No, not the blonde guy from Harry Potter. The “Draco” I’m talking about is an Uncanny X-Men arc where Chuck Austen retconned Nightcrawler’s origin story to involve a father from an ancient race of demon-looking mutants long exiled to a hell dimension by a bunch of quasi-angelic counterparts.1
The Draco is one of the worst arcs of Austen’s already fairly shaky 2 run; and generally considered to be one of the worst X-Men stories ever. It’s the continuity equivalent of awkward makeouts at your company Christmas party: everyone does their best to politely pretend that it never happened, and if anyone brings it up, everyone familiar with the story gets acutely embarrassed by proxy.
I am telling you about The Draco not because it has any relevance whatsoever to X-Men: Evolution–it doesn’t–but so that you will understand where the bar sits when I tell you that “Shadowed Past” is my least favorite take on Nightcrawler’s origin story.
I can summarize most episodes of X-Men: Evolution from memory, in a fair degree of detail; so it surprised me when, in reviewing the Season 1 roster, I realized I recalled almost nothing of “Survival of the Fittest” beyond the fact that it involved some kind of summer camp scenario. When I started to watch, I realized why: in a season where even the bad episodes are usually entertaining, this one is just boring as all hell.
On my first pass, I stopped taking notes five minutes in, because nothing was happening. By the halfway mark, I was actively fantasizing about watching paint dry.1But I am nothing if not committed, readers. I promised you a recap, and a recap you would have, come hell or high water.
Ah, well. At least I get to judge cartoon teenagers for their fashion choices.
I mentioned in the recap that S1E8 of X-Men: Evolution is all about gratuitous Sabretooth close-ups, but just in case I failed to convey their full grandeur, here is a gallery of ten, each from a different shot. Yes, seriously.
Oh, Evolution Season One. You try so hard. And sometimes you hit your mark: sometimes it’s “Turn of the Rogue.”
And then, sometimes, it’s “SpykeCam.”
Here’s the thing about Spyke: he’s a character born of good intentions and just stunningly thin execution. He’s got a lot of potential, but the actual episodes that focus on him–which are fairly few and far between–and his eventual, deeply dubious fate are almost universally weak. I want to like this dude, and sometimes I really do–but often, it’s in spite of, not because of, the stories built around him.
Ah, well. We’ll always have Dracula: The Rock Musical.
Not only am I back recapping X-Men: Evolution, but I get to jump back in with my hands-down favorite episode of Season 1.
Remember back in Episode 3, when I told you that a lot of the best stuff in Season 1 revolves around Rogue? This is what I’m talking about, right here. “Turn of the Rogue” is a great showcase of my favorite aspects of X-Men: Evolution: the balance and interaction of the superheroic and the personal; emotionally resonant coming-of-age stories; and some of the strongest writing and performances of the season.
I like this episode, because this is where Evolution starts to catch its stride and find its voice. “Middleverse” is kind of a mess animation-wise, but it’s also a one-off, a lighthearted breath of fresh air before we dive headfirst into the Big Ongoing Story next episode.
It also gets bonus points for being a Forge episode, which is almost always a plus. Comics Forge tends to be dark and brooding and at the center of convoluted storylines and soap opera, but two out of three animated Forges are uncomplicatedly delightful. The best animated Forge, of course, is Wolverine and the X-Men Forge, who just straight-up is Miles to the extent that we had his action figure in college and more than one person assumed it was a custom portrait. But Evolution Forge is pretty great, too.
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:
Let me get this out of the way fast: “Mutant Crush” is my least favorite episode of X-Men: Evolution. Yes, even more than “The Cauldron,” which I’m pretty sure is objectively the worst episode of the series.1
But while “The Cauldron” is terrible, it’s hilariously terrible. “Mutant Crush” is. Well. It’s a decently written episode, I guess. And it’s got a lot of moments I dig. It’s just also really fucked up and disturbing, and not in hilarious and pedantic ways.
Seriously: Shit gets dark in this episode. If you don’t want to read a humorous write-up of a story that is essentially about stalking and kidnapping, you may want to skip this one. I recognize that this is essentially a humor column, and I tried to find okay ways to be funny about this episode, but I mostly ended up with a lot of tonal whiplash, and a pretty high volume of commentary on the ways women are socialized to appease violent men, and some really inappropriate references to John Fowles’ The Collector.2
And on that note: Here is a link to the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s help page. NDVH is a pretty solid organization, and in addition to the actual hotlines–which include a phone line and web-based chat, both confidential and anonymous–they’ve got a very good list of resources, including LGBTQI and teen-specific stuff. (NDVH is, however, mostly U.S.-specific. If you know of international resources or have other specific recommendations, please stick ‘em in the comments, and maybe we can get something useful out of this clusterfuck of an episode.)
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.
You know how I said that X-Men: Evolution is really entertaining even when it’s really, really bad? This week, we’re gonna put that to the test. Prepare for more rock puns than you have ever heard in a single 22-minute stretch. Also, Transformers. Kinda.
In other news, I still have no idea what the titles refer to.
BUT FIRST, A PRETEND HORROR MOVIE!
We open with the Pryde home, in a fictional town in Illinois. The town has a name, but I don’t care what it is, and it’s never going to be relevant again, so I’m just gonna call it Fake Deerfield. Cool? Cool.
Kitty dreams that she’s falling, and–spoiler–she actually falls through her bed and floor and lands in the basement. She wakes up screaming, and her parents rush down to comfort her. They think she was sleepwalking–until they look up and a PORTENTOUS FLASH OF LIGHTNING illuminates her blanket, embedded in the basement ceiling.
OH MY GOD! THAT’S–actually, wait, that’s not scary at all.
Okay, look, I get what they were shooting for here, but you know who has the least horror-movie powers of just about all the X-Men? Hint: It’s definitely Kitty, barring the stories where phased becomes her default state (which this isn’t). Framing this scene and the Prydes’ cheerfully generic suburban house like a horror movie reminds me of one of those recut trailers where you try to make a movie look like a genre it obviously isn’t; or a kid telling a shaggy-dog joke and then waiting for you to be overjoyed at the lack of punchline; or the entire movie White Noise.1 It’s all buildup, with no proportionate payoff.
Meanwhile, back at Stately Xavier Manor, Kitty’s late-night spill pings Cerebro. Does anyone else find it unsettling that Professor X has a psychic supercomputer that provides him with turnaroundfull body scans of teenagers?
Also, Cerebro accurately predicts the outfit that Kitty is going to wear to school the next day.2
“What am I?” wails Kitty. “What’s happening to me?” Just give it five seconds, kid–the credits montage identifies you quite clearly as Shadowcat.