Tag Archives: wolverine

Marvel Legends X-Men Animated Series Wolverine

Ah! There you are, Wolverine!

The toyline of my dreams was announced last October. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the television series X-Men, Hasbro is doing a dedicated line of Marvel Legends with figures based on the look of the show. The show was obviously inspired by the designs of Jim Lee, but there are differences in the look of a character made for print and one made for television and it was something I always wanted for my favorite, childhood, TV show. Batman got his own line based on his show, the Ninja Turtles are receiving the same from NECA, now it’s time for the X-Men. And who is leading things off for Hasbro? None other than Wolverine, so lets make this a Wolverine Wednesday!

This should be a time of joy. The toyline I’ve wanted for years now finally happening? Of course, nothing is guaranteed. Since the announcement of the line, Hasbro has really underwhelmed when it comes to figure reveals. It even started off right away. While I think most were pleased with how Wolverine was shaping up, Jubilee was announced the same day and looked decidedly unlike her animated counterpart. Mr. Sinister would follow not long after, and while he looks solid, he comes with zero accessories. No extra hands, no extra head, no show-specific gizmo, nothing. I don’t need to go into it further, since I already did, but 2022 has really sucked some of the life out of this line before the first figure arrived in the hands of collectors. That’s a discussion for another day though, as today I get to talk about Wolverine.

I love that box!

Wolverine was already a popular character to comic fans, but it also feels appropriate to call him the break-out star of the cartoon. Voiced by Cal Dodd, this iteration of the character is still the first that comes to mind when I hear the name Wolverine. Wolverine arrives in the new, plastic-free, VHS-inspired, box created for this line. Artwork of Wolverine adorns the box which was done by artist Dan Veesenmeyer who was a storyboard artist for the show and was responsible for the artwork featured on the actual VHS releases of the show back in the 90s. I love this approach by Hasbro as it’s creative, nostalgic, and just plain fun. Did they get the idea from NECA with their VHS-styled packaging for TMNT? I don’t know, but Hasbro still deserves praise for at least nailing this aspect of the line.

I appreciate the commitment to preserving the VHS aesthetic all around the box.

The figure itself comes in a little baggie and the accessories are packaged in a separate bag. Collectors have rightly pointed out that this style of packaging prevents potential buyers from actually seeing the figure they’re buying, but that is mitigated by the fact that this line is presently sold only online. Once removed from his little baggie, Wolverine will stand approximately 5.75″ on whatever shelf you deem worthy of his feet. Much of this figure is reused from past Wolverines, but that was to be expected. And the base figure works well enough for what this is. If I have any nitpicks about the appropriateness of this body for Wolverine it’s really just in that his arms are probably too big and too detailed, but that’s minor. Helping me to look past that is the fact that Hasbro gave Wolvie a brand, new, head. It looks terrific with the ears of the mask accurately representing what we would see in the show. The quality of the animation wasn’t fantastic so Wolverine’s head shape had a tendency to be all over the place, but this is how I feel he was supposed to look in every frame and Hasbro did a good job.

How do we feel about cel-shading? I personally like it, though I admit it’s been done better with other figures.

The most talked about aspect of this line though seems to be the paint job. Hasbro, wanting to properly emulate the look of the show, has opted for a cel-shaded approach. I, for one, like that decision. If you’re going to make an action figure from a cartoon, why not try to make that figure look like it came out of that cartoon? The argument against that is always “these figures exist in the real world, let natural lighting provide shading” but that misses the point. What shading in cartoons (or comics, for that matter) resembles real-world shading? The shading with this figure looks good. I like how it’s applied as it was done in a consistent manner. My only issue with it is the choice of color for the shaded yellow portions. Hasbro went with a mustard color, which is not at all in-line with the show. For an example of a better, more appropriate, shade of yellow one need only look at the only other X-Men animated action figure out there: Mondo’s Wolverine. That Wolverine is obviously much bigger and much more expensive, but that doesn’t excuse Hasbro just plain whiffing on the choice of colored paint. The other thing I don’t like is that Hasbro didn’t use this as an opportunity to engineer some pin-less joints for Wolverine. Wolverine is a character who will see numerous re-releases over the years so the cost to do so seems immaterial as Hasbro will make it back. The pin-less approach is just far more appropriate for a figure with this style of paint job as the yellow pegs poking through the shaded portion of the knee looks stupid. It’s the same problem Hasbro has been running into for years with its Spider-Man figures.

The claws look pretty good.

Joining Wolverine in his box are a handful of accessories. Wolverine comes with his clawed hands deployed, but he can also swap to a set of non-clawed gripping hands. Unfortunately, these are some generic hands Hasbro must be recycling from another figure because they’re missing the channels on the back of Wolverine’s gloves. I’m surprised Hasbro didn’t have proper Wolverine gloved gripping hands available for this figure to utilize, but apparently not. The hands are noticeably undersized and look a bit ridiculous on the figure. There’s even sculpted finger nails on them to drive home that these are repurposed from somewhere else. There’s also a second head which features Wolverine with teeth-gritting and it looks good. My only critique here is that they probably shouldn’t have bothered sculpting the teeth since they’re rarely drawn-in for the show. Lastly, we have a show specific accessory in the form of the picture frame containing an image of Scott and Jean. It’s a great idea for an accessory, and the image is removable, though it’s a shame Mondo beat them to it. Since I have that figure, part of me wishes they went for another meme-worthy accessory like a big slab of salami, but I can’t deny that this is a fun thing to include for an animated Wolverine. Plus, they can always do a civilian Wolverine later that comes with salami.

The non-clawed hands, unfortunately, look like they’re meant for a different figure. And that’s because they probably are.

The articulation for Wolverine should be pretty familiar to anyone who has purchased a Marvel Legends figure over the past few years. It’s certainly a familiar sight if you have one of the prior Wolverines using this sculpt, but in case you don’t (like me), let me run down everything for you. Wolverine’s head is on a big ball hinge. He looks up, down, and all around with a little wiggle too. The shoulders are ball-hinged and work okay, but they have to work around the shoulder pads which peg into the meat of the shoulder. It’s a bit of a pain, but it does at least let the arms go all the way around. There’s a butterfly joint, but the shoulder pads get in the way when bringing the arms forward, but work okay going back. There’s a biceps swivel and the elbows are double-jointed though Wolverine’s beefiness limits his range to about 90 degrees. The wrists peg in and are hinged horizontally. There’s an ab crunch in the torso that works well enough, and the waist swivels. The legs connect via ball pegs and they don’t go out to the side very far or kick back, but they do kick forward. There’s a thigh cut past that, double-jointed knee, boot cut, and ankle hinge that pivots side-to-side. It’s a suitable batch of articulation, pretty standard for a Legends release, and my only complaint really is one of the pegs on the left knee doesn’t go all the way through and it’s exposing the hinge there more than it should. I don’t love what Hasbro did with the shoulder pads, but I don’t know that there’s a better solution.

Don’t do it, Wolverine!
It’s amusing to me that two different companies decided this accessory was essential for an animated Wolverine.

This Wolverine presents a solid template for how this line of figures should be handled. We get some re-tooled parts to match with some reused ones plus a unique paint job, which isn’t something Hasbro is known for. Yes, I have some issues with it. I think the color choice for the shading is off, and I think some added black linework would have really made this guy pop. And those extra hands are garbage, but how likely am I to display Wolverine without his claws? Not very, but he does come with an episode specific item to hold so the non-claw hands shouldn’t have been the afterthought they clearly were. A final nitpick is a similar one I had with the Mondo figure and that’s the claws should have been painted. They were usually white in the show with a little blue added, but both figures just went with a flat gray. At least they arrived in good shape and only my figure’s right hand may take a trip to the faucet and that’s a first for me with a Wolverine Marvel Legends figure. Granted, the last one I bought was probably made by Toy Biz.

“Hello, son.”
The bigger, more expensive, one obviously looks better, but I think it would be a lot closer if Hasbro matched the colors Mondo used and added some linework to their figure.

If this Wolverine was a perfect representation of what to expect from this line then I think most everyone would be happy. And maybe it is. I don’t have any other figures yet, but with Jubilee set to arrive tomorrow I’ll have a better idea soon. This figure is largely what I would expect of Hasbro and it’s plenty good. It’s fun to have a new 6″ Wolverine after so many years and it’s especially fun to see my favorite TV show from my youth get celebrated. It already seems clear to me that if you only get one figure from this line make it this one. Now lets hope that Hasbro spends the money to do a proper animated Sabretooth to pair him up with.

I suppose I should include a comparison between this figure and the only other, dedicated, animated version of a character Hasbro has done (not including the Spider-Verse figures).

Wolverine is presently available to order at Hasbro Pulse (www.hasbropulse.com) and the other figures in the line are up for preorder there as well with Jubilee being the only other one in-stock. It’s expected that all of these figures will also be sold at http://www.shopdisney.com at some point (Jubilee is already there). Each figure retails for $28 and a Pulse membership is required to get free shipping. They’re not exactly cheap compared to other Marvel Legends releases, but for now, Hasbro is really the only company doing a dedicated line based on the animated series. Maybe that will change one day, but for now I’m all-in and I hope we get the full team and select villains. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a fun display.


Mondo X-Men TAS Wolverine 1/6 Scale SDCC Exclusive Action Figure

Look who finally arrived!

When San Diego Comic Con was cancelled for 2021, many of the entities that would have sold exclusive merchandise at the event pivoted to web sales. And since the 2020 iteration of the famed event was also canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many seemed to expect the same for 2021, or the massive delays experienced by many industries just played a large role in delaying product intended for the event to sometime after. I talked about this in my review of the NECA Toys San Diego Comic Con set for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The wait for that seemed long, but it wasn’t as long as it was for my most anticipated release related to the event: Mondo’s 1/6 scale Wolverine!

Each box is individually numbered and comes with a slipcase featuring storyboard art for the show’s iconic intro.

Halloween 2022 is going to mark 30 years since the premiere of X-Men on Fox Kids. The animated series was the introduction to the famed superhero team for a generation of fans. It was what helped vault the already popular team of mutants from just a comic book phenomenon to something bigger. Since then, the X-Men have seen their standing relative to other costumed superheroes falter some, largely due to Marvel selling off the film rights to 20th Century Fox leaving them out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which has turned also-rans, like The Avengers, into some of the hottest properties in the world. Seriously, as a kid if you told me The Avengers would one day dwarf the X-Men in popularity I would have looked at you as-if you had two heads. It was just unheard of at the time that Captain America or Thor would ever have that kind of appeal.

