Before we jump into this one, let me tell you kids a story.
Once upon a time, there was a gentleman by the name of Dwayne McDuffie. McDuffie was an incredibly important figure in comics: these days, he’s best known as the creator of Static Shock and the co-founder of Milestone Media; for his work across the DCAU; and as a tireless and outspoken advocate for black representation in superhero comics.
In 1989, when McDuffie was an editor at Marvel Comics, he wrote a biting, satirical pitch that has since become industry legend. In his pitch, McDuffie points out that 25% of African-American superheroes appearing in the Marvel Universe over the last year have had skateboard-based superpowers or fighting styles, and proposes a new team to take advantage of this and other equivalently exciting trends, featuring four black guys on skateboards:
Twelve years later, the fifth episode of X-Men: Evolution would introduce the Xavier Institute’s sole black student and the show’s first original character, Evan “Spyke” Daniels:
A black guy on a skateboard.
We open with what I think is supposed to be a New York skyline. I thought at first that it mostly looked wrong to me because this episode aired in 2000 and I’m no longer used to seeing the twin towers (albeit with the wrong number of antennae) in NYC skylines; but it’s actually just kind of a geographic mish-mash in general. I mean, it’s got recognizable landmarks, but they’re in the wrong places; and I’m fairly sure there’s no location from which you could get that perspective.1
But we’re not in Maybe New York for sightseeing! We’re in Maybe New York for a high-school basketball game, where a wild-eyed coach is yelling things I only sort of understand. The score is 81-82, with only seconds on the clock! Tension is high!
The fate of the game rests in the hand of a kid named Evan Daniels, whose rad hair you may recognize from the opening credits (but nowhere else, because he’s original to this show, except that he’s also basically Bizarro Marrow, which is a whole other weird thing). Evan intercepts the ball and passes it to another kid who–
OH, WAIT, THAT’S TOTALLY QUICKSILVER AND HIS WEIRD ANTENNAE BANGS. I guess he’s the “Speed” of “Speed and Spyke,” and I remain disappointed that they failed to work a gratuitous Y into “Speed.”2 Maybe he can spell Quicksilver with a Y. Quicksylver. Quycksylvyr. Anyway, Pietro executes some fancy footwork, but misses the shot because he gets too cocky, which is gonna be a running theme here.
Know who else is at the game? Storm! She’s there with a couple, and she is super into it. “Is this always this exciting?” asks Storm, a superhero who regularly fights supervillains while flying and throwing lightning.
(Nah, I kid. I generally give zero fucks about sports, but I definitely got this into my cousins’ baseball games back when they played.)
With only a few seconds on the clock, Quycksylvyr3 passes to Daniels.
“You can do it, Evan! Shoot!” yells Storm. She has caught basketball fever. Actually, how great would it be if this whole episode were about Storm getting obsessively into the exciting new world of high school basketball? I could kind of see that happening: she’s this super serious, dignified character, and here’s this thing that’s totally ridiculous, but it’s also pretty cool, and everyone is super into it, and she starts going to all the games and maybe getting into some kind of underground betting ring, and later there’s a knife fight or something.
I would watch that movie.
Back on the court, Evan shoots. In slow motion. With heroic music. And a halo of light. I swear to god, this is a thing.
Just after he’s thrown the ball, another player runs into him, and as he falls back–once again in slow motion–weird spikes of bone extend through his skin and tearing a furrow into the court. But the ball totally goes in the basket, so, that’s cool! Go, team!
Except for Storm, no one seems to notice that Evan grew spikes and ripped up the gym floor. This seems difficult to believe: I mean, there is a massive gash in the floor. Then, again, this is the world where no one noticed the sudden development of a fault line in the middle of a gym class, so maybe the general population of Earth-11052 is just incredibly unobservant.
It’s possible that Quycksylvyr has noticed–he stands and glares while the rest of the team carries Evan off to celebrate–but he might just be pissed that Evan stole his thunder. Either way, his glare is accompanied by a meaningful guitar riff, so that can’t bode well.
