Oh, hell, yeah! It’s Rogue time, y’all!
Evolution Rogue is awesome. She’s one of the characters who fares best in reimagining–as I wrote about Cyclops in S1E1, Rogue is very recognizably written in the spirit of some of the best previous versions of the character, with the letter flexible enough to let her develop organically in her new context and setting.
So it should be no surprise when I tell you that a lot of the best stuff in the generally pretty shaky and uneven Season One centers around Rogue. And that, my friends, begins here. Lace up your best New Rocks, dig up some black lipstick (or steal your friend’s eyeliner crayon and be careful not to lick your lips), and get ready to rumble.
Or, y’know, whatever.
We open at a dockside club somewhere in what I assume to be the American South based on its general swampiness. Inside, a crowd of teenagers are dancing the night away.
Not Rogue, though! Rogue is way too cool for this scene: she is out by the water, looking bored. While broadcasting standards probably don’t allow cartoons to show a teen protagonist smoking, you should definitely take the clove cigarettes as read. They will be Djarum Blacks, and she will have procured them from a very small and rickety gas station whose floor stock is always covered in a thick layer of sawdust, even though no construction is happening anywhere nearby; and which sells like six flavors of Nehi and no other soda, but stocks a weirdly comprehensive selection of flavored cigarettes and never asks for ID.
Evolution Rogue, you see, is a Southern goth1 at the turn of the 21st century; and some things are universal. For instance: I am 100% certain that her dark purple lipstick is Wet’n’Wild, purchased in bulk at Eckerd Drug during Halloween season and carefully rationed year round; and that at least one item in her outfit came from Spencer’s Gifts, which was where we got spiky jewelry that fell apart after a week back in the days before there was a Hot Topic at every mall.2
Rogue is looking out over the water, contemplating the futility of life as illustrated by the tragedy that Stabbing Westward will never play a show within two hours of her hometown, when two boys in letter jackets stumble out of the club.
If you’re not familiar with X-Men canon, you might think these dudes have come out to tease Rogue, who sticks out among her more mainstream peers like a baby bat thrown in with a school of ducklings (awww). You would be mistaken, because these are stand-up gents, and one of them in particular–a kid named Cody with the kind of stupid haircut that’s pretty much cartoon code for “too sincere for his own good”3–has spent the last week trying to work up the guts to ask Rogue to dance. Which is fair. I mean, Rogue is clearly way cooler than this dude, but props to Cody for recognizing quality when he sees it.
Egged on by his helpful wingbro, Cody manages to stammer out a request to dance. It’s pretty adorable, and genuinely awkward enough to effectively preclude the possibility that this is actually the setup for a really cruel practical joke.4
Rogue initially responds with a blasé, “I’m really just hangin’ out here,” and can I take a moment to gush about how much I love Meghan Black as Rogue? She’s such an easy character to mess up or make into a caricature, but Black just nails every note. This, more than anything else, is how Rogue sounds in my head: a little wry, all fragile bravado and understated twang.
“Aw, hey, why not?” she finally tells Cody. “After all, where’s the harm in one dance?” If you know what’s coming, this whole scene is kind of painful to watch, mostly because–again–these are both totally kids you want to root for, and they are so very doomed, and they clearly have no idea.
Destiny, on the other hand, has the mutant power of getting to read ahead in the script; so she’s sitting in her living room doing the equivalent of watching a horror movie where she knows that everyone is making terrible choices, but no matter how much she yells at the TV, they still split up to track down the monsters alone, or go have sex under the haunted murder tree, or manifest mutant powers at school dances, or whatever.
Speaking of sex under the murder tree,5 it seems fairly evident to me in this episode that Mystique and Destiny are fairly clearly supposed to be a couple, or at least exes. It’s not super overt, but–among other things–Destiny’s living room includes a family portrait of Rogue with what are very obviously two moms. Rock on, Evolution.
