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What Made X-Men: The Animated Series So Unique (And Why It Couldn't Last)

Welcome to another X-centric installment of Adventure(s) Time, a look back at animated heroes of the past. This week, we’re remembering one of the elements that made X-Men: The Animated Series so unique. Fans of the era remember the series for faithfully recreating the look of the comics…right down to all of the intricate buckles, pouches, and belt loops of the 1990s design style. Heck, even when Marvel wanted the team to abandon the Jim Lee look, they stood firm.

The tone of the series also matched the (mostly) serious tenor of the comics, with no real effort to make the show “kid-friendly.” X-Men presented a good faith effort at portraying the comics’ ongoing themes of bigotry and alienation. Specific character dramas, such as Rogue’s inability to physically touch others, were also faithfully translated. Jean Grey questioning her humanity after developing godlike powers? Wolverine’s struggles with his inner rage? His desire to make peace with his past? That’s all there, too.

We Have Only Ourselves To Blame

Another element of the comics was also brought to the screen, and this one turned out to be a bit of a problem. For decades, the standard in comics consisted of done-in-one, self-contained stories. With no real ongoing continuity, editors were free to take two or three of these stories and slot them into any issue. (Rarely would a single story be “issue-length.”) With only a few exceptions, like Captain Marvel’s "The Monster Society of Evil," this was the industry standard for decades.

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Stan Lee’s approach in the earliest Marvel comics wasn’t so different. He was mostly running issue-long stories, not ten-pagers, but didn’t feel a great need to create a tight issue-to-issue continuity. As the months developed, however, Stan recognized the devotion of the Marvel fanbase. These were readers who didn’t miss an issue, who obsessed over the details. This granted Stan a freedom to reference past issues. And to continue a story past one issue. Sometimes past three or four issues.

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