In their over 50 years of publication, the X-Men have had an extensive presence in the world of animation. The adventures of Charles Xavier’s team of mutant heroes have spawned three animated series (1992’s “X-Men,” 2000’s “X-Men: Evolution” and 2009’s “Wolverine and the X-Men”) and the mutants have made guest appearances on everything ranging from the ’90s “Spider-Man” series to the ’60s cartoon “The Marvel Super Heroes.”
Still, there’s one full-blown X-Men animated series that didn’t take off: 1989’s “Pryde of the X-Men.” The pilot episode was shown during the “Marvel Action Universe” programming block — and then the series went nowhere. In the years since, the pilot has become a campy curiosity for X-Men fans. Overlooking the episode’s faults, here’s what “Pryde of the X-Men” gets right.
16. STAN LEE’S NARRATION
Long before Stan Lee secured a cameo role in nearly every single live-action Marvel movie, the man responsible for co-created the Marvel Universe put his distinctive voice to work as the narrator of Marvel’s animated shows. Lee narrated the early ’80s Hulk and Spider-Man cartoons, so he naturally did the same for the potential X-Men animated series. His narration kicks off the pilot and opens every chapter of “Pryde of the X-Men.”
While it does sound a bit like Stan knocked these lines out in one take, the possible rush job actually lends a sense of urgency to the episode. The way he almost frantically observes that anyone around us could secretly be a mutant plays up the frenzied paranoia we see in the episode itself. This being a Stan Lee narration, we also get a bunch of the famous writer’s catch phrases. It’s not an ’80s Marvel cartoon without the audience being called a “true believer.”
The dragon-like alien named Lockheed debuted in 1983’s “Uncanny X-Men” #166, in the midst of the team’s horrifying showdown with the Brood. That alien race destroyed Lockheed’s homeworld, making him an orphan and ultimately driving him to hitch a ride back to Earth with the X-Men. On Earth, Lockheed instantly bonded with Kitty Pryde (she’s the one who named him Lockheed) and became a quasi-member of the team. Despite never making it into a feature film or animated series, the purple guy’s become a fan favorite X-Men character.
That’s why it’s so cool to see Lockheed in “Pryde of the X-Men.” His presence on Asteroid M is inexplicable, but the fast-paced pilot gets his personality across well and it ends with him paired up with Kitty (as he should be). If this pilot had gone to series, Lockheed would have gotten much more exposure. X-fans might have even gotten the Lockheed plush toy we’ve all been waiting decades for.
14. THE WHITE QUEEN
Following her debut in 1980’s “X-Men” #129, Emma Frost became one of the X-Men’s greatest enemies. As the White Queen of the Hellfire Club, she tormented the team during the “Dark Phoenix Saga” and later sent her proteges, the Hellions, after the X-Men’s teenage New Mutants squad. It’s no wonder that the brains behind “Pryde of the X-Men” singled the White Queen out for inclusion in their pilot — even if she’d never served as a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
To be fair, the pilot doesn’t get the White Queen’s powers exactly right. While she uses the telepathy she has in the comics, she also flies and has what appears to be energy-projection powers. Still, she looks and sounds just like the White Queen should — and that’s worth celebrating. Even with her decades of history, Emma’s only gained mainstream notoriety in the last few years (thanks to her inclusion in “X-Men: First Class”). This pilot tried to introduce her to the masses decades earlier, and it’s a shame it didn’t get the chance to.
Dazzler’s in a similar boat as the White Queen. Both characters debuted during 1980’s iconic “Dark Phoenix Saga,” and both are characters that have waited way too long to shine in the spotlight. Both Emma and Dazzler popped up in the ’90s animated series, but their appearances there were nowhere close to the leading roles they got in “Pryde of the X-Men” — especially if this series had taken off.
Dazzler’s inclusion in this episode is applause-worthy. It’s actually a bit of a head-scratcher, since Dazzler never served with this specific lineup of X-Men, but that’s beside the point. Dazzler’s upbeat and confident personality is on display in this episode, even if she only has a few lines. Plus, her powers make for a fun visual (like the way she zaps those man-eating plants in the Danger Room). It’s a safe bet that this series would have explored her history as a pop singer, possibly in the animated tradition of “Jem,” and we’re bummed that never got to happen.
12. THE MUTANT METAPHOR
“Pryde of the X-Men” is a pretty straightforward half hour superhero adventure. Magneto has a plan to annihilate the Earth and the X-Men stop him, roll credits. Fans of the X-Men comics know that the franchise is about much more than that. Readers (and, more recently, movie and TV audiences) know that the X-Men are also a metaphor for diversity, minorities and prejudice. While this pilot episode doesn’t dwell on it, it actually does devote a few beats to this larger theme.
The episode opens with Magneto in the custody of the military, and every driver and general around him just stops short at spitting on him because he’s a mutant (the fact that he self-identifies as a terrorist also doesn’t help). Halfway through the episode, we learn that even good mutants face skepticism from humans. After the X-Men rescue a family that’s been taken hostage by Pyro and Blob, Nightcrawler catches the little girl’s doll. When he hands it to her, her father pulls her away from the X-Man. This is a superhero team that’s feared.
