X-Men ’97 Isn’t Just Good, It’s Important

By Joshua Tyler | Updated

At first glance, X-Men ’97 has only one glaring problem, and it’s in Wolverine’s mouth. Fans used to the movies will notice his trademark cigar has been exchanged for a toothpick, likely because it’s the only way they could get the series past modern censors. It makes Wolverine look like a Canadian hillbilly in search of a new tractor.

Yet, even that swap is actually perfect. The same swap was used in the 90s animated series on which X-Men ’97 is based. You couldn’t have your Saturday morning cartoon characters smoking, and even though cartoons aren’t confined to Saturdays anymore, you can’t have them smoking now.

This revival of what is perhaps one of the greatest cartoons ever created is dead on, faithful not only in spirit but in detail. It’s as if X-Men: The Animated Series had no ending and in between season 5 and this, what would have been season 6, there were some minor technological improvements in the field of animation.

X-Men '97 Wolverine toothpick
Wolverine and his cigar turned toothpick

That’s important because the original 90s X-Men cartoon is important. Before it, the X-Men were confined in popularity to a few readers of comics, afterward, they became enough of a phenomenon that Hollywood gave them a blockbuster movie. That 2000 movie then went on to launch the entire modern world of superhero blockbusters. 

Would Avengers: Endgame have been made if X-Men: The Animated Series hadn’t existed twenty years before it? I doubt it.

The reason the 90s X-Men animated series was so good, and the reason this one is too, is well written linear storytelling involving complex and exciting characters dealing with issues beyond the realm of which villains to punch.

X-Men 97 review with Cyclops

Don’t worry; they do a lot of punching, too.

Like the previous five seasons of the show X-Men ’97 is smart and unusual enough for adults and also flashy and fast enough for kids. Not many cartoons outside the world of anime manage to pull that off.

As of this writing, two episodes of X-Men ’97 are available to view, with more to come on a weekly basis. 

The first X-Men ’97 episode takes advantage of those minor improvements in animation to deliver the kind of action scene the animators of the original probably always dreamed of but lacked the resources to pull off. Cyclops, getting the starring role he deserves, leads the X-Men into battle against hordes of Sentinels. In doing so, all our main characters get to show off their powers for a new audience while, at the same time the show closes the loop on the Sentinel arc begun in the 90s animated series’s very first episode.

X-Men '97 Review
Storm shows her full potential in X-Men ’97

When your friends talk about X-Men ’97 the first thing they’re going to say is, “did you see Cyclops do that?” His entry into the battlefield alone is worth the price of a Disney+ subscription.

The second episode begins what is sure to be the season’s primary plot, involving the loss of Charles Xavier and a newly reformed Magneto in his stead. It cuts into the meat of what has always given the X-Men substance: the tension between mutants and regular humans. X-Men ’97 returns to tackling the issue the way the 90s X-Men did, avoiding the reinterpretation of the franchise’s central conflict done by creep director Bryan Singer in his early 2000s X-Men films.

Though the motivation for everything Bryan Singer did must now be questioned in light of the horrific allegations against him, his modified approach to making mutant freedom an allegory for gay rights was a good one. But used beyond the realm of a movie or two, it’s limiting. There’s so much more going on beneath the surface of the X-Men’s mutant world than parables for one specific cultural battle.

X-Men '97 Review

X-Men ’97 seems to get that. If it does and the show continues on this track, it will equal the work of the original Animated Series and perhaps surpass it.

In the meantime, did you see that thing Cyclops did!


X-Men ’97 is available now, exclusively streaming on Disney+ for subscribers.

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