Disney // 1993 // 391 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // October 17th, 2010
"I am Phoenix!"
Continuing our coverage of Fox's Saturday morning powerhouse, X-Men: Volume 2 covers the second half of Season Two and the first two story arcs of Season Three...
Season Two (continued)
Ep. 17: "Red Dawn"
Charlie and Erik's excellent adventure continues, complete with working legs, carnivorous dinosaurs, and pompously spouted pretentious dialogue. Meanwhile, in an ambiguous former Soviet republic, the USSR's most dangerous mutant, Omega Red, is thawed out Austin Powers style, to squash the sovereign states and restore the communist empire to its former glory. A distraught Colossus calls upon the X-Men to protect his newly free homeland, but the only one home is Jubilee. It isn't long before the rest of the gang shows up to help. Easter Egg: We get to meet Illyana Rasputin, prior to her imprisonment in Limbo.
Ep. 18: "Repo Man"
Wolverine creator Len Wein steps in to pen an episode in which Logan's old friends, Canadian super-team Alpha Flight, captures Logan and returns him to Department H so they can duplicate the Adamantium skeletal-bonding process. In the process get a Cliffs' Notes flashback version of Barry Windsor-Smith's original Weapon X storyline. Half-a-planet away, Xavier learns the truth behind Magneto's past experiments with genetic mutation, as the Savage Land mutates wants to see their former master destroyed.
Ep. 19: "X-Ternally Yours"
A panicked call from home, sends Gambit running back to the Bayou to save his brother from certain death at the hands of the Assassin's Guild. Too bad it turns out to be a trap for our favorite Cajun setup by a jilted lover. A flashback gives insight to the tithing covenant with the Externals, and the centuries long conflict between the Thieves and the Assassins. But can the X-Men reveal the truth before it's too late? Back in the Savage Land, a powerless Xavier risks his life to save Magneto from his vengeful creations.
Ep. 20-21: "Time Fugitives"
Bishop returns, in yet another attempt to prevent a horrific future from coming to pass. This time, it's a techno organic plague ravishing humanity, one engineered by the Friends of Humanity newest ally and blamed on the mutants. (An adaptation of the Legacy Virus storyline that began with X-Force #1.) Problem is Cable lives in that future, as does his son Tyler. If Bishop succeeds, Cable loses everything. Easter Egg: You'll definitely get your Forge fix, and if you ever wanted to see Cable battle Terminators, here's your chance.
Ep. 22: "A Rogue's Tale"
Mr. Sinister clues Mystique in on an Xavier-less X-Men, so that she may reclaim the trust of her daughter. A trap laid by the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants unleashes a torrent of repressed memories along with the most significant personality she ever absorbed -- Carol Danvers (aka Ms. Marvel). Adapting Avengers Annual #10 and Uncanny X-Men #182, 203, 246, 247.
Ep. 23: "Beauty & The Beast"
Hank gets his long overdue turn in the spotlight, after spending most of Season One behind bars. Once again the Friends of Humanity stick their torches and pitchforks in where they're not wanted, swaying public opinion against Beast whose scientific breakthroughs lead to restoring the sight of a woman blind from birth. Meanwhile, Logan infiltrates the hate group to expose the true mutant-related history of their leader, Graydon Creed. Adapting aspects of the Sabertooth mini-series, while filtering out the fact that Mystique was Creed's birth mother.
Ep. 24: "Mojovision"
In the deep recesses of space, the most popular television network is on the verge of collapse and its programming chief, Mojo, is freaking out. Kidnapping the X-Men to raise his sagging ratings, they team have no choice but to play out these twisted fictional adventures, while network superstar Longshot attempts to shut down the control room. This wacky, off-beat adventure adapts Ann Nocenti and Art Adam's Longshot mini-series, and several mojo-centric tales of Uncanny X-Men. Easter Egg: Guest appearances by Psylocke, Dazzler, The Punisher, The Shi'ar Imperial Guard, The Brood, and Dr. Smith from Lost in Space. Oh yeah, and we get a brief glimpse of what Xavier and Magneto have been up to in the Savage Land.
Ep. 25-26: "Reunion"
After waiting all season, we finally resolve Charlie and Erik's excellent adventure. As the Mutates bring Xavier and Magneto to the citadel and Sauron, Mr. Sinister's carefully laid plans for Jean and Scott come to fruition. But no one was counting on the timely intervention of Ka-Zar and his pet tiger Zabu, nor Cyclops and Wolverine going back for reinforcements and walking knowingly into a trap. It all comes down to a giant jungle battle royale that actually delivers on its promise.