11. VOICE ACTORS
This pilot is mostly remembered for Wolverine’s inexplicable Australian accent, which you can read more about right here on CBR. That definitely isn’t one of the pilot’s strong points.The rest of the voice cast is right on the money, though.
Michael Bell, who voiced Duke in “G.I. Joe,” is a perfect Cyclops and gives him that real, commanding voice. Andi Chapman’s Storm is strong and confident, and Alexandra Stoddart makes Dazzler seem equally warm and cool. Dan Gilvezan’s Colossus and Neil Ross’ Nightcrawler are both charmingly over-the-top as the team’s international mutants. Earl Boen’s Magneto is maniacally villainous, and John Stephenson’s Xavier is the right mixture of professorial and fatherly. The cast even includes voice acting superstars Kath Soucie (“Rugrats,” “Space Jam,” “Captain Planet,” “Futurama”) as Kitty Pryde and Frank Welker (“Scooby Doo,” “Transformers,” “Futurama”) as Toad and Lockheed. This is a pretty perfect cast, if only Patrick Pinney’s Wolverine was more Canadian than Australian.
10. COSTUME DESIGNS
The animated series also features exceptional costume designs for every character. The ’90s “X-Men” animated series ran with costumes that were, at the time, barely a year old. “X-Men: Evolution” and “Wolverine and the X-Men” both redesigned the team from the ground up. “Pryde of the X-Men,” on the other hand, takes the X-Men’s classic comic book look and translates it to the small screen perfectly. These are the costumes that many of these characters wore for the better part of a decade, making them instantly recognizable.
This speaks to the power of some of these designs, particularly the ones worn by Cyclops, Nightcrawler and Wolverine. They use simple color blocking effectively, creating instantly memorable costumes that even little kids can easily recreate in crayon. Each character also has a distinctive silhouette thanks to the attention paid to each hero’s costume and muscular build. This is a good looking superhero team.
Whereas the ’90s “X-Men” series kicked off with a two-parter focusing on the threat of the Sentinels, this pilot episode doesn’t skimp on villains. It’s possible that the writers wanted to cram as many villains as possible into one episode, just to show the wide range of foes the team could tackle in upcoming episodes. Magneto’s team, the unfortunately and regrettably named Brotherhood of Mutant Terrorists, is all over the map when it comes to power levels and personality types — and that makes them dynamic.
Magneto himself is an intimidating threat, played more for menace than the tortured and sympathetic portrayal in the ’90s cartoon. The team has two bruisers, Juggernaut and Blob, but we get flashes of two different personalities (Juggernaut’s an aggressive hothead and Blob’s a lumbering oaf). Pyro’s a limber wisecracker, sporting a better design and voice than his ’90s cartoon counterpart. Emma Frost is cold and commanding; you could picture her potentially running an evil high school in this series. Lastly, there’s Toad — a dimwitted sidekick whose agility actually makes him a threat.
8. ONE-ON-ONE FIGHTS
With so many characters in one pilot, giving all of them a chance to show off their powers and personalities is a real challenge. That’s why, after establishing all of them in big group settings where they bounce off each other or use their powers in tandem, the episode turns to one-on-one showdowns as the X-Men make their way through Asteroid M to stop Magneto’s evil plan.
This is a smart and fun move, specifically since this was the first episode of a potential series. We get to see rivalries that could form, as Dazzler blasts Pyro in the face with light, Colossus and Juggernaut trade blows and the nimble Toad actually gets the drop on Wolverine. All of this leads up to one of the pilot’s most charming moments, when the one-on-one fights lead to a confrontation between Blob and Nightcrawler. Kurt’s charming response to Blob as he teleports past him (“Nothing moves the Blob!” “And I wouldn’t dream of trying!”) is pure Nightcrawler.
7. KITTY PRYDE
The ’90s “X-Men” series introduced Jubilee in its debut episode, making her the de facto audience surrogate as we learned about the world of the X-Men. Because of that, the animated Jubilee actually has a lot of Kitty Pryde in her — because that’s the role Kitty played in the comics a decade earlier. “Pryde of the X-Men” puts Kitty in the role she was always intended to play: the 14-year-old new recruit learning the ropes.
Kath Soucie gives Kitty youthful energy and assertiveness, two traits she definitely has in the comics. Sure, she’s a little whiny and folds almost immediately during her confrontation with Magneto — but give her a break, she’s 14 and literally just met the X-Men minutes prior! Kitty actually goes on a bit of an emotional journey in this done-in-one adventure, maturing from timid newcomer to ass-kicker. In just 20 minutes, she goes from being terrified of Magneto to tackling him! It’s a shame we never got to see where this show would have taken Kitty next.
For all of its many strengths when it comes to storytelling and character work, the ’90s “X-Men” animated series often had… let’s just say average animation. That’s not the case with “Pryde of the X-Men.” The episode, which was produced in the late ’80s, looks very much of its time — and that’s a great thing. Marvel Productions commissioned Toei Animation to knock out this pilot, and they turned in a highly kinetic animated romp. If the episode looks familiar, that’s because Toei also did “G.I. Joe” and “Transformers.”
