not everything. This gun has four barrels, but you get just 3 blast effects.

As a last bit of aesthetics, we should talk about the paint job. Apocalypse is quite purple and quite blue, as he should be. Hasbro prioritizes using as much colored plastic as possible with their figures and this one is no exception. The paint is mostly limited to the head, upper torso and the gauntlets. The head is where the most paint was needed and it’s done well enough. We’ll talk about the appropriateness of the expressions when we get to the accessories, but there’s enough paint to bring out the sculpted details of the face with minimal slop. He’s not the easiest face to paint as the lips basically wrap around the whole head and he has that gap in the blue on top of the head, so Hasbro did a very nice job here. What is unfortunate though is his head is in two pieces glued together and there’s a blue seem as a result between his forehead and the portion of his flesh that runs up his head and it looks stupid. Otherwise, the paint details are fairly simple and done well enough. The chest even has this really nice, matte, finish which looks great, but also makes the shiny, plastic, portions look worse by comparison. Where they had to match colored plastic to painted, the figure also looks fine.

The source material for the gun is clearly the show, though it was simplified a bit for this release.

The elephant in the room when it comes to paint is obviously the exclusion of cel-shading. This is a retro card release, so cel-shading isn’t normally expected, but he’s also animated Apocalypse and the other X-Men animated figures all have it. Personally, I would like characters based on a cartoon to feature a paint job that reflects that medium. On the other hand, I concede that the cel-shading in the VHS line has been applied poorly. Part of me would like to give Hasbro some credit here in thinking that with a bigger figure to work with, the cel-shading would turn out better, but there’s no guarantee of that. They seem to struggle just finding the right colors to use when shading (see the hideous mustard color they use to shade yellow). Ultimately, it is what it is. I would love some shading on the torso, especially, but it’s not here. Maybe that’s a good thing? I don’t know, but that’s just my opinion. I don’t think he clashes in a significant manner amongst the other figures in the VHS line so I guess it doesn’t matter that much. As was the case with the accuracy of the sculpt, the absence of shading is going to matter more to some, and not at all to others.

Would it have been hard to just give us one more teeny, tiny, piece to stich in that bottom barrel? Though the proper thing to do would have been to sculpt a new, double-barrel, blast effect that plugs into both at the same time.

Moving on to accessories, Apocalypse is pretty much par for the course when it comes to Legends these days. He doesn’t have a lot, but at least here what he does have is done well. First of all, he has two sets of hands: fists and open, “clenchy,” hands. That’s fine as it allows him to look menacing, dramatic, and you can even get those clenchy hands to grab onto another figure. He also has two heads: an angry one and a stoic one. The angry one is reused, and the stoic is new. As a comic inspired sculpt, I think the angry head is fine. As an animated Apocalypse? It’s terrible. He basically never looked like this in the show so I probably won’t be using it. The stoic head is more my thing. It’s still done in the Legends style so it’s not a toon-accurate look for the character, but that’s been true of almost every release in the VHS line as well save for Wolverine. I refer to it as stoic, but he is frowning and looks kind of ticked off. I do wish the shape of both was different as Apocalypse tends to have a wide jaw compared with the top of his head, in both the comics and the show, but these heads are pretty uniform. If it were up to me, I’d have gone with this head, but with less detail to remove the frown and paired it with a laughing head. Imagine a laughing Apocalypse on your shelf with his fists on his hips or his arms crossed? Perfection. Lastly, we have the optional gun part. It attaches to the forearm and the cable can even plug into it. It is taken directly from the “Beyond Good and Evil” plotline when Cable confronts Apocalypse at the start so it is pulled right out of the show. It looks nice and Hasbro even included some blast effects for it which I would not have expected. It’s nice to have as it allows you to display Apocalypse as a menacing overlord on your shelf, or as someone willing to get his hands dirty which was rather true of the character in the show. They could have loaded him up with more arm attachments, but this feels like a fine selection of stuff for Apocalypse. It just would have been nice to get a new effect part for the main part of the gun that plugs into both of the center barrels. Since they instead gave us three separate pieces, one barrel will always be empty.

The gripping hands are wide enough that you can make your Apocalypse perform chokeslams on Wolverine.

Time to talk about the articulation. Despite being a big boy, Apocalypse moves okay and is pretty standard for the line. We have the ball-hinged head that lets him look up and down, all around, and even tilt the head a smidge. The collar doesn’t really get in the way until you try to rotate the head, but the range is decent. The shoulders are just ball-hinged and he can raise his arms out the side and rotate them pretty well even with the shoulder pads getting in the way slightly. The elbows are single-jointed and he can’t quite hit a 90 degree bend, so that could be better. The wrists rotate and hinge horizontally. In the torso, we get an ab crunch that lets him bend back a bit, and crunch forward a decent amount. It’s mostly colored plastic here so paint rub shouldn’t be of great concern, but it’s worth being mindful of. The waist is just a twist and the legs are ball-pegs. He can damn near do a full split and is capable of kicking forward just fine, though the cheeks will prevent much rear leg motion. There is a thigh cut which does what thigh cuts do and the knees are double-jointed. There’s no boot cut, but down in the ankles you have the usual hinge and rocker combination which works just fine. More importantly, everything is nice and tight so he shouldn’t be toppling over on your shelf. Apocalypse really only needs to hit a few poses and this figure is capable of doing that.

He is here to crush the mutants, and seems capable enough.

All in all, I am quite pleased with this release for Apocalypse. Yes, I would have preferred this come in the VHS line for both the packaging and the cel-shading, but since it didn’t, at least we got a fairly robust release as far as accessories go. I’ve been pretty disappointed with the majority of the VHS line because of the poorly applied cel-shading, inappropriate reuse of some sculpts, and the dearth of worthwhile accessories. It’s really been a money-grab kind of line and at least this Apocalypse feels more substantial and like a better value. They actually did some re-sculpting to make the figure more cartoon accurate, and while they didn’t go as far as they could with that, I think most will find they went far enough. My preference would have always been to receive figures with sculpts actually designed to mimic the animated look, but Hasbro was never committed to doing that for one reason or another. This figure does suffer a bit as a result because the head isn’t right and the veiny biceps look stupid on Apocalypse (and they would look stupid on any version of Apocalypse so I don’t get the thinking here). The rest of its shortcomings are just par for the course with Marvel Legends, like the dearth of paint apps (the cables look especially plain), so regular Legends collectors will likely be content. Unless someone else can get the license to produce animated X-Men figures (highly unlikely), this is unfortunately the best we’re likely to get. And at least with Apocalypse, this one does indeed feel good enough. Most of the VHS figures are not and the feeling of settling is palpable with each one, but here I don’t feel that way. At least not as much.

Apocalypse does come at an inflated price though of $40 which is obviously a lot for a Marvel Legends release. This one at least feels more worthy of that price compared with the VHS figures at around 28 bucks. A comparable figure would probably be NECA’s Chrome Dome from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line which was also $40. I would argue that the NECA release is a better value than this as it came with more stuff, more paint, and was 100% new tooling, but it also came out a year ago so maybe in 2022 it would be $45. Value, as always, is rather subjective, but in this case I think the value is there. If you’re interested in picking this one up, you may have to dig around a bit as it is sold out in several places. Hasbro Pulse still has it open for order so that may be the safest bet. Amazon does as well, but they can be hard to trust. Re-stocks may be on the way too so I don’t think it’s one you’ll have to spend a fortune on eBay for, but I also would recommend acting fast since I don’t think this one is ticketed for big box stores which would indicate there will be fewer of these out in the wild than the Age of Apocalypse version, by comparison. More importantly, if you can find some time today (admittedly, difficult given the holiday) or maybe even just this week throw on some classic X-Men and take a trip through time. It’s incredible to think I was watching the show as a kid 30 years ago, and while it may not hit the same as it did for me then, it’s still a worthwhile nostalgia binge and a show I think is worth celebrating. Or if you want to read more about it, I’ve covered both Previously on X-Men and the X-Men art book and recommend both to fans of the show. Here’s hoping the sequel series due next year is able to carry on its legacy.


