Welcome to Adventure(s) Time's seventy-fourth installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. This week, we're beginning a series I've been considering for awhile. (And was recently suggested by commenter Joshua Grey.) It's the storyline some fans thought could never be adapted outside of comics. It's also the one a vocal segment of fandom demanded be adapted. I'm speaking of Jean Grey's transformation into Phoenix.
Future episodes of X-Men: The Animated Series will find clever ways to merge its incarnation of the X-Men with the original stories. Ultimately, what's produced is a respectably faithful adaptation. But when the story kicks off, the producers go through a pretty odd journey to bring us the familiar elements. Even more unusual, the real-world circumstances behind its debut. X-Men's ratings were so incredible, FOX experimented with primetime airings. Both chapters of "Out of the Past" aired on Friday nights in the summer of 1994, right before The X-Files.
Of all things, the storyline opens with Lady Deathstrike leading the Reavers on a less lethal reenactment of 1986's "The Morlock Massacre." Why does this feel so strange? Well, for one thing, the cyborg Reavers seen here have a specific history in the comics.
They're former Hellfire Club guards nearly killed by Wolverine in "The Dark Phoenix Saga." Their lives were saved by cybernetic implants, and they carry a burning hatred of Wolverine. Having them debut before we're even into the Phoenix prequel simply feels off. For comics fans, at least.
Comics fans also had to squint when Lady Deathstrike appeared. She's a character heavily associated with a period in the books ten years after the Phoenix days. A future member of the Reavers, Deathstrike hates Wolverine for possessing adamantium. She feels this is her birthright, wrongly denied her. (Witness Brian Cronin detail the hazy circumstances of her origins. Most X-fans only know her from her redesign, courtesy artist Barry Windsor-Smith.)
All of this is irrelevant, as far as the show is concerned. The cyborg thieves are desperate to raid a spaceship, which has apparently resided under Manhattan for centuries. This plot point doesn't hold up to five seconds of scrutiny, so let's not dwell on it. What's important is that Deathstrike wants to use Wolverine's adamantium claws to tear through the spacecraft's exterior.
Leech is used to deliver the message to the X-Men. Only three are present, Wolverine, Gambit, and Jubilee. And they're busy recreating the basketball game from Jim Lee and John Byrne's X-Men #4.
They're even in the same clothes!
When the diminished team of X-Men arrive, Wolverine's in for the shock of his life. Lady Deathstrike is none other than his former love, Yuriko. A series of flashbacks reveals Wolverine saying goodbye before an important mission. He's dropped off in a helicopter by the most '90s of '90s characters, Maverick. And they're garbed in their ultra-'90s Team X looks.
The mission is an ambush, ending with Wolverine's abduction. Next, the scene shifts to a previous flashback in Season Two's "Repo Man."
This is itself a Saturday Morning version of Weapon X, the early '90s origin story for Wolverine. (Also rendered by the great Barry Windsor-Smith.)
Whew. We still haven't gotten anywhere close to the Phoenix, have we? Well, the doomed romance of Wolverine and Deathstrike takes a backseat, as the action kicks up. The team faces the Reavers, in a lively sequence that surpasses most of the animation we've seen so far. Wolverine and Deathstrike face off, and when she accidentally strikes the spaceship, she's trapped by its alien energy. Wolverine uses his claws to free her, but instead unleashes a mysterious monster.
This alien beast is the Spirit Drinker, a figure fans will recall from Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum's initial Phoenix storyline. If they have a remarkable memory.