Welcome to Adventure(s) Time's sixty-fourth installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. This week, we're once again examining the comics that inspired the more memorable episodes of these series. And when it comes to comics-to-cartoon adaptations, it's hard not to think of the 1990s X-Men: The Animated Series.
So, let's go back to January 30, 1993 and the debut of the episode "Captive Hearts." Written by Robert N. Skir and Marty Isenberg, the inspiration for the episode comes from the very first Morlocks story. Even if the Morlocks are a part of some regrettable areas of X-canon, their debut arc does lend itself to adaptation. It has a clear beginning and ending, an easy to follow conflict, and room to play around with the cast.
The episode begins with a Danger Room training session, featuring Storm, Rogue, Gambit, Jubilee, and Jean Grey. Danger Room scenes run the risk of existing solely for cheap action sequences. The true point of this opening, though, is to remind viewers of Storm's claustrophobia, and dramatize her reluctance to become deputy leader of the X-Men.
These few minutes actually sum up an aspect of X-Men that was revolutionary at the time. Not only are there internal politics, relating to which superhero should lead the others into battle, but a character conflict dominates the scene. Due to a traumatic incident in her youth, severe claustrophobia plagues Storm.
Storm fears this condition will place her teammates in jeopardy. She's not here to be "strong, independent female." Storm's a believable person with a real obstacle she must overcome. And a pep talk isn't enough to shake the doubts; she has to work through them on her own.
That level of characterization was common in the comics, especially in the era of Chris Claremont as the dominant writer in the field. In TV animation, however, characters had never spoken like this before. (Yes, Batman was running concurrently, also presenting a more complex view of superheroes. The show rarely allowed the hero to have the doubts and regrets of the X-Men, though.)
Speaking of heroes with issues, there's Wolverine. Still recovering from a battle with Sabretooth, still hurting over his feelings for Jean Grey. Writers Skir & Isenberg believe their handling of the Jean/Wolverine "romance" here has had a massive influence on the canon. Bryan Singer took his cues for the X-Men from this series, and incorporated Wolverine's feelings for Jean into the films. Which surely inspired the comics to once again play up this alleged sizzling chemistry between the two.
There's some truth to this, most likely. But let's not forget Chris Claremont, all the way back with 1986's Classic X-Men #1, took Wolverine's flirtations with Jean from unrequited desire to actual feelings on Jean's part. Totally new, and a decision strongly opposed by a segment of fandom. (Claremont even revealed Jean left the team in this era because she couldn't handle her intense feelings for Wolverine. Now, that's a retcon!)
Anyway, during a date in the city, Morlocks ambush and kidnap Cyclops and Jean Grey. Their leader, Callisto, declares Cyclops will marry her and serve at her side. Now, in retrospect...this is just weird. If you're a kid unfamiliar with the Morlocks, you're probably willing to go along with it, to assume it's just how this odd society operates. Considering the way the concept is played out, however, it comes across as rather strange for Callisto to be lusting after a husband this way.
Jean delivers a telepathic distress call to Professor Xavier, who sends the X-Men to rescue them. Most of the subsequent scenes are action heavy, but the character work is steady. Storm's placed in the sewers, the last place someone struggling with claustrophobia wants to be. Wolverine's there to support her, in his own way, barking at the other X-Men. It's something she has to face alone, he declares. Meanwhile, Wolverine is also placed through emotional turmoil, rescuing the man standing in the way of the woman he desires. One scene even has him contemplating killing a sleeping Cyclops!
The X-Men fight the Morlocks to a standstill, leading Storm to challenge Callisto for the leadership of the Morlocks. Storm wins the duel, ordering the Morlocks to free the X-Men. She then declares Callisto will rule in her absence, as the Morlocks have no interest in interacting with the surface world. (And sparing the creators from addressing a question that even Claremont couldn't quite answer--how is Storm honestly going to rule these people?)
A Season One episode wouldn't be complete with some tease for the next episode. So, in the final moments, a distraught Wolverine abruptly runs away in the night.