Meanwhile in the riverfront dance shack, Cody and Rogue dance awkwardly at arm’s length to the kind of music that I am pretty sure has never existed outside of TV soundtracks.6 It’s worth noting that this is not the most awkward dance scene in X-Men: Evolution, nor even in this season. It’s not even the most awkward dance scene in which Rogue participates during this season.7
Unfortunately, the moment is ruined when Cody’s wingbuddy again attempts to swoop in and save the day, this time urging Cody to dance fewer than three feet from the girl of his dreams, and finally giving up and shoving him into Rogue, who falls down. Cody reaches to help her up, and guess whose mutant power chooses that moment to kick in? Hint: It is definitely not Cody’s.
This, as far as I’m concerned, is a way more horrific origin than the comics and movie versions. Yeah, the first-kiss angle has some romantic tragedy to it, but can you imagine being 15 and already kind of out of place, and having your mutation manifest and not only hurt your (mutual) crush and seriously fuck with your head, but do those things in front of a room full of your peers? Evolution Rogue’s origin is literally the stuff of nightmares, even discounting the fact that she never even got to first base.
“What did you do to him?” demands wingbro. This seems like a hell of a logical leap, given that all anyone saw was Cody grabbing Rogue’s wrist and then having a seizure. Rogue uses Cody’s football skills to get past the wingbro and flee the scene, apparently headed home.
Meanwhile, Destiny warns a mysterious caller–and, conveniently, the audience–that Xavier’s team will be showing up soon for Rogue. Given what we’ve seen of the Xavier Institute’s recruitment tactics so far, this is an entirely reasonable cause for concern.
The won’t be coming immediately, though, because Storm and Wolverine are busily engaged in some elaborate foreplay a training exercise in which Wolverine dresses up as a ninja and tries to break into the X-mansion, and Storm tries to keep him out with the aid of some really terrible one-liners. Maybe he’s helping her practice her battlefield patter, because god knows she desperately needs to step up that game.
I’m really trying to give Evolution Storm a chance, but god, she is just terrible. Evolution has an uneasy relationship with the X-Men cinematic universe–we’ll see that come to a head in this season’s finale–and, unfortunately, Kirsten Alter seems to be basing her take on Storm on Halle Berry’s performance. It’s like the audio equivalent of a grainy photocopy of an already unsalvageably bad photo, and it’s really fucking depressing.
Also, I just cannot adequately convey how dumb Storm and Wolverine’s one-liners are in this sequence. I’m trying to think of an in-continuity excuse for why they’re talking like this, and all I can come up with is that they spice up otherwise dull training by talking in what alternates between sounding like badly translated ninja-movie dialogue and bad porn dialogue.8
Wolverine wrecks his way through the Danger Room until Professor stops him because “that is–for the moment–as much as we can afford.” I dig that they’re acknowledging that this shit costs money, because it’s kind of appalling how much these guys wreck the mechanical Danger Room. The weekly robot bills at Stately Xavier Manor must be staggering.
“Hey,” says Wolverine, ripping off his ninja hood, “When I give a demo, I give a demo.” The point of this–we learn–was to teach the X-kids how to find the weak points in sophisticated security systems. Which apparently requires a ninja disguise? Okay, then.
They’re also evaluating the weaknesses in their own security system, so we get to see the rest of the team respond to Wolverine’s proposed fixes–all of which are of course lethal.
Kitty asks if anyone else is, “like, seriously freaked by this whole thing.” This strikes me as an entirely valid question under the circumstances, but everyone else stares at her like she’s just asked when Green Lantern will be joining them. WELCOME TO THE X-MEN, KITTY! HOPE YOU SURVIVE THE EXPERIENCE!
Nightcrawler tries to cheer her up with some abrupt teleportation. Kitty leaves, and Nightcrawler bemoans that she is “fully not into the fuzzy dude.”
Kurt. Kiddo. No. It’s not that you’re fuzzy. It’s that you keep teleporting into her personal space without warning.
