Judge Dan Mancini thinks nothing says "superhero" like a good set of mutton chops.
Our reviews of Wolverine And The X-Men: Deadly Enemies (published July 20th, 2009