Welcome to Adventure(s) Time's eighty-first installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. We're continuing our look at the animated adaptation of The Phoenix Saga, which so far has remained loyal to the high points of the comics story. (While also avoiding some of the diversions that might seem strange in retrospect.)
Unlike the standard X-Men episode, the Phoenix five-parter aired as a weekday event. The creators now tell the longest story ever with the characters, aided by the momentum of daily installments. The third chapter, "Cry of the Banshee," comes from writer Michael Edens.
Debuting on September 7, 1994, this is the episode that features the full debut of Lilandra, along with the team's battle against Black Tom and Juggernaut. And, yes, the catchphrase that took early Youtube by storm.
Animation from the episode appeared in "I'm the Juggernaut, B-tch!", a meme created by My Way Entertainment. Let's say it's a colorful redub of Juggernaut's confrontation with Lilandra. (You can check out its Fandom page for more info.) For, ah, unknowable reasons, this thing exploded. Even the third X-Men movie features an homage to the catchphrase.
The opening sequence has Xavier unable to defend Lilandra from Black Tom and Juggernaut. Intercut with the action are scenes of Banshee and Moira, discussing Xavier's deteriorating mental state. The Banshee/Moira romance hadn't truly begun in the comics at this point, and Chris Claremont had yet to reveal just how serious Xavier once was about Moira. Consequently, any jealousy or simple awkwardness around the couples isn't really present in the original stories.
The show takes advantage of what's now become lore, having Xavier meet his alien love for the first time, just as Moira and Banshee discuss what's to be done with her unstable ex. Another aspect from the modern comics adapted to the show is the more handsome interpretation of Banshee.
Dave Cockrum's version of Banshee was noticeably more attractive than his initial design, but he remained a fairly plain Irishman. The animated Banshee is much closer to Jim Lee's interpretation -- who, like all of Lee's X-Men, was physically perfect.
Moira sends word to the X-Men, still visiting Jean in the hospital. Gambit's casual response to Xavier's story of aliens -- "He's worse off than we thought!" -- is honestly amusing. Some fans to gripe whenever a Jim Lee-era character appears in these classic adaptations, but they can add nice personality to the mix.
Wolverine asserts he believes Xavier, crazy story or not. Another memorable character moment has Cyclops stunning everyone when he agrees with Wolverine. And, darn, more solid character work when the X-Men arrive on Muir Island and Wolverine immediately picks a fight with Banshee.
It's a credit to this adaptation how much it does feel like an X-Men episode. Aliens are now a part of their world, with some characters just rolling with the punches while others remain skeptical. And, through it all, the cast maintains their individual personalities. There are still quick character beats that work to ground the story.
Soon enough, there's a battle at Cassidy Keep between Black Tom, the Juggernaut, and the X-Men. And the reality of X-Men continues to go insane, as Gladiator arrives from space to confront the villains' employer, Erik the Red. We learn Erik is in fact another alien Shi'ar, who's caused so much commotion, the emperor's sent Gladiator to deal with him.
One of the highlights of this arc is Gladiator arriving from space, grabbing Juggernaut, and just flinging him over the horizon. Humorous in one sense, but also symbolic of the new world the X-Men are entering. One putting them far out of their depth. It's possibly the inspiration for a later scene in the Uncanny X-Men comic...this one more infamous than anything.
Uncanny X-Men #322 features Juggernaut landing after a punch sends him from Canada to New Jersey. A terrified Juggernaut claims the mysterious "Onslaught" is the culprit. And from there, readers were expected to be greatly impressed by this new foe...even though Marvel had no clue who or what Onslaught was supposed to be. It felt like cheap writing. In the cartoon, it's actually a fun sequence.
So, just as the events are escalated by Gladiator's appearance, viewers are reminded of why this arc is called "The Phoenix Saga." Jean Grey, in her Phoenix persona, rises from her hospital bed, flying to Ireland. Speaking with her new, godlike majesty, Phoenix declares no one will be taking Lilandra, swatting away Gladiator as easily as he did Juggernaut minutes earlier.
A stunned Lilandra confirms this is the Phoenix of the Shi'ar legend. And viewers of the cartoon are gifted with a far simpler origin for the concept than comics fans have known for decades. Phoenix is the guardian of the M’Kraan Crystal, a powerful cosmic artifact that can destroy the galaxy if disturbed. Jean's been selected as its avatar and we can now all move on with the story. Try explaining the comics' continuity that fast.
A closing sequence ramps up the tension, as Lilandra's evil brother, the emperor D’Ken, enters our galaxy. A solid cliffhanger for one of the show's strongest episodes.