Back in the locker room, Evan has changed into his normal clothes. Apparently he is also a fan of the shirt-tucked-into-too-high-boxers look. GOD FUCKING DAMNIT, 2000, THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS. Evan also wears elbow pads and fingerless gloves at all times when not in uniform (or later, in costume). I guess you never know when you might need to skateboard at a moment’s notice, but wouldn’t it make more sense to wear knee pads, so he wouldn’t have to slide them on past shoes? And what about a helmet?
These are mysteries for another day. The rest of the team files out. Evan and Pietro remain, maybe to have a standoff over who has more awesome hair; because, seriously, these dudes have really excellent hair.
Pietro is wearing a ¾-sleeve shirt. There are a lot of those in this show, and they’re almost always on dudes, which is sort of surprising. Whatever, Pietro rocks it.
Despite dressing roughly one million times better than Evan and sporting some excellent anime hair, Pietro is a total jerk. He’s pissed at Evan for “hogging all the glory”–in this case, I guess taking the shot for which Pietro set up before passing evan the ball? Pietro seems kind of fundamentally confused by the concept of team sports.
“Hey, that was a great pass, man,” says Evan, “But there’s no way you could have made it down the court in time for a shot.” GET IT? IT’S FUNNY BECAUSE HE’S WRONG.4
“Hey, dude,” says Pietro, “I got moves you can’t even imagine.” Looks like Pietro just inherited the porn-dialogue torch. May he bear it with dignity and pride.
Pietro darts around the locker room, says he’s through holding back, and then stalks out at normal speed, which is a little anticlimactic. I do like that Pietro talks faster as he gets agitated, though–that’s a good detail–and Richard Cox’s performance is really delightful. Quycksylvyr is an easy character to screw up or just make really offputting, and Evolution does a pretty good of keeping him engaging while firmly establishing him as an antagonist.
No sooner has Pietro left than Storm wanders into the boys’ locker room, without knocking, to comment on Evan and Pietro’s apparently lifelong rivalry. Really, Storm? Could it not have waited like three minutes?
Evan calls Storm “Auntie O.” And look, I am fine with the idea of giving Storm a family–of remembering that she’s supposed to have family in the U.S. at all, for that matter–but really, Evolution? Really? Did you seriously just make the only black (soon to be) student at Xavier’s related to the only other black character on the show?
Yeah, you sure did.
“I think the boys’ locker room makes your mother nervous,” says Storm. Sometimes I get the feeling that Evolution Storm is a space alien who learned about human society from watching sitcoms, but if that were true, she’d probably have a better command of snappy one-liners.
Anyway, Storm’s here to talk to Evan in veiled euphemism about “the things we discussed before.” I assume she’s talking about his mutation, but I guess it could be puberty, or maybe a surprise party for his mom or something. See, Storm, this is why you have to be specific.
Nah, it’s mutation, and she is totally on to Evan’s bone-spike situation.5 Evan insists he has his powers under control, but he sneezes and blows another batch of spikes across the locker room.
“Bless you,” says Storm, without missing a beat, because she is a stone-cold badass.
Later at the Daniels house, Evan’s dad is grilling what appear to be pre-cooked steaks while Evan and Ororo argue in a corner. “A few points, a few spikes–I mean, so what?” Evan insists. “This is New York.” Valid point, kid.
Evan says he will bone-stab anyone who messes with him. Storm says that that’s why he needs to be at the Xavier Institute–to learn control. Based on this and the previous episode, the Xavier Institute mostly seems to market itself on the basis of its anger management curriculum.
Because teenagers are teenagers, Evan insists that he has control of his powers; and because grown-ups are grown-ups, Ororo plays her trump card and suggests continuing the conversation with his parents, although Evan convinces her to wait until the next day, because nothing ruins a victory celebration like the revelation that your kid has the world’s least appealing6 superpowers.