Am I really going to open this?!

Well, 2022 is apparently the year the X-Men will attempt a comeback! In celebration of the animated series turning 30, we can expect a host of new merchandise to mark the occasion including a series of action figures from Hasbro. And it will spill over into 2023 with a new series set to launch on Disney+ continuing the adventures of the animated universe which ended in 1997. The appropriately titled X-Men ’97 is still shrouded in mystery, but we know a lot of the voice cast is returning to reprise their roles and there seems to be an energy about the franchise that hasn’t been there in recent years.

Oh my god, that’s perfect. How can I open this?!

The first of this new wave of merch is now upon us. Mondo’s take on Wolverine from the show was the first such figure I saw announced. I’ve been pounding the drum for a dedicated line of figures based on the show for years now, and seeing Mondo enter the market was a huge development. Mondo is a company I’m not personally familiar with. I certainly know of the company and their wares, I’ve just never owned any as they tend to stick to larger scales. And larger scaled figures come with larger price tags and larger space requirements. Do I necessarily want a sixth scale version of the X-Men? No, but seeing how it’s just the first of what I hope will be more toys based on the property I had to jump in and support it. And to make the package even more special is the SDCC theming which positions Wolverine in his longing pose on a cardboard bed pining over his unrequited love for Jean Grey. It’s a scene, and a meme, brought to life and it certainly put a smile on my face. What didn’t was the hefty price tag of $200 plus $20 to ship it. I wasn’t certain of the price until I got into the website to order it, and by then I was past the point of no return. At least with Mondo charging upfront some of that sting has subsided in the ensuing six months since I ordered this item. Any bruises have been replaced by my own longing to get this thing in-hand and see how it turned out.

I opened it.

First of all, the packaging is quite fetching. It almost feels like a crime to open this guy. It’s an elaborate window box positioning Wolverine on his bed, photo of Scott and Jean in-hand, looking pretty miserable. He’s got himself a nice pillow propping him up, and it’s the type of package that I see many people never opening even though he’s got an assortment of parts for a more traditional display. If the price tag wasn’t so high, I’m sure more would entertain the idea of leaving this figure sealed and buying another for display. This is the SDCC exclusive, while a standard release is expected to follow that omits the packaging and some of the accessories that will cost less. How much less is still unknown as the figure has yet to go up for order anywhere. I am very entertained by this package, but I can’t leave him in place, so out he comes!

He’s out! Though he doesn’t look any happier. Mondo included a stand that is unnecessary, and kind of boring. They couldn’t put a big, red, X, on that base and dress it up a little?

First of all, getting Wolverine out without destroying this box was a challenge, but one I successfully navigated. The ties on his torso aren’t actually twisted, so they can be pulled off once you slide the display out of the window box. Getting at the other stuff was more challenging as it’s under the bed and you need to open it up. I found going at it from the foot of the bed easiest and was able to slide out the inner cardboard box and the bagged accessory piece as well. From there, I found it easiest to just snip at the other ties holding him down to the plastic bubble. Mondo wisely put paper inbetween the ties and the figure so you don’t have to worry about scratching it as you remove them. The hands and picture frames are wrapped in plastic to hold it in place and that has to be just torn off. Once the restraints are removed he lifts out rather easy. The pillow is also tied down and I just left it for now. It’s funny, when the figure is in the box I never noticed that the pillow is basically just suspended in air on top of the plastic bubble, but once the figure is out it’s definitely noticeable.

Wolverine towers over his Fox Kids contemporaries.

Now that Wolverine is out, I can tell you he stands at about 10 3/4″ to the top of his head. The “ears” take him to around the 11 1/2″ inch mark. The sculpt is very neat as there’s not a lot of articulation showing. The cel-shading is also done in a manner where it goes from lighter on the figure’s right side to darker on the left. It’s most noticeable on the gloves as the top of the left hand is almost entirely painted in a dark blue while the right hand has just a bit of that on the left side and palm. The head features shading on just the left side of the yellow portions and it’s very subtle from the front. The exposed flesh on Wolverine’s face has some shading on the left side and above the chin. True to the show, the black ears feature no blue accents. The rest of the figure follows the same pattern with the paint getting progressively darker as you move from one side to the other. There are three shades of red and three shades of blue on the belt and trunks to accomplish the effect while a more saturated, honey-like yellow, is used to outline some of the muscles. It looks pretty damn terrific and accomplishes what it set out to do. One could quibble with the chest area as the shading is least pronounced there. Maybe adding in some white would have accentuated that as that was a common tactic in the show, but sometimes less is more.

Bring in a quarter scale turtle though and he’s dwarfed. He’s still got bragging rights on Venom though.

The overall sculpt for Wolverine is also quite nice. His ears really fan out and are a bit narrow in keeping with the show’s look. It stood out in images to me as being a little odd, but in-hand the likeness seems more realized, or I’m just charmed to finally have it. He’s broad-shouldered and the musculature looks rather true to the show and not overdone. I like how they did the hair on his arms entirely with paint which keeps with the somewhat flat look of animation. The X logo on the belt is sculpted and is rather clean which does a fine job of drawing attention to it. Everything looks well-proportioned too, though it will be interesting to see how much taller future figures are in the line given that Wolverine is among the shortest characters on the show. Mondo pretty much nailed the look of the character and it’s nice to see.

As far as I can tell, the “Come here” hand is best utilized to recreate this legendary cover. Too bad he doesn’t have a smiling, unmasked, head.

And that’s just out of the box with the sad face and no clawed hands. Underneath that bed is the other stuff. For starters, Wolverine has an open right hand and a relaxed, sort of gripping, left hand for the packaging setup. In addition to that he has the following: left open hand, left curled index finger hand (maybe for a “Come here” gesture?), a right gripping hand, clawed fists, and clawed fists with the sparking effect arcing between them. The gripping hand is here for the turkey leg accessory, another frequent meme or gif shared on social media, and it could also hold the picture frame if you really want it to. The clawed hands feature long, hard, grey, claws. I think one could argue they should have been white in keeping with the show, or white with some blue shading, but they look okay. The claws on the arcing piece are perfectly straight and it’s a great looking item. The sparking part is a translucent blue plastic and it’s soft and bendy which helps make it easy to pop the hands in place. I’m surprised they didn’t just make the blue part removable, but maybe they feared people breaking the claws when putting it on. Swapping hands is mostly easy, but those claws are tricky to work as it requires some force to remove the hands and you have to be mindful not to break the claws (or stab yourself). I’ll probably display him with the arcing effect for at least a little while. The picture frame is really well done and you can remove the picture from it via a slit in the top. It’s not probably not going to be easy though as it doesn’t seem to move around at all in there. It might be easier to just continue to use photoshop instead.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to swap the clawed hands if you just take the claws off first! I actually had forgot about the teaser images for this figure which featured Wolverine with un-clawed fists or with just one claw extended to carve the turkey. The claws are in there pretty snug out of the box, or at least they were on one hand for me. Maybe swapping hands around caused the other one to loosen, but either way, I was able to pull them out of one hand easily enough while the other I dipped in hot water first. It’s a great idea for a figure at this scale since the claws can be thick and durable enough to withstand such use and they’re not tiny and likely to get lost. All of the channels on Wolverine’s hands feature holes for the claws, but they definitely do not go in easy. I think if I really wanted Wolverine to have claws in the non-fist hands I’d probably have to insert a paper clip or something into the channels first just to widen them and push some of the paint out of the way, but it’s probably do-able. I don’t particularly think he needs to be able to have claws on his non-fist hands, but I do like the option to have his fists without the claws if I want. It also makes it easier to straighten the claws, as they probably won’t look perfectly straight out of the box. Of course, I took most of my pictures before realizing I could even do this, so if you think his claws aren’t straight enough in my images at least you know that’s something that’s adjustable.

Snikt!

Wolverine also has extra portraits to work with. The default one is the sad face which is mostly good for a laugh, but isn’t one you’re likely to display outside of the pose he came in, but it will probably be something fun to use with photography. He also has a neutral head and a teeth-gritting, angry, head. Both expressions work very well for this version of the character and it’s hard to pick a favorite, or would be under normal circumstances, but I’ll explain that in the next paragraph. Wolverine also has an unmasked head that looks…okay. He’s making an odd shape with his mouth and I don’t know what Mondo was going for. Something more neutral would have likely looked better. I do like the shading on his hair though and his mutton chops are on display. It’s not terrible, but hard to imagine many using it.

The hair looks good, but I don’t know about that expression.

Lastly, we have another odd, but welcomed, head in the form of Morph. He’s depicted with his black hair and a slight smile. His facial structure looks good, but the eyes are a bit off. They painted black lines on the bottom of the eyes and then additional lines below that and it makes them look like they’re upside down. I don’t think they needed the added lines for this particular expression and they probably should have outlined the whole eye. Still, it’s something people are unlikely to make much use of since Morph never changed his body to look like Wolverine in the show while leaving his head unchanged. He did the opposite with Gambit, though. I know Magneto is slated to come with an Evil Morph head, but beyond that I don’t know what the plan for the character is. Seems unlikely they’d go full build-a-figure with him at this scale, but who knows? Maybe they’ll just do Morph eventually and he’ll completely different portraits and these will be bonus extras for those all-in on the line.

This is actually a Morph figure with a bunch of Wolverine heads.
Hey, another use for sad Wolverine and the Morph head!

