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X-Men 97
© Walt Disney Corporation, Marvel Animation.

This wave of nostalgic reboots is becoming so overwhelmingly exhausting. I almost avoided watching X-Men '97 out of principle. I can barely remember the last TV show or movie that I watched, or last video game that I played, that wasn't based on a '90's or '80's IP. At least Shogun and Three-Body Problem are based on novels, instead of movies and TV shows that I watched in elementary school.

I'm glad I did watch X-Men '97 though. It's pretty damn good. It's also depressing though. It's a reminder of how little has changed in 30 years, and how, in some ways, things have gotten worse. There was a hopeful optimism in the '90's. But now, properties like X-Men and Star Trek are reminding us of how fragile our progress is. How quickly and easily it can all be undone.

The X-Men are just as powerful and poignant as they were in the '80's and '90's, and the metaphors still work depressingly well. I had hoped we'd be past this by now. Maybe we never will be.

Despite being a little more bleak in tone, X-Men '97 is both a pitch-perfect continuation of the X-Men: Animated Series for children, and also a new experience for a more mature audience. This show is move violent, more graphic, and people die! But it's not excessive or obscene. It's not Game Of Thrones, and I would have no problem letting any comic book-reading child watch it.

It's also bonkers! The stories here go to crazy places, and do crazy things -- crazy even for comic books. But just as with the original show, these stories (as crazy as they are) are faithfully adapted from the comic book source material -- some of the craziest comic book source material.

Limited Run

Unfortunately, as with so many streaming TV shows these days, the 10 or 12 episode limit feels short and rushed. Major character arcs (that I would think would last for a whole season) start in one episode, only to be resolved an episode or 2 later. These storylines hardly have any time to breathe.

X-Men 97 - Storm
X-Men 97 s 1, ep 6 "Lifedeath, part 2", © Disney.
Star Trek DS9 - Odo
© CBS.
Storm's arc is short, and is comparable to Odo's in DS9, which feels longer than it is.

Compare Storm's stories in this season with, say, Odo losing his shape-shifting ability in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The massive upheaval of Storm's life and character is resolved like 2 episodes later, while Odo's story takes a half of a season of DS9 to resolve. This gives DS9 more time to explore Odo's feelings and psychology, and for him and other characters to adapt to his new state of being, which genuinely starts to feel permanent. Futhremore, even though this Odo storyline only last 12 or 13 episodes, his loss of his shape-shifting ability happens in the conclusion of the previous season, so the perceived length of his condition is longer, since audiences go the entire off-season wondering what will happen with Odo.

Magneto's character arc covers the entire season, but still feels similarly rushed and chaotic. They're good episodes and good stories. Yes it's more rushed than I would like it to be, but none of these stories feel "incomplete" or broken within the show's logic. Everything is exactly as long as it needs to be to convey its message. Not a minute longer -- but more importantly, not a minute shorter.

Altogether, there's really only a single "filler" episode, and even then, it's really only half an episode. It's weird and silly as hell, and it would be a lot of fun to have a few more episodes like it. Only a handful of characters on the roster get stories specifically about them. It would be nice to have some episodes that are maybe a little smaller in scope, and which tell more intimate, personal stories about specific characters. Specifically, I think that an early or mid-season episode about Gambit and Rogue going on a romantic holiday would have been a good addition. I'm honestly surprised that such a story wasn't squeezed in somewhere.

Revolving door of characters

Further, there's a considerable rotation of characters into and out of the roster, including several variations of the opening titles, showing different characters in the "main cast". Characters like Bishop, Cable, Forge, Nightcrawler, and others come and go, as well as a couple completely new characters.

X-Men 97 - Nightcrawler
© Walt Disney Corporation, Marvel Animation.
My favorite X-Man, Nightcrawler, has finally been promoted to the regular lineup.

This is another reason why it would have been nice to have a larger set of episodes, since these characters could also have been given more screen time or stories focused on them. Cable and Forge get significant screentime and their own specific episodes, but Nightcrawler gets relatively little screentime and no storylines specifically about himself.

That's a shame, for me, since Nightcrawler is my favorite X-Men character. On the one hand, I'm happy to see him apparently promoted to a long-term regular cast member. I hope to see a lot more of him in future seasons. In the meantime, however, I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't get to see more of him in this season.

X-Men 97 - Magneto at UN
X-Men 97 s 1, ep 2 "Mutant Liberation Begins" © Disney.
The second episode is an absolute masterpiece.

A diamond among gems

Though the season is short, the few episodes that are included here are good. The highlight of the season is definitely the 2nd episode, which is absolutely amazing. The 2nd episode is not only one of the best episodes of the X-Men: Animated Series, and one of the best comic book stories that I've ever seen, but it's one of the best 30-minutes of television that I've ever seen. I was on the edge of my seat for almost this entire episode, and the conclusion was absolutely epic!

There is another climactic episode later in the season which is a close runner-up as the season's best episode. While it didn't "wow" me in the same way as the 2nd episode, this other highlight was quite a surprising and shocking spectacle, and incredibly poignant, given recent global political events.

Indeed, X-Men '97 doesn't pull any punches. It would have been easy to play things safe and conservative, and try not to rock the boat too much. But X-Men '97 is ambitious. It has things to say and absolutely no reservations about saying them as frankly as possible, nor any fear that it's boldness might offend certain sensitive audiences. As far as all the 80's and 90's nostalgia revivals go, X-Men '97 is one of the best. It feels like it hasn't missed a beat since the original, and still remains remarkably relevant almost 30 years later.

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