Marvel Legends X-Men Animated Series Jean Grey

Another teammate has arrived for the animated X-Men.

For some reason, Jean Grey has never been treated well by toy makers. Back in the Toy Biz days, Jean had to wait several years to finally show up in the X-Men line of action figures, and once she did, it was in some gimmicky line in a costume that looked made-up. Her first, good, figure came in the Onslaught subline which was like a precursor to Marvel Legends. The scale was different, the sculpts were better, but preposed, and she was featured in her Jim Lee costume. By then, I had checked out and when Marvel Legends brought me back Jean was again left wanting. Seemingly, Toy Biz felt collectors only wanted a Jean Grey figure if she was in her Phoenix costume. Was it the gender bias working against her? Maybe, but then why did Storm, Psylocke, Rogue, etc. seem to have no trouble getting figures? Has Jean just historically been less popular by some metric with Marvel? I don’t know, but it bothered me when I was a kid that my team of X-Men was always missing a Jean and Phoenix just wasn’t a suitable replacement.

I haven’t been doing this with this line, but for this figure I feel like I have to. Here is Jean from the show. Note how she is NOT ORANGE!

Hasbro’s latest release in its line of action figures based on the animated series X-Men introduces a new hypothesis: maybe Jean is just hard to produce in plastic? I don’t really think that’s true, but it would be an understandable take for anyone who picks this figure up. Yes, we have yet another subpar release by Hasbro. When the line was announced, the fear on my part was that Hasbro would just grab a previously released figure, add a touch of cel-shading to the paint, and call it a day. With a figure like Mr. Sinister, that was the approach, but it worked because that old sculpt was suitable enough for the show version of the character and the paint job was pretty good. It was not without its problems and disappointments, but at the end of the day I felt like Sinister was a worthy addition to my shelf. With Jean, that’s not really the case.

She can’t even put her hands to her head for her traditional pose.

Hasbro finally did right by Jean and released her in her Jim Lee attire a few years ago. In a three-pack with Wolverine and Cyclops, that version of Jean came with two heads and four hands and had a decent enough sculpt at least. Perhaps to no one’s surprise, this release is exactly the same. That’s fine in some respects, and not in others. For one, Jean’s costume in the show and comic is basically the same excepting the colors. In the show, she had a tan and blue scheme instead of yellow and blue. I’m not sure why that change was made, maybe they just felt tan would look better on TV than yellow, but that’s a pretty easy thing to correct for. The other change is Jean went with a ponytail instead of wearing her hair down. This was likely just to differentiate her from Storm and Rogue and it’s basically her defining trait in the show.

“See the woman in this picture? You’re not her!”

So how did Hasbro screw this up? For one, she’s not blue and tan, she’s blue and orange. And when I say orange I mean very orange. Why couldn’t they cast her in the right shade? Beats me, but it looks terrible. Hasbro also chose not to retool her ponytail head from the previously released 3-pack. That head was meant to work with her long hair, except just tied back, only Jean in the show did not have a huge swath of hair that went all the way down her back. Her ponytail is huge and ridiculous looking, and I suppose just to annoy me a little more the part in her hair is off to the wrong side. Those inaccuracies are annoying, but to add to it her face just doesn’t look like Jean. The face might be re-tooled from that old release, or maybe just better painted, but either way it’s not good. She’s duck-mouthed with this weird smile and her eyes are really narrow. At least they’re green, but the paint job is also messy. It looks like they cast her head in blue and painted her face on and you can tell there’s a darker shade of plastic behind it. Usually the figure is cast in the lighter color and painted with the darker, but not here. The figure also has the same problems as the first release, and many of the Legends women, in that there’s little shape to the figure’s body. Yes, like most super hero women, she is pretty well endowed, but the silhouette is off. The body doesn’t taper much from the shoulders, to the bust, to the abdomen, and hips. She almost looks like a tube when viewed head-on. Hasbro is also seemingly afraid of letting their women have some muscle-tone in their arms and calves. These ladies are superheroes, sculpt them like superheroes!

No effect parts (big surprise) so I gave this Power Rangers one a shot. Meh.

Is anything done well? Aside from the box (and it looks like Hasbro supplied artist Dan Veesenmeyer with a sample or something to base his art on), the only compliment I can give this one is the cel-shading on the torso looks good. It’s probably the second best after Sinister. It’s easy to find reference art for how the black was applied and it works here. The shading on the legs is less successful as the orange paint is too close to the color of the plastic so it barely stands out. It’s limited to just two, thin, swashes on her thighs and doesn’t stand out on a shelf. I wish they did some around the textured portions on the sides of her legs or something, but someone must really like the Creamsicle look of these legs. The paint on her hands suffers from the same issue as the paint on her face, and the edges of the blue on the torso aren’t as crisp as they could be.

Why is this so hard?

Hasbro tends to short-change its female figures when it comes to articulation and Jean is no exception. She’s not going to do a whole lot and is very similar to Storm. Her head is on a ball-peg and it can look in most directions except up because her hair gets in the way. The ball-hinges at the shoulder work fine, though the shoulder pads are a hindrance going up. There’s no biceps swivel, just a swivel at the elbow which is a single hinge that only provides for about 90 degrees of bend. The hands rotate and hinge and need to work around the gauntlets. They should have sculpted the padding for the back of the hand to the hand itself, but chose not to. There’s a ball-joint in the diaphragm under the figure’s bust. It basically just lets her rotate with a little tilt. She can bend back a bit there, but not forward at all. There’s no waist twist and the legs only come out to the side about 45 degrees. There is a thigh cut, but like with every release in this line, it breaks up the shading so for me it’s kind of useless, but then again, the shading is barely visible so maybe it won’t bother me. The knees are double-jointed and really gummy, but they work. The ankles hinge and pivot and they’re the only joints I have no issues with. The others stuff is either too limited, gummy, or poorly engineered.

She can wear her down, if you wish. I don’t know why you would though.

Accessories have not been a strength for this line and that continues with Jean. We get open hands on the figure in the box and a set of fists since Jean is known for punching people. There’s also a second head and it’s recycled from the 3-pack and features her hair down. She has a neutral expression that I think is supposed to look mildly seductive, but it’s not working for me. It’s a totally useless addition though since Jean never looked like this in the show. The only time she had her hair down in costume was in the very last episode of the show when her costume was yellow and blue like the comics. Her hair was still not that massive and the figure isn’t colored properly for it to matter anyway. A completely wasted accessory. Why not junk that and toss in some effects parts instead? Or maybe spend a small amount of money to sculpt a Cerebro helmet for her to wear, since she was seen wearing that in the show on more the one occasion. It’s just as if the people working and designing this line don’t give a shit about the show or never watched it.

To the back with you, Jean!

