Welcome to Adventure(s) Time's seventy-eighth installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. This week, we're returning to X-Men: The Animated Series and its adaptation of the original Phoenix arc. Can the five-part serial translate the epic feel of the original storyline? Are there just too many diversions and continuity points in the comics to work on the small screen?
The previous episode took inspiration from four issues of the Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum Uncanny X-Men run, borrowing what the producers needed for a twenty-minute intro. This time, inspiration comes from Uncanny X-Men #101 and #106, six issues of the comic! And one major plot element has its origins in a story once viewed as so inconsequential, Marvel avoided reprinting it for decades.
Picking up from the previous cliffhanger, "The Dark Shroud" (written by Mark Edward Edens) opens with the X-Men's shuttle crashing into Jamaica Bay. In a scene translated directly from a famous sequence in #101, Jean Grey emerges from the water wearing a new costume...proclaiming herself "The Phoenix."
The display of her new powers overwhelms Jean. After collapsing, the team takes her to the hospital. (Jean collapsing, and Cyclops constantly ordering Jean "to get down!" have become memes of the series.) As Jean recovers, the X-Men face mystery attackers throughout Manhattan. Gambit exhibits just how broken up he is over by Jean by hitting on a random civilian, by the way.
The source of these attacks? Why, none other than Professor Xavier himself. Anyone introduced to the characters post-2000 in the comics probably does think Xavier is a villain, given Marvel's inept handling of the character. Here, it's meant to be truly shocking.
Eventually, the audience learns the alien scanning for Xavier's mind has broken down his psychic barriers, causing his dark side to emerge. Admittedly, this sequence comes across as filler. It's only tangentially related to the Phoenix plot, and the "evil" design of Xavier is signified by...giving him a cape. A suit, tie, and evil cape. Given the show's affection for Jim Lee's work, it's a shame the artist's "Warlord" design wasn't used.
A very different context in the comics, but it is an established "evil Xavier" look. And it fits the aesthetic of the show. Regardless, the incident prompts Xavier to visit Muir Island for help. Throwing some salt on his wounds, Xavier learns his former flame Moira MacTaggert is dating a handsome mutant named Banshee. And, in a whirlwind closing sequence, Xavier finally encounters the alien Lilandra...and the Juggernaut, who's been hired to kill her.
A fantastic cliffhanger, for both established comics fans and viewers only familiar with the cartoon. And, really, the cartoon didn't have to pull in Banshee and Muir Island. The same story could've been told simply by having Xavier go to his mansion for a nap. (Juggernaut already knows where he lives, as established in an early episode.) But, it's just cool for those familiar with the original stories to see these elements kneaded into the plot. It displays a respect for the source material, and is pretty unobtrusive fan service. (A term that likely didn't even exist at the time.)
Now, if you are versed in the source material, knowing just how the producers pieced all of this together is amusing.
Uncanny X-Men #101 opens with many of the same beats of the episode. The shuttle crash-landing. Jean emerging from Jamaica Bay as Phoenix. (Although sadly the series doesn't bring us her full melodramatic declaration: "Hear me, X-Men! No longer am I the woman you knew! I am fire! And life incarnate! Now and forever -- I am PHOENIX!") A prompt flop back into the water from Jean, then her hospitalization.
The story takes a swerve when, after being told Jean will fully recover, Xavier suggests the X-Men take a vacation. Remember Xavier's response to his strange alien visions in #97 was to...take a vacation. Imagine what the producers must've thought when digging through these issues for material. "Sheesh, how many vacations are these people taking?"
Rather than a visit to Muir Island, the story sends the cast to Cassidy Keep, Banshee's ancestral home. What follows is the return of the Juggernaut, the introduction of Banshee's villainous cousin Black Tom, and...leprechauns.
Not only are the Leprechauns of Cassidy Keep major players for the next few issues, but they also introduce a major aspect of the lore. It's from the Leprechauns that we discover for the first time Wolverine's true name, Logan. (Odd that their mystical knowledge didn't grant them insight into the later Origin miniseries.) It's a silly aspect of the canon. One largely ignored for decades. Not so silly Classic X-Men avoided it, however.