Magneto was Right: The X-Men vs The Status Quo

“I’m glad to be proven wrong.”


That’s what I said to my sister as we finished the first episode of Disney+’s  X-Men ‘97, the revival of the beloved 90’s animated series. It had an uphill battle if it wanted to prove itself to me because as a lifelong fan of the X-Men and a comic book diehard, I saw the show as a glory-days-chasing cash-grab. It was symbolic of everything wrong not just with entertainment, but comic books specifically, as characters who make revolutionary strides always return to their most recognizable forms. It stoked my worst fear that we superhero fans were nostalgia addicts looking for our next fix. And after 6 episodes of the show… well, I’m glad to be proven wrong. Nevertheless, I can’t shake the feeling that the X-Men, despite staging their pop culture comeback, are in crisis. Between the comics and the cartoon, I worry for the soul of the franchise. Their age-old enemy isn’t Magneto, it’s the status quo. 

Make no mistake: X-Men ‘97 is amazing. It manages to be a near-perfect encapsulation of what makes the X-Men relevant while making the musty stench of ’90s nostalgia somewhat fresh. The mutants have never moved smoother, sounded crisper, or just straight up been cooler than they are in this show. X-Men ‘97 pushes the needle in terms of what these characters and stories are capable of. Cyclops and Jubilee use their powers in more creative ways but it’s the mutant politics that have been taken up a notch. 

The first episode is standard X-Men fare until the very end, when Magneto, the arch-nemesis of the team, is bequeathed the leadership position by its founder, Charles Xavier. Ironically, for a show called X-Men ‘97, it loves to adapt stories from the 80’s. Magneto takes the reins and almost immediately makes more progress than they were ever able to accomplish under Xavier. The political compass of the X-franchise is often simplified to two poles: the Xavier method of peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants bought by the service of the X-Men as superheroes, and Magneto’s advocacy for mutant independence, and often, mutant supremacy. X-Men ‘97 acknowledges a forgotten side to the debate: the Morlocks. 

The Morlocks are a group of mutants whose mutations leave them horribly disfigured and unable to live among humans, so they congregate in tunnels beneath Manhattan. They’re an existential threat to the Xavier school of thought. Charles has Cerebro, a machine that allows him to find any mutant on Earth, so why didn’t he find the Morlocks? Simple answer: he didn’t want to. He put together the X-Men to show humanity the best of mutantdom, and that doesn’t include horrible sewer monsters. Not long after assuming leadership, it’s Magneto who finds the Morlocks a new home on the burgeoning mutant nation Genosha. That was the moment when I knew that X-Men ‘97 was not like other X-Men stories; it was changing the rigid paradigm of the X-franchise.

That’s where my favorite episode, “Remember It”, picks up. Genosha is being recognized by the United Nations, so Gambit, Rogue and Magneto fly out to ring in this milestone in mutant history. Magneto and Rogue’s prior romantic history is brought to the forefront when he is to lead Genosha and asks Rogue to be his queen. At the gala that night, hearts swell just as much as they break. A mutant-killing robot known as a Sentinel attacks, killing and maiming thousands.

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My sister and I had to talk it out after it happened. We couldn’t believe it. We saw the beauty of Genosha, the freedom its mutants enjoyed before it was brutally ripped away. We saw Magneto shield a the Morlock child named Leech from the Sentinel’s blast until he could hold out no longer, whispering “Do not be afraid” in his native German before they were crushed. We saw Gambit get cut to ribbons before getting fatally impaled by the Sentinel. These deaths were devastating, but it was the genocide of the Morlocks that sticks with me the most. No place was ever safe for them. “Remember It” brilliantly remixed stories from the 80s (Mutant Massacre), the 2000s (E is For Extinction), and even the 2020s (Hellfire Gala ‘23), to culminate in one of the best X-Men stories ever told. Even the title, which refers to Gambit’s final words, has a double meaning: “Remember It” is to the Genoshan genocide as “Never Forget” is to the Holocaust. 