Where things do come apart at the seems a bit with this figure is with the overall paint job. Bigger figures mean more opportunities for shading, and also more opportunities for things to go off the rails. The main figure is largely good, but there are parts where the paint gets a little iffy. The black teeth, or claws, on the torso aren’t always sharp. The worst spot is on the figure’s right just below the pectoral where the yellow and black meet to form a little green. There’s also a little paint rub on the left thigh where it meets the blue trunks. Yellow is tough to work with as any little instance of rub is going to show, but it’s still disappointing. By far though the worst is with the neutral expression head. That has a bunch of the black paint mixing with the yellow over Wolverine’s left eye. It looks like what happens when you go from using a black watercolor and dip it into yellow without cleaning the brush well enough. It’s terrible looking and renders that head unusable, as far as I’m concerned. I did reach out to Mondo in hopes of getting a replacement because it’s not acceptable for any figure to have that bad a paint app, and certainly not one that cost 200 bucks. All of the other paint imperfections I can live with and find acceptable, even at this price point, but not that head. I haven’t heard back as of this writing, save for an automated response, but I’ll update this post accordingly should I hear from them. UPDATE – not five minutes after this post went live I was contacted by Mondo to say a replacement was on the way and should arrive within five business days. Nice!

UPDATE Part 2A week and a day following my initial reach out and I had my replacement. Only, Mondo didn’t replace the one head I had an issue with, they replaced the whole thing! Yes, they sent me a whole other, unopened, still sealed, unit. It’s kind of crazy and I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. I want that head, but do I want it enough to open another one of these or should I just keep it sealed and deal with the initial crummy one? I did take the bad head out of the baggie it came in to find it’s more like a glue that is on the head. I don’t know if I can remove it without damaging the head further. I’m tempted to try and then paint it, or I could just open the new one and see if it has a better neutral expression then ship it off at cost to someone I know would like to have this and might not care about a bad head. Regardless, that’s certainly good customer service, even if I think Mondo is kind of crazy to not just have some spare parts on-hand.

Well, that’s not good.

The articulation for this figure might be the only other area collectors are likely to find fault with. Mondo likely prioritized the overall aesthetic for Wolverine with articulation taking a back seat. Personally, I’m happy with that decision and I think it’s the right choice as the animation was pretty stiff. Wolverine’s head sits on a double ball-peg so you get rotation and the ability to look up and down slightly. There’s also some tilt. Some of the heads seem to have more range than others as I could get sad Wolverine to look up a bit, but angry Wolverine not really at all. The unmasked heads are a pain to get seated properly on the peg and sit quite deep so their range isn’t any better. At the shoulders are standard ball-hinges and you will want to take care not to rub the shoulder pads. They come out to the side a decent amount, but not 90 degrees. There’s no biceps swivel with Mondo instead opting for a swivel just above the elbow hinge. It works okay and I admittedly like the look of his arms so I’m fine with the trade-off. This does mean the elbows are single-jointed so that’s a bummer as you’re not going to do better than 90 there. The hands are on ball joints so they at least move around just fine. Removing the default ones was a little scary and I did dip them in hot water just to air on the side of caution, but I have not had any issues swapping them.

Posing isn’t going to be this figure’s strong suit, but he does balance really well.

In the torso, Wolverine has a diaphragm joint and a waist twist. The diaphragm joint is quite noisy so there’s a lot of rubbing going on so do be careful. It lets Wolverine tilt back a fair amount, but he doesn’t crunch forward hardly at all. You do get some twist too, but again, lots of rubbing and you have that black paint right underneath. The waist twist is just a twist and doesn’t feel like a ball joint. The belt and trunks are also all one piece so, again, be mindful of potential rubbing. At the thigh, it feels like we just have a simple ball and socket joint. Again, and I sound like a broken record, lots of rubbing on that crotch piece so how far forward he can kick is largely dependent upon how far you want to push it. There’s a twist there too which works fine and the knees are double-jointed, but really just present a 90 degree bend. At the ankles we mostly have a pivot, or rocker, joint as there’s very little up and down because of how deep into the foot the joint was set. He stands just fine, though Mondo did include a stand, but doing a running pose or something similar would be a challenge for Wolverine. The joints are all at a good tolerance. Nothing is loose, and none felt scary to move out of the box. It’s just not the most dynamic assortment of articulation, but it is very low profile. And really, the only thing that would have made him more exciting for me would have been butterfly joints so he could really reach out with those claws. Those tend to be ugly though so I understand why they aren’t present. Others may feel differently though.

Ultimately, this just looks like Wolverine from the show and I think that will make a lot of people very happy. Plus, that packaging! They even included the reference art on the back of the box!

Mondo’s first foray into the X-Men animated universe is mostly positive. Objectively speaking, this figure has some problems. The articulation isn’t great and certainly the paint on one of the heads is not acceptable. I also assume the more minor paint issues will vary from figure to figure and there are more subjective things to critique like some of the shading choices or the expression on the non-masked head. For me personally though, this figure is a ton of fun to both look at and handle. He looks like the character from the show I loved as a kid and I couldn’t be happier that this exists. Certainly, I wish he didn’t cost 200 bucks as this line will get very expensive if all of the figures are priced at that level. This is the San Diego version, but also the brown costume variant was priced at 200 so who knows what the going rate is going to be? On the other hand, if they only put out one or two per year then that certainly makes it a lot easier to budget.

Wolverine is lonely though. Imagine Sabretooth at this scale?!

This version of Wolverine was a convention exclusive limited to 3,250 pieces. If you want him, you’ll have to go to the secondary market or hope that Mondo does indeed release a stripped down version in the future. Again, Mondo has been pretty quiet about that release and future ones so I don’t know if that’s still the plan. The secondary market is basically you’re only source for this one now where it will likely cost more than the $200 Mondo charged. How much more remains to be seen. Right now, the listings are pretty high, but I don’t know if they’re actually selling. This is a rather niche item because of its scale and there’s a very real possibility that those hoping to make a buck have to settle for far less than they expected. Over three-thousand units isn’t a small number for this sort of thing so keep your eyes open if you want him. As for me, I can’t wait to have a more robust X-Men collection to display. Between Mondo and Hasbro, it figures to be an eventful 2022 for the almost 30 year old show.

That was a long one, I could really go for something to eat. Who wants turkey?!

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!


Another Comic Con Season is Over and it was Expensive!

San Diego Comic Con has come to be a convention that means a lot of things. It only vaguely has anything to do with comic books and instead is more a celebration of, and I hate to use the term, “geek” culture: video games, movies, comics, toys, etc. It’s also a huge commercial event with many companies exhibiting wares like a trade show and also hawking rare, convention, exclusives to hungry patrons looking to get their hands on something unique. The problem is, these convention exclusives were once novelties, but in the toy industry, they’ve become practical necessities for fans of certain products and it creates a hyper-competitive environment full of broken websites, tapped-out wallets, and frustrated fans.

For the second year in a row, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the event to be done remotely. At least with this year, companies had plenty of time to plan for that and many crafted special videos or hosted live panels to show off to fans what’s expected to come later this year and into next. Unfortunately, a global shipping crisis could not be foreseen so a lot of product that would have been sold at physical booths this year are still in transit. It certainly takes a damper out of things when, as a consumer, you fight scalpers and busted websites only to secure an order for something that won’t even ship for 6 to 8 months. In that case though, at least the consumer can be happy to have secured a coveted item and the waiting is just what it is.

It’s been an interesting season. I was musing on Twitter how this time of year that purports to celebrate the collector, toy, industry instead brings out the worst in the industry. As one would say though, it is what it is. I spent a lot of time, and money, going after the stuff I personally wanted and watched from afar as plenty of other fellow collectors tried to get the things they wanted. Some experiences went better than others, but I can at least say that I did get everything I really wanted, and the things I didn’t I passed on because it just wasn’t worth it to me.

This fall, the mask comes off!

The company always in my sights this time of year is NECA. I have been collecting NECA’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles products ever since they started making the stuff back in 2008. NECA chose to use this time of year to only highlight items expected to arrive in stores between now and October, so while there weren’t a ton of reveals, there was certainly plenty to get excited about. On the film front, they had a new Casey Jones to feature that now comes with an unmasked portrait as NECA was able to get the likeness rights to actor Elias Koteas (with some help from April actress Judith Hoag) around the time the original figure was released. It looks great, though considering it’s basically the same figure I already have just with a new head and elbows means I may pass on it. Complicating the matter is Walmart posting a preorder just last night for a mystery two-pack claiming to be April and Casey from the farm portion of the film. There was no image to go with it, but being a TMNT product, it sold out. It’s dated for November so I suppose it’s not a surprise it was withheld from the show. Also from the movies is Shredder from the sequel, The Secret of the Ooze. He’s largely the same figure as the first film except he’s purple and has a new cape and helmet. Still, he looks pretty awesome and would pair quite well with Tokka and Rahzar.

From the cartoons, NECA had some two-packs that we knew were coming thanks to a Target leak, but had yet to see. Groundchuck and Dirtbag will be arriving together which makes sense since they debuted together in the same episode of the show. Dirtbag even has a nifty feature where he can separate at the torso and be placed in a sculpted pile of rubble like he came up from out of the ground (since he’s a mutated miner or something). The other big two-pack shown was Wingnut and Screwloose who too looked quite impressive. Screwloose in the cartoon was a much larger character than someone like Joe Eyeball so he gets a full figure this time around, which is awesome. He looks to be roughly the same size as Baxter. Those were the only new reveals, but they did show additional shots of some of the figures NECA put up for preorder earlier in the year and also teased a cartoon Tokka and Rahzar two-pack. For the comics, they only had a teaser for Fugitoid and nothing for the video game line was shown or teased which was expected as the comic line is intended to replace it.

I don’t know if the kid version of me would be excited for this group, but the adult version certainly is!

As expected, NECA did have an exclusive set to sell this year as they have every year going back several years now. And for TMNT, they actually had two. The first is an exclusive Super Shredder that will be sold at Walmart stores. It’s another paint variant meant to resemble a European version of the old Playmates toy, similar to how the Shadow Master variant was an homage to a mail order exclusive of the same toy. This one is basically hot pink with metallic blue shoulder pads and spikes. It’s fine, though most fans were more interested in the cartoon 4-pack that went on sale at NECA’s webstore yesterday. Titled The Catwoman from Channel 6, the set contains four figures: Mutated Cat April, Irma, Vernon, and Burne as well as a bunch of unique Channel 6 themed accessories like cameras and little mutated versions of Vernon and Burne as turtles. It’s a pretty cool looking set as the box is done up like the deluxe releases with f.h.e. inspired artwork, but mostly it’s the first chance at an Irma and Burne. They may not be heroes or villains, but they were in a lot of episodes of the cartoon and it’s hard to have a display that doesn’t include them. Many were disappointed that the Cat April doesn’t come with a new, non-mutated, April head, but her skin tone is different as a cat and it wouldn’t have made sense. Irma comes with rat parts, like Vernon, while the cowardly cameraman has two new portraits to differentiate him from his prior release: a scared version and a blindfolded one. The set was sold with some “swag” like last year’s Musical Mutagen Tour and set collectors back $175. A version without the swag will arrive at Target in the coming months and retail for $150. I was able to place an order yesterday as the set remained in stock for awhile relative to other NECA exclusives, which means about 15 minutes. International versions are still available, and really the only downer is NECA has not provided a release window so I have no idea when this thing will ship.