It’s worth pointing out that this level of high quality animation most likely wouldn’t have continued into the series, much like it didn’t with “G.I. Joe” and “Transformers.” Still, what we have right here is outstanding. The opening Danger Room sequence is particularly a knockout, as the characters move and fight with an eye-catching fluidity. Even something as simple as Magneto’s wrist motions as he summons some metal coils is rendered with fantastic detail.
5. KURT & KITTY’S FRIENDSHIP
When Kitty Pryde first joined the X-Men in the early ’80s, she made fast friends with Storm and Colossus. There was one X-Man, however, that she just couldn’t make nice with: Nightcrawler. That wasn’t because Nightcrawler wasn’t outgoing or friendly, because he was. Kitty was instead frightened by his appearance, a prejudice she acknowledged had no real basis in reality and she worked to overcome. The two eventually became best friends.
With so many characters to focus on, the pilot wisely uses most of its character development on Kurt and Kitty, pulling those same beats from the source material. We see Kitty’s fear of Kurt time and time again, all leading up to the final “act,” when Nightcrawler sacrifices himself to save the rest of the team. Kitty even acknowledges that she feels horrible about how she treated him. While we don’t get much time with the other X-Men, what we get with Kitty and Kurt is straight from the comics, and it resonates just as powerfully.
4. NIGHTCRAWLER’S (ALMOST) SACRIFICE
As we’ve mentioned before, “Pryde of the X-Men” is a straightforward superhero cartoon with a basic plot. That’s why the finale, which takes a surprisingly dark turn for what should be a generic Saturday morning cartoon, stands out. With the circuit controlling the asteroid damaged, Nightcrawler has to use his own body to close the circuit and power the machine so Kitty can redirect the asteroid away from Earth. It’s a tense moment, especially when we realize that the asteroid is going to blow up Magneto’s space station, potentially with Nightcrawler on it. Nightcrawler teleports into space after the impact, but he appears to burn up as he’s pulled into Earth’s atmosphere. Of course, that’s a fake out and he actually teleported into the X-Men’s jet.
The thing is, the animation and pacing of this moment kinda sells it. Nightcrawler avoids one death on Asteroid M only to teleport into another perilous situation, and the way his body appears to just crumble to flaming dust is kinda horrific. Sure, everything’s okay in the end, but it’s a bit shocking — and commendable — that “Pryde of the X-Men” went that far.
3. THE ARCADE GAME
One reason why the ’90s “X-Men” series is so fondly remembered is because it was at the center of a massive marketing bonanza. Video games, toys, comics, baseball caps, jean jackets, Pizza Hut deals — the X-Men were everywhere. The arcade game that popped up in malls at that time also helped solidify the X-Men’s popularity, but that arcade game wasn’t based on the X-Men of the ’90s. That arcade game was based on “Pryde of the X-Men.”
The game features this roster as playable characters and Professor X and Kitty as NPCs. Each boss battle is with Magneto, one of his Mutant Terrorists, or potentially a bad guy we would have seen in later episodes. This arcade game is kind of like a glimpse into a parallel world, where “Pryde of the X-Men” spawned a popular series that led to a marketing blitz similar to that of the ’90s series. Considering how popular and beloved that Konami arcade game was, it’s possible that “Pryde of the X-Men” could have kicked off X-Mania years earlier.
2. THE ROSTER
This pilot features Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Dazzler as the X-Men. “Pryde of the X-Men” doesn’t feature an accurate X-Men roster from the comics (Dazzler joined after Cyclops, Nightcrawler and Kitty had left), but it’s still awesome. For one thing, it features the most iconic X-Men — including three that totally got the shaft when it came to later animated iterations of the team. Despite being A-list X-Men with legions of fans, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Kitty Pryde were underserved in the ’90s; Kitty didn’t even appear in that cartoon series! For that reason, the “Pryde” team stands out.
This team, with its six-person lineup, also feels more streamlined than other rosters. The ’90s series juggled a cast of nine, a cast so big they had to sideline characters for whole seasons just to narrow focus. Of course “Pryde” has eight characters when you add Kitty and Xavier, but that slightly smaller lineup seems to make a big difference.
1. THE THEME SONG
This might be a divisive statement, but the “Pryde of the X-Men” theme is perfect. It’s incredibly ’80s, it’s a bit on-the-nose (“X-Men/X-Men“), and it’s a little goofy (“team that strikes like thunder”?) — but that just makes it glorious. The theme mostly just repeats the name of the team over and over again, but that one teeny tiny verse elevates it to greatness.
Magneto’s hordes are on their way to pillage, burn and plunder/But there’s one team that will not yield/The team that strikes like thunder!
Who cares if that doesn’t really make sense! It sounds great. The other animated series also had fine themes, even if some were more memorable than others. The ’90s theme even proved that a song doesn’t have to have lyrics in order to be singable. “Pryde of the X-Men’s” theme, on the other hand, proves that if a theme song has lyrics that are as awesome as this one’s, then you will be singing them over and over again.
What are your favorite moments from the “Pryde of the X-Men” pilot?
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