X-Men '97: The 16 Greatest Moments Of The Original Animated Series

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Marvel's mutant heroes return to animation in X-Men '97, a revival of the '90s animated series with the killer theme music. The first two episodes land on Disney+ this Wednesday, March 20, picking up where the original show left off.

As cool as that is, your memory of the old series might have faded in the 27 years since it wrapped up. You probably remember Wolverine, Magneto, Jubilee, Apocalypse, and at least a couple of the unresolved cliffhangers we were left with. Still, there are so many other mutant heroes and villains introduced in The Animated Series' five seasons and pretty much everyone has a complicated history pulled from the comics.

You could binge the whole original run on Disney+, since it's still a heap of fun and you get to listen to that theme song over and over. But gee golly there's a lot to get through, and some of the animation in that last season is rough.

Why not simply join us in taking a look at some of its greatest moments so you're primed to jump into X-Men '97 right away?



1. Cyclops decapitates a Sentinel​

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Season 1, Episode 1 and 2: "Night of the Sentinels"

The show's opening two-parter, Night of the Sentinels, follows teenager Jubilee as she flees a mutant-hunting robot after developing her ability to produce firework-like pyrotechnic blasts.

The spooky voiced Sentinel catches up to her in that most '90s location, the mall (remember those?). Fortunately for her, the X-Men happen to be on their own shopping trip and take on the towering mech as they rescue Jubilee. The robot knocks the team around until team leader Cyclops uses his optic blast to effortlessly decapitate it.

They managed to pack a heap into this episode, introducing mutant heroes Jubilee, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Professor Xavier, Storm, Beast, Rogue and Morph. We also get a taste of the prejudice against their kind, in slimy Mutant Control Agency boss Peter Henry Gyrich and Sentinel designer Bolivar Trask.



2. Magneto threatens nuclear war​

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Season 1, Episode 3: "Enter Magneto"

This show wastes little time in introducing the most fascinating mutant of them all, with Magneto entering the fray. A survivor of Nazi persecution against Jews in World War II, this guy believes humans stand in the way of mutants seizing power.

Using his ability to manipulate metal, the villain tries to launch nuclear missiles and start a war that'll wipe out mankind. The X-Men stop his dastardly plot, but this is the first of many encounters.

Complicating matters is Magneto's friendship with Professor Charles Xavier, the X-Men's founder, a powerful psychic and a firm believer in peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants. Years before the events of the show, the pair debated how to convince society to accept mutants but ultimately parted ways over Magneto's violent methods.

This episode takes clear inspiration from 1963's X-Men #1, by legendary writer and artist duo Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, which is always wonderful to see.



3. Wolverine and the photo​

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Season 1, Episode 5: "Captive Hearts"

The man, the meme, and an episode title that sounds like a classic '90s drama movie. In love with Jean and wildly jealous of her boring boyfriend Cyclops, Wolverine gazes longingly at a photo of the pair in Season 1, Episode 5. He stabs the image of Cyclops with his claw, hinting at possible violence against his teammate. Tense.

This episode also sees Storm beating Callisto, the leader of subterranean mutant group the Morlocks, in single combat to rescue Jean and Cyclops. Because she is awesome



4. Our first dark future​

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Season 1, Episodes 11 and 12: "Days of Future Past"

Sharing a name and imagery with the iconic 1980 storyline and 2014 movie, this two-parter brings us to a hellish possible future where Sentinels have taken over and mutants like the energy absorbing Bishop hunt down rebellious members of their own kind for money.

We even see Wolverine get blasted by a Sentinel in a way that mirrors the iconic image from 1981's Uncanny X-Men #142. After the Sentinels turn on Bishop and show him that collaborating is a bad idea, he goes back in time to prevent the assassination that'll bring about his terrible reality.