X-Men ‘97 is firing on all cylinders to deliver a refreshing and politically relevant take on the mutants. Are we not supposed to think about Palestine during the Genoshan genocide? Meanwhile, the current state of X-Men comics is taking a more conventional route. For the past few years, the X-Men moved from their mansion and onto Krakoa, a living mutant island that’s become their sovereign nation. The legacy of  “The Krakoan Age” is that it was a time known for its tight, interconnected stories, unprecedented diversity, and forward-thinking storytelling. Never had the mutant corner of the Marvel Universe felt so progressive, so cutting edge. But “The Krakoan Age” has come to an end, returning the X-Men to their most recognizable form. 

“From The Ashes” promo art by Ryan Stegman

This summer, “From The Ashes” promises to relaunch the X-line in a much more familiar state. And it doesn’t strike me as a coincidence that X-Men ‘97’s premiere coincides with it. Marvel’s movies and shows have always been more high profile than their comic cousins, leading the publisher to emulate the mainstream version of their universe. Infamously, the 2010s saw Marvel Comics push the Inhumans in what many saw as a thinly veiled attempt to replace the mutants, as Disney was reluctant to use the property while they didn’t have the film licenses. Now, we suffer from the opposite problem. Just look at the nostalgia squad on the left: Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit, Jubilee, and Nightcrawler, while characters I love, are all perfectly selected 90s cartoon alumni. 

I won’t lie and say that I’m not at least curious, or even excited, for this new era. The X-Office has assembled some amazing creative teams, like adjectiveless X-Men’s Jed McKay (Moon Knight, Avengers) and Ryan Stegman (Venom) as well the legendary Gail Simone (Birds of Prey) on Uncanny with David Marquez’s beautiful pencils. I’m not saying this next era can’t be good, but I am saying I’ll miss what Krakoa offered. It’s rare in comics to see characters genuinely evolve and grow as they do in shows like X-Men‘97, but on Krakoa, they could. As a comics fan, I’ve learned to be patient, as your favorite things always come back around, and even as promising as this new era could be, I look at these books and think “This is what we lost Krakoa for?” 

The Fall of X phase of the Krakoan age was most definitely its worst. Over the past 5 years, never has the X-line been this scattered, unfocussed—and worst of all—ignorable. On one hand, I’m heartbroken to see it go, but on the other, I can’t watch it limp across the finish line like this. Head X-Writer Gerry Duggan has taken the lead through the second half of the Krakoan Age to middling success. I’ve never enjoyed his time on the main X-Men title, especially compared to Jonathan Hickman’s run, and his 2023’s Hellfire Gala event, which launched Fall of X, put together one of the most diverse X-Men teams to ever bear the name…only to brutally kill them for shock value. Oh, and Iron Man is an X-book now since Duggan is writing that, too. What the hell is happening? 

Spoilers: They all die in the end 

Marvel saw the Krakoa gravy train come to a stop and used X-Men ‘97 as a way to get back to basics, but ironically, X-Men ’97 is anything but basic. I expected this relic of a cartoon show to be the one huffing nostalgia fumes but it’s this upcoming comics relaunch that’s turning back that clock. The X-Franchise has pulled a 180. The comics are typically more radical and forward-thinking but its cartoon counterpart handily outmatches it in this regard. 

Of course, I’m wildly speculating. “From The Ashes” could turn out to be a wonderfully transgressive take on the X-Men that I simply can’t appreciate at this time. And one disappointing era doesn’t erase 60 years’ worth of comic book history. Nevertheless, watching both ends of the franchise handle its political nature in opposing ways creates an unease in me. 

Skepticism is healthy, especially when corporate products are concerned, but Marvel Comics isn’t a machine, it’s made of people, people who love the X-Men. While I’m not optimistic, I can’t help but hold out hope. I’ve accepted ‘97’s quality, so when it comes to the comics…I hope they prove me wrong. 

You can watch X-Men ‘97 on Disney+

and read X-Men comics at your local comic book store or the Marvel Unlimited app