X-Men '97 is the best example of the worst nostalgia trips

X-Men '97 seemed to start off with a lot of promise, but quickly trips over itself in a madcap rush to check off the bingo card of every single thing that happened to the X-Men in the 90s. Whether it makes sense or not.
Jean Grey (voiced by Jennifer Hale) and Goblin Queen (voiced by Jennifer Hale) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.
Jean Grey (voiced by Jennifer Hale) and Goblin Queen (voiced by Jennifer Hale) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL. /

Every so often the comic book industry gets this excellent opportunity to present audiences with fresh new ideas for some fan favorite characters. Ways we can see them in a new light or in new storylines. It's a way that you could, essentially, rebirth the world in a new light to bring in new readers, viewers, and fans.

And it always fails.

Ultimate Marvel, Heroes Reborn, Flashpoint, New 52, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and so many many more. These were all moments where the comic industry created a fresh field for writers to grow new ideas and try new things. And it was always the same.

You take the most powerful character and remove them of their powers so they re-examine their humanity, you have an unexpected child added to the mix, popular hero turns out to not be what you think they are, and, above all, there needs to be a ton of extra edge and sexual tension sprinkled over everything. It was a nightmare every time. Ultimate Marvel was probably the worst example of this with the Blob eating Wasp alive, siblings Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch being involved with each other, Captain America giving women lectures on modesty. It was a mess.

But another thing happens too. It is rarely seen as a chance to do something new, with it often coming off as a quick snatch and grab to retell every famous story that the characters ever had to go through; creating less of a new timeline and more of a fictional case of Deja-vu. True, you COULD do something new with Batman, but let's just rush to get our version of how his parents died in the alley.

X-Men '97 is all this and then some. See, at least with the comics there's room to grow; there are multiple books fleshing out the universe. The Disney Plus series, on the other hand, is all by itself. And while they have the opportunity to take a beloved cast and do something new, it takes all of two seconds (or two episodes) to realize it'll be anything but new.

X-Men '97 is tackling too many '90s stories too soon

Don't get me wrong, X-Men '97 starts off great. As we pointed out in our review, the show hits all the check marks of what fans of the original X-Men: The Animated Series were looking for. However, from the third episode onwards, you start seeing the show for what it really is.

The second episode already raised my eyebrow when it brought in one of my least favorite tropes, by having Storm lose her powers. And yeah, that happened in the 90's but it felt so contrived here, especially when they showcased her using her powers in incredible new ways in the premiere episode (like having lightning turn a desert to glass before having a tornado turn that broken glass into a whirlwind of knives). It felt like empty drama.

X-MEN '97
Goblin Queen (voiced by Jennifer Hale) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL. /

The third episode then introduced Madelyne Pryor, but it did so in a remarkably terrible way. I love the Goblin Queen, I honestly do, and not just because of the various 90's costumes. She was an interesting and complex character who basically took the idea of how powerful Jean Grey is and was like, "okay, but what if I were Chaotic Neutral". And over the years her character evolved. She learned magic. She got control of some parts of Limbo (Marvel's Hell). She forged relationships. She grew.

Not in X-Men '97 though. In the animated series she, herself, finds out she's a clone and almost immediately has access to magic, renames herself Madelyne Pryor, and then does this dramatic "Call me the Goblin Queen" moment. Yeah, Maddie? You can't do that. You're not Sting. You don't just get to do that and have everyone hop on board.

In the comics it made sense. The name Madelyne, and its weird spelling, is a Mister Sinister joke due to the fact that she was "made" - because she's a clone. And "Pryor" meaning that she's a clone of Jean at a prior point. Listen, he's Mister Sinister, not Mister Clever.

And as for the Goblin Queen? No you don't! There was literally no point in that moment. You could have skipped that line and everything would have been fine but you had to go and do that. In the comics it took her the better part of a decade for her to slowly learn magic and make deals with demons, eventually becoming the Goblin Queen because, well, she had command over Goblins. Technically they're demons but if she called me a Goblin I'd call her "my liege" so I can't judge. But in the cartoon there wasn't a single goblin.

X-MEN '97
(L-R): Magneto (voiced by Matthew Waterson), Gambit (voiced by AJ LoCascio), and Rogue (voiced by Lenore Zann) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL. /

And episode 4? Listen, first off you invoke the nightmare of the X-Men's Mojo boss fight from the Sega Genesis X-Men game (you had to reset the game to win but no one told you this and the internet wasn't around then) but then also reference the classic 1992 X-Men arcade game which was based off a completely different cartoon? It was just a hot mess of homages.

The fact that the episode was broken into two halves for no reason made it even worse because we had to go through that Mojo cheese fest and then had to sit through one of the most boring parts of 90's X-Men, when Forge, in my opinion, forces Storm into a relationship. That's not the story but come on, I've seen what Forge can do and there was NO reason it should have taken him that long. Have you seen what that boy has done on Krakoa? Anyways, both halves could have been overlapped to cut back and forth but the seems so set on covering so many '90s events that it couldn't tell the story more coherently.

And speaking of things from the '90s that should have stayed there. Let's get into Magneto and Rogue. Yeah, they were a thing several times in the comics, fun fun fun. Nothing I love more than seeing a younger girl hooking up with a *checks notes* man who should be roughly between 80 and 90. Granted, Rogue's whole arc from X-Men: The Animated Series centred on "I wish I could touch, y'all" but this one raised a few eyebrows.

I get that this is a thing from the 90s. And, honestly, I really liked them as a couple in Age of Apocalypse because, you know what, when the world is ending and there are landscapes literally covered in skulls I'm pretty sure that as long as someone is like 40% sanitary that's probably good enough, so I'll give them a pass there. But here's a thing. This isn't that Rogue.

The Rogue that everyone came to X-Men '97 was here for the Rogue and Gambit love story that would take two grown ass people and make them suddenly act like a junior high school couple that were both grounded from seeing each other. But instead we get ol' Gambit with know one to...shuffle his deck. So to speak.

All of these dramatic events from the '90s are happening so rapidly that it seems like the overall story can't keep up. It almost feels like it's malfunctioning. Storm loses her powers and spirals into a deep depression, no one looks for her when she leaves. A clone of Jean Grey shows off a poor mental state but ridiculously powerful abilities and everyone is super cool after she just decided to call an Uber out of there. Jubilee wants to go outside for her birthday? Everyone gathers together like it's a family portrait to collectively tell her no. Why? Reasons!

I'd love to see this show break the trend that the comic industry has of squandering opportunities like this, but much like the relationship between Wolverine and Morph, so far it's just allusions and no follow through.

Next. Every X-Men ranked from weakest to strongest. Every X-Men ranked from weakest to strongest. dark