But there’s no time for a lesson about consent and social compact, because Cerebro has picked up a newly manifested mutant in Caldecott County, Mississippi! Professor Xavier warns that his scans indicate a “severely disturbed individual,” and that the new mutant may be a danger to herself and others.
Clearly the best way to talk her down is with a full superhero team. That cannot possibly end badly, right? Oh, Professor, you’re a laugh a minute.
“X-men,” he tells the team, in voice-over, as our girl sprints through the streets of wherever, “We have a rogue.”
God fucking damnit.
Back in New York, the team has taken off. Cyclops is teaching Kurt to fly the blackbird, and the difference in the quality of their respective facial animation is kind of jarring, which is a common thing this season. Oh, well–it’ll get better. Cyclops is also distressed that Kurt likes to fly with his feet, which is the kind of ridiculous bias you develop when Beast isn’t one of the original team members.
Also, Kitty thinks Scott is cool, and I was like, “Yeah, whatever, we already know you have terrible judgment,” until I thought about it and realized that Evolution Scott is actually kind of cool. I mean, he’s not cool cool, but he’s significantly better adjusted–with better-rounded social skills–than his comics counterpart, and he’s one of a handful of teenage boys on the show who does not tuck his shirts into his boxers. Developmentally, he’s probably roughly what you’d get if you took out the most fucked up parts of Cyclops’s backstory–which, as I understand it, is basically the premise Evolution Cyclops is working from.9
Nightcrawler, bored by flying with his feet, decides to briefly teleport on top of the plane. “Kurt,” the Professor chides him, “the Blackbird is not the place to be fooling around. You frightened Kitty.” Xavier does not mention that it is probably a really bad idea to teleport onto the roof of a supersonic jet, midflight, at cruising altitude. On one hand, yes, these are things that are generally taken as read; but on the other hand, Nightcrawler seems to possess roughly the common sense and survival instinct of a furry blue potato.
But it’s all worth it, because we get to see Wolverine slump back in his seat, roll his eyes, and growl the most weary, scathing “Kids” that has ever graced my ears.
Principal Evil Butch Sigourney Weaver Mystique Rogue’s Other Mom is flying out to Mississippi, too, but she’s taking a private jet. Destiny meets her in the back of a limo at the airport, and they make out like teenagers have a very portentous conversation about Rogue and generally continue to be the protagonists of the queer spy dramas of my dreams.
Also, Mystique refers to Magneto as “our organization’s mysterious founder,” which is great and makes me sincerely hope that Mysterious Founder is the title on his business cards.
It makes me kind of sad that Mystique mostly seems concerned about Rogue for her villain potential. In the comics, their relationship is really interesting and really complex–Mystique is an objectively horrifically bad parent, but she and Rogue also very obviously genuinely care about each other–and it’s both heart-wrenching and dysfunctional in really believable ways. Stripping that away does both characters–but especially Mystique–a pretty profound disservice. They’ll come back to it eventually, but it’s never really developed as far or as well as I’d like.
Not that any of that really matters to Rogue right now–she’s disoriented enough that she accidentally runs back to Cody’s house instead of her own, and we get a few really sad scenes of her interacting with his memories in much the same way she interacts with Carol Danvers’s in Uncanny X-Men #182. If there’s anything this episode–and series–gets across effectively, it’s that Rogue’s powers suck, and here and later, they’re framed in ways that are both genuinely scary and genuinely sad.
Meanwhile, Professor X sends Jean into the hospital to act as a telepathic relay point so he can scan Cody’s mind. ‘Kay.
And back in the limo, Raven–whose first name we hear for the first time in this episode–reveals that her plan is to lure Rogue to Team Evil by… impersonating Wolveirne? Oh, this is gonna be fun.