Around this point, X calls telepathically to check in. Since Evan’s being stubborn, they’ll go with plan B–Scott and Jean will be there in the morning (presumably to subdue and/or threaten the kid, based on the Xavier Institute’s previous recruitment efforts).
Professor X has also picked up another mutant signature at the basketball game. How funny would it have been if he had just forgotten that Storm was there? But, no, we all know it’s Quycksylvyr. Even Ororo suspects. How? I have no idea. Maybe on the basis of his cool hair.
Storm’s make-up remains baffling and terrible. In this scene, it looks like a diagram for putting on make-up.
Back at school, Evan discovers that his wallet has been emptied. Who keeps their wallet in their locker? Aside from Evan, I guess.
As Evan is contemplating the mystery of the missing money, Quycksylvyr pops up. “Where did you come from?” asks Evan.
“That’s a question you should be asking on the basketball court,” says Quycksylvyr, looking incredibly pleased with himself, even thought what he has just said makes no sense whatsoever.
Quycksylvyr is clearly the one stealing from the lockers, but Evan is a guileless butterfly of a child and so will never suspect his best friend, even though said best friend is a petty dick. Pietro does, however, lend Evan cash–presumably Evan’s own–to serve as bait for the locker thief.
Later at the Daniels house, Xavier’s secret recruitment weapons have shown up to subdue Evan with extreme prejudice add some peer pressure to what is already a painfully awkward family conversation.
“This explains why you’re always coming home with holes in your clothes,” says Mrs. Daniels. I mean, aside from the part where he’s a teenage boy who skateboards everywhere?
Storm helpfully explains that while her sister Vi did not “receive the mutant gene, as I did, we knew it could show up in future generations.” The dialogue in this episode is just unflaggingly bizarre.
“It’s really not so bad, Mrs. Daniels,” says Scott, who is the absolute last person who should be giving a pep talk on how your mutant powers will definitely not ruin your life. Like any good teenager, Evan can smell blood in the water, and calls Scott’s bluff by requesting a demo of his powers. Scott demurs, looking totally crushed. Yeah, Scott, you really shouldn’t have gone there.
“Well, that went well,” says Jean, as Evan storms up to his room. Clearly Jean has been attending the Charles Xavier School of Helpful Comments.
Mr. Daniels goes upstairs to talk to Evan, but Jean gets a psychic flash that he’s going out the window. On a skateboard. Of course he is.
“We really need to work on our sales pitch,” says Scott, as they watch Evan skate off. He’s not wrong.
Evan has snuck into school, where he plans to ambush the thief who’s been taking money out of his locker. So, his plan was to leave a wallet full of money in his locker and sneak back on the off chance that he would arrive at exactly the same time as a thief about whom he knows nothing whatsoever. How does he know the thief is even going to strike tonight? Or that he didn’t come back to rip Evan off while he was at dinner with his family, or any time in the following 24 hours, since it’s at least nominally the next day?
Evan does, however, have a pretty amazing one-liner saved up: “Okay, sneak thief, you wanna play tonight? The spike-man7 is ready.” I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that this episode was written by a real human being, and presumably approved by others. Think about that for a moment.
But Evan is apparently super lucky, because no sooner does he crouch down in the hall than a highly suspicious whirlwind comes whipping through. The intrepid breeze spins its way down the row of lockers, opening all of them and pulling their contents into a cyclone. Quycksylvyr is such a tool.
Evan decides that the best way to stop what’s going on is to throw out a series of bone poles, trapping Quycksylvyr and forcing me to type the phrase “throw out a series of bone poles.” 8 I hope you’re happy in the life you’ve chosen for yourself, Evan.
If you were guessing that it was Pietro, you would not be wrong. What you may not have been guessing was that he was in a ridiculous excuse for a costume.
“Like the outfit?” asks Quycksylvyr. “I made it myself. Took about a quarter second.” Yeah, no kidding, sport.
Y’all, can we talk about the situation this child is wearing?
First of all, Quycksylvyr–a speedster–has made himself a costume that includes bulky armor that’s going to be less effective at preventing damage than limiting mobility.