Jean Grey is a phoned in release that Hasbro assumes you will buy because it vaguely looks like the character and you’re all-in anyway. And they might be right since I bought this despite it missing the mark by a wide margin. She might be the line’s new low point since it at least feels like some effort was put into that Jubilee figure, even if she doesn’t look like the character in the show and features an awful paint job. I only have this figure because I want to tell Hasbro there’s money in doing figures based on the cartoon, but if I wasn’t buying it for that reason there’s no way I would have bought this one. It’s not good, and I can’t recommend it especially at the price Hasbro is charging.


Hasbro Retro Card Symbiote Spider-Man

“Let him out! We hunger for brains!”

One of the most iconic costumes in the world of superheroes is definitely that of Spider-Man. I put that classic red and blue with webbed detailing right up there with Superman and Batman. I would argue that there’s no more iconic costume in the world of Marvel than Spidey’s, and the crazy thing with Spider-Man is he really has two now iconic costumes. The Black Costume, the Symbiote Costume, the Alien Costume – whatever you call it, is pretty popular on its own. I know I’ve encountered several fans who even prefer the black look to the classic one. I can’t go that far with it, but I do enjoy it, even if Venom has largely taken ownership of the look over the years.

A small sampling of black costumed Spidey’s of the last 20 years or so: Kaiyodo Ultimate Spider-Man, Hasbro, Toy Biz Spider-Man Classics. The new one is an improvement in almost every way save for the “web holes” on the back of the Toy Biz Spider-Man’s hands.

The Symbiote costume has been popular. I can still remember when it first showed up in the ’94 Toy Biz line alongside the Venom II action figure. I wanted it, but because it was so popular, I had trouble tracking it down at the usual spots. I did have a local, dedicated, comic book store that had it along with Venom II. Unfortunately, they wanted 10 bucks for it which was double what Toys ‘R Us would charge me. I could only get one, so I got Venom. When I had replenished my funds, I could have gone back for it, but it was one of those figures saddled with a bad gimmick that made for an unattractive presentation. That was a thing we had to deal with back then. I didn’t mind a gimmick if it didn’t harm the sculpt, but ones that did were the bane of my existence as an action figure enthusiast in the mid-90s. I never ended up getting that figure, but I did get the 2022 edition so I feel like I’m making it up to my younger self.

This mold is an update over the prior one with the biggest addition being the diaphragm joint.

The retro card series from Hasbro is essentially just a subline of Marvel Legends. The packaging reflects the old Toy Biz line, right down to the artwork used for repeat characters. It does cause some confusion as collectors aren’t quite sure if this is an homage line or a line that’s supposed to reflect the animated series itself. I see this most with the recent Hobgoblin release, even though it looks nothing like the old cartoon. Homage line seems to be the right call. That Toy Biz line wasn’t a direct animated line either, though it was much closer to its source material than the X-Men line. What this line certainly isn’t though is a dedicated toon line like the upcoming X-Men one Hasbro is launching this year. These strike me as designs based on the comic with nostalgic packaging.

Together at last.

The exception, of course, is the animated Venom released last year. I have a lot of nostalgic attachment to Venom and the show, so I wanted to grab that release. When I did, I knew I wanted to at least pair him with a Spider-Man. As a bit of a fill-in, I grabbed Web-Man because I really liked the color palette. I also put in an order for this Symbiote Spider-Man when solicitations went up so the long goal was always to get this guy for my display and now he’s here.

The best I can do to visually illustrate my shoulder critique.

This Spider-Man is actually on a different body than Web-Man. I think Web-Man is on the “pizza body” and this version is on the updated body. They’re not vastly different, but there are some. This Spider-Man stands a tick shy of six and a half inches, which seems tall to me, but I’m not a regular collector of this line and can’t speak for how others feel. I don’t believe it’s a true 1/12 scale line. The overall look is pretty much what I envision Spider-Man to be. He’s well-muscled, but lean compared with the more bulky heroes out there. I really like the head shape which has a more pointed chin than Web-Man, and Hasbro did a solid job of minimizing the look of the articulation. It helps that this is a character in an all black suit so you don’t get unsightly issues like the color of the pins not matching the surrounding area. My one real critique of this body is a common one I have for Marvel Legends and it’s the shoulders. They just sit so low on the body. It’s not as noticeable as it is with Web-Man, but it’s something that needs to get better. They just really like this look of large traps sloping down into the shoulders when superheroes tend to have really big shoulders! These ones even sit entirely below the sculpted clavicle. It’s not super noticeable if you pose him well, but this design isn’t really helping out articulation (which we’ll get to) so I don’t understand why it persists.

At least the paint slop is on the rear of the figure.

Being an all black figure means there’s little need for paint. Had this been a true toon line, or one aiming to even replicate comic shading, there would be a need for blue highlights, but that’s not Hasbro’s style. He’s all black save for the white portions. And when it comes to that, we have almost two figures. From the front, he looks pretty great. The eyes are well-defined and well-painted. I love the shape of them. The logo on the chest is quite clean as well, though the opacity of the paint is subpar. There’s too much black showing through giving it a grimy appearance. That’s true of the white panels on the hands as well. Here, we have a possible error too as there’s no “web hole” even though the packaging claims this is the symbiote suit. Longtime fans know that when Spider-Man ditched the alien, he still kept the black look as a traditional costume so in that sense the absence is not an error. It’s a nitpick, I know, but how hard would it have been to get that right? On the rear of the figure, the spider logo is more messy. There’s a scratch on mine in the lower torso and some excess white paint just behind the right shoulder. It’s on the rear of the figure so it’s not a huge deal, but it’s an error and one of those that you can’t even see when inspecting a figure in the card which is always frustrating.

Spider pose!

Spider-Man is known for being rather nimble, so of course a Spider-Man action figure is packed with articulation. This dude has a lot, but it’s not all as functional as it probably could be. His head is on a ball-peg and that has plenty of range. The shoulders are ball-hinged and this is the area I alluded to earlier. He can’t raise his arms out to the side all of the way and getting him into a swinging pose is more challenging than expected, but do-able. He does have butterfly joints and they’re okay. Hasbro painted the spider logo all throughout the joint so you don’t get an ugly gap on the rear of the figure. The legs won’t be aligned, but there’s no real helping that. There’s a biceps swivel, double-jointed elbows, and the hands swivel and hinge. All of the hinges are horizontal. There’s a ball-joint in the diaphragm which lets the figure tilt n’ twist. The spider will obviously become miss-aligned when you do so, but again, there’s no helping that. There is a solid amount of clearance between the upper and lower torso so paint rub is minimal, but still something to watch out for. The joint also lets Spidey bend back a bit and crunch forward and when used in tandem with the ab crunch below you get quite a bit of range. There’s no waist twist, and the hips use a ball and hinge so you can drop the legs down. The drop-down function doesn’t really add anything as he can kick forward just as far either way. His butt cheeks prevent him from kicking back, but he can go out to the side almost to a full split. There are thigh cuts, double-jointed knees, a boot cut, and ankle hinges and rockers and all have plenty of range.

If you’re persistent, you can even get a one-handed pose. Note: the figure did fall over shortly after this picture was taken.

