Let's get this out of the way: X-Men: The Animated Series is a gloriously essential achievement in comic book TV. The 1992 to 1997 Saturday morning cartoon lovingly and thoughtfully brought decades of X-Men continuity to the small screen, shaping untold numbers of lifelong comics fans. Simultaneously earnest and delightful, the series spanned 76 episodes, and carried Marvel's merry mutants straight out of a post-Claremont comics funk and into the hearts of the Fox Kids generation.
As you'd expect, a back catalog so big will lead to some real clunkers, and X-Men: The Animated Series doesn't escape unscathed. If you're wondering if some episodes are downright terrible, all you have to do is ask yourself, "Does a mall babe eat chili fries?" Sure, the allegiance to comic book classics and voice acting on display have influenced perceptions of Wolverine, Professor X, and Jubilee for decades, but did we really need TWO Mojo episodes? Below you'll find the absolute worst of X-Men: The Animated Series, from solo Gambit (why?) to too much time in the Savage Land. X-Men: The Animated Series is absolutely worth revisiting, as the iconic series pushes past 20 years since it last aired. You just don't need to bother with these 15 episodes during your binge.
15 X-TERNALLY YOURS
“X-Ternally Yours” is X-Men: The Animated Series’ solo Gambit movie, which is a great thing if you’re a fan of the ragin’ Cajun, and one of the absolute worst episodes if you’re not. The season two episode six attempt to build Gambit’s backstory opens with Gambit running a tentacle/bondage exercise for the X-woman in the danger room, and proceeds to charge headfirst into Gambit’s excruciatingly uninteresting return to Louisiana.
Gambit returns to New Orleans, where his brother Bobby is kidnapped, and longtime complicated comic book romantic partner Bella Donna is around plotting her revenge. To its credit, “X-Ternally Yours” throws more egregious French-American accents at the viewer than you can shake a Claremont at, and tries to mix in some truly bizarre supernatural elements with the Thieves Guild. It’s not enough to save this skippable episode, though.
14 REPO MAN
“Repo Man” has plenty of potential, and occasional strong moments, but never coalesces into much of a complete narrative aside from Vindicator feeling extremely betrayed that Wolverine left Alpha Flight. The episode also features the unfortunate battle conclusion of Wolverine getting taken out by Puck doing cool gymnastics to distract him and Sasquatch punching him kind of hard.
“Repo Man” toys with Wolverine’s Weapon X origins, and the classic Barry Windsor-Smith storyline, but mostly gets bogged down in a corrupt Canadian general’s attempts to literally rip Wolverine’s skeleton from his body. This always feels like an extremely ineffective way to replicate the adamantium-bonding process, and fortunately for Wolverine, he escapes the clutches of big bad Canada before we have to find what the scientific next steps for skeleton analysis really are.
We suppose it was inevitable that the X-Men making their way to TV would lead to at least one Mojo episode, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. Mojo is of course the extraterrestrial Hollywood mogul craving the blood, guts and violent entertainment the people deserve. You know, just like all of us watching X-Men: The Animated Series.
Once you get past that unsubtle stab at irony, though, Mojo’s one of the more unpalatable villains in the X-Men universe. The Mojoverse also doesn’t really make any more sense in the context of the mutant struggle than it would for, say, the Avengers. “Mojovision” does provide some of the more gloriously unanticipated cameos of the series, with Punisher (in robot form) taking literal bazooka shots at Jean Grey while Wolverine tries to save her.
12 FAMILY TIES
The end of season four takes a hard right turn into the complicated and Bovine-midwifed relationship of Magneto, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver. Honestly, if you’ve made it four seasons without this rabbit hole, hy introduce the mess now? In fairness, the High Evolutionary could have a more substantial villain on X-Men: The Animated Series, and would have made for a satisfying rival to fellow Darwin enthusiast, Mr. Sinister.
The weirdness enters territory that's just a little too much for us, and the whole episode is quite frankly something the series never really needed. Additionally, as proof that absolutely no episode of X-Men: The Animated Series is purely terrible, the High Evolutionary also turns Wolverine into a Werewolf, altogether bypassing the wonderful visual of turning Wolverine into an actual Wolverine.