At Cody’s Rogue has let herself in with the spare key and is hanging out in Cody’s room, looking through photo albums. But that’s not nearly as important as the poster hanging behind her. This poster features a mulleted man with a malformed electric guitar and says ROCK! in huge letters across the top.10 Is Cody proclaiming his love for the musical genre? Does he also own a t-shirt that says SPORTS!? Or does Evolution take place in a universe where there is an actual band named ROCK! that is popular with the young folks of Caldecott, MS? And if so, is ROCK! a rock band? An ironically named country or power-metal outfit? I guess Rogue probably knows at this point, but she’s not telling, because she has decided that the best way to respond to having put a dude in a coma is to wreck his room in a fit of angst.
Not cool, Rogue, not cool.
She won’t get to trash Cody’s room for long, though, because we’ve just learned what Mystique’s evil plan is! She’s going to convince Rogue that the X-Men have set out to assassinate her. Ten points to Slytherin–that’s actually a pretty solid evil plot, and as a bonus they can probably harness the power generated by Dr. Spock11 spinning in his grave to fuel their evil electricity or something.
The best part of the evil plan, though, is Mystique’s fantastically campy performance as Wolverine. I mean, there’s a point where, in the grand tradition of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, she straight-up howls like a wolf.12 Then she turns into Storm and throws some flashbangs while the actual X-Men look for Rogue in a dumpster. YAWN. Whatever.
Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, and Wolverine finally find Rogue just as Destiny is leading her away to “someone who can help”–presumably Mystique. Unfortunately, Rogue recognizes Wolverine as the ridiculous dude who attacked her and then ran around howling back at Cody’s house, and splits,13 because unlike me, Rogue does not appreciate that mistaking wolverines for wolves is distilled comedy gold. Her loss.
Nightcrawler, realizing that Wolverine’s the one Rogue is scared of, convinces him to go find the prof while the kids try to make friends with Rogue. Um, Wolverine, are you sure it’s a good idea to leave your two newest kids in the field by themselves, with a powerful mutant who appears to be in the midst of a psychotic break?
Ohhhh, right, you learned to be a teacher from Charles Xavier. NEVER MIND, THEN. CARRY ON.
Nightcrawler’s plan for calming Rogue down is–predictably–teleporting around abruptly. Someone really needs to have words with this kid. This time, though, he actually manages to get through to Rogue–at least until Kitty comes through the fence to enact the X-Men’s official recruitment policy of “Tackle first, ask questions later.” Unfortunately for the X-kids, Cody was a wrestler as well as a football star, and in the ensuing melee, Rogue breaks Kurt’s image inducer, freaks out, absorbs his powers, and teleports away.
It’s worth mentioning again how effectively this episode gets across Rogue’s disorientation and paranoia. Unlike S1E2, where the horror-movie cinematography comes off as absurdly misplaced, here it’s absolutely appropriate, and only becomes more so as the episode progresses. It’s tense, paranoid, disorienting–one of the more effectively constructed episodes of the first season–the first (slightly blurry) window into the quality we’ll eventually see.
SPEAKING OF HORROR TROPES, Rogue uses her new teleportation powers to retreat to the natural habitat of the Southern goth, which is to say, a cemetery. Is there a bottle of cheap port stashed in one of the mausoleums? I think we can pretty safely assume that there is.
By now, Rogue is starting to figure out how her powers–and, by extension, Kurt’s–work, and there’s a vaguely triumphant scene of her teleporting around the cemetery, which is going to make for some great headlines in the morning, and significantly tops any weird shit I did while trespassing in cemeteries as a teenager.
Back in someone’s yard, Kurt is still unconscious. Kitty discovers that when he’s not teleporting up behind her and being a smartass, she actually kind of likes him. “What would Wolverine do?” she asks herself, and heads off to start a bar fight poses dramatically on a roof thinks at Professor Xavier, who immediately chides her for thinking too loudly. While panicking. In a fight that she was totally unprepared for.