This figure articulates well enough. If I were allowed to design it, the only thing I’d change is those shoulders and the hips. Normal ball and socket hips would allow a thigh twist there so we could ditch the kind of ugly thigh cut. I just find that style of cut useless because it miss-aligns the muscle groups and just looks stupid. This guy though can get into most Spidey poses. The one that’s still out of reach is the classic three-pointed stance. To aid in his posing are some extra hands, which are the only accessories he comes with. He comes with fists hands and he can swap to open, “wall-crawling,” hands and web shooting “thwip” hands. The thwip hands don’t make any sense if this is the symbiote suit, but I think they’re still good to have. No gripping hands is kind of a letdown, but he also has nothing to grip. I would love web effects, and they’ve done them in the past, and that’s something sorely missing. This is also a $22 figure and accessories and paint are where Hasbro skimps with them. I’m not surprised, but I can still want more. And what really could some already tooled web effects actually add to the cost here? It’s probably less than a dollar, probably far less, but that’s what you get with Hasbro.

It would look better with some web effects…

And cost, or rather price, is really the main goal with this line. Hasbro wants to get you a good enough action figure at a low cost. This isn’t an import figure or a boutique thing, it’s a mass market retail release. As such, it’s pretty good! The figure does have that cheap feel when compared with a lot of other figures I own. The plastic can feel “gummy” at times and little in the articulation is smooth, but it’s also not loose or stuck so that’s a positive. And this is also a style of character that really fits what Hasbro wants to do: simple sculpt, simple paint, lots of articulation points. There’s a reason Hasbro keeps reusing this body, because it works. And for me, it gets the job done as now I have a Spider-Man to pair with my Venom. It would have been cool to get an animated deco, but this is fine. There are rumors that Hasbro intends to do an animated Spidey in his classic red and blue, and if so, I’ll probably take a look. Should they do that, I hope they at least update the arms to a pin-less system as I really hate how those look on the already released Spider-Man figures which end up with unsightly red dots on their underarm. I don’t know if it will be a deal breaker, but I guess I’ll know when I see it.

In this house, Venom always gets the upper hand.

Symbiote Spider-Man is currently being stocked by both Target and Walmart with other smaller shops still awaiting product. It’s a popular release, so it doesn’t hang around on pegs for very long. I actually got mine via Hasbro’s eBay page which doesn’t charge for shipping. If you’re still looking, maybe keep an eye on that and see if they do a restock. It’s popular for a reason so I would expect the figure to remain in production for at least a little while, but with all of the delays around the world, it could be awhile. Stay vigilant and good luck and if you have to go to the secondary market at least the prices don’t appear to be outrageous.


Arcade 1Up Marvel Super Heroes Counter-Cade

Arcade 1Up has been around for a few years now selling arcade cabinets at a reduced size and also a reduced price. The cabinets are significantly smaller than an actual arcade cabinet, but still plenty large enough to take up a lot of floor space in your home. And while they’re cheaper than the “real thing,” they’re hardly what I would call cheap. Many of the full-size units will set you back over 500 big ones, and newer models have eclipsed the $700 price tag as components become harder to come by and virtually everything has become more expensive. Even when the units were cheaper, I was never able to bring myself to spend hundreds of dollars on what is essentially a novelty item. The cabinets, being smaller than the real thing, are less functional. You can’t physically accommodate four adults for a game of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for instance. And these are all games that can be experienced in a far more convenient and cheaper manner. Only some of the side-scrolling beat-em-ups are unavailable for purchase these days, but they’re also games not really designed for home consumption. They were made to entertain in bursts and consume quarters, with free play they last less than an hour and have little to no replay value once completed.

There’s nothing particularly practical about what Arcade 1Up sells, but that doesn’t mean it’s worthless. I already used the term novelty when talking about them, and that’s really what they are. They liven up a room at your house, give people something to talk about when they come over for the first time, and do offer some entertainment value. Especially when it comes to skill-based games. And I certainly am willing to spend money on novelty items as I own several mini consoles and recently reviewed the Zelda Game & Watch. I just have a limit on what I want to spend on such a device and on how much room I want to dedicate to one. I’ve often considered buying an arcade cabinet for my bar room at home. I was really close to doing so with an SNK cabinet more than 10 years ago since those can actually swap games. And when a local arcade closed-up shop near me five years ago I strongly considered making an offer on their Simpsons cabinet, but thought better of it in the end. Arcade 1Up has always had some appeal to me, but nothing got me to bite. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one came the closest because of my love for that IP, but realistically I’d play it a couple of times and then never touch it again. I thought I might take the plunge if Arcade 1Up ever did The Simpsons and they did in 2021, but the $700 price tag was a non-starter for me.

Now isn’t that cute.

Arcade 1Up seems to know there are lots of folks like me out there that want their product, but are hesitant either due to cost or space concerns. Enter the Counter-Cade! This is a smaller version of an arcade cabinet intended to be placed on a counter, or better yet, a bar. And I have a bar! Aside from a bar-top juke box, I can’t think of a better accessory than a small arcade cabinet. And that’s what the Counter-Cade is, it’s just a small arcade cabinet with a short base. Since they’re even smaller than the normal Arcade 1Up, they’re only suitable for 2 players so no four-player models exist (that I’m aware of) and it looks like many have fewer games loaded on them than the bigger model, which makes sense as Arcade 1Up needs something more than size to entice folks to pony up the big bucks. There’s no wi-fi either, but you can plug in a controller if you find it too small to comfortably accommodate two players (though I tried it and didn’t have much luck). I was interested when I first saw the Counter-Cade, but I wanted it to contain games I’d actually play. My wife seemed to pick-up on this for underneath my Christmas tree was the Arcade 1Up Marvel Super Heroes edition of the Counter-Cade.

The games that come pre-loaded.

The Marvel Super Heroes Counter-Cade from Arcade 1Up comes with four games pre-loaded onto it: Marvel Super Heroes, X-Men vs Street Fighter, Marvel vs Capcom, and The Punisher. All four are developed by Capcom and obviously contain characters from the world of Marvel Comics. Three of the four are 2D fighters, while The Punisher is a two-player beat-em-up. It’s a solid assortment of games as you get a traditional 2D fighter in Marvel Super Heroes and a pair of tag-fighters. I would have preferred it if Arcade 1Up had made this an X-Men themed unit based on Children of the Atom, but oh well. I’m sure almost everyone would have preferred another “VS” title in place of The Punisher, but I’m okay with it as it gets another style of game into the set.

There’s a USB port on the right side for a controller, though when I plugged in my 8bitdo controller it didn’t map the buttons properly.

What’s going to sell this unit is the size, price, and game selection. As far as size goes, the cabinet basically takes up a space of 16.5″ wide, 16 1/8″ high, and 13″ depth. That’s me measuring the unit at it’s widest part, which is the platform where the controls are mounted, but that’s roughly the area this thing occupies. It runs off of an AC adapter so you do need to be relatively close to an outlet as the chord is only about 4′ long. The screen is approximately 6.5″ wide x 5″ high and it’s suitable for the software. The colors are vibrant and there’s no taring of the sprites. It’s also pretty loud so if you were worried about the audio I think most will be fine. There is a headphones jack for those who want to game without disturbing others, though the clicky joystick and buttons will prevent truly silent play.

Soda can for scale.

The components outside of the screen seem fine. I don’t know that the joystick is quite on the level with a true Capcom unit, but it’s better than a lot of third party joysticks I used long ago (granted, I have not bought an arcade style controller for about 25 years). There are seven buttons for each player with one of those being a Start or Credit button to enter the game. There are six buttons for actual gameplay, which is all you need for the software present here. The buttons feel okay, I feel like they’re a little soft and could rebound a touch firmer, but are otherwise fine. The theme is Marvel Super Heroes so you get Thanos on each side with blue filtered comic art on the front and platform. The marquee does light up when the unit is on and features the cast from that game so if you were hoping to see Rogue or Ken on the cabinet you’ll be disappointed.