She looks perfect!

In non-turtle news, NECA had some horror stuff to show based on Halloween and Gremlins II. I’m not really into that aspect of their business, but I am very interested in one of their newest intellectual properties: Gargoyles. Despite boasting that they have around six or seven sculpts already completed, NECA was content to just show two characters: Demona and Thailog. Demona had been teased already so this was just a chance to get a closer look at her, and predictably, she looks terrific. Thailog, being a clone of Goliath, was a bit underwhelming as he’s basically a Goliath variant. He has a new portrait that’s rather smug looking, and I like it, but I would have preferred to see another new sculpt. Demona was confirmed as the second release, and I believe Thailog was confirmed as the third, but no release window was given. Since Goliath still hasn’t shipped, it would probably be generous to expect both to arrive before October is through, but hopefully Demona can at least make it out before Halloween. Goliath is my most anticipated action figure release this year and I can’t wait to go hands-on with this line!

After the NECA hysteria died down, my focus turned to Bandai. I am a casual collector of Bandai’s S.H.Figuarts line and it’s Dragon Ball figures, but one of their exclusives this year caught my eye. An anime accurate Nappa was going on sale following the manga-inspired version that was released a couple of years ago. I had seen that figure on display several times at a local comic shop and came close to pulling the trigger, but ultimately passed. I decided I would not do the same this time, but Bandai seemed to have other ideas. The sale started at 9 EST last night and it was doomed from the start. The website crashed and no one could check out. Twitter was flooded with complaints while the social media accounts for Bandai and Bluefin Brands tried to push patience. It was a repeat of last year, and despite promises to do better, Bandai came up short. After an hour of constant refreshing and baby steps, I finally got through, but others weren’t as lucky. It helped I was only going after one of the four Dragon Ball exclusives, the others being Goku, Whis, and Beerus. I would have liked to have grabbed Beerus as I enjoy that character, but I just didn’t feel like spending more money. Same for the special stands that were on sale which featured a custom base. At least with Nappa, I have an expected delivery window of August, so the wait for this exclusive should be fairly quick.

I can’t believe this exists.

The longest wait though is reserved for Mondo. I am a first-time buyer of Monda, though I’ve seen their stuff before. They did a line of Mirage-inspired Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that were pretty cool and also have tackled Batman: The Animated Series. Their figures are 1/6th scale, so they’re around 12″ usually and quite expensive. Last November though, the company unveiled a figure in a new line: Wolverine. Not just any Wolverine though, Wolverine from X-Men the animated series. I was immediately interested despite the scale and cost and I only became more interested when the company teased it earlier this week. This thing comes with the photo frame of Scott and Jean that Wolverine broods over and has become a popular meme over the past few years. And to top it off, he comes packaged in a window box that simulates Wolverine laying on his bed pining for Jean. It’s ridiculous, and also ridiculously expensive at $200. A standard version should arrive sometime next year that will certainly be cheaper. How much cheaper I’m unsure of as the world of action figures continues to get hammered by shipping price hikes. This figure comes with a sad Wolverine head and we know that’s exclusive to this set, but is the picture? Or the alternate Morph head? The turkey leg?! Yes, he comes with a turkey leg.

I wish I didn’t have to wait until 2022 to get it!

Mostly, I just felt the need to show my support for anything X-Men animated as that has become my new grail toyline. NECA has crafted the TMNT lines of my dreams and are now going to dip their toes into Gargoyles. X-Men though was my biggest love as a kid and I’ve talked about my desire to see that cartoon get dedicated action figures based on it. Some will wave the retro-carded line by Hasbro in my face and say “This is X-Men animated,” but it’s not. Doing figures based on the designs of Jim Lee is not the same as doing an actual cartoon line. This figure from Mondo appears to get that right based on the paint deco which uses two shades of yellow, two shades of blue, and doesn’t have over-the-top detailing like stubble on Wolverine’s face or individually sculpted teeth. Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait until January (if not longer) to find out just how good this thing is as that’s the current expected ship date. Apparently, this wouldn’t have been ready to sell at a physical booth had the convention happened.

It was quite a week though, and it followed a week of reveals by Super7 the prior week which got G.I. Joe fans talking. The state of the shipping industry makes it hard to say how many of the products shown off this week will actually reach collector hands this year, but it’s fun to know what’s coming. Right now there’s a lot of waiting going on which is rarely fun, but often necessary. And I’m an adult capable of being patient when it comes to my toy hobby. Still, waiting on the chance to try and buy these exclusives was anxiety-inducing when it doesn’t have to be. It’s great companies are creating products people want, but why the artificial scarcity? And with so many of them not even shipping for months, why not just open preorders for most of them? I get it if you’re selling some goofy, expensive, variant that not everyone needs, but a character like Nappa from Dragon Ball Z in his show accurate colors should be something every DBZ collector has a chance at. NECA appeared to meet demand with its set, and they have more shipping to stores as well, so I give them high marks this con season. Plus, I think the exclusive figures in that set, namely Irma and Burne, will see release in the main line at some point too. Even the mutated April might get a re-release and if that happens the only truly exclusive things in that set will be the large cameras and alternate Vernon portraits. And that’s fine! I want to get the toys that I like and I want everyone else to as well. I don’t need these things to be hyper exclusive to have value for me. Some people see things differently, but I’m confident in saying they’re the minority in this day and age. It’s a time of year I both look forward to a lot and also dread. It’s over now though and I’m largely feeling good so…mission accomplished?


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.


Take My Money, Hasbro, Give Me X-Men Animated Series Legends!

 

x-men animated group shot

Let’s talk some X-Men!

It’s been probably 13 or 14 years since I’ve purchased a Marvel-branded action figure. This is somewhat shocking to me because from the age of 7 to around 25 I spent who knows how much money on Marvel action figures. I was there for the inaugural Toy Biz line of Marvel Superheroes and X-Men action figures and I continued buying Toy Biz figures well past the age of when it was considered “appropriate” by my peers. And even after I stopped actually playing with my toys I still kept them on display in my room. Two pieces of old countertop on milk crates served as my makeshift shelves. Good guys on one side, bad guys on the other. As characters changed allegiance in the comics, so did their placement on my shelf. Aside from that, I didn’t like to mess with them and the dust would grow thicker and thicker and probably contributed to my constant sneezing. I didn’t care though, because I really loved my toys.

When action figures grew up with me I grew extremely excited. There were a few dedicated collector lines, most memorably one based on the Onslaught mini series, but things really changed with Marvel Legends. I was a bit tepid at first with them, mostly due to the absence of X-Men, but eventually I got into it. I started with just a figure here and there, and soon enough I found myself buying entire waves. I also added the occasional Diamond Select figure which at the time prioritized sculpt over articulation making some of the toys little more than glorified statues. I even got into Mini Mates for a period, since they initially focused on the Ultimate X-Men which was a comic I grew attached to pretty quickly.

Eventually, I stopped collecting. Part of that coincided with the dissolving of Toy Biz by Marvel which chose to instead license its properties to Hasbro. Those first few Hasbro waves weren’t very strong, and with the build-a-figure shrinking down to more normal proportions it failed to really motivate me. I think the last wave I bought to completion was whichever one featured The Blob. And even with that, I think I had to buy some figures based on X-Men: The Last Stand which did not sit well with me. That also happened to coincide with me moving out on my own trading the confines of my old bedroom for a small apartment. I didn’t want to have to lug a bunch of toys around with me every time I moved, and once I got settled into my own home that I purchased the itch had passed. I had moved onto other hobbies and comics just didn’t appeal to me like they once did. Sure, there have been a few figures over the years that tempted me, but the rising cost in standard toys makes it pretty easy to just focus on the things that really bring me joy.

That could change though, and if Hasbro wanted me back (and who wouldn’t?) there is one thing the company could do that would guarantee it many of my dollars and it has to do with my favorite show as a child:  X-Men.

xmen three pack

This recent action figure three-pack is what put my brain into this mode. These almost work as animated versions, but they’re different just enough to not be perfect. And I’m not just referring to Wolverine’s bone claws.

Nostalgia currently has me hooked via NECA’s line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys based on the old cartoon series. That show may not be particularly good, but I loved it as a kid and it’s something I can’t let go of. Similarly, I have a huge amount of affection still for X-Men. That show was my life for a few years and unlike TMNT, the show is still watchable today even if it doesn’t hold up as well as Batman or possibly even Gargoyles. And I know I am not alone. There is a lot of love out there for that show and that has been preyed upon via action figures based on the costume designs of the Jim Lee era X-Men from the comics. There was a recently announced three-pack featuring Wolverine, Jean Grey, and Cyclops which is what really got my juices flowing. Those characters bare a strong resemblance to their animated counterparts, but the figures are also clearly aiming to capture the look of the comics and not a cartoon.

What gives me hope that such a line could work is because animated versions of these characters are not far off what is already out there. Take your standard Wolverine action figure, for instance. To make him better resemble the cartoon, Hasbro basically just needs to reduce detail. No stubble on his face, not much hair on the arms, and less muscle definition. DC has done a great job bringing Batman: The Animated Series to plastic form in terms of aesthetics, so why not do the same, Hasbro?

Because I’m such a generous guy, I’m even going to provide a road map for Hasbro. I envision six figures per wave with a build-a-figure bringing the total to seven. Adhering to modern times, the extra buildable figure is not some titanic character, but something closer to a standard sized figure. It would be a good fit for those figures that would need to be 7 or 8 inches as opposed to 5-6, which is what I imagine most figures would fall into. They could be done, and really should be, in scale with Marvel Legends and I would prioritize characters from the first two seasons. If the line’s a success, then sure go for more. If the series happened and worked out as outlined below, then I would definitely buy every figure and really annoy my wife as I hunted for more space to display them.

