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.
I was a little too old to catch X-Men: Evolution the first time around. It debuted my freshman year of college, corresponding with the peak of my nerd pretension—that larval-geek phase where you insist on calling all comics graphic novels—and like the arch little fucker I was, I dismissed it sight-unseen as X-Men dumbed down.
A few years ago, I finally sat down and watched my way through X-Men: Evolution and came away with two conclusions: teenage Rachel was kind of a dolt; and X-Men: Evolution is delightful.
Not only is Evolution not X-Men dumbed down, it’s a really clever, appealing reinvention. In fact, Evolution accomplishes what the Ultimate universe never quite could: shaking off years of continuity and attracting an entirely new audience with a distilled version of one of Marvel’s most convoluted lines.
If you’re not familiar with X-Men: Evolution, the premise is roughly thus: The Xavier Institute is an extracurricular boarding school of sorts, whose students are mainstreamed into their district school—Bayville High—for academics. Some of the characters—Storm, Wolverine, and Professor Xavier on the side of the angels; Mystique, Magneto, and a few others on the other end of the moral spectrum—stay adults; everyone else is aged down to teenagers. Evolution draws characters and some story hooks from the comics, but for the most part, it occupies its own discrete continuity.
And as continuities go, it’s a good one. It’s clever and fun, it’s got a ton of heart, and it stays true to the core themes and characters of the source material without becoming overly beholden to the letter of the text. By the end, it’ll become a really, really good show; but even when it’s bad, X-Men: Evolution is bad in really entertaining ways.
Which is important, because X-Men: Evolution gets off to a pretty rocky start.
It has been a hell of a January, mostly for reasons I can’t really go into here. I was going to spend this week getting caught up on the stuff that fell behind while I was putting out fires in the first half of the month; but then Miles and I both got sick; and we decided at the last minute to do a Secret Wars episode, which meant reading about twenty issues very fast; and apparently there’s something in DayQuil that really messes with the way my eyes track, which is making everything involving text and images–which is to say, everything–take about twice as long as it normally would.
All of which is to say: X-Men: Evolution recaps will begin next week. Thank you for your patience. I’m going back to bed.*
*JUST KIDDING! I’m going to go research, write, and record a voiceover thing; then send about a dozen e-mails and finish reading Secret Wars II. Sick days are for people with real jobs!
Rachel here! As you may or may not know, Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men–the podcast, the videos, and everything we do here on the site–is entirely listener supported, via our kickass Patreon subscribers. And last night, while we weren’t looking, they unlocked one hell of a milestone goal:
Starting next week, I’ll be recapping and reviewing not one, not a dozen, but every single episode of animated high-school drama X-Men: Evolution.
It’s no secret that I lovethis show. I love it a lot. I love the awkward teenagers (and even more awkward early animation); the dubious fashion; the high-school angst; the godawful Season One finale. I love the way it starts terrible and then slowly and subtly gets awesome while you’re not paying attention. I love that there’s an episode where it stops being a superhero show and instead spends 22 minutes doing a straight-up homage to old-school girl-gang movies.
And I love seeing characters and premises I love reinvented and refiltered through very different sensibilities: what shifts and evolves, and what core themes persist through the changes. In a lot of ways, Evolution is the most daring adaptation of X-Men; certainly, it’s the one that moves furthest from any other incarnation of the series and team. Sometimes it succeeds brilliantly. Sometimes it fails spectacularly. But it never stops being fun.
If you want to watch along with me, you can find the full series on Marvel’s YouTube channel, starting here. I’ll be kicking off next week with Season 1, Episode 1: “Strategy X.”
We don’t normally post outtakes here–normally, they’re a Patreon subscriber perk, available exclusively on our backstage blog–but if there’s anyone who justifies exceptions to the rules, it’s Adam X the X-Treme.
To see more outtakes–as well as episode outlines and other behind-the-scenes content–you can subscribe to our Patreon at any level that includes access to the backstage blog!
Meanwhile, in this week’s videos, we’re getting into the spirit of the Stealth/Plainclothes Cosplay Contest (and Halloween). We’ll be doing that next week, too–as long as the contest is running–but here’s what we’re dressed as this week:
Miles is stealth cosplaying Adam X the X-Treme.
Braids, backward baseball cap, t-shirt with spiked epaulets, THIS FACE.
Rachel is plainclothes cosplaying X-Men Evolution Cyclops.
Teal v-neck sweater, yellow t-shirt, khaki pants, brown belt, red sunglasses, doofy ’90s hair.
In which we sit down with two of our favorite X-artists for an hour of continuity, character design, and a lot of wine; Corsair is the coolest; Emma Frost is a secret viewpoint character; Bishop is the anti-Booster Gold; Adam X the X-Treme gets a new hat; and none of us know how to pronounce “Bachalo.”
The secret X-origins of Kris Anka and Russell Dauterman
Definitive books and artists
Favorite characters and series
Mephistoid spacesuit logistics
Emma Frost as a reader stand-in
The secret origin of Psylocke’s pants
The best flashback montage ever
Underappreciated / underdeveloped characters
All the Rogues
Sexy dudes with sexy abs
How to update Adam X the X-Treme
Next Week: What’s New, Shadowcat?
You can find a visual companion to the episode – and links to recommended reading – on our blog.