This bad boy is going to live beside my Lego NES.

When the unit is powered on it takes you to a simple screen with the highlighted game displayed. You can cycle through and upon selecting a game a quick controls dashboard is displayed. It’s not entirely useful as it basically just tells you what each button does in the game. It won’t tell you, for instance, how to tag out in the VS titles or how to use grenades in The Punisher which stinks. Once you select a game, the unit basically becomes an arcade cabinet. If you leave it alone you’re effectively in “Attract Mode” for the selected game, which is definitely a fun thing to have in a rec room, even if it isn’t practical from a power consumption point of view. Everything is set to free play and there are no coin slots anyway so you can’t make money off of your friends directly. It’s easy to get out of and into another game and the interface is simple and intuitive enough.

As for the games, well, reviewing each one individually would take some time. Basically, if you’ve played a Capcom fighter then you probably know what to expect. Marvel Super Heroes is the most straight-forward as it’s a one on one fighter starring some of the heroes and villains from the Marvel Universe. It’s always been a little odd in that respect (Shuma-Gorath?), but it’s actually probably better received now than it was in the 90s given how popular the Avengers are now versus then. Still, it was pretty cool to get a dedicated Marvel fighter in 1995 and the fact that it was dedicated to Jack Kirby gives it a little extra sweetness. I don’t consider it a great 2D fighter, but it’s a perfectly fine alternative to Street Fighter 2 for the Marvel fan.

SNES and Genesis model 2 for scale.

The VS games are probably want most fans will play the most. X-Men vs Street Fighter is what got the whole thing rolling. It features a terrific roster from both franchises and it actually feels more focused than the games that followed. If X-Men is your jam, then this might be your favorite from the set. Marvel vs Capcom is very similar, but bigger. This was the last 2 vs 2 fighter as its sequel would up things to 3 on 3 and get almost too big for my liking. You may notice one game was skipped, Marvel vs Street Fighter, but you’re not missing much by going straight to Marvel vs Capcom. This lets other Capcom stars get a chance to shine and help even the sides as it was pretty rough for the World Warriors to have to take on the entire Marvel Universe.

Lastly, we have The Punisher. It’s a perfectly cromulent brawler. Player One controls the Punisher while a second player can join in as Nick Fury. The two will banter a bit (via text) to liven things up while battling through the criminal underworld leading to a final confrontation with the Kingpin. It’s less impressive than the fighters from a presentation aspect and the mechanics of the game are pretty standard: attack, jump, and a special attack that drains life when it connects. Sometimes The Punisher and Fury will be allowed to use guns, usually in response to when the villains do the same, but mostly it’s a melee affair. There’s an abundance of temporary weapons to bash foes with that helps add a little variety, though most are just something to bash a foe with. A playthrough will take most around 45 minutes and when it’s over there likely will be little appetite in venturing forth again. There’s no reason to from a gameplay perspective aside from achieving a better score, it’s just the video game equivalent of chewing gum. At least it’s a longer experience than what Fruit Stripe offers.

One last shot for scale. It’s certainly not small, but definitely not as big as a true stand-up cabinet.

I had a desire to add an arcade machine to my bar room, and this Counter-Cade from Arcade 1Up gets the job done. It’s an attractive piece with a solid selection of games which 3 of the 4 offer incentive to play and replay while the 4th is certainly good for entertaining younger gamers (ignoring the violence). And the other important selling point, maybe the most important, is it’s not ludicrously expensive. The MSRP on this is $229 at most stores and many offered discounts during the holidays. Since this was a gift, I don’t know exactly how much my wife paid, but I know it was less than $200 due to sales and the use of good old Kohl’s Cash. At the high end of $229, I do think it’s a tougher sell, but not terrible. If you really love the games included and want something to bring your room together then I think it’s doable. On sale though, it becomes a much easier call. You’re still better off going in a different direction if your goal is simply to play these games, but as we established earlier, if you’re interested in this set then you’re in it for the novelty more so than the software.


It’s Finally Happening – The Animated X-Men are Coming Back in Figure Form!

Eric and Julia Lewald have something to share!

It was almost two years to the day where I made an entry here expressing a wish for Hasbro to tackle the X-Men. And not just any X-Men, the now classic animated series from 1992. That was probably my greatest obsession as a kid. I loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but I grew out of it after 3 or 4 years. X-Men filled that void and my obsession lasted longer. I collected the toys from Toy Biz and it was the first time I displayed my toys like collectibles instead of just dumping them in a large bin when I was done playing. I still played with them too, but when I was done I had makeshift shelves to pose them on. It was a large shelf that went three or four rows deep and eventually I had to add another. I was able to separate heroes and villains, though with how quickly things can change in the comics, sometimes I had to move guys back and forth. I don’t think I stopped collecting though until I was in high school in the very late 90s. By then, the X-Men line was nearing its end anyway and Toy Biz was pivoting to more collector-focused lines for their legacy properties while the kid-friendly stuff was focused on new shows like X-Men Evolution and the movies.

There weren’t a lot of toon-specific figures back in the 90s, but Morph was definitely one of them.

Like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles though, the thing with the old X-Men toyline is that it wasn’t really an animated focused line. It started as a comic book line with the inaugural first wave reflecting the 80s costumes and lineup for the team. It was only once the show became a hit that the toyline started to mimic it to a point. One of the first instances of that I can recall is the wave one Storm, who was released in a black costume, getting repainted silver with two ring-capes added on to kind of match her show appearance. Toy Biz would also repackage some of the previously released figures with new card backs advertising them as from the show, but the figures were basically the same comic book inspired releases we already had. Wolverine, for instance, still had his giant buckle on his belt instead of an X logo. Storm did get repainted yet again though, this time white and with a more elaborate cape. The most well-remembered instance of the line matching the show was in the Morph figure. Morph was famously created for the show, though he was modeled after the character Changeling from the comic, and killed off in the second episode. Kids loved him though, so Toy Biz made a figure with swappable heads to mimic his shape-shifting powers. He didn’t look much like the cartoon character aside from the general costume, but it was still one of my favorite figures because it was freakin’ Morph! Toy Biz would also do a Phoenix Saga wave of figures clearly inspired by the cartoon, and other figures here and there appeared to match some show designs, but for all intents and purposes the toys from Toy Biz were comics first and the show a distant second.

2022 will mark the show’s 30th anniversary, and as I hypothesized two years ago, Hasbro is finally going to do proper action figures based on the show. This past week saw Hasbro host its own virtual convention, Pulsecon, and the guests of honor for the final panel on Saturday were Eric and Julia Lewald, authors of the wonderful X-Men: The Art and Making of the Animated Series. Eric was the showrunner for X-Men and his wife Julia a veteran TV writer who contributed some scripts as well and the mere fact that they were announced as guests had my juices flowing all last week. Surely, they were there to pitch their book, but also to reveal something. What we didn’t know is what that something would be. It would likely tie into the animated series, but did we dare hope it would be an actual line of Marvel Legends based on the show? Maybe it would just be more retro card-back releases, which is what Hasbro has been doing for the Spider-Man cartoon lately. There’s also the new retro, five points of articulation, line. I was both optimistic and guarded, but I’m happy to report my dream has come true!