Everyone keeps referring to Rogue (as yet unnamed) as “the rogue,” and it feels really forced every time. Yes, guys, we know that’s going to end up as her code name. We’re solid on that. You really don’t have to work it into every conversation.
“This is my fault,” grumbles Wolverine, popping his claws. “I shouldn’t have left the little squirrel in charge.” Is he going to go stab Nightcrawler? Because it sure as hell looks like it.
The Professor is tracking Rogue via the brainwave patterns of the people she’s absorbed, which seems awfully inconvenient, especially once they realize that the absorption is temporary; but whatever works, I guess.
Back at the cemetery, Mystique is about to dive into another round of X-Men dress-up, but she’s foiled by the actual Jean Grey, who shows up to give Rogue a pretty solid intro speech.“Zero pressure, but if you want to talk more, you can reach me any time with this communicator,” Jean tells Rogue, offering her–huh. That is very clearly a tire pressure gauge. Maybe it’s a promotional thing, like those pens garages give out? Like Rogue’ll be checking her tires one day and she’ll think, “Man, maybe I should give the X-Men a call!”
Unfortunately, Storm and Cyclops choose that moment to show up, and we get a repeat of the Hilarious Wolverine Misunderstanding. On the other hand, Mystique-as-Storm didn’t actually act that different from the actual Storm in the first episode,14 so this isn’t an entirely unreasonable response.
I love Mystique’s Scheming Face so much. Look at her. She’s like, Awyeah, gonna do some subterfuge now! This is the face of a supervillain who loves her job. Also, her skin and lipstick are very snazzy shades of blue. Well done, Mystique.
Kurt is still unconscious, and Kitty’s strategy has changed to flirting awkwardly with him until he wakes up. It’s completely ineffective, but more than a little charming, in an ignoring-potentially-serious-brain-trauma kind of way.
Mystique comes back again, this time as Evil Fake Cyclops. She’s run out of people whose powers she can fake, so she just knocks shit over until Rogue runs away and into the actual Cyclops, knocking him into a mud puddle for the second time that evening and jarring his visor open, taking out a nearby powerline. You might think that a visor designed to be worn into fights would have better safeties or some kind of collision detection built in, but, no.
The X-Men still have no idea why Rogue is scared of them, so they keep trying to talk her down while she gets more and more freaked out. Finally, she grabs Storm and absorbs her powers–but not her control, as we learn via Cyclops’s ongoing exposition–and pretty well wrecks the place, smashing crypts and pulling down power lines into the puddles.15
Jean manages to float the X-Men away from imminent electrocution, and Rogue, overwhelmed by Storm’s power, teleports away–presumably to flood some other historical site–while Xavier and co. gather in the puddles for some denoument.
Wolverine recognizes Mystique’s smell–this may be the first time we’ve heard her referred to by her code name–and works out what was up with the doppelgangers. Kitty is all for going after Rogue, but the prof refuses under the terms that “the girl must come of her own free will or not at all” which, while basically a sound sentiment, still sounds really sinister when he says it, like they’re setting her up for a ritual sacrifice or something.
Kurt and Storm conveniently wake up simultaneously, and Kitty does a strange and creepy “Kurt is alive” dance, then calls him “fuzzy elf” for the first time; and I’m totally going to make a gif out of Cyclops’s wordless reaction to that, because it pretty much covers my position on the matter as well:
In the hospital, wingbro welcomes Cody back to the land of the non-comatose, because this show is at least ostensibly for kids, and “lingering in a coma until he dies” is not the sort of fate that networks smile upon. YA LUCKED OUT THIS TIME, KID.
Back at Bayville High, Principal Evil Sigourney Mom Mystique Darkholme welcomes a terrified-looking Rogue to the school. No sooner has Rogue slunk off to smoke behind the bleachers than Mystique’s paperclips start to swirl around like drunken swifts, which means it’s time for a visit from Magneto! This time, he manages to make it all the way into her office before asking after Rogue. Mystique assures him that all her memories of the real X-Men have faded by now.