Series 1

  • Wolverine
  • Cyclops
  • Rogue
  • Morph
  • Mystique
  • Magneto
  • Build-a-Figure:  Sabretooth

This mix would get some fan-favorite good guys out early and also a few villains to pose them against. Wolverine is an obvious must for the first series as he was the most popular character. He should come in his standard uniform and additional hands, some with claws in and some with claws out. A second, unmasked, head would complete the look. Cyclops should also just have his normal look. If a removable flight jacket could be added without harming the sculpt, then all the better, but not necessary. Similar to modern Cyclops figures, he should have a second head with a blast effect and probably an extra set of hands including one with two fingers extended on his right hand to activate his “X” communicator. Morph, on the other hand, should have his flight jacket since he was most often depicted wearing it. He should also have black hair as he did in seasons one and two and an alternate “evil” head. Mystique would need few additional accessories, making her the likely landing spot for a larger piece of the build-a-figure. Magneto would need a helmeted and un-helmeted head to properly capture his long hair. A nice, heavy, fabric cape would also look great, but soft plastic wouldn’t be bad either. Sabretooth, being featured in episode one, makes for a good choice as the first build-a-figure given his size relative to the other characters.

X-Men (FOX) [1992-1997]Shown from left: Wolverine, Morph, Beast

That’s how I want my Wolverine to look, bub.

Series 2

  • Gambit
  • Bishop
  • Storm
  • Cable
  • Pyro
  • Avalanche
  • BAF:  The Blob

Wave Two would be anchored by the next most popular character after Wolverine, Gambit. He’d just need various hands and his bo staff to be authentic. Storm would be the other character from the team, and in the interest of “keeping them wanting,” would be the only other from the main team. Bishop and Cable both played large roles as guest characters and lend themselves well to action figure form. Cable should probably have his season two look which featured a metallic left arm, a more common look than the season one version. Bishop should also feature a removable time bracelet to go along with his really big gun. Pyro and Avalanche would serve as the villains with the BAF being their comrade Blob. A desire to assemble Mystique’s troop would hopefully help drive sales.

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Everyone can relax, Gambit is in series two.

Series 3

  • Beast
  • Jean Grey
  • Archangel
  • Civilian Wolverine
  • Graydon Creed
  • Mr. Sinister
  • BAF:  Apocalypse

Series 3 would be the one that nearly completes the main team. Beast, unlike most figures based on the character, should have a cheerful disposition as opposed to an angry one. Jean Grey would need her cartoon-accurate costume, something Toy Biz never delivered on when the show was popular, which was blue and orange as opposed to blue and yellow. She should also probably come with a Cerebro helmet. This would also be a good time for a second Wolverine figure. Since he was so often featured in plain clothes (yellow flannel with a brown jacket), a figure based on that look makes sense. He should have two pairs of clawless hands, ones that look like normal fists and ones that have the steel ports on his hands as he was incorrectly portrayed in season one. Diehard fans of the show, such as myself, really appreciate little details like that. Creed was a big player in season two, and he warrants a figure as a result. Of course, Sinister was the main big, bad, guy of that season and series three feels like a good spot for him. Lastly, Archangel should be included (with a masked head and unmasked head) to pair with the BAF Apocalypse who would be depicted in his animated purple and blue color scheme.

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I don’t know why they made him purple, but the toy better follow in the same footsteps!

Series 4

  • Jubilee
  • Colossus
  • Omega Red
  • Forge
  • Civilian Cyclops
  • Professor X
  • BAF: Juggernaut

Series 4 would finish the main squad by including Jubilee and Professor X. Xavier would be the tough one to include as he would need his hover chair. Recently, Hasbro did a Professor X that I think retails for more than a standard Legend. The company could save money by retooling it and if it has to retail for more then so be it. Colossus guested a couple of times and is deserving of a figure himself. He should be clad in his blue pants and white tank top to match his appearance in the show. If a second, non-transformed, upper torso could be done then that would be really neat. Omega Red is a villain with a great, 90s, design, and even though he’s a bit bigger than other characters, I don’t think he’s so large that he would need to be a BAF. Cyclops had enough non-costumed appearances to be the second main cast member worthy of a civilian look. And Forge had multiple appearances as well. He should come with an alternate head so he could be depicted as main timeline Forge and future Forge. The Juggernaut is the last character that serves as an obvious choice for a BAF and would be a sought after one helping to make sure fans buy the entire wave. That only challenge with him is I think he would need two heads as well, one masked and one unmasked, because it’s hard to make a good-looking Juggernaut figure that features a removable helmet.

colossus 92

Colossus proved you didn’t need a real costume to be a hero.

Series 5 and 6

  • Phoenix
  • Gladiator
  • Nightcrawler
  • Dazzler
  • White Queen
  • Sebastian Shaw
  • Henry Gyrich
  • Bolivar Trask
  • Dark Phoenix
  • Banshee
  • Fabian Cortez
  • Empress Lilandra
  • BAF:  Sentinel

I’m grouping these two together because I have a radical idea for the BAF. It would be a sentinel and the pieces spread between both waves. The piece loadout would be like Giant Man from the Toy Biz days which did an oversized wave of Marvel Legends as a Wal-Mart exclusive. This would allow Hasbro to do a bigger figure to do the sentinel justice, because we need a sentinel for such a series since they were so important in that first season. The desire to have a cartoon sentinel would help move some of the less exciting, but still essential, characters contained in this wave. Trask and Gyrich, specifically, would be unsexy figures, but they had such a large presence over the first season that it feels wrong to exclude them. Much of these waves would also be devoted to the Phoenix and Dark Phoenix Sagas. Doing both regular Phoenix and Dark Phoenix would also save Hasbro money since they’d basically be the same figure, different head. For Lilandra, I’d also go with the Empress version of the character as that would just make for a more striking visual. Cortez is the only character from a later season, but I see more opportunity for villains and I just happen to like him more than someone like Erik the Red or D’Ken.

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I don’t see how you could have a toy-line dedicated to the X-Men cartoon and not feature a sentinel somehow.

If the line was a success, it wouldn’t have to end there. I completely ignored Sinister’s Nasty Boys and all of the mutates from the Savage Land. They would really help to bolster the ranks of the villains, but it might be hard to convince people they’re more deserving of plastic than some of the others. An entire Savage Land wave could even be done, though I don’t know if that would be a big seller. Another big bad guy I left out is Mojo who would probably work best as a BAF. If he was done, then he would need to be paired with a Longshot.

As for heroes, there are alternate versions of other characters that could pad things out. Civilian versions of Storm, Rogue, Jean and Jubilee (or her in a flight suit) could be added. Beast and Gambit had other looks as well, but nothing really drastic (though Beast with his Howard the Duck shirt is pretty tempting). Archangel also briefly appeared as Angel in season one and returned in season four sporting his white and blue Angel costume. Wolverine had other looks as well, though my personal favorite would probably be the alternate timeline Wolverine from “One Man’s Worth” which also featured a mohawked Storm. Other guest heroes included Iceman, Psylocke, Alpha Flight and X-Factor so there are certainly more characters to mine from, I’m just not sure any really need a dedicated figure based on their look in the cartoon.

Hasbro missed its chance to honor the cartoon with a line of figures to celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary. There’s still time though to recognize the 30th in 2022 and a toy-line near then would be an appropriate way to do so. If 2022 seems too far away right now it could be timed to end that year. The show is also about to gain new exposure via Disney+ where it and other X-Men cartoons will be available day one. And with Disney acquiring 20th Century Fox it stands to reason that the X-Men will soon join Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe bringing even more of a spotlight to the brand. The time is right, Hasbro, make it happen!

 

 


Previously on X-Men: The Making of an Animated Series

previously

by Eric Lewald, published by Jacobs Brown Media Group LLC

A lot of cartoons made an impact on me as a child. My first love was The Real Ghostbusters. Its goofy cast of characters and excitement were plenty of fun and there were interesting toys to supplement the series with, which was pretty much the goal of all cartoons in the 80s. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would come along and supplant Ghostbusters for me. For several years I was all about the Turtles, with a flirtation with Bucky O’Hare mixed in, though sadly the funky fresh rabbit never made it past 13 episodes.

In 1992 things changed, in more ways than one. My family had just been uprooted moving from the cozy confines of New Hampshire to what felt like a different world down in Virginia. For the first time ever, I was a fish out of water. As I was gearing up to start 3rd grade in a new state, a new town, a new school, I would be tasked with forming all new friendships either at school or in my new neighborhood. It’s not a task I’ve ever been particularly good at. Shy and a tad awkward, I wasn’t outgoing, nor was I particularly talented in anything so I had few ways of attracting people. As a result, my television was sort of my best friend for a time and thankfully I had a new friend in Batman who had just debuted on week day afternoons on Fox Kids, a network I really only knew of thanks to The Simpsons. Batman was all fine and good, and I consumed every episode as it aired (and have since gone on to write about, if you hadn’t noticed), but it never hooked me like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, even though that was a program I found myself outgrowing. What did resonate with me almost immediately though was the cartoon that premiered not long after Batman, I’m talking about X-Men.

The X-Men were known to me in basic terms before the animated series premiered on Fox. About a year prior to the show debuting Marvel had launched a toyline complete with TV spots, even though there was no companion television series to pair it with. I suppose the toys could have been developed in conjunction with the Pryde of the X-Men pilot that had premiered and failed in 1989. The roster was pretty similar, though then relative newcomer Archangel replaced Dazzler in that initial run of toys. Aside from that though, I don’t think I had ever picked up an X-Men comic book and I may or may not have played the side-scrolling beat-’em-up arcade game that was also based on Pryde of the X-Men. And I didn’t even actually catch the sneak peek preview, which aired on Halloween of 1992. I had seen all of the television spots leading up to it and was very interested in the show, but I had tricks or treats to get and wasn’t good at working a VCR.

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The first attempt at bringing the X-Men to television did not go very well.

