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An OK but overrated hit or miss adaptation
on January 19, 2011
PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: When a mysterious explosion destroys half the Institute and results in the disappearances of both Professor Charles Xavier and Jean Grey, the X-Men disband. Logan, AKA: Wolverine, he of the short temper to match his short stature & adamantium claws, then takes it upon himself to reunite the X-Men and resume fighting for Xavier's dream. Throw in mystery guest Emma Frost, a bad future, & the Phoenix, and you have season 1 of Wolvie & the X-Men.
Calling the series terrible wouldn't be fair, but it is built on a flimsy premise - Wolverine becoming the leader of the X-Men. Let's be honest, Wolverine as the X-Men's leader is absurd, it is the stuff of fan fiction, which is what this series often feels like: an overzealous Wolverine fan's fan fiction brought to life, albeit with a soft spot for Nightcrawler. The inherent flimsiness of the show's premise is made all the more apparent by inconsistent, hit or miss writing. Some episodes work okay as empty headed actioners, while others flirt with interesting ideas (such as Xavier as an active player in the future), but on the whole many episodes feel hollow.
Another flaw is Wolverine himself - his flaws are actually downplayed to the point of barely existing. Though the creative team behind this series (also the same team that handled X-Men: Evolution) went to great lengths in all the press material to say they were going to depict Wolverine as a flawed & unlikely leader, but not a single episode really shows this. His mistakes are usually minor, no one but Emma really points this out, and even when he borders on being a hypocrite he's still right in the end. Too bad, considering that he had a good voice actor in Steve Blum, who sounds pretty much the way you expect Wolverine to sound (at times Blum even sounds like Cathal "Cal" Dodd, who voiced Wolverine in the 90s series).
Another problem is the balancing act of characters - while some characters such as villains Magneto & Mr. Sinister are used well (getting Clancy Brown to voice Mr. Sinister was a stroke of genius) along with Emma Frost in her big debut as a regular cast member, others are not. Of the X-Men only Nightcrawler emerged as a strong character in his own right, & Kurt's solo episodes are easily the best the series has to offer (Angel had potential but wasn't really utilized beyond a few episodes before he became Ark Angel). The team dynamic of the X-Men is not strongly established, since the others are often ignored or not fleshed out beyond their cipher roles, & for the most part they show very little genuine concern for each other (such as giving up on Angel when he turns into Ark Angel). Perhaps that was deliberate to show how disconnected they are under Wolverine's leadership, but I doubt it.
This brings me to what may be the series biggest failure character wise: Cyclops/Scott Summers. I have always been a Cyclops fan, but there was nothing about this version of him that was particularly sympathetic. With better writing the idea of Cyclops & Wolverine swapping roles may have been moderately interesting, but it quickly becomes apparent that Cyclops doesn't work in the role of angry loner because he doesn't have the same luck Wolverine usually has in that role. While Wolverine's flaws can turn into strengths at the drop of a hat, Cyclops is made to look like a chump when he tries to do what Wolverine is known for, like going off on his own or not being a team player. Where the experiment truly fails is "Breakdown", a ham-fisted reworking of Scott's origin that incorrectly casts him as the laughingstock of the original 5, a hopelessly incompetent wimp who couldn't handle one basic training simulation & needed Jean to lead him by the hand & tell him what to do when facing off with Magneto, then years later an emotionally volatile man-brat who physically assaulted Wolverine when he thought the clawed one was trying to steal Jean from him, and then fell apart when Jean disappeared. They boiled Scott down to the stereotype that he is nothing without Jean, & gave him no positive qualities or growth to compensate. We never see him when he was at his best, which makes it difficult to swallow his fall from grace since he apparently had no grace period to fall from. Not once do we ever see anything resembling the hero from the comics, the efficient & fearless leader who fought for Xavier's Cause like a knight defending the Holy Grail. This version of Scott deserves sympathy from no one, & certainly doesn't deserve either Jean or Emma. Yeah, Scott had a crappy life, but so did Magneto. Though a fine actor, Nolan North can't save this walking shack of faults characterization.
On the flip-side of Scott's poor characterization is the utter lack of characterization for Storm (saddled with a horrible character design), the real co-leader & 2nd in command when Scott isn't around. For the most part Storm is just there to fill up scenery & has little to contribute beyond an occasional thunderbolt. The writers didn't even try to offer a reason for why Storm didn't take over as leader, despite years of stories that show what a natural leader she is, which is all the more unfortunate considering that Wolverine got along better with Storm in charge than he did with Cyclops. Where Cyclops had to nearly twist Wolverine's arm to make him do anything he didn't want, Storm could get him to settle down & behave himself just through the sheer strength of her personality.
Season 1 gets 5 out of 10 stars for certain characterizations (Nightcrawler, Emma Frost, etc.), occasionally interesting ideas & competent voice actors, but loses points for inconsistent writing & insincere handling of other characters.