5. Sinister’s obsession​

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Season 2, Episodes 1 and 2: "Till Death Do Us Part"

The newly married Jean and Cyclops don't get much time to enjoy their wedded bliss before they're captured by villainous geneticist Mister Sinister. He believes their combined DNA can create an army of the ultimate mutants--his master race.

It's also revealed that Sinister twisted shapeshifter Morph, whom the X-Men thought lost back in Season 1, into doing his bidding. In a particularly dastardly move, Morph impersonated the priest who married Jean and Cyclops.

So their marriage is void, but Jean reckons they're married "in their hearts." Maybe do it again in a registry office?



6. Son from the future​

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Season 2, Episodes 7 and 8: "Time Fugitives"

Another two-parter, another complicated time-travel plot. This one shines the spotlight on Cable, who travels back from a future ruled by the tyrannical mutant Apocalypse to stop his reality from being erased.

The show doesn't dwell on this, but in the comics Cable (aka Nathan Christopher Charles Summers) is the son of Cyclops and Madelyne Pryor. She's a clone of Jean created by Sinister for the purpose of making sure they (pro)create the ultimate mutant.

Cable sort of fulfills that purpose, but his vast psychic abilities are limited by the fact that he's infected with a techno-organic virus that his power is constantly fending off.



7. Rogue’s early days​

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Season 2, Episode 9: 'A Rogue's Tale"

This episode reveals the origin of an X-Men member, and features a character from the wider Marvel Universe. After Rogue's power to absorb the abilities and memories of others through touch manifested in her teens, she fell in with a sneaky shapeshifter (another one!), Mystique.

One of their dastardly criminal deeds drew the attention of Ms. Marvel (aka Carol Danvers, whom you may know as Captain Marvel in the separate MCU continuity), who confronted them as they tried to steal a jet. Rogue touched Carol for an extended period, absorbing her powers of flight and super strength permanently, along with her consciousness.

With Carol comatose in a hospital bed, Rogue left Mystique's crew to join the X-Men. By the episode's end, Rogue overcomes Carol in a mental battle and seems to restore her consciousness to her body.



8. Apocalypse’s grandiosity​

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Season 3, Episode 9: "Obsession"

"I am the rocks of the eternal shore. Crash against me and be BROKEN!"

Immortal villain Apocalypse has plenty of astoundingly cool lines, but this one is probably the most epic. It's particularly delicious that he utters these words just before Gambit slams into him in a jet. The vehicle is ruined, but Apocalypse emerges unscathed and continues to dominate the X-Men.

This guy is essentially the show's Big Bad (sorry, Magneto, you're cool but too morally gray). The constant allusions to his being around for millenia--Apocalypse is typically considered the first mutant, enhanced by Celestial technology--and the late John Colicos' epic performance elevate the character beyond his strange design and ridiculous powers.

The big A on his tummy is so, so silly though.



9. Iceman cometh​

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Season 3, Episode 11: "Cold Comfort"

This episode is the sole full appearance of Iceman, who was one of the original five X-Men and left due to friction with Xavier. His search for missing girlfriend Lorna Dane (aka Polaris) brings him back into contact with his old team, and they discover she faked her disappearance to join the government-run mutant team X-Factor and hook up with new partner Havok.

Iceman is understandably annoyed by this and refuses an invitation to return to the X-Men. This episode also features Forge as leader of X-Factor--his mutant ability allows him to invent anything he can imagine.



10. Dark Phoenix rises​

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Season 3, Episodes 14, 15, 16 and 17: "The Dark Phoenix Saga"

Based on the legendary comic book storyline of the same name, this four-episode arc sees Jean Grey becoming a threat to the entire universe. Manipulated by the villainous mutant illusionist Mastermind, Jean's mind is taken over by the cosmic entity known as the Phoenix Force.

Proclaiming herself to be the Dark Phoenix and wearing an absolutely awesome costume, she easily defeats her former teammates and flies off into space. She displays the extent of her power by absorbing the energy of an uninhabited planet's sun, destroying it.