If there’s anything worse than one Mojo-centric storyline, it’s the return of the entire Mojo-verse in “Longshot.” Technically, by comparison, “Longshot” is likely an improvement over “Mojovision,” and again, it’s hard to fault X-Men: The Animated Series for seeing the obvious parallels of bringing comics own indictment of vapid entertainment to Saturday morning cartoons.
Nonetheless, we really didn’t need or want more Longshot in our series, especially if that meant it was going to lead to Jubilee lying about her age in order to try and, well, get with him. “Longshot” does deserve some credit for it’s early '90s satire of Barney the Dinosaur, as Rogue clobbers a giant purple robot dinosaur with a tree. You’d be well suited skipping over this one otherwise, though.
10 COLD COMFORT
The third season's 16th episode provided fans with the introduction of Iceman, AKA Bobby Drake, to the animated universe nd begins with an interesting premise. Cerebro detects “violent mutant activity,” and we learn that Iceman is attacking a secret government installation, and is a former X-member (don’t Google that) gone bad.
We also find that Bobby retired from the X-Men (with Polaris, AKA Lorna Dane) and became an actual honest-to-goodness Certified Public Accountant, which is quite seriously a comic we would read. Unfortunately this Incredibles-esque plot never really takes off beyond the set-up, getting bogged down in the introduction of the X-Men: Animated Series’ X-Factor. The plot severely overextends with new character introductions, and aggressively bad dialogue explaining powersets (Bobby Drake: “You’re on thin ICE”).
9 CAPTIVE HEARTS
The season one episode five “Captive Hearts” is an odd combination of the Cyclops, Wolverine, Jean Grey love triangle (which the series would hit on hard for its duration) and the classic first meeting of the X-Men and the Morlocks. We have to suffer alongside Jean Grey on a date with Scott Summers (he complains about the work the entire time) while Wolverine literally strokes a framed photo of the happy couple. This is all before the X-Men even enter the Morlock tunnels, and it only gets weirder from there.
“Captive Hearts” goes completely off the rails for the remainder, with Gambit contracting the Bubonic Plague, Wolverine instilling a lifelong fear of scorpions for every child viewer, and Storm and Callisto fighting for the right to lead the Morlocks with inexplicably attainable lightsabers.
8 HIDDEN AGENDAS
The second to last X-Men: Animated Series episode makes the questionable decision to introduce Sam Guthrie, AKA Cannonball, without much of a glimmer of the New Mutants on the horizon. This means we get stuck with an adaptation of only the Cannonball parts of the New Mutants graphic novel, and there aren’t enough “I’m nigh invulnerable while blastin’!” mentions to ever make that worthwhile.
“Hidden Agendas” also takes the cake for some of the worse voice acting of the series, with southern accent caricatures flying around like anyone involved had actually been south of the Mason-Dixon. There was potential with the episode to eventually lead to introductions for Sunspot, Daniel Moonstar, Rahne Sinclair and company, but we’d have to wait for X-Men: Evolution for that.
7 THE PHALANX COVENANT (PARTS 1 & 2)
The Phalanx are basically the X-Men's minor league Brood, which really calls to attention how underutilized the Brood were throughout X-Men: The Animated Series and even so in the comic book series. The two-part Phalanx Covenant also proves that Warlock minus the New Mutants is a borderline crime, and that teams of science bros Beast, Forge, and Mr. Sinister are significantly more fun in theory than they are in execution.
However, it's not all bad stuff here. To its credit, the “Phalanx Covenant” does feature the all-time great moment of the X-Men wondering aloud where Mr. Sinister got to, while Sinister literally shuffle-runs into an alley behind them. It’s one of the absolute greatest unintentional laugh out loud moments in '90s animation, and we’re all better for having experienced it.
6 SANCTUARY (PARTS 1 & 2)
For all intents and purposes, “Sanctuary” is the worst job the X-Men ever do at playing the role of hero. Magneto announces his intentions to lift all interested mutants into outer space on his funtime Asteriod M. Aside from the actual terrifying ramifications of this plan -- what if he, like, drops the Asteroid? -- Magneto does genuinely intend to provide a safe haven for mutants.
