Welcome back to another special edition of Adventure(s) Time, a retrospective on animated heroes of the past. This week, we're looking back on an element of X-Men: The Animated Series that thrilled comics fans. Complex characterizations? Comics-loyal designs? Ongoing stories that carried from week to week? Those are great, but for now, we're discussing those unexpected cameos from random Marvel characters.
Getting An Early Start
The cameos go back all the way to the show's initial opening. Although Thunderbird never a true character on the series, he's prominent on the villains' side in the opening credits. Turns out, Thunderbird was initially intended to be the X-Man to die in the opening episodes. Plans changed, but everyone loved Thunderbird's look. During Season 1, he pops up occasionally in crowd shots.
The first in-continuity cameos occur early in Episode One. When Jean Grey and Xavier walk past a news report on the mutant issue, Cannonball and Domino appear as brief flashes. Magneto and an ad for Genoshan resort can also be seen on the monitors. This is sly foreshadowing for upcoming Season 1 episodes. And while Domino never makes a real appearance, one of the final episodes was entirely dedicated to Cannonball. Oddly, he's comics-accurate here, with blond hair and a Rob Liefeld X-Force design. When Cannonball officially debuts in "Hidden Agendas," he has brown hair and no association with these X-teams.
The cameos continued from there. "Deadly Reunions" opens with Professor X offering psychic therapy to Sabretooth. The villain has brief flashes of Deadpool, Shiva, Maverick, Omega Red, and...Janice. Who's Janice? A character recently introduced in the comics at this time. Janice is a scientist callously murdered by Sabretooth during his days as a secret agent with Wolverine.
The Cameo Crazy Episodes
"Slave Island" goes crazy with cameos, as the X-Men are kept in a mutant work camp. Northstar, Aurora, Caliban, Sunfire, and many early X-Force members appear. Mystique, Pyro, Blob are also shown as prisoners, predating their official debuts later that season. In the Previously on X-Men retrospective, producer/director Larry Houston cites "Slave Island" as the true beginning of the cameos. Characters identified in the script as "Mutant 1" or "Mutant 2" became established characters as he worked on the storyboards.
Later, Season 1 Finale "The Final Decision" brings a brief flash of Ghost Rider, as Professor X probes Gambit's memories. Another reference to a Jim Lee story arc.
Season 2's "Mojovision" is another cameo-crazy episode fans loved. As the X-Men battle through Mojo's TV-reality, we see cameos from the Brood, the Punisher, Psylocke, and the Super-Adaptoid. As discussed earlier, the later episode "Love in Vain" presents villains inspired by the Brood, but with vastly different designs. Psylocke does eventually have a speaking role in "Beyond Good and Evil." As for Super-Adaptoid, the obscure villain popped up in various flashbacks to the X-Men's earliest days.
Another character cameoing in "Mojovision" is Dazzler, her design taken directly from another Jim Lee issue. Here, she's Longshot's make-up artist. Later, Dazzler would appear in a comics-accurate role in the "Dark Phoenix Saga" adaptation. Her hair color was altered to brown here, perhaps to separate her from the character in "Mojovision."