I assume that the jagged lines down the sides are supposed to evoke the lightning bolts of his classic costumes. They do not. What they mostly do is make it look like Pietro has glued a strip of fake fur down the middle of the bodysuit, and it is not a good look. Finally, there are half-finger gloves built into the sleeves, which look fine; but dude, if you’re going to wear gloves while you do crimes, why are you not wearing ones that have some chance of obscuring your fingerprints?9
I would forgive this nonsense if it all managed to combine into anything even vaguely coherent or stylish. I mean, this is a superhero cartoon: practicality does and should take a back seat to awesomeness. But, no. It is just the worst.10
“You? You’ve got powers, too?” Evan gapes. Evan is not too quick on the uptake.
Apparently Quycksylvyr has been burgling the school because he gets bored easily. I actually love the hell out of this–a speedster who starts committing crimes out of sheer boredom is both a pretty fun idea and a solid story hook. It’s a great bridge between the teen reimagining of Pietro and his adult comics counterpart, who’s an asshole largely out of impatience.
Evan decides he’s going to try to stop Pietro with, um, a bone spear.11 Look, dude, I know this guy is an asshole, but you’re responding to what’s basically petty theft by pulling a potentially deadly weapon. Don’t do that.
Pietro is, of course, too fast; and as the police pull up outside, he splits, leaving Evan to take the fall for the vandalism and theft.
The entire Daniels family, plus Ororo, Scott, and Jean, show up to bail Evan out of Jail. “Welcome to the downside, pal,” says Cyclops. “Misuse your powers, go to jail.” Dude. Overstepping, much?
Cyclops is kind of the worst in this episode. While I realize that reasonably well-adjusted Cyclops is rare, I still wish they’d kept at least a bit of his Jack Winters backstory from the comics, because–among other things–it would have made this episode a hell of a lot more interesting. Or invoked Storm’s history. A lot of the X-Men have been on the wrong side of the law, and the cartoons generally skirt around that; and it’s always something of a diminishment. The way Storm wears gravitas like armor; the way Cyclops obsesses about structure and rules–that stuff makes a lot more sense if you have the foundational context of a child thief on the streets of Cairo and a kid scared of his powers being manipulated by a series of supervillains.
BUT I DIGRESS.
The X-Men offer Evan a deal: if he agrees to give the Institute a shot, Xavier will use his influence to get Evan out of jail. I guess in cases where brute force isn’t a viable recruitment strategy, blatant manipulation of a highly vulnerable minor unjustly caught in a heavily biased legal system will suffice.
I really wish this episode had given at least a cursory nod to the racial politics of Evan’s situation. He’s stuck in a penal system that is ungodly biased against young black men; in which he’s old enough to be charged and tried as an adult (assuming he’s not just pressured into accepting a plea bargain for a crime he didn’t commit in the first place). Xavier is offering Evan and his family a deal whereby Evan gets to either a) leave the life he knows and loves, or b) see that life destroyed because of a crime Xaiver knows full fucking well that Evan didn’t commit; while the white kid who set him up–and who could probably get out of it with a slap on the wrist if he got caught–faces zero consequences.
Charles Xavier is the fucking worst.
We cut to breakfast at the X-Mansion, where the team is all a-flutter about the new kid still asleep upstairs. Scott thinks Evan knows who trashed the lockers–because I guess between fighting supervillains, the X-Men solve minor high-school misdemeanors?–but the Professor for once refuses to pry into a student’s mind (or at least tells everyone else that).
Wolverine thinks Evan is out for revenge. “I may not read minds, but I know what a boy’s thinkin’ about when he’s been wronged.” Does this mean that Evan is going to spin off into his own skateboard-Western drama? I fervently hope so.
And then there’s some dramatic music as Jean passes Wolverine a plate of sausages using nothing but THE POWER OF HER MIND. X-Men!
Wolverine spears several of the sausages with his claws, which is super gross. Do you know where those things have been? Most recently, INSIDE HIS ARMS. Because irony is alive and well in Bayville, Wolverine then lectures Nighcrawler on table manners.
