X-Men: The Animated Series and Its Surprising Jim Lee Controversy

Welcome to a special Adventure(s) Time installment, looking back at classic animated heroes of the past. This week, we're returning to X-Men: The Animated Series, one of the most influential Saturday morning series ever. There's a generation of fans introduced to not only the X-Men but the Marvel canon through this show. Well regarded for its fidelity to the X-Men's characterizations, it served as one of the most loyal comics adaptations ever.

Producers were careful to present a loyal interpretation of the X-Men. This meant not only in the characterizations, but also in the show's designs. And, in 1992, the X-Men were still heavily under the shadow of Jim Lee.

Lee began his run on Uncanny X-Men in 1989, merging a sense of dynamism with heavily rendered forms. Inspired by both Neal Adams and Arthur Adams, Lee quickly became the most popular artist in comics. Already a top seller before his arrival, Uncanny X-Men became a monster hit during Lee's run.  Marvel responded to this success by granting Lee a new volume of X-Men to oversee.

RELATED: X-Men: The Animated Series – Which Scenes Never Aired in Reruns?

His collaboration with writer Chris Claremont and inker Scott Williams, X-Men #1, remains the best-selling comic book of all-time with orders of over 8.1 million copies. The issue introduced Jim Lee's redesigns for (nearly) the entire team, looks many fans view as the definitive X-Men. When production of an X-Men animated series began a few months later, basing the designs on the Jim Lee issues was a no-brainer.

We'll be looking at an original Lee image first.  Then, a capture from the cartoon influenced by his art.

Lee inspired more than the main character designs. Several homages to the Jim Lee comics would appear throughout the series. Take "Cold Vengeance," the first animated appearance of the island of Genosha. When the X-Men are confronted by Genoshan soldiers, the designs come from the "X-Tinction Agenda" storyline. Jim Lee's chapters of this crossover revamped the Genoshan military, giving them designs inspired by Masamune Shirow's manga Appleseed.

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Uncanny X-Men 270 jim lee full

Next, there's "A Rogue's Tale," the series' origin story for Rogue. When Rogue is confronted by a psychic nightmare version of Carol Danvers, the look is taken directly from Jim Lee's art in Uncanny X-Men #269.

The Season Two episode "X-Ternally Yours" introduced Gambit's ex-wife Bella Donna to the animated canon. Along with her came the Thieves Guild and Assassins Guilds. Some of these designs debuted in an X-Men/Ghost Rider crossover story. While some of the designs appeared first in Ron Wagner's Ghost Rider art, it's likely Jim Lee designed both Guilds' looks. This version of Bella Donna is certainly Lee's.

Adapting the classic Phoenix Saga storyline for the show seemed inevitable.  It seems as if the animators drew more inspiration from the Jim Lee interpretations than the original Dave Cockrum designs.

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For a comparison, here's Dave Cockrum's original interpretation of the Imperial Guard.

And here's Dave Cockrum rendering his beloved Starjammers.

The animated interpretations definitely have more of the heavily rendered Lee style.

When Deathbird, a villain created by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum, appeared in the episode "Orphan's End," her look bore little resemblance to Cockrum's model. Instead, her inspiration came from the pages of Uncanny X-Men #275. (A justifiably classic issue, one many fans view as Lee's strongest work on the book. And, yeah, this image is from the preceding issue, but it's also great.)

Even when the X-Men are out of costume, the Jim Lee influence was present. Witness the X-Men playing a friendly game of basketball, from the two-parter "Out of the Past." Those stylish "Just Do It" duds come from Jim Lee's art in X-Men #4.

Later in the story, we have a flashback to Wolverine's secret agent days. He's wearing the gold-and-black armor designed by Lee, which debuted in X-Men #5's flashback.

Late in the show's run came "Sanctuary," a story arc inspired by the opening Claremont/Lee X-Men storyline.  The villainous Acolytes debut, garbed in their Jim Lee designs.  (Never actually called the Acolytes, due to network censors.) Even Magneto, appearing in a white robe in one scene, is wearing a Jim Lee design from X-Men #1.

(Thanks to Matt Re on Twitter for that top image.)

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