This is glorious!

Hasbro had the Lewalds show off two figures for the new X-Men animated series line of toys: Wolverine and Jubilee. The figures will come in an oversized VHS styled box with new artwork and product shots. They’re meant to be displayed as one would those old VHS releases and they look positively striking. I don’t know if Hasbro got the idea from NECA’s TMNT releases, or if it was an organic thing, but either way it looks fantastic. Not to be outshined though, are the figures themselves. They are indeed Marvel Legends-styled releases and I’m sure there will be a lot of parts reuse between these figures and previously released editions. Wolverine could very well be the same Wolverine body that’s been released before, though it looks like he has new heads to better reflect the show art design. What stands out most though is the paint application which has that cel-shaded look to better match-up with the show. He’ll come with the now standard swappable hands, one with claws out and one claws retracted, but he also gets to bring along the photo of Scott and Jean (just like the upcoming Mondo release) so fans can reenact the most memed scene of the show. Jubilee, for her part, appears to mostly be the same release as before too only I don’t think she’s getting a new head. She’s less impressive as a result since she’s lacking her show-specific earrings on one head, but she does have yellow gloves now. Like Wolverine, she’ll have two portraits and she also has some effects pieces. I do wish they worked in a show specific accessory for her as well (maybe some chili fries? A Genosha collar?) to up the fun factor. One show specific accessory per figure would be a nice goal for Hasbro to have.

Only thing missing is a turkey leg.

These two figures are definitely promising and they’re pretty much exactly what I hoped for, even though they weren’t announced as one big wave as I had previously hoped for. There are a few things to nitpick based on the few shots we were given. Wolverine’s hands appear to lack the claw channels on his non-claw hands which isn’t show accurate, and Jubilee’s head just doesn’t look very “toon” to me. I’m hoping Wolverine is more indicative of where the line is going as opposed to Jubilee, but only time will tell. Otherwise, I like this direction and that parts reuse doesn’t bother me. Now if they try to re-release Sabretooth and pass him off as animated that will be worth criticizing because the Sabretooth on television was pretty different from the comics. He was just huge and honestly a little weird looking, but not in a bad way. Hasbro is a company more focused on price and keeping the price low. These figures already run high by their standards as they’re currently available for preorder at $27 a piece. Wolverine is slated for a May release with Jubilee following in June. Not shown, but announced, are figures for both Storm and Jean, two characters who should be easily adapted from recent releases with some paint modifications. No release date was announced for them, but maybe July and August? A monthly schedule would be fine with me and maybe we’ll learn more in early 2022. Or maybe Hasbro is saving something for Halloween, the 29th anniversary of the show’s premiere, to give us a peek at either Storm or Jean.

Less impressive than Wolverine is Jubilee, but there’s still time for things to change.

What is great is the goal of Hasbro’s to make this a full line. It’s going to be a slow release compared to some of the others, but I can be patient. I’ve waited nearly 30 years for this, I can wait longer. I know some fans were disappointed in the character selection. Wolverine is a given, but he’s also a character that’s been made and released over and over while Jubilee is…Jubilee. A lot of fans were hoping for Morph as he’s become synonymous with the show and is a character that collectors have wanted for years now. I feel very confident that Morph is coming, so I’m not sweating his exclusion for now. He’s the character Hasbro has to hit a homerun with, and hopefully they do. He seems like the most obvious candidate if they want to time a figure with the 30th anniversary on Halloween of 2022. Will they time the reveal or the release with that date is the big question. This is a good time to be an X-Men fan though, and I’m already brainstorming ways to display this line. It’s going to be a long wait until May, but it’s going to be worth it!

Preorders for Wolverine and Jubilee are currently available on Hasbro Pulse (no premium membership required) with an expected release on Disney’s shopdisney website at some point. These are not planned for mass market retail so get your orders in if you want them.

UPDATE: Just a few days after the big reveal, Hasbro went and revealed a third figure in the wave. And despite having already soft announced Storm and Jean, the third figure shown off is none other than Mr. Sinister! He’s available for pre-order on Pulse and currently has the same release date as Jubilee. He is almost a straight repaint of a previously released Mr. Sinister (they may have had to swap out the neck, or it’s just now painted white instead of blue) and will come in an oversized box. Needless to say, it’s a good sign that Hasbro is willing to do villains alongside the X-Men!


Dark Phoenix (2019)

What is it with the X-Men film franchise and its aversion to simple titles? We couldn’t just have X-Men 2, we had to have X2. The third film was billed as X-Men: The Last Stand in some places, but the theatrical poster seemed to imply it was X3: The Last Stand. At least the reboot films seemed to rectify this with X-Men: First Class followed by X-Men: Days of Future Past, but now we have just Dark Phoenix. Not X-Men: Dark Phoenix, but Dark Phoenix. Just in case you were confused though, at least the theatrical poster circled the “X” in Phoenix, but why not just keep things nice and simple?

Dark Phoenix is the 2019 film that marks the end of the X-Men film franchise as we know it. It’s been an interesting, confusing, frustrating, and sometimes thrilling ride. The franchise took off in 2000 with X-Men, and arguably peaked with the sequel. The third film was a let down, and then we had some solo Wolverine outings with one being terrible and the other acceptable, plus a sort of prequel, reboot, in 2011. X-Men: First Class turned me off initially, but once I finally gave it a chance I was forced to concede it was at least a fun film. I just didn’t really like how it tried to be both a reboot and a prequel to the original film and felt it would have been better to just commit to one. Apparently, the studio saw this as an issue too so Days of Future Past in 2014 basically served as the sequel to First Class and as the true reboot for the franchise as the time-traveling original heroes changed history and likely inadvertently erased basically everything that happened in the original trilogy. Confused? I suppose you should be, but at the end of the day, it just meant we were truly were dealing with two distinct sets of films that just both happened to be about the X-Men.

The sequels/reboots ended up being a lot of fun, but things took a turn in the third film, X-Men: Apocalypse. That one was a mess and was a textbook example of what not to do when telling an X-Men story. The villain was just an all-powerful being with no subtext. I likened Apocalypse to a natural disaster in my review of that film and I stand by that. He was a foe that just was; there was no getting away from him or around him or reasoning with him, he just had to be endured. The cast basically exploded which meant we had a bunch of new faces and not enough time to get to know any of them. It was almost as if the film depended on people knowing who these characters were and establishing a connection based off of that and not by what was presented onscreen. Given that, the obvious next step was to tell a story entirely dependent upon the audience caring about these new characters – what could go wrong?

The original story of Phoenix unfolded over several years and was anchored by characters introduced 20 years prior, this film is counting on viewers caring about characters introduced just a film ago and given minimal screen time at that with only 2 hours to tell the story.

Apocalypse made enough money that a fourth film was commissioned: Dark Phoenix. The Dark Phoenix Saga is perhaps the most famous X-Men story ever told. Crafted by writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne, The Dark Phoenix Saga unfolded in the pages of Uncanny X-Men spanning 8 issues in 1980. Some would argue the story began earlier with Uncanny X-Men #101 which began the story of Phoenix way back in 1976. In essence, this was a story that unfolded over parts of 5 years, so is it any wonder that other versions of the X-Men have struggled to match the original story?