Disturbingly, the X-Men -- primarily spearheaded by Professor X’s decision making -- seem to philosophically oppose Magneto’s rebellion freeing actual mutant slave labor from the Island of Genosha. At a minimum, they don’t help and although the X-Men are accidentally sort of vindicated by the plotting of abominably boring Fabian Cortez, “Sanctuary” should have spawned a million “Magneto Was Right” tees.
One of the series’ final episodes makes the bewildering decision to connect Mr. Sinister’s origins (wasn’t that interested to begin with) with that of Professor Charles Xavier’s ancestors. This leads to a hilariously bearded James Xavier, investigator of Scottland Yard, investigating a series of crimes that appear to be connected to Whitechapel’s own Nathaniel Essex.
Everything about “Descent” is heavy-handed even for an animated TV show aimed at young kids, with Jean Grey’s ancestors also somehow getting lumped into the wild ball of Seinfeldian connections. “Descent” would have worked much better as a series of flashbacks scattered throughout some of Sinister’s more relevant appearances. Instead, tacked on at the end of the series, the episode feels like absolute filler as the show came to a close.
4 STORM FRONT (PARTS 1 & 2)
Uncanny X-Men Annual #3 is one of our lower ranked Chris Claremont-era issues, so the decision to stretch “Storm Meets Arkon: A Love Story” into two episodes is a pretty painful view. Arkon has had some fantastic moments in recent years -- the Secret Wars: Weirdworld tie-in series by Jason Aaron and Mike Del Mundo is at the top of the list – but visits to Polemachus have otherwise proven astoundingly uninteresting.
“Storm Front” is essentially a story about Storm getting kidnapped, getting Stockholm Syndrome, and deciding she wants to marry Arkon and save his world. Fortunately this never comes to fruition, but when you think about the many romances of Storm -- Forge, Black Panther, Doctor Doom that time -- it’s a shame we got stuck with nearly an hour of Arkon.
3 SAVAGE LAND, STRANGE HEART (PARTS 1 & 2)
If your memories of X-Men: The Animated Series include a whole lot of the Savage Land, you’re not imagining it, the show really did have an overplayed fixation with the region. “Savage Land, Strange Heart” is particularly awful, doubling down on a Sauron-goes-to-New-York plot line that no one demanded.
Wolverine also utters perhaps his absolute worst bit of dialogue, telling the team “I’ll take a smell-see” before running off to investigate clues. Somewhere Claremont and Frank Miller are shuddering and they don’t even know why. The two-part -- it had to be extra long?! -- episode eventually delivers Garokk as the primary X-antagonist in the Savage. Honestly, the beast thing about Garokk is that he kind of looks like Terrax, but that’s no way to win hearts and minds.
2 JUBILEE'S FAIRYTALE THEATER
In addition to retrofitting Kitty Pryde’s '80s comics retelling of X-Men stories to children using medieval knights and dragons, “Jubilee’s Fairytale Theater” also marks the wildly confusing point in the series that the title sequence, animation, and voice acting received a “homestretch” overhaul. Just about all the X-Men suddenly look and sound different, and that’s before Jubilee casts them in her fan-fiction rough draft.
Throwaway really only begins to describe this one, with a “plot” that doubles as a story Jubilee tells children she lead into a collapsed cave unsupervised (there’s no way we’re going to include Jubilee as a proper supervisor). Points all around for presenting Wolverine as a cave troll with a nose ring, nipple band-aids, and the lowest midriff this side of Socal, though.
1 LOVE IN VAIN
The decisions behind “Love in Vain” are exceedingly strange, and somehow always the wrong choice. A giant red space whale Brood transport ship crashes behind a meditating Wolverine early in the episode. This would seem to be a great start -- finally, the Brood! -- except Wolverine instead fights a bunch of lizards wearing Doctor Octopus tentacles and they are definitely not called the Brood.
Somehow this isn’t even the most memorable storyline of the episode, with Rogue simultaneously reuniting with Cody, the boy who she kissed and nearly killed. Despite the fact that kissing Rogue put him in a coma, Cody totally wants to do it with the Southern Belle and is willing to use not-Brood alien transformations to get there. When we say there are some episodes of this series you’re better off not seeing, this is what we’re talking about.
Are there any other X-Men episodes that you skip when binging? Let us know in the comments!