Ep. 27-28: "Out of the Past"
It's Cyborg-a-palooza, as Lady Deathstrike (Logan's old flame) and the Reavers (from the X-Men's years in Australia) head deep into the Morlock tunnels to unlock the mysteries of a long-buried spacecraft. When Deathstrike's Adamantium nails fail to open the craft, they lure the X-men underground in the hopes that Logan's claws will be able to make the cut. What they fail to realize is that some things should stay buried. Turns out the ship is actually an alien prison housing an unimaginably evil force. Question is: How do you get the genie back into the bottle once it's tasted freedom?
Ep. 29-33: "The Phoenix Saga"
In their most ambitious adaptation yet, the series takes one of the franchise's most beloved story arcs -- the rise and fall of Jean Grey (X-Men #101-108) -- and turns it into a five-episode, week-long adventure. When a mysterious telepathic cry for help rattles the Professor, he rallies his team to stow aboard the next Space Shuttle launch, in order to face an unknown interplanetary threat. Upon docking with the international space station, Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Gambit, Beast, and Wolverine are ambushed by Shi'ar bounty hunter Erik the Red, whose mission is to intercept the Emperor D'Ken's rebellious sister, Princess Lilandra, and destroy anyone who gets in his way. To save her teammates and the space station crew, Jean must telekinetically hold together the damaged shuttle and pilot it safely back to Earth. When her mind and body fail, it is overtaken by the enigmatic Phoenix Force which taps into a depth of power no one can comprehend. Can Jean contain the Phoenix long enough to end D'Ken's insane plan for the M'Krann Crystal and save the galaxy from certain destruction? This one is loaded with guest stars: Juggernaut and Black Tom Cassidy, Moira and her new fiancee Sean Cassidy (Banshee), The Starjammers (Scott's dad and his merry band of space pirates), and Shi'ar Imperial Guard; plus cameos by Emma Frost and the Hellfire Club, Captain Britain, and Doctor Strange.
Volume 2 shows the writing team pushing the limits of the show's storytelling, digging deeper in the franchise's history and coming up with some real gems. Gambit, Rogue, and Beast each receive their own character development tales, which turn out to be quite effective for Saturday morning TV. The use of Alpha Flight in "Repo Man" is both a nod to fans and a creative way to reveal just a bit more of Wolverine's then-shrouded past. Speaking of nods, "Mojovision" is a trip-and-a-half with a killer vocal performance by Peter Wildman (The Red Green Show) as his royal fatness, and a brilliant pairing off of our captive heroes in their own mini-adventures.
On the downside, we're saddled with more Omega Red, a flat introduction of Lady Deathstrike, and the long drawn-out Savage Land subplot. Sure, Charles and Magneto have some well written moments, and the scripting choice was an ambitious move for Saturday morning television, but you could have consolidated all that nonsense into one decent episode and saved us the trouble. I was also not a big fan of the Bishop/Cable "Time Fugitives" story. Part of that may be due to the seemingly never-ending Bishop/Cable time chase in the X-books, and part due to its similarity to The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror segment where Homer builds a time-traveling toaster, but these specific episodes simply don't hold up as well as I remember.
Which brings us to "The Phoenix Saga," the epitome of animated ambition. Playing out like an anime OVA, there is more story and character angst packed into this 100 minutes than most modern screenplays. And yet, I still find it lacking. Perhaps it's because I'm in the minority when it comes to the fan adulation for this story arc. I greatly prefer the devious subtlety of "The Dark Phoenix Saga," which we'll see adapted in Volume 3. Still, it's a great cap to this particular collection of episodes.
Presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio, the hand drawn animation continues to suffers from its limited budget, but the consistency of character and the richness of the backgrounds solidifies as we move into Season Three. There are still noticeable dirt and scratches, and for whatever reason I cannot get past the series wonky pastel-infused color palate. The 2.0 Dolby Stereo mix in on par with the first release. We tend to hear more diversity in the sound effects department, but those never-ending laser blasts will haunt you in your sleep.
Still no bonus features.
Two more gripes and I'll let you go: What's with the absence of the Saban production logo in the end credits? The picture simply goes to black for 10 or 15 seconds. And a special note to the packaging design team -- don't use characters in the cover art who do not appear in the content within. Those hoping to see Nightcrawler here will be disappointed. Okay, I'm done.
The X-Men momentum continues to build towards its inevitable apex. While not everything holds up, there's more than enough to impress old and new fans alike. Not Guilty!
Review content copyright © 2010 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 391 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Watch Full Episodes at Marvel.com