Probably the best adaptation of The Phoenix Saga and Dark Phoenix Saga is in the animated series X-Men. That show devoted basically 10 episodes to the event and had given us multiple seasons before that to develop a connection to the characters in the show. When the X-Men originally went to film, we had at least had two films to connect with characters Jean Grey and Cyclops, only Cyclops was basically written out of the sequel and quickly killed off at the beginning of the third. Oops! At least The Last Stand had the Wolverine/Jean dynamic and the Xavier/Jean relationship to fall back on, but it was sloppy with the Phoenix character taking a backseat to Magneto for large stretches of the film.

This film is not good, but that’s not because of the performance of actress Sophie Turner.

In the waning moments of Apocalypse, the film started dropping hints that Phoenix was next so I was not surprised to find out that Dark Phoenix was in development, but I immediately expected failure. Once again, a film was jumping over The Phoenix Saga and going straight to Dark Phoenix, only this time, the title character was one no on cared about. The film had a lengthy development cycle due in the part to director/screenwriter Bryan Singer getting fired for being a sexual predator and the studio having enough issues with first-time director Simon Kinberg’s final act that they sent the whole crew back for reshoots. The release date got kicked around as the film would basically become akin to a lame duck president since rumors were flying, and would later come to fruition, that Disney was purchasing 20th Century Fox which would bring an end to the X-Men film franchise. The film was finally released in June 2019 and it bombed. If Wikipedia can be believed, it would eventually make more than its budget, but that probably doesn’t factor in marketing costs so it’s possible the studio lost money, though it’s certainly likely that it did not realize a substantial profit.

The poor reception to the film is why my review has taken more than two years to arrive. I’ve simply been unwilling to spend money to watch it, so I waited for it to finally show up on a streaming platform I was already subscribed to. I will come right out and say it: this movie is not good. I was hoping that maybe for a longtime fan of the X-Men, it would work on a basic level for me and I could have some fun with it despite its flaws. Instead, I found little to enjoy.

For starters, the script and screenplay are poor. Characters are given lines riddled with clichés. One can practically predict every word about to come out of a character’s mouth in a given situation and it just feels like amateur hour. Despite the poor script, some actors are able to rise to the occasion. Sophie Turner, who plays the title character, received poor marks for her performance in Apocalypse, but here she redeems herself. Yes, the movie does her few favors, but she performs as well as could be expected. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender continue to be pleasant as Professor Xavier and Magneto, respectively, though the latter’s appearance felt especially shoe-horned this time around. Just like with Apocalypse, Magneto is basically just to hear to clearly demonstrate that another being is more powerful than him. Nicholas Hoult is fine as Beast/Hank McCoy, but that’s basically it. Jennifer Lawrence continues to underwhelm as Raven/Mystique which is partly due to the character being underserved by the role while Kodi Smit-McPhee (Nightcrawler) and Alexandra Shipp (Storm) are treated more like tools than characters. Jessica Chastain, who reportedly turned down numerous offers to appear in a “superhero” film before, plays the villain Vuk and it’s truly puzzling that this is the role she finally accepted. She must have owed someone a favor or just really likes Kinberg because the role is terrible.

A space rescue leads to an encounter with the Phoenix Force, setting the wheels of the plot in motion.

The plot of the film basically tries to adapt portions of both The Phoenix Saga and Dark Phoenix Saga. When the film begins, Xavier is basically a celebrity with direct access to the President of the United States and things are going well for mutants. It’s supposed to be set in the early 90s, but the period is not utilized in the least. When the X-Men are called upon to save a stranded space shuttle in the outer rim of Earth’s orbit, Jean Grey is exposed to a supernatural force and is forever changed. This causes a rift between Raven and Xavier, with Beast caught in the middle, over Xavier’s willingness to place his student’s in harm’s way to further his agenda while Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) is left to worry about his girlfriend, Jean, who is acting different. Things take a turn as Jean essentially becomes the Dark Phoenix character as we know her leading to tragedy and her fleeing the team. In the process, it’s discovered that Charles had used his own powers to hide traumatic memories of Jean’s when he took her in, and now those barriers are failing causing others on the team to question Xavier’s judgement and Jean to basically go out of control.

Vuk (left) basically plays the role of Mastermind this time around as she attempts to forge a bond with Jean to gain control of the Phoenix.

Complicating things further are the D’Bari, a race of shape-shifting beings made extinct by The Phoenix Force before it ever encountered Jean. Their leader, Vuk, wants to take control of the Phoenix which now rests in Jean, and in order to do so needs to become her ally. Along the way Magneto will be pulled in and Xavier will be forced to reassess what the X-Men stand for. It’s a mess of a plot that both asks us to care about characters we barely know and is also afraid to actually put a lot on the shoulders of these characters. A lot of what happens, particularly with Magneto, feels like the film just padding out its length. Once again, Magneto is presented as being in a state of peace, but then immediately goes back to being a tool of vengeance. It’s ridiculous what the past two films have tried to do with the character and the only silver lining is that Michael Fassbender continues to be terrific in the role. The presence of the D’Bari is essentially taking the place of the Hellfire Club from the comic, and not the Shi’ar, as Vuk tries to coerce Jean into being an ally in order to take control of the Phoenix Force. The film isn’t really interested in explaining this cosmic entity; does it just function like a power amplifier or is it in control? It’s basically just there to give Vuk a motivation and a reason to exist, albeit a flimsy one. The film would have functioned in the same fashion if Vuk just wanted to use Jean like a weapon, as Magneto had done in The Last Stand, and the Phoenix entity was just something that existed inside her character.

I love Fassbender’s Magneto, but he did not need to be in this picture.

Dragging the film further down into the mire are the special effects and action pieces. The effects are not bad, just not interesting. It’s a lot of characters just putting their hands up and CG taking over to add in some flames or lightning. The only interesting moment involves a subway car crashing up through a street, but it’s also a head-scratching moment as the character responsible didn’t really need to do that and it just looks like the film trying to show off. There’s no moment that made me say “Wow” and there’s no signature fight scene either. The final battle is one of the film’s most underwhelming moments. The costumes at least look okay. Beast still looks kind of dumb, but a lot of that has to do with the character’s design and not the makeup effects being utilized. This one, like the previous film, does draw attention to how the franchise loves blue characters as we have the blue Beast, Nightcrawler, and Mystique making up half of the X-Men. The franchise is finally confident to give the team a comic-inspired uniform, but still not willing to give other characters a cool, fun, look. Jean, as Dark Phoenix, just wears street clothes throughout this one and Magneto apparently lost his threads between films.

Dark Phoenix is not a good film and a whimper for the franchise. Technically, the final X-Men adjacent film is last year’s The New Mutants, another film fraught with delays and reshoots that ultimately did not pan out. It’s a shame that a cartoon in the early 90s is still the best depiction of a classic comic story like The Dark Phoenix Saga and I wonder if the repeated failures will cause Disney to bypass it when X-Men finally enters the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a shame, because it’s really not a hard story to adapt, it’s just one that needs time. It’s not a one-movie deal, it has to be cultivated across films and, most importantly, they need to be films that actually respect the characters. Marvel has proven it can create a team and have the audience care about it, and I don’t mean The Avengers. That was obviously a different animal where most of the characters got stand-alone films first, but Guardians of the Galaxy did not go that route and found a way to make us love the characters on that team. I do suspect that when it comes time to onboard the X-Men that we’ll meet someone like Xavier in a different film before being properly introduced to the full team. And it’s possible we’ll meet other characters prior to that as well. It wouldn’t be hard to slip Storm into whatever comes next for the Black Panther and Wolverine can fit in almost anywhere. That’s a whole other subject though. For now, the X-Men film franchise that began in 2000 is over. It had its ups and downs, but it’s also a big reason why we have the superhero genre today. It was immensely important and I’m glad it exists even if it has many flaws. It’s unfortunate it didn’t get a better send-off, but I think of Days of Future Past as the true bookend and that film is great. And if not, well Logan is possibly the best superhero movie ever and also would be a fine end. Dark Phoenix just happened to be the movie that came last.


