I love ’X-Men ‘97’ so far but I made a huge mistake

An image from X-Men '97
(Image credit: Marvel/Disney)

I love 90s superhero cartoons. I’ve got a huge fondness for for the classic animated series involving Batman, Spider-Man and Superman. However, I’ve never watched “X-Men: The Animated Series”, and that oversight has come into sharp focus this week as the beloved show has just been revived on Disney Plus in the form of “X-Men ‘97”.

I’ve heard plenty of great things about the beloved 90s X-Men cartoon, but I just never carved out the time to watch it myself (but it was on my list, I swear). In steps, “X-Men ‘97”, which landed on Disney's streaming service this week to critical acclaim, and a strong recommendation from a colleague, leaving me in two minds. 

Part of me felt it would be foolish to watch what is being pitched as a continuation of the 90s series without having first watched the original run, but another part of me merely wanted to consume the shiny new show so that I could be part of the brewing online conversation — yes, my lizard brain is that easily manipulated. 

Ultimately, I decided to give the first episode of “X-Men ‘97” a chance as I reasoned by the time I was done with all 76 episodes of the original show, I’d probably have seen spoilers for the revival on social media. 

You might not be shocked to find this turned out to be a fairly unwise move, but to ‘X-Men ‘97’’s credit it does employ a smart storytelling device to make the show accessible to newcomers. And I was still able to follow most of the first episode.  

Meeting the X-Men

Diving into the first episode of “X-Men ‘97”, titled “To Me, My X-Men”, the biggest thing I was lacking was proper context and understanding of the relationships between the show’s reasonably sized cast of superpowered mutants.

I’m not totally unaware when it comes to the “X-Men”. I’ve seen every single theatrical “X-Men” movie, so I know the big players. Wolverine, Cyclops, Jean Grey and Storm were all familiar, and while I'd never encountered the shift-shaping Morph before, the show quickly showcased their powers. 

The problem is “X-Men ‘97” makes it very clear out of the gate that these characters have a long history with each other. Jean's concern over raising a baby at the X-Mansion, and Scott’s struggles to deal with the burden of leadership in the absence of Charles Xavier, would have held more weight with me, if I’d been tracking their growth as individuals and as a couple — I’m informed we see their wedding in the original show — across 70+ episodes of television. 

An image from X-Men '97

(Image credit: Marvel/Disney)

The sarcastic interplay with Gambit, Wolverine’s relationship with Jean/Scott (in the movies, the trio are presented in a love triangle, but I didn’t get that vibe here), and Beast’s place in the team, were all elements that didn’t quite land with me either. 

If you come into “X-Men ‘97” totally cold, you are going to feel that fact, at least a little bit. And that’s not a failing of the show, I must stress. This is a revival of a fan-favorite cartoon, it would be wholly unreasonable to expect such a project to completely abandon its roots. But newcomers are going to pick up on, but not fully understand, the history this crew of superhumans share. 

Sunspot saves the day 

“X-Men ‘97” does attempt to be accessible to newcomers, even while acknowledging the story arcs that came before it. This is done, at least in the very first episode, through the introduction of a new character: Roberto da Costa, aka Sunspot.

The episode opens with Roberto being captured by an anti-mutant group known as the Friends of Humanity. In steps Cyclops, Storm and the X-Men to save him, and bring him back to the X-Mansion to find out what he knows about the Sentinel tech the thugs were wielding. 

An image from X-Men '97

(Image credit: Marvel/Disney)

In Roberto, “X-Men ‘97” has a perfect audience surrogate. Rather than the previously established characters spouting unnatural exposition-laded dialogue to each other, all the setup new viewers need can be funneled through Roberto. Which is a smart, if not exactly original, solution to the problem of onboarding newbies. 

Of course, because Roberto spends the first episode largely having people tell him stuff, he doesn’t really get the chance to develop much of a character of his own, but I suspect that will happen throughout the show’s first season.

Back to the past 

I enjoyed the first episode of “X-Men ‘97” and the cliffhanger conclusion had me itching to hit the “play next episode” button. Plus, I hear even better things about episode two, so I’m feeling a strong urge to continue with the series. But I’m going to try and show some restraint, instead. 

While I appreciate the showrunners putting in the work to make sure “X-Men ‘97” can still be understood and enjoyed by newcomers, primarily thanks to the inclusion of Sunspot, I feel like my viewing experience will be much richer if I’ve got a better understanding of the dynamics between the show’s core cast going forward. 

It looks like I’ve got 76 episodes of homework to get started on, and maybe if I can clear my schedule for a few binge-watching sessions over the next couple of weeks, I could even be all caught up before the “X-Men ‘97” season 1 finale debuts in May.  

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Rory Mellon
Entertainment Editor (UK)

Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team. 

  • Megahyper
    I understand why you misunderstood. That is one of the things the show got right. The original show was meant to be chaotic with several plots going on at once, and being a little bit confusing was part of the charm (believe it or not). Fox aired episodes out of order, and the reruns did not help. But even if you watch it in orders, they still find ways to confuse you a little bit. In one episode, a space princess showed up and the X-Men tried to rescue her, but then bounty hunters Erik the Red showed up, and then the Juggernaut and then a character called Gladiator showed up and threw Juggernaut, all in a span of five minutes. But when we saw it, we (internet was brand new back then) have no idea who they are, but we know there are trading cards and comic somewhere that explains everything and we were fine with it.