At school, I would hear about it though. They had cool powers, but people hated them. Why? It seemed like such a foreign concept. One character got arrested and another died! Wow! Perhaps morbidly, I really wanted to see that character death, whom I’d come to know as Morph. Frustratingly, it would be awhile before I finally saw it. Somehow, whenever “Night of the Sentinels:  Part 2” was aired on television I would miss it. I wasn’t allowed to stay home alone, since I was only 8, so if my family had plans on Saturday morning I had little say. My mom even enrolled me in CCD, or church school, which convened at 11 on Saturdays, much to my horror. I think I only went to two of those classes before my mom got sick of the revolt each Saturday, finally freeing me to enjoy my new favorite program in relative peace.

In no time I was obsessed, and X-Men was my favorite show for basically as long as it aired. I still have the many toys I amassed during that period in my life, and though I no longer read the comics, I still enjoy revisiting this cartoon. It’s why when I heard that showrunner Eric Lewald was releasing a book all about his experience in making the show and bringing it to television that I had to get a copy. I received a copy last November, and I’m a bit disappointed in myself since it took me this long to finally finish it and get to writing this post, but life is hectic.

Previously on X-Men is an account of how this unlikely hit came to be. When Fox premiered X-Men and Batman it was still a fledgling network. The Tracey Ullman Show and Married… With Children got the network its initial audience, and The Simpsons would then establish it as a viable alternative to the big 3:  ABC, CBS, and NBC. It was still struggling during the other parts of the day with programming often ending before 11 PM. Recognizing that there was a place for children’s programming, Fox brought together a web of studios and producers in a mostly haphazard manner that somehow led to network dominance. Shows like Bobby’s World and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes were filling out the kids portion of the programming early on, and while it sounds like they did okay numbers, they weren’t going to raise the network’s profile much. It would fall to the superheroes to do that.

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Julia and Eric Lewald

Lewald’s book does a great job in capturing those early days while also contrasting X-Men with its daily counterpart Batman. Batman was a show with tremendous financial muscle behind it in the form of Warner Bros. and DC. It was coming off two successful Tim Burton movies and featured a character recognized around the globe. As a result, it was largely an internal production at Warner and Fox got to enjoy the benefits. And then there was X-Men, the troubled property that seemingly no one believed in. Thanks to so many television failures by Marvel in the past, there was almost zero enthusiasm for a show based on the property. Margaret Loesch, who formerly headed-up television at Marvel and was hired away to run Fox Kids, was one of the few who believed in it. Having failed to get the show going while at Marvel, she knew a producer who she had hired and fired on more than one occasion that could handle the task. That man was Sidney Iwanter, and he produced the show along with many others for Fox Kids. Citing a belief that kids were smarter than network executives gave them credit for, he demanded excellence from the writing staff of X-Men, who were overseen by Lewald. These three probably deserve the most credit in getting X-Men to television and for it being the number one kid’s show when it finally did get there.

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Haim Saban, who is both a hero and a villain in this story.

The first 200 pages of the 400 page book are devoted to the development process and it’s a fascinating read. Lewald, who had no experience with the X-Men before getting hired to run the show, was entrusted with those initial 13 episodes. He had people at Marvel he could go to with questions, but in a pre-internet world that meant a phone call, fax, or worse. It wasn’t like there was a Google equivalent in 1992. Artist Larry Houston is credited with the look of the series, as he was one of the few onboard who was a fan of the comic. Also the Edens brothers, Michael and Mark, were Lewald’s main contributors in the writing department. Lewald’s wife Julia was also a part in the initial season and contributed to the book as well. It’s very interesting to read as Lewald takes the reader through that initial writing process, and it’s easily the most captivating section of the book. Their approach to character showed in the episodes, so a lot of what is said here was previously assumed. Such as the belief that killing off poor Morph in the second episode would create stakes and pull the viewer in.

fox kids

The early days of Fox Kids.

If there is an MVP character for the book though it just might be Haim Saban. Saban was a newcomer to television when Fox Kids partnered with him to bring the X-Men to air. Saban collected a fee for those first 13 episodes, but then it was on him to pay the writers and editors. Graz handled the art, while AKOM was contracted to do the animation. Saban is a notoriously cheap man, and reading about all of the accounts of his cheapness is both hilarious and frustrating. It’s well known now, but bares repeating to emphasize how cheap he was that Saban docked the pay for all of the returning writers for season 2. His reasoning? The show was a success, so now more people would want to write for it and therefore he could pay them less. The man is now a billionaire, so obviously he’s pretty good at making money, though he’s also a reminder of a lot of what’s wrong with modern capitalism. The second half of the book is comprised of interviews with the cast, writers, producers, and other executives and almost all of them have a comment about how cheap Saban was, and likely still is.

Many battles took place to bring X-Men to Saturday morning. Some I knew about before reading this book, and others I did not. It’s probably common knowledge that the first episode from AKOM was utter garbage in terms of animation quality. It’s a big reason why the show had to premiere as a sneak preview because the studio couldn’t get the episodes ready to premiere in the normal Fall window due to all of the animation fixes that needed to take place. A lot of money was spent getting it right, and it almost blew everything up. The original voice cast also had to re-do the initial episodes because the first takes were so bad. Saban, in order to save money, hired Canadian actors to voice the show because they were famously non-union, so casting, supervising, and ultimately editing the audio for the show was cumbersome. Having to send individuals up to Canada in order to re-dub the initial episodes was obviously time consuming as well.

X-Men (FOX) [1992-1997]Shown from left: Wolverine, Morph, Beast

Oh Morph, I still mourn for thee.

And then there was Stan Lee. Stan Lee is a pretty famous guy. I’m not sure if he’s today more known for all of the comic characters he had a hand in creating or if he’s more famous for being that old guy who cameos in every Marvel film. Stan Lee created the X–Men alongside Jack Kirby in the 60s, but after that initial unsuccessful run, he turned it over to other writers and artists so he could focus on other things. As a result, come 1992 he basically knew nothing about the modern X-Men and yet he insisted he knew what was right for the show. Lewald and Iwanter had to fight with Stan on everything in those developmental days. He insisted on narrating the episodes, as he had done with previous Marvel television shows, and his approach was entirely wrong for the show they were trying to create. Supposedly, he even proposed the premise of the show should be a few members of the team driving around and solving mysteries. Imagine Wolverine in the role of Scooby Doo? Who would Shaggy be – Gambit?! They somehow managed to placate him, without really giving him a voice in the show, and eventually he went away as the show moved along through its first season and became a smash hit. The frustration in having to deal with Lee, and the many other challenges, is felt in reading this and I ached for Lewald even though he’s more than 25 years removed from this aggravation.

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The success of X-Men helped pave the way for more Marvel cartoons like Spider-Man.

That first season was only 13 episodes, a far cry from the 65 episode order Batman received. Fox was so unsure about the property that it wouldn’t commit beyond that, forcing basically everyone involved to move onto other shows. Lewald went on to helm Exosquad with the Edens, and thankfully that too only received a 13 episode order so he was available to return to X-Men when it finally received the full episode order. Others did not, because that’s how television works. If a show isn’t in production, you’re not getting paid. That first season’s decision to present itself in a serialized fashion also presented problems for the network, as production delays on one episode messed up the order of everything. As a result, the network demanded that season 2 be more episodic, but Lewald and his talented team of writers still managed to give it a serialized feel with The Savage Land segments and reoccurring villains like Mr. Sinister and The Friends of Humanity. A wise move, since the serialized nature of that first season is a big reason why it’s so special.

Nightcrawler (1)

“Nightcrawler” is frequently cited as a favorite episode of many of the creators involved with the show. The book also contains a deep dive into its creation.

Like the show itself, which I think produced its best work in those first two seasons, the book somewhat suffers from a strong first half that isn’t matched by the second. The many interviews that span roughly 200 pages are informative, but some more than others. The voice cast mostly repeats itself with remarks about how it was fun to work on something that felt different and how they came to understand their roles. The actual writers and producers offer the more interesting nuggets. There’s a lot of praise thrown around which might get tiresome for readers, though they all have reason to praise each other since it’s easy to forget how successful this show was. Especially when taken alongside the production and development hurdles. Of the interviews, I think I actually enjoyed the executive ones the most. Loesch and Iwanter were candid and did a great job of transporting me back to the early 90s and the hurdles they faced in backing this show. It’s fun to read about how close these people were with these characters that meant so much to me as a child. They cared about them, which is ultimately why the show ended up being as successful as it was.

X-Men-92

Marvel has resurrected the 92 X-Men for its comics line, but the results weren’t enjoyed by this blogger.

It should come as no surprise that, as a longtime fan of the show, I fully recommend Previously on X-Men to other fans of the show. Even if you were only a casual fan, but tuned into the animated scene at the time, you might enjoy reading this one. It’s fun to read the comparisons of how this show came to be with the experiences these people had with other shows. X-Men was a production mess, a wonderful, beautiful, mess. It was still garnering good numbers when it was cancelled, and one has to assume it was due to costs. By then, Saban had Power Rangers and was able to bring more stuff in house. X-Men had all kinds of hands on it so a lot of people had to get paid, and as we already covered, Saban wasn’t a fan of paying people. Even so, it’s hard to argue that the show was cut-down in its prime or anything, but reading this book and revisiting the show really made me realize how much I’d love to come back to this world. Marvel did launch an X-Men ’92 comic, but it did not satisfy me nor did it read like an episode of the beloved cartoon, rather it felt more like a parody. Marvel is now under the gigantic Disney umbrella and its films basically print money. With the Fox acquisition though, suddenly the X-Men are back in play. Marvel hasn’t bothered with animated films in awhile, though it’s sort of bringing that back with Into the Spider-Verse. Maybe a direct to video follow-up for the 92 X-Men could one day be in play. Pretty please? At the very least, how about a Blu Ray collection with episode commentaries, Disney? The people who created this wonderful show obviously wish to talk about it and they still have a lot to say.


Logan

logan

Logan (2017)

A popular “gotcha” question from when I was a kid concerning comic books and the X-Men was, “What’s Wolverine’s mutant power?” The desired response was a reference to his claws, at which point one could interject with a “Nuh-uh! It’s his mutant healing factor!” Of course, later in the 90’s it would be revealed that his claws actually were a part of his mutation, thus putting an end to that one, but it was always kind of a stupid piece of trivia anyway. Wolverine’s defining trait are his claws, the healing stuff was just a way to excuse the beating he took in the pages of Incredible Hulk and X-Men. If he didn’t have those unbreakable claws, he probably never would have become the most popular member of the X-Men.

And yet, Wolverine’s claws were always a bit of an obstacle for comic writers and artists, and eventually animators and film makers as well. You have this violent, bad ass character, equipped with blades that can cut through almost anything, but he really can’t use them because of the obvious gore factor that would involve. Instead, Wolverine would often use the claws for show, deflect some attacks, cling to walls, cut through a fence, and everyone’s favorite – hack up some robots. That’s why it’s particularly liberating to see Wolverine go all out in the opening moments of Logan.

To a newcomer, or even someone who has just fancied themselves a casual fan, the violence and gore present in Logan will seem over the top, perhaps juvenile. The R rating the movie garnered may be viewed in a cynical fashion to appease young males who want f-bombs and blood out of their movies. For those who have been with this character since their childhood though, it’s a stark reveal of just who Wolverine is. This is the Wolverine we hear about from other characters, spoken of in hushed tones and feared by his enemies. This is a superhero who’s primary offense, and defense, is to just start hacking. And since this is applied to an older, very cynical, Wolverine we get a character who doesn’t operate in half measures – if you get in his way and threaten him or those who cares about, Wolverine won’t hesitate to remove your face from your skull.

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If you’ve always wanted to see Wolverine do this, then Logan will make you very happy.

Logan is a film set some 15 years or so in the future. It’s not a dystopian world or a wasteland. There are no flying cars or laser rifles, the setting is just an excuse to take a look at an aging, dying, Wolverine. When the film opens we see Wolverine has taken on a very mundane job as a limo driver. He walks with a limp, is an apparent alcoholic, and his wounds don’t close as quickly as they used to. When he’s not working, he’s scoring drugs and hopping the Mexican border where his perhaps only friends are hiding out:  Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). The drugs Wolverine purchases are for Xavier, who’s past the ninety-year mark and struggling to keep his wits about him. When the world’s most dangerous telepath can’t control his old brain bad stuff can happen. Wolverine is apparently saving up some cash to buy a houseboat where he and Xavier can live out the rest of their days without fear of harming anyone, or anyone bothering them (in the case of Wolverine).

Wolverine’s day to day life is disrupted when a borderline hysterical woman (played by Elizabeth Rodriguez) comes seeking his aid. Offering a substantial amount of money, she wishes for Wolverine to smuggle her and her daughter into Canada. Wolverine wants nothing to do with her, apparently not wanting any trouble. Soon a young man barges into his limo looking for info on the woman. He is Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), and we know from his demeanor and bad-ass cybernetic hand that he is certainly a bad dude and probably what the young woman is running from. Upon hearing this, Xavier naturally wants to help the woman as he senses a mutant presence, Caliban smells it as well (his mutant power). This is a big deal as there hasn’t been a mutant born in this world in over twenty years. Wolverine is sort of conned into helping the woman, and things get messy before they get any better.

Since she’s featured so heavily in the promotion, and the film makes little attempt to create any mystery about it, I might as well continue along and talk about Laura (Dafne Keen), the young mutant Wolverine and Co. end up taking in. Laura, known as X-23 in the comics, is a young girl with a very familiar set of powers and abilities, and also temperament. She is referred to by other characters as Wolverine’s daughter, but it might be more accurate to call her his clone. She’s on the run in search of a place called Eden and is running from Pierce and the people responsible for her existence. After the lengthy setup, the film turns into a road movie with Wolverine, Laura, and Xavier.

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Jackman and Stewart are just beautiful in their portrayals of Logan and Xavier.

Logan is not a feel good movie, and it doesn’t offer much mystery. I found myself anticipating almost every beat the film hits, but I also didn’t care. The world of Logan is harsh and unfriendly, but there are small moments to break up the grim that either provide humor or just a small slice of life. Xavier and Laura make for a fun pair and easily form a warm relationship, even if Laura is essentially mute. Perhaps to the surprise of some, Xavier is the character most often relied upon for comic relief. He and Wolverine clash well, but underneath the surface conflict it’s obvious the two love and respect each other. Wolverine is a surrogate son of sorts to this version of Xavier, and waits on him like a doting son, though he seems to take some enjoyment in complaining about it every step of the way. The relationship feels very authentic, which is a word that kept coming to me as I took in this picture. Patrick Stewart comes across as especially authentic as Xavier. There’s a scene where the trio sits down to dinner with some strangers and Stewart plays Xavier in a way that’s reminiscent of every dinner I’ve ever had with an elderly person I had only just met. He’s delighted to speak with someone other than his irritable traveling companion, but his performance never teeters on parody.

Hugh Jackman is a captivating Wolverine in this film. I suppose that comes as no surprise since he’s been playing this character for almost twenty years now (the same can be said of Stewart). Jackman worked with director/writer James Mangold on the story, loosely adapted from the Old Man Logan story from the comics. It’s clear from interviews with Jackman that this was an important film for him and an important story for him to have a part in telling as Wolverine, for it’s to be his last turn as the character. The Wolverine of this film is best described as the exact assumption most would have of an old man Wolverine. All of his lesser traits -his irritability, cynicism, vices and so on have only been strengthened by father time. He’s still a good guy inside, but his pessimism makes him more of an introvert than he’s ever been. The film doesn’t dwell on the past, but it makes it obvious that all of the X-Men are dead. This is a Wolverine who has lost everything. He doesn’t want to start over, he’d rather just die. He’s pulled through this movie by other characters as well as his inner sense of duty, but it’s a struggle. The film tells this story through action and not so much dialogue. In doing so, Mangold is able to avoid a lot of the tropes that plague other films attempting to tell a similar story.

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I wonder where she gets it from…

Laura proves to be a compelling character in her own right. Portrayed by newcomer Dafne Keen, Laura is a wide-eyed girl experiencing the world for the first time. Everything is interesting and new to her, and Keen is forced to tell us what Laura is thinking through her actions alone while also being restricted from changing her usual stoic facial expression. She’s a fun character to watch when the film slows down, but also a sad character during the action sequences when we are forced to watch a young girl brutally eviscerate other people with cold precision. She’s in a way been denied humanity, while also being denied a childhood. Again, Mangold does a great job of just putting this out there in the film without editorializing it. We don’t need a character to tell us now depressing her upbringing was. The film slowly gives us more and more of the Laura character and it’s one of the few aspects that feels rewarding. I would guess most people will leave the theater wanting to see more of this character in the future.

All of this is to say the movie isn’t perfect. Like most superhero pictures, it’s probably longer than it needs to be. While there are no obvious scenes that could have been axed, the film does move slowly and if an editor had been ordered to keep the runtime under two hours they probably could have found a way without much compromise. The film is also so centered on Wolverine and Laura that the antagonists feel like after-thoughts at times. And as I mentioned, it is very predictable and there is a sequence in the middle of the movie that bothered me as a result because the characters should have been able to see the danger up ahead.

The flaws within Logan are minor and do little to bring down what some are calling the best superhero movie yet. I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate, as Logan could function as any kind of movie if you took away the super powers. The film isn’t centered on a conflict of good vs evil with the fate of the world in the balance. It’s a character driven film, and for people who have considered themselves fans of the Wolverine character, this is probably the film you’ve been waiting for. It’s a film for those who appreciate the essence of what makes Wolverine special, and it’s able to present the character in an authentic way without devolving into a ton of fan service. More importantly, this is also clearly a worthy story for Jackman to go out on. This is his finest performance not just as Wolverine, but of any film I’ve seen him in, and I assume that was the personal goal of Jackman going into it. I was totally fine with this being Jackman’s last time playing Wolverine, but once the credits started rolling I must admit I was starting to wish for more, and as they say in show business, always leave them wanting more.


X-Men ’92

X-Men '92 (2015)

X-Men ’92 (2015)

Nineties nostalgia is running wild over pop culture like never before. Apparently enough time has passed for the 90’s to truly be considered retro. There’s a new Power Rangers movie in development, Jaleel White is appearing in Scion commercials, Nickelodeon has resurrected its 90’s programming via The Splat, and now Marvel Comics has turned to the X-Men for a new series of comics based on the early 90’s team featured in the popular cartoon. X-Men ’92 is a tie-in to Marvel’s ongoing Secret Wars, it too a resurrected plot from the past (only this time, the 80’s) that appears set to bring about more 90’s relics. Written by Chris Sims and Chad Bowers, X-Men ’92 is not exactly a continuation of that team from the cartoon series, but seeks to emulate it’s tone and characters in telling a new story in a new setting.

Being a tie-in with Secret Wars, X-Men ’92 has its origins rooted in the story that preceded it. Not being a regular comic book reader myself, I found it to be somewhat confusing but also not really important how we reached this point. Magneto has apparently been defeated and the X-Men are celebrities of sorts residing in Westchester, New York. Baron Robert Kelly, complete with cape and warwolves, rules over Westchester as an ally to the X-Men and Dr. Doom is some kind of god entity. The story begins much like the animated series did with the X-Men getting into a tussle with some sentinels at a mall. The camp is strong in this scene, particularly with Storm, and the first chapter of the story (which consists of four books split into two chapters apiece) reads more like a parody than an homage to the X-Men cartoon.

The plot moves fast and consists of the X-Men traveling to Clear Mountain, a sort of Betty Ford clinic for evil mutants. The director of the facility is Cassandra Nova, who longtime X-Men fans know as the clone of Charles Xavier from the New X-Men comics. The mission is one of peace and the X-Men are Nova’s invited guests. Of course, it’s a trap and Nova, allied with the Shadow King, imprisons the X-Men and back at the mansion psionically attacks Charles Xavier, rendering him unconscious. Nova’s plan is then to psychically infiltrate each member of the X-Men to determine which ones she can take advantage of through their personality flaws and ultimately brainwash. The ones she cannot are tossed into a cell. Her ultimate goal is to create her own X-Men and assassinate Kelly with a monstrous sentinel referred to as Ten-Sentinel (because it’s ten sentinels in one, naturally) while making his death appear to be the fault of the X-Men.

Cassandra Nova is the chosen villain here, which is odd considering she's a villain from the 2000's.

Cassandra Nova is the chosen villain here, which is odd considering she’s a villain from the 2000’s.

As the situation grows dire for our heroes, some familiar allies resurface in the form of X-Force. Consisting of Cable, Domino, Bishop, Archangel, Psylocke, and Deadpool, X-Force attempts a rescue mission at the mansion and Clear Mountain. As they too seem to have been left behind in the 90’s, it makes sense to resurrect the alternate X-Men for this story (though Cable is severely lacking in the pouch department) and they seem mostly true to their old personas (save for Deadpool, who’s more in-line with his current one). X-Force is able to free the X-Men, who are then left to do battle with the Ten-Sentinel, Nova, and their brainwashed former teammates. Everything ends with multiple epilogues and cliff-hangers, so apparently X-Men ’92 won’t be limited to these four issues.

X-Men ’92 exists seemingly purely for its nostalgic value. As I mentioned earlier, the personalities of the various X-Men are very much inline with their personas from the first season of the show. Wolverine is stubbornly independent, Beast is bookish, Gambit flirtatious, and Storm takes herself way too seriously. If anything, certain characters are magnified in their portrayals with the Gambit/Rogue dynamic being a point of emphasis. It’s sometimes hard to tell if the writers are poking fun at the old nineties team or just having fun with it. In the backgrounds lurk many cameos from the era and the final issue even features a few surprise cameos that I was not expecting. Easily the greatest joy in flipping through X-Men ’92 is scouring the pages for all of these callbacks, some of which are also worked into the dialogue.

Issue #3 is my pick for best cover. Note Deadpool's 90's era "selfie stick."

Issue #3 is my pick for best cover. Note Deadpool’s 90’s era “selfie stick.”

Unfortunately, the plot for X-Men ’92 is severely lacking. While the characters feel like parodies of the old cartoon, the story feels more like a rejected plot from the cartoon. It’s messy and Nova is such a typical children’s cartoon villain that it renders her as dull as a butter knife. The confrontation with the massive Ten-Sentinel is actually pretty boring, and the art is too busy to really appreciate what it’s trying to depict. The art, in general, is basically good enough, though the style of artist Scott Koblish doesn’t really fit the whole 90’s theme. Cyclops in particular is rather lean and appears a little short compared to how he would have been drawn 1992. Given how Sims and Bowers seem to enjoy poking fun at the era, it’s surprising they didn’t take a few shots at how over-muscled and glamorous the characters often appeared in that era.

If you are like me and expected X-Men ’92 to be a tie-in with the old cartoon then you’ll probably be disappointed by it. It has some nostalgic value, but the plot and pacing is so poor you would be better off just grabbing one issue out of the four (and it doesn’t really matter which, but I suppose the first issue was the overall best) if you really want a dose of X-Men nostalgia. The ending of the final chapter is slightly interesting in terms of what it foreshadows, but I suspect the featured villain will not be handled well by this writing team. The series must be selling well for Marvel to be continuing it beyond issue #4, but I bet those who have latched on would not mind it at all if Marvel hit the abort button and started over with X-Men ’92 where the animated series left off. That’s a comic I’d consider buying.


#10 The Best in TV Animation: X-Men

SF.Graz.1.0317––HANDOUT ART OF THE X–MEN CARTOON SERIES.

When I settled on doing a top ten for animation on television there were eight entrants I felt rather strongly about, and a ninth I was pretty content with. The tenth spot was the wildcard and a number of programs were considered, but since this is my list (and it’s not exactly an original topic) I decided I should use this spot to highlight a personal favorite of mine, so I went with X-Men. That’s a pretty flimsy lead-in but it’s not as if X-Men is undeserving of praise. I’ve wrote about the series quite a bit, even going so far as to do a mini review for each of the show’s 76 episodes during this blog’s first year of existence. At the time, I was using the show as a device to keep me posting but I was also reliving what was probably my favorite show as a kid.

X-Men launched on the Fox network in October of 1992, and at the time, was another attempt to re-ignite Marvel’s television properties. Prior to its debut, a pilot had been produced in the late 80’s called “Pryde of the X-Men” which focused on a much different cast of mutants. It was never picked up, and Marvel’s television properties were fading from memory. The same could be said for superhero cartoons in general, as only recently did Batman return to animation shortly before X-Men debuted. X-Men was the best-selling comic at the time, so it made sense for a cartoon to finally break through. Before X-Men (and Batman), cartoons based on comic book heroes tended to be pretty generic and bland. They usually took the form of the hero, or heroes, taking on the villain of the week and toppling whatever hair-brained scheme had been concocted by said villain to take-over the world or just cause general mayhem. Other shows, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, were just severely watered-down aspects of the source material intended to move action figures, which in the 80’s became frequently attached to various cartoon properties (He-Man being the best example of a cartoon existing solely to sell toys).

Wolverine and Gambit were likely to two most popular characters on the show, but that didn't stop the writers from developing many others.

Wolverine and Gambit were likely to two most popular characters on the show, but that didn’t stop the writers from developing many others.

X-Men was different. This was a show that, while aimed at children, wanted to bring legitimacy to the medium. The show placed its brightly colored heroes against the backdrop of an easy to grasp civil rights movement. Enemies were no longer defined as simply bad guys but were colored with shades of gray and given real motivations for their actions. Magneto was the prime example. Had “Pryde of the X-Men” been picked up, Magneto would have just been another super villain with a motley crew of evil mutants willing to do his bidding and match up against the heroic X-Men. In the Fox show, he was a Holocaust survivor which had convinced him that humanity could not accept the differences within its own kind, and therefore, could never accept anyone outside humanity. In this case, that was mutant-kind, often referred to as homo-superior by Magneto. Mutants often took the form of normal looking people but with special gifts. We the audience took those gifts to be super powers, and in the case of the X-Men, most could be described as such. They did often come with costs that were more obvious for certain individuals. Cyclops could not open his eyes without a special visor or else risk destroying anything in his line of sight. Rogue could not even touch another person skin-to-skin without putting them in a coma. And Beast was simply covered in blue fur. This take, later admitted by creator Stan Lee as a lazy way to explain how the X-Men got their powers, freed the writers from having to come up with yet another experiment gone wrong origin story for every mutant under the sun.

This civil rights narrative is what framed the first two seasons of the show. The opening plot revolved around an organization funded by the government who would pose as friends to mutants but was really secretly creating a database of mutants from which it could target them and, though only hinted at during the show since it was for kids, cull them from society. The X-Men could not simply fight this opponent and beat them into submission, but had to convince the United States government that this was the wrong course of action. As a child, some of this went over my head. When Beast was put on trial in episode three I did not understand why the X-Men did not simply break him out of jail. Such would have likely been the course of action in many of the show’s contemporaries with the plot either being resolved at the episode’s conclusion or just dropped entirely. Instead, Beast spent the bulk of the first season in jail awaiting a formal trial before finally being pardoned after the X-Men were able to win-over at least one prominent political figure.

Magneto was easily the show's most successful attempt at blurring the lines between hero and villain.

Magneto was easily the show’s most successful attempt at blurring the lines between hero and villain.

After the first season, it seemed like all was right with the world but the show once more took a more sophisticated approach. With mutants gaining more legal freedoms, bigoted members of society sprung up to do what they felt the government failed to do. Once more, the show mirrored society in that the X-Men couldn’t hope to ever win over everybody to their side. The show would lose touch with this narrative after season two, instead opting to take the show in a more sci-fi direction while focusing on more condensed plots, but in those two seasons X-Men did a lot to legitimize the superhero genre outside of the comic book world. It’s the strength of those two first seasons, merely 26 episodes, that vaults the X-Men into this position, but the show also got a lot else right.

For starters, the voice cast (comprised of Canadian voice actors mostly unknown to American audiences) did an excellent job with the often weighty material. The show could, at times, be joyless and very melodramatic and the scripts would often contain superhero jargon that probably read poorly, but the actors were able to step up and deliver. Some characters, like the perennially wooden Storm, were always lacking but others shined very bright. For me, I will always hear Cal Dodd’s voice in my head whenever I read a line from Wolverine. His raspy, quiet, delivery perfectly suited the sometimes explosive Wolverine. When the show needed him to get loud and angry, Dodd was able to come through time and time again. David Hemblen’s Magneto was another highlight. This show is one of the few that actually depict the Austrian Magneto with an accent, something even the films chose to ignore. George Buza’s Beast was so good that it obviously formed the template for the Kelsey Grammer version of the character that appeared in X-Men 3. The soundtrack was also a standout, mixing orchestral instruments with electronic aspects that suited the show’s somewhat futuristic-like setting. The theme song should be considered a cartoon classic at this point.

The show never added to its core cast of X-Men, but that didn't stop other fan-favorites from appearing in the show, like Nightcrawler.

The show never added to its core cast of X-Men, but that didn’t stop other fan-favorites from appearing in the show, like Nightcrawler.

Visually, the show adopted the look of Jim Lee’s X-Men quite well with some minor alterations. Most of what makes up the Jim Lee style was still retained though, with the men having bulging physiques and the woman looking like super models. Even the extras in society tend to look idealized. It’s a legitimate criticism of Lee’s work but I’m sure the animators were happy that the vast majority of characters were basically the same shape. There is enough detail in the work that the show looks quite nice in still-shots. The animation, especially in the first season when the budget presumably was at its smallest, could be stiff at times. The animators were obviously under some constraints as well as to what kind of violence could be depicted. After the first season though, the animation improved noticeably. X-Men was not the best looking of its kind, but it certainly was not among the worst. I enjoyed it far more than I would Spider-Man, which came in 1994 and featured some primitive, and mostly ugly, computer-enhanced imagery as well as a softer color palette.

X-Men was able to leave a mark on the world of cartoons. It’s solid production values combined with its mature approach to story-telling is what makes it standout amongst other Saturday morning fare. X-Men is still the gold standard for the super hero ensemble show, and still stands as the best thing Marvel has ever done on television. X-Men took risks in a world where risk-taking is often frowned upon. Most people think kids want a mindless program where the hero always wins and everything is wrapped up in 22 minutes. Children are capable of so much more and the success of X-Men is proof of that.

If you want to read more about the X-Men animated series, there’s plenty to be found on this blog. In addition to numerous posts that summarize and review every episode, I also made an entry on what I considered to be the best episodes the show ever produced.


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