X-Men: The Art and Making of the Animated Series

A few years ago, I talked about my love of X-Men, the animated series, via a book review of Previously…on X-Men by Eric Lewald. That book chronicled the development of the 92 animated series that helped propel the Fox Kids Network to the top of the Saturday morning leaderboards through notes from the author and extensive interviews with the folks that helped bring that series to life. Now, Lewald is back with his wife Julia with a complementary piece all about the artists and artwork that went into creating that series, X-Men: The Art and Making of the Animated Series.

There are probably a few individuals out there who first wrinkled their nose at the thought of an art book based on the animated series starring the X-Men. That’s because the show was somewhat famously underserved by Saban Entertainment who had little interest in sinking much money into the art and animation that went into the show. It’s not that the show was abysmal to look at, it’s more that it was always going to be compared with Batman: The Animated Series. Both shows launched in 92 on Fox, though X-Men only in a sneak preview with the proper launch coming in January of 1993. Batman was on weekday afternoons, while X-Men was allowed to reign over Saturday morning. The other big difference though was Batman had the might of Warner Bros behind it which produced the series and just licensed it out to Fox. X-Men had the backing of Marvel, which wasn’t what it is today. Marvel was a bit touch and go for many years even when it was starting to take over the news stand with a lot of help from the mutants who starred in this series. Rather than self-finance though, Marvel licensed it out to Saban who partnered with Graz Entertainment. The budget was never going to be the same, nor was the confidence. X-Men was unproven outside of the comic book world, and thus received just a one season order initially, followed by a second, before eventually the big order came in.

X-Men on the front, bad guys on the rear. What does it say about me that I think I prefer this to the cover?

Despite all of that, and a legend who had no idea how the property should be presented (::cough:: Stan ::cough::), the show was a smashing success. It’s interesting to look back on because I think many consider Batman to be the superior show. And yet, X-Men was the ratings champ and my favorite of the two. And when it came to my friends, most liked Batman, all loved X-Men. I don’t know why that is, though I have some theories. Batman was a known property and the show reflected the Tim Burton films. Whenever something goes from the big screen to the small one (especially in the 90s), there’s a feeling that the TV version is inferior. The X-Men may have lacked the recognition of Batman, but it also lacked any sort of baggage. Batman was also quite great at being a moody, superhero, show with a lot of style. It was also mostly rooted in that, where as X-Men was an ensemble with more characters to lean on. Batman was almost devoid of personality as a character by choice, while basically every member of the X-Men (well, maybe not Cyclops) was rather colorful able to display a wide range of emotion and even drop a one-liner or two. Or maybe it was just the prestige of being on Saturday morning? Either way, it was a good time to be alive.

It’s an art book, so expect a lot of artwork!

Both shows were part of a gradual maturation taking place in children’s cartoons. We basically had left the wacky and cheap 80s in favor of something that actually had respect for its audience. Shows like The Pirates of Dark Water and my beloved Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars were quite different in tone from the likes of Thundercats and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Most of those shows still featured a character that could be turned to for comedic relief, and even Batman has the Joker. X-Men didn’t really feature that though. Morph could have been that character, but he was killed off rather quickly. It’s a drama starring people in bright spandex that captivated me as a kid. The serialized nature and some of the nuance of the show asked something of me, and I was willing to rise to the program as a mere 7 year-old. It’s no surprise to me that when I look back on my youth, X-Men is there and always will be as it was far and away my favorite program.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the book is getting to read the descriptions that go along with each storyboard panel.

And despite what you may think, a lot of really talented and devoted artists contributed to this show. Knock the animation all you want, but I’ve always been rather insistent that the show looks pretty great in stills. Sure, pick through it and you’ll find some weird stuff or miss-colored limbs and costumes, that’s true of a lot of shows from that era. Where this book is able to shine is with the stuff not broadcast. All of the developmental art that went into the show; costume ideas, height charts, storyboards, are quite rewarding to look at. When Lewald and his team were handed this property, there were decades of material to cherry-pick for the show and a lot of ideas were cast aside. There’s also plenty of production art, like cels and such, that are quite interesting to look at. Especially some of the backgrounds, like the lair of Mr. Sinister, which featured several layers of artwork to make it right.

And it’s not just art! The books is broken out into six chapters, plus an intro and an afterword, with each containing a detailed breakdown of what went into each section. Some of this stuff is lifted from the prior book, so it will be a bit familiar for those who read it, and some of the details are new. Since this book is focused on the art of the series, you’ll hear additional nuggets about what went into a character’s look or a particular background. There’s a lot of ink spent on the various cameos that occurred throughout the series and some of the other details may surprise and amaze. One such nugget came from Director and Storyboard Artist/Supervisor Larry Houston who pointed out how difficult it was to animate a character like Mr. Sinister. His irregular cape basically forced Houston to storyboard the character with as little motion as possible. Basically, the camera was either directly in front or behind him and he was basically never allowed to rotate. It’s fun to go back and watch the series with such information in hand and it gives some newfound appreciation for all of the work Larry and his team had to do before sending an episode off to Korea for animation.

When the X-Men ruled the world!

There’s a lot to unpack in this book and I don’t want to reveal too much since a lot of the enjoyment I had was uncovering things I either didn’t know or really paid little attention to. There’s also some nice additions to this one like a collection of all of the episode logs and a picture to go along with it. Some time is spent on looking back at the X-Men craze, like the Pizza Hut promotion and the action figure line from ToyBiz, which might make you wish for a third book that covers all of that tie-in merch. The book itself is also quite lovely. It’s hardbound with new cover art from Houston, I think. There’s no explicit “Cover” credit, just a case credit to Houston with ink by Rick Hoberg and colors by Laura Martin. It’s a bit confusing as the inside of the front and back cover are storyboards which were definitely done by Houston, so the credit may be referring to that. Regardless, the cover, featuring the main team including Morph and Bishop, and the rear cover featuring the villains of the series look great. Pages are nice and thick and the whole thing totals 288 pages. Since it’s mostly artwork, it’s not a tremendously long read, but it’s hardly brief. I mostly read it while sipping a morning or afternoon coffee (first starting my read, appropriately enough, on a Saturday morning) over the course of a week. It was a wonderful, leisurely, trip back to the 90s and my youth that not only left me wanting more, but also with a desire to go back and revisit the show once again.

One of my favorite inclusions in the book is the visual episode guide with accompanying logs, a tremendous resource to have on-hand.

X-Men: The Art and Making of the Animated Series is a great companion to Previously…on X-Men. It’s a book intended to satiate fans of the show, but would also probably entertain casual fans as well. I had a great time engaging with the art from the property, and while I already had a pretty terrific appreciation of the art that went into the show, I think those who might not have that same level of appreciation will likely leave with a bit more. Eric and Julia Lewald do a great job of recounting their time with the show and the various artists and executives they speak with bring a lot to the table. It’s my assumption that anyone with a love for this old show will be delighted by this book and it’s something I plan to flip through again.


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