X-Men the animated series ran 76 episodes from 1992-97. Just a quick peek through its five seasons at IMDb reveals that they regularly approached essential X-Men storylines. That’s kind of amazing, given their ties to real social issues, because at the end of the day it was a cartoon. I loved it as a kid and examined three random episodes to see how it holds up.
You may remember I did the something similar for Batman: the Animated Series. What I found for X-Men was different. It doesn’t have the same polish as BtAS and prefers movement over lighting for effect. The biggest difference, though, is how much more willing it was to confront its content head-on. Ultimately rewatching didn’t come down to“is it still good?” It commands more. So much that I’m going to give each of the three episodes its own post instead of trying to justify grouping them together. First up is season three, episode 19, “Nightcrawler.”
It’s all about Nightcrawler the character, or rather, what he apparently represents. With blue skin, three fingers, and a pointy tail it’s particularly noticeable that he’s a mutant. He isn’t afforded the same discretion as, say, Cyclops. A pair of sunglasses isn’t going to keep everyone from realizing he’s different. When people see him, they freak out. When they realize he can teleport, they go berserker.
So the townspeople make multiple efforts to hunt him through the episode. We find he’s taken refuge at a monastery where he becomes “a man of God.” Those are the words of a resident monk, whose religious setting and pursuit have enabled him to call Nightcrawler a man. The monk also not only regards him on equal ground but acknowledges it openly to others. The problem is the majority of people in the town don’t go out of their way to find inner peace like a monk would. As if it’s the only other way to act, they see Nightcrawler the same way a bull sees red.
The marvelous catch in all of this is how Nightcrawler, as the accused, has the perspective to say “[the townspeople] know not what they do.” The way he looks contributes to two things: an innate ability no one else has, and a weight on his conscience of understanding more than he’ll ever get a chance to explain.
That weight is nasty. It works him over, constricting, deconstructing, and eventually refusing his patience. He breaks and bursts out in self-resentment as the hunt for him leads to an attack on his monastery. He can’t handle their willingness to cross such a line.
The episode ends in sort of a Disney fashion but lots of terrible things happen first. The monastery is engulfed by flames. Among its smoke and rubble are townspeople who seem to finally accept Nightcrawler’s being because they can see the literal destruction it causes when they don’t. They apparently learn in some passive way that the loosely manifested togetherness of everything is worth more than its perceived purity. Nightcrawler regains his faith.
I’m unsure any of this registered beyond a scale of right or wrong when I watched as a five year old. But as I watched it this week, only hours after reading “My President Was Black” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, I couldn’t help but feel the gravity of it as an adult. The piece and the episode have charged me with all sorts of questions. My goal is to find answers that help me understand more.