Animated Shorts - An X-Men Animation Celebration

And X-Men Animation Celebration

The X-Men Vol. 1

The X-Men Vol. 1 (Buena Vista) (2 DVDs)

The X-Men Vol. 2 (Buena Vista) (2 DVDs)

Wolverine & the X-Men: Heroes Return Trilogy (Lionsgate)

The new Wolverine movie isn’t the only X-Men video product released over the last week. Lionsgate has started releasing the Wolverine & the X-Men series (currently airing on Nicktoons), while Buena Vista has finally issued the legendary X-Men animated series of the 90s.

Looking back, one can see how far animation has come since the early 90s. Entitled The X-Men, the first Saturday morning adventures of Professor Xavier and his talented students shows its age. The motion is choppy, sometimes outright awkward. The scripting sometimes is so melodramatic it forgets how to be dramatic. The voice acting is clumsy, particularly when it comes to more ethnic/provincial accents for characters like Gambit, Storm, and Rogue.

Still, producers Larry Houston and Eric Lewald countered their deficits by picking the greatest stories lines from the then #1 comic franchise’s 30-year history. With then Marvel editor-in-chief Bob Harras, they may have played around with the likes of such unforgettable tales like “Days of Future Past” and “The Phoenix Saga,” but they still stayed true to the spirit of each tale. They also did a remarkably solid job at keeping story continuity solid, fascinating and overall logical, something the various X-Men comic books were having a difficult time doing at that time.

The X-Men; Vol. 2

Most important of all, even experts would be hard pressed to find any missing members from the X-legion roll call. Sooner or later anyone from Morph to Mr. Sinister, the Blob to Bishop, Jubilee to the Shi-Ar had their turn on the show. In those days that was more than enough for us more innocent and less demanding fans.

Another thing Buena Vista provides is a very health dollop of episodes with each volume. Volume 1 provides 16 half-hours while Volume 2 ups the ante to 17. The only thing lacking is any supplemental features. No commentary. No extra content. Just the shows. While some might find it a blessing, it would have been nice for the likes of Houston, Lewald, Harras, or others to add at least some commentary to the whole mix. Then again, hardcore fans of superhero animation will most likely feel they are getting their money’s worth. It really is hard to argue with them.

While there are a lot less episodes in Heroes Return, only three half-hours, what you lack in quality is more than made up in quality. This in part is due to the superlative production team of Greg Johnson, Craig Kyle, Boyd Kirkland, and Steve Gordon. They had worked together on another X-series, Evolution, which probably goes a long way towards explaining why they decided to stay in the “Evo-Universe” (which initially was discontinued in 2003) rather than create a whole new one.

Unlike the original 90's series, Johnson and company have more than just the original comics of the 60s through the 80s to draw on, and it shows. They have the Ultimate titles. They have the live-action feature films. They had their own past all working under Marvel Animation head honcho Eric S. Rollman.

Wolverine & the X-Men: Heroes Return Trilogy

Let’s also be honest, the Heroes Return voice cast just blows the previous X-Men voice artists out of the water. Steve Blum continues to rule as the voice of that immortal Canadian named Logan. Fred Tatasciore also may be the Hulk for life, but adds an interesting touch as the extremely civilized Beast. The real revelation though is Tom Kane as Magneto. He adds a chilling veneer to the master of magnetism that was sorely missed in the original. Having the likes of Kari Wahlgren, Yuri Lowenthal, Nolan North, Phil Morris, and other recognized voice names don’t hurt either.

They also had far better animation resources to draw on. Kirkland made his bones on some of the best of the original Batman: The Animated Series episodes as well as the Dark Knight movie Sub-Zero. Gordon worked under Kirkland on Evolution. Together they make a very dynamic animation production team, coming up with a more expressive series of character designs to amplify Johnson and Kyle’s story.

More importantly, being these three episodes are the opening salvo of a 26-episode arc, Kyle and Johnson used this time to set up a new post-Evolution storyline that is half “Days of Future Past” and half their own concoction. As fans of the series know (considering the show is already in its second full season just about everywhere else in the world), it’s quite the story to tell.

Also, while this disk may lack the same number of episodes the 90's sets provide, they make it up with the extra content. There’s not one, but two commentary tracks on the disk. The first features Kyle and Johnson, and they do a lot of exposition on the story development on the disk. The second track is of Kirkland and Gordon, and they add their own audio explanations to their visual work. The details the two sets of tracks provide are entertaining in their own right. The other ‘making of’ material included, as well as the character directory, are icing on the cake.

So, okay, fans can argue about whether or not X-Men Origins: Wolverine is worth the near $175 million it's made worldwide in the last week-plus. At the same time they should celebrate the return of this beloved antique and its modern offspring. No matter how you look at them, they are going to give you hours upon hours of entertainment, X-fan or not.

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