Xavier is hoping to distract Evan from his quest for vengeance with… high school? Okay, then. Unfortunately for him, Evan is listening in, and he wants vengeance so bad, you guys. So bad. He spikes through his bathrobe. I guess this is supposed to evoke Wolverine semi-voluntarily popping his claws in moments of rage, but it’s mostly just silly.12
Back at Bayville, the Brotherhood kids are lurking around outside the principal’s office, while she has a closed-door meeting with Magneto, who, per usual, is skulking dramatically in the shadows.
“I’m not here for your little student-body meeting, Mystique,” he tells her. “Behold.” How awesome would it be if he just whipped out a magic trick or something? So awesome. But, no. Instead, there’s a little holographic Quycksylvyr floating above Mystique’s desk.
They’re plotting to use Evan and Pietro’s rivalry to lure Pietro to the dark side, and it is hilarious, because 90% of this episode is superheroes being super portentous and serious about what boils down to some Mean Girls high-school drama bullshit. “OMG, those guys are, like, always competing! Let’s mess with them!”
Seriously, EVERY ADULT IN THIS SHOW is super serious about this ridiculous teen rivalry. Have these people ever met teenagers? Isn’t one of them the acting principal of a high school?
Spyke, meanwhile, is throwing himself headfirst into X-Men training, by which I mean that he is running a Danger Room obstacle course on his skateboard. On one hand, I am super into the idea of the Danger Room as a stone-cold awesome skate park. On the other hand, this might be the stupidest thing on the show to date.
“You heard the man,” says Wolverine, as the guitars start up. “Let’s roll.” Get it? Because, skateboard. I appreciate that Wolverine is trying to bring his biker western to the main show, but it’s not going to work. Bayville is just too square for you, Wolverine.
Apparently Mystique’s evil plan was to set up a basketball game between Bayville and Evan’s old school, forcing Evan and Pietro’s rivalry to come to a head in an all-out brawl or possibly a mutual declaration of love.13
Pietro is such a delightful brat. Evan tries to confront him as he gets off the bus, but Scott and Jean intervene. They are the least cool high-schoolers ever. Seriously, what kid would listen to this? Not Pietro! He doesn’t have time for this nonsense.
Evan skates off after Pietro, trailing his X-men costume behind, because I guess the X-Men were too busy with DANGER SKATING to cover the whole “clandestine” part of the superhero gig.
“We can’t let Evan do this alone,” Jean says. Do what, Jean? Skateboard his way to vengeance?
“When you’re with the X-Men, you’re never alone,” Scott tells her. Because there’s a middle-aged man tagging along in your brain literally all the time. Also teamwork. But mostly the first thing.
Evan seems to think that losing repeatedly entitles him to a victory, because Evan lives in a private world dictated by fairy-tale logic.
Meanwhile, Pietro had decided to wreck Bayville–like, the city, not the school–to show Evan up. Did I mention that Pietro is kind of a tool? Pietro is kind of a tool, and they are clearly setting up his arrogance to be his undoing, and also the undoing of most of the windows in downtown Bayville. And Evan can’t stop him, no matter how hard he does cool skateboard moves whose names I don’t know because I am not cool.14
“I thought you said all that training stuff would help!” Evan yells, throwing down his helmet. This episode’s Jedi Lesson is all about teamwork. Evan can’t stop Pietro alone, but he can with the help of the X-Men!
Jean has some luck getting Pietro off the ground, but he’s still moving too fast for her to hold him, and he manages to generate a tornado midair. Scott knocks Pietro out of his spin, and then sends Evan to, um, shoot very sharp bone spikes at him? This seems like a bad idea.
Evan’s aim has apparently gotten really impressive, because he manages to pin Pietro in place without damaging Pietro or his hideous costume. Pietro whines and yells, because I guess a kid who can generate sufficient force to smash cars can’t handle a few measly bone spikes that aren’t even on both sides of his legs.