After Jean manages to regain control, she takes her own life to stop Dark Phoenix's rampage. Restored to normality, the Phoenix allows the X-Men to each offer up a portion of their own life forces to restore Jean to life. Phew.



11. Mohawk Storm​

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Season 4, Episodes 9 and 10: "One Man's Worth"

Another time-travel two-parter! This one reveals a dark timeline that emerges after Xavier is killed as a young man. The story is based on the epic Age of Apocalypse comic storyline, where Magneto leads the X-Men in rebelling against Apocalypse's rule.

One particularly cool touch sees a group resembling the Avengers battling on the bad guy's side--Captain America, Scarlet Spider, Iron Man, Goliath, Wasp, Black Widow and Hercules have a brief confrontation with the X-Men.

Fan-favorite time-traveler Bishop and his sister Shard stop Xavier's assassination with help from this timeline's Storm and Wolverine (in their awesome post-apocalyptic re-designs). This adventure ends on a poignant note, as these versions of Storm and Wolverine fade from existence after their mission is complete.



12. Wolverine’s metal beginnings​

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Season 4, Episode 16: "Weapon X, Lies and Videotape"

This episode offers our clearest glimpse of Wolverine's origins, which were still murky in the comics at the time this episode aired. Specifically, we see how the shadowy Weapon X agency figured out how to use his mutant healing factor in its experiments.

They kidnapped him, wiped his memories, and bonded the unbreakable metal adamantium to his bones, but he escaped and ultimately joined the X-Men. This is a less dark riff on the excellent Weapon X comic storyline.



13. Magneto alliance​

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Season 4, Episodes 18, 19, 20, and 21: "Beyond Good and Evil"

The Avengers: Endgame of this show, with pretty much everyone uniting to stop Apocalypse in a time-travel epic. The villain is seemingly wiped from existence, but he manages to return in Season 5.

Most significantly, it sees Magneto teaming up with the X-Men and hints that he's open to doing so again.



14. Teaming up with a Super Soldier​

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Season 5, Episode 7: "Old Soldiers"

Season 5 saw the series' animation dip in quality, so it isn't as fun to watch as the previous ones. There was still plenty of creative energy at work on the show, though, and we got episodes like this World War II adventure featuring Wolverine and Captain America.

The pair face off against Red Skull and his Nazi goons in occupied Paris, stopping a plot to build a bunch of big evil robots and (unbeknownst to Wolverine) allow a US double agent to earn the Red Skull's trust.

It's always fun to see the early part of Wolverine's career as a hero, and it's especially cool to see him working with Cap. We even get a cameo from a fresh-faced, pre-eyepatch Nick Fury.



15. Sinister science​

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Season 5, Episode 9: "Descent"

Another flashback episode, this time bringing us to Victorian England and Mr. Sinister's origin. Then a scientist obsessed with Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and human mutation, Nathaniel Essex, began experimenting on mutants as he sought a treatment for his deathly ill wife.

He also experimented on himself, which gave him the ability to heal wounds instantly and create energy blasts. Also, immortality, chalk-white skin, and a generally strange vibe.

This episode features Rebecca Grey, Jean's ancestor, as Essex's wife. They don't have kids and she runs off when he goes all Sinister (though he does cure her illness), so he doesn't appear to be related to Jean by blood.



16. The mentor departs​

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Season 5, Episode 10: "Graduation Day"

The final episode of the series' original run sets up the status quo we see in X-Men '97. Slimy government agent Henry Peter Gyrich, who was involved in the Sentinel program and is here pushing anti-mutant legislation, shoots Xavier. This reveals Xavier's mutant abilities to the world and leaves him critically injured.

The X-Men persuade Magneto to join them and help contact the scientifically advanced alien race (and allies of our mutant heroes) the Shi'ar. After warm final words to each member of the team, Xavier goes off into space for some super sci-fi medical treatment.

We're left with the image of Magneto standing alongside the team, hinting at a new alliance to come.


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