“Are you sure?” Magneto asks. He is entirely obscured by shadow, despite Mystique’s large windows. Myriad are the miracles of magnetism!
“I’m positive,” says Mystique.
Obviously she is wrong, because, genre conventions; but in case there was any question, we get a closing shot of Rogue, clutching–you guessed it–Jean’s tire gauge. You may have won this battle, Mystique, but the war belongs to maintaining correct air pressure.16
1. It’s worth noting that you have to be hardcore as fuck to pull off serious goth in the deep South. Have you ever tried to keep pancake make-up matte in 98-degree sun and 95% humidity?
2. In those days, Hot Topic was less pop-nostalgia central and more goth K-Mart: shitty, mass-manufactured stuff, but still about as aggressively counterculture as you could get in South Florida without owning a leather punch and an anvil. I distinctly remember begging my mom to drive me the hour to St. Petersbug when one opened there, so I could buy a fishnet shirt.
3. Cody’s pal’s hair is code for “Cool dude who has a few lines but probably not a name” or possibly “really fashion-forward queer chick,” depending on the rest of the character design.
4. Was this a thing at other schools? I assume it must have been. There were a couple years when the popular kids thought it was the best joke ever for a cool boy to ask out an uncool girl, maintain the pretense for like a day, and then mock her incessantly for actually falling for it.
I was the target of this particular stunt only once that I recall. I politely declined, and everyone seemed completely baffled, as if I had somehow missed not only several years of this dude being a total shitheel, but also that he had attempted to pull the exact same stunt with another girl in our class a week before. School for the Gifted, my ass.
5. I am aware that this doesn’t actually relate at all, but once I realized I could open a paragraph with “speaking of sex under the murder tree,” other considerations immediately became secondary.
6. Popular music is not and has never been my forte (SEE WHAT I DID THERE? GOD, I’M HILARIOUS.), so I asked a savvier friend to double-check my assessment. Her verdict: “I’m pretty sure that’s not a real song. And honestly, I have doubts that it’s a real musical genre.“
7. Lookin’ at you, S1E8!
8. Are there porn parodies of b-grade ninja and/or samurai flicks? I thought of that while I was writing this article, and now I desperately want it to be a real thing.
9. I have mixed feelings about the idea of Cool Cyclops, because a big part of what I identify with about Cyclops is how categorically uncool he is.
10. Cody’s ROCK! poster also reminds me fondly of the Dragon Mountain poster my friend Kyle used to have in his room. The bottom ¾ of the Dragon Mountain poster was about what the title implies. The top quarter of the Dragon Mountain poster was taken up by the word “WOW!” in enormous block letters, which always struck me as kind of fantastically on-the-nose.
11. No, not Mr. Spock. Dr. Benjamin Spock was a pediatrician best known for a number of best-selling parenting books in which he espoused such controversial views as “it is probably okay to hug your baby” (which was actually pretty revolutionary in 1946).
12. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is remarkable for a lot of reasons, primary among which is that it appears to have been made by people who genuinely have no idea what wolverines actually are.
13. This whole episode is basically Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors, but with wolf noises and paranoia instead of romantic foibles.
14. Remember when Storm chased a prospective student around with lightning? Good times.
15. I can’t decide whether wrecking a cemetery is the most or the least goth thing Rogue has done this episode.
16. Alternately, maybe Rogue has forgotten the X-Men, but woke up in her new home with a sudden new commitment to maintaining correct tire pressure. “Gonna gauge the hell outta some tires,” she thought, and spent the rest of the day coming up with a whole elaborate mythology in which an angel had descended from heaven to give her a tire gauge in a lightning storm. Later that week, Jean starts to call her on the communicator, and Rogue becomes convinced that she’s receiving messages from either God or the afterlife and struggles to determine their coded references, eventually developing a highly sophisticated symbolic codex translating from English to PSI.