“Not so fast now, are ya, Quycksylvyr?” asks Evan. How does he know Pietro’s codename? Or does Pietro decide to adopt the codename Quycksylvyr based on Evan’s dubious attempt at an insult? Or is it a preexisting nickname that just hadn’t happened to come up? A mystery for the ages.
Pietro doesn’t think it matters that Evan has captured him, since Evan has no proof that Pietro destroyed the lockers. I’d think that the lockers would be the least of Pietro’s issues at this point, since he’s just destroyed a city block. Also, Blob trashed a pod of lockers just last episode, and no one seemed to care. But law-abiding citizens everywhere can sleep tight, secure in the knowledge that Evan has in fact managed to secure a recording of Pietro bragging about trashing some shit in a high school. Yay?
The cops show up, and the X-Men flee, leaving Pietro pinned to the wall. How bad does it suck to work at the Bayville Police Department? So bad, I bet.
Safely jailed, Pietro is literally climbing the walls in frustration when the building shakes and Magneto descends from above.
“I have need of your services,” he tells Pietro, which, by astonishing coincidence, is exactly how my parents used to wake me up for school after ripping off the roof with their magnetic powers.
“Let’s bail this jail,” Pietro says. Magneto, you really need to teach this kid a thing or two about the criminal justice system, because this is just embarrassing.
Magneto decides to let that one slide, and bends the bars to let Pietro out. Between Magneto’s deep voice, mask, and cloak, it’s a little like Vader and Luke, if Luke were an irritating little shit with a penchant for property dama–oh, wait.
Back at the Xavier Institute, everyone is playing in the pool, except for Storm, who’s clearly way the hell too cool15 for this tomfoolery, and Professor X, who is rockin’ a legitimately fairly excellent shorts-and-open-Hawaiian-shirt situation.
I would like to note that this scene is set to a mariachi version of the theme song, which is awesome and should be de rigeur at all pool and beach parties forever.
Evan goes to thank the Professor for taking a chance on him. Then he jumps like thirty feet in the air, cannonballs into the pool, accidentally sprouts a batch of spikes, and destroys Kitty’s float.
“It would appear your nephew is going to fit in just fine, Ororo,” Professor Xavier says. At least until he drinks some tainted Gatorade, grows bone plates all over his body, and has to go live in the sewers. Put that in your recruitment brochures, X.
1. I could be wrong about this: to be fair, my visual sense of New York is basically a mash-up of the area immediately surrounding the Javits Center, one neighborhood in Long Island City, and a large number of movies and TV shows shot in Toronto.
2. “Would it help if we spelled ‘mystik’ with two Y’s?”
“And I’ll spell my name D-A-R-Y-A and be crowned Miss America.”
3. Why yes, I am going to spell it that way through the whole recap. Because Ys are cool.
4. Because Quycksylvyr has speed powers, you see.
5. I’m sorry, but there is absolutely no way to describe this dude’s powers without sounding like a seventh-grader talking about erections.
6. Not counting Snot, but he wasn’t around then.
7. Or maybe “Spyke-man”? It could really go either way.
8. God fucking damnit.
9. Also, they’re gonna be really inconvenient if he has to use the bathroom or something.
10. Well, worst so far. You’ll see Avalanche’s costume next episode.
11. Heheh. “Bone spear.”
12. Evan spiking bones through his bathrobe : Action :: Kitty phasing through her basement ceiling : Horror
13. It’s really easy to read the way Pietro treats Evan as a romantic equivalent to dipping his braids in an inkwell; and that would have been a much more interesting story.
14. I had actually been teaching myself to skate the summer before this came out, but then I went to college and realized that getting around on a skateboard in Sarasota, Florida, which has the topography of the average dining room table, is very different from getting around on a skateboard in Asheville, North Carolina, which is basically a city made of roller coaster track.
15. It’s nice to see that Evolution Ororo can still rock the hell out of some improbable neon in between her boring costume and super terrible everyday clothes. She makes this ridiculousness look classy, and I love every inch of it.