The Insuperable X-Men: Marvel mutants conquer the small screen

The Insuperable X-Men: Marvel mutants conquer the small screen

The Insuperable X-Men

A young woman with strange powers is the prey of two giant robots, who do not hesitate to chase her inside a shopping center, not imagining that what seems like a routine operation will soon prove to be the end for the two titanic androids. A fortune for Jubilation Lee, who after having just discovered that she is endowed with superhuman powers, she learns that she has become part of a larger community: that of mutants. In fact, some of them first save her and then offer her refuge, introducing her to an adventurous life made of fighting with aliens, time travel and fighting to the death. If all this sounds familiar, it means that you remember perfectly The night of the sentinels, opening episode of The Insuperable X-Men (X-Men: The Animated Series), an animated series dedicated to the mutants of the Marvel house that debuted on Fox Kids October 31, 1992.

The early nineties were a boon for the most beloved characters in comics, who after having clogged the libraries of passionate comic readers also invaded the television world, with a series of animated productions again remember today with particular affection. Those were the years of Spider-Man: The Animated Series and Batman: The Animated Series, true cults that revolutionized not only the very concept of the superhero in animation, but also had a direct impact on the paper nature of the characters (have you ever heard of Harley Quinn story?). For the mutants, who in those years had become one of the leading elements of the House of Ideas, however, it was not the first experience in the world of animation.

From extras to protagonists

Within the Marvel Universe, the X-Men are one of the first creations of the House of Ideas, baptized by two legendary names, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. The early days of the mutant lineup were not particularly satisfying, so much so that the comic series had a long hiatus. A condition that probably also contributed to delaying the production of one of their animated series, a possibility instead offered to Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, who have been the protagonists of cartoons since the end of the 60s.

Despite this distrust, the first appearance of the X-Men in the world of animation takes place in 1966, within Namor the Sub-Mariner, in an episode in which the Atlantean opposes Doctor Doom, the occasion in which several Marvel heroes appear within a battle with Von Doom's allies. An ideal moment to bring up the original formation of the X-Men, led by Xavier.

To give new luster to the mutants was the new course started with Second Genesis, an epochal story in which a new mutant formation was presented, which started a real renaissance of the X-Men in the comic world, officiated by His Highness Chris 'X-Chris' Claremont. This new momentum of the pupils of Xavier led to a new visibility of Cyclops and his companions, who resumed appearing in the Marvel animated series. To give more space to the mutants was Spider-Man and his fantastic friends, in which alongside Parker there were also Bobby 'Iceman' Drake and Angelica 'Firestar' Jones, two mutants raised and trained in Xavier's school. Perfect trait d'union between the Tessiragnatele and the Sons of the Atom, who then made several appearances in this animated series, showing themselves to the spectators with the new line-up born after the Second Genesis.

Roles always from shoulder or guests of honor for mutants. At least in the sector of the animated series, which did not take long to consider how the X-Men were quickly becoming the darlings of the readers. On the other hand, from the end of the 1970s to the early 1990s, Chris Claremont, who was joined by masters of design such as Dave Cockrum or John Byrne, narrated the mutant epic. The 1980s were a golden decade for the mutant world, which made them top-tier characters in the Marvel Universe, projecting them into the 90s with a roaring charisma.

Reason that prompted Marvel to attempt a series animated dedicated to its mutants. The first experiment was done in 1989, when Margareth Loesc, head of the Californian section of Marvel Productions, decided to stop the production of RoboCop: The Animated Series, hijacking the funds destined for the thirteenth episode of the adventures of the cybersbreeder to make a pilot of a series dedicated to mutants: X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men.

As the title suggests, X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men was centered on the figure of Kitty Pryde, the youngest of mutants, who was enrolled in the formation while it fought against the Brotherhood of Magneto. The graphic approach of this experiment was borrowed from the drawings of Cockrum and Byrne, while the plot seems more influenced by Lee's 60s style, with the roles of the X-Men partially differing from the dynamics of the comics. For example, Wolverine had a minor role compared to Nightcrawler, as it should have been initially in comics according to Claremont's ideas. In Italian, X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men became L'audacia degli X-Men, a title that not only loses the reference to Kitty, but also fails to grasp the play on words between the surname of the young mutant and the his role within the mutant world.

X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men was an experiment that was not totally successful, but which nevertheless had a fundamental merit: taking the mutants out of the comic medium, opening them the doors to the world of entertainment. Made by Toei, the series showed atypical formations for both the X-Men and their opponents, which were, however, made in a captivating way, to the point of becoming the basis for the creation of three video games dedicated to mutants: X-Men: Madness in Murderworld (1989), The Uncanny X-Men (1990) and X-Men (1992). It is also an important precedent, because the Japanese gaming industry seems to identify the X-Men as ideal characters for making video games ranging from adventure to beat em ups. A real fortune, considering that their fate is in the balance on American soil, given that at the beginning of the 90s Marvel does not sail in calm waters.

X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men has not future precisely for this situation of the House of Ideas, but as in the best mutant stories, the hero of the moment arrives to save the situation in the darkest hour. Or rather, heroin, given that Margareth Loesch, producer of Pryde of the X-Men, was appointed head of Fox Children's Network in 1991, a subsidiary of the entertainment giant that will soon take on a more famous name: Fox Kids. Still fond of her idea of ​​an animated series dedicated to mutants, Loesch turns to Saban Entertainment to make X-Men: The Animated Series, ordering a first season of 13 episodes. A decision that sanctions the birth of what in Italy we know as Gli Insuperabili X-Men.

The production of the first season of Gli Insuperabili X-Men, despite the encouraging premises, is one of the most painful processes in the world animation. Saban Entertainment subcontracted the production to Graz Entertainment, not having enough staff to handle everything; in turn, Graz, after having curated the screenplays and drawings of the epsiodes, entrusted the Korean animation studio AKOM, already working on Batman: The Animated Series, with the realization of the animations. Choice that we quickly regretted, since the first episodes presented by Akom were of a very low quality, with the absence of entire animations and a quality level below every standard. Fox's complaints were worthless, AKOM did not intend to put a hand to the first episodes of The Insuperable X-Men, which were then missed on the air with their train of errors, showing themselves to the American public at the end of October 1992 with the double episode The night of the Sentinels.

Fox, however, was not willing to accept this poor quality for The Insuperable X-Men, and began to threaten AKOM to terminate the collaboration if all the flaws of the first episodes were not corrected and it was not achieved a higher quality standard. A request that AKOM accepted, allowing Fox Kids to re-propose in the early months of 1993 an improved vision of The Night of the Sentinels, which showed a greater care in the realization of the series. A change of pace that allowed The Insuperable X-Men to establish itself as one of the iconic animation products of the period.

From comics to the small screen

The entry of the X-Men into the context of animated series was also a renewal element for the genre. From a supergroup that had shown, with its own stories, to be able to best express certain delicate themes, one could not ask for anything else, and The Insuperable X-Men knew how to keep these expectations. The first season of the series showed from the beginning a particularly tight continuity character within the episodes, a peculiarity never found in other productions of the period. A narrative structure that made it possible to offer viewers a priceless depth of plots and personalities of the protagonists.

To support the entire narrative structure of The Insuperable X-Men, on the other hand, were the great stories of Claremont . The series, in fact, was designed to have a horizontal plot in which narrative arcs condensed into blocks of two, three or even five episodes could be inserted, which, while participating in the continuity of the series, could tell some of the great cycles of the author. Scottish. Thanks to this narrative concept, The Insuperable X-Men was able to bring to the small screen the animated version of essential chapters in the life of the mutants, such as Days of a Future Past, the Black Phoenix Saga or Weapon X. The introduction of characters such as Bishop and Cable, gave the opportunity to experiment with plots that also ventured into the terrain of time travel, to the point that The Insuperable X-Men gave birth to a double episode, The Worth of a Man, which showed some similarities with The Ages of Apocalypse, a popular mutant saga that was developing right at that time on the Marvel books.

This complex and articulated narrative construction allowed not only to be able to reserve for each character, X-Men or opponent, the right space to show one's personality, but it became a tool with which they tried to create a first Marvel animated universe. The sporadic presence of other friendly faces from the Marvel Universe, such as Captain America or Miss Marvel, was not only a reference to the paper originals of the mutants, but opened up potential scenarios for other series. To consolidate this desire were cross-over episodes with the other Marvel series of the period, Spider-Man: The Animated Series, in which the Tessiragnatele was able to often meet the X-Men, as in The Mutant's Revenge, or involved them directly in his adventures, as happened to Tempest, recruited by the Wall Climbing for the animated version of Secret Wars.

From the visual point of view, the imperfect animations did not manage however to scratch the charm of these characters. The model used for The Insuperable X-Men was the Jim Lee drawings, particularly active on the comic X-series of the period, while granting some homage to other famous interpreters of the mutant world, such as Byrne. The idea was to replicate in the animated sector some of the great drawings of the designers, a choice that if on the one hand proved to be a declaration of love for mutant comics, on the other hand it showed some realization limits, materialized in the not always convincing animations.

But the charm of Gli Insuperabili X-Men were above all the plots, treated and structured in order to maintain the essential features of their paper origin, to the point of transforming this series into a real cult.

The Insuperable X-Men: birth of a cult

The risk of a series like The Insuperable X-Men was to upset the fans of Marvel comics, who would inevitably have been the most severe judges of this animated series. A danger averted thanks to the aforementioned loyalty to the great Claremont cycles, which, although presented with some small variations, caught the favor of mutant enthusiasts.

The Insuperabili X-Men was, however, also the first contact between the Marvelian mutants and a new audience, which was unaware of their existence as a comic. Wolverine, Cyclops and companions therefore became new characters to familiarize with, an opportunity that, especially in Japan, was seen as the perfect opportunity to give life to a long-lived cycle of video games, given the fame that the series had in the Asian country.

Ironically, Japan's Insuperable X-Men suffered the same fate as Japanese anime in the rest of the world: an unfair adaptation. The plots of the series, although designed to be aimed at a teenage audience, were par in terms of irony, entrusted mainly to characters like Gambit or Jubilee, leaving them to be themes of a certain depth (racism, elaboration of the self and of loss) to dominate the narrative. In the land of the Rising Sun all this faded away, the characters were re-doubled so that they were more witty and light-hearted, also adopting an acronym that was in line with this conception, more cheerful and less serious than the original one. Before shouting outrage, let's consider that they were choices that consecrate the X-Men as cult characters in Japan, to the point that Capcom, the popular software house already author of the previous mutant videogames, decided to make a title that is still today. part of the mutant legend: X-Men: Children of the Atom. Within the series itself, references to the basic plot of this beat'em up were inserted in which the Sons of the Atom clashed with characters such as the Sentinel, Magneto, Omega Red or Lady Stryfe.

Obviously the video game had an incredible success, so much so that in Capcom it was seen in the mutants before, and in the Marvel world in general, an incredibly promising roster of characters, which over the years has been exploited properly, with various titles in which Iron Man, Captain America and Doctor Strange not only clashed with their respective nemeses, but also crossed arms with the most famous characters of the Capcom video games in the famous Marvel vs Capcom.

A fascination, those of The Insuperable X-Men, which in Italy it exploded in 1994, with its first broadcast. Initially presented with its original theme song, it was later revived with the inevitable intro sung by Cristina d'Avena, leaving everyone with nostalgia for the first, unforgettable theme song. Although, in a way, The Insuperable X-Men are a far from admirable display of animation, the way the salient features of the Marvel mutants have been portrayed, the stories so well articulated and the undeniable charm of the Children of 'Atom have turned this series into a real cult, loved by fans of Marvel comics and adored by those who, thanks to the seventy episodes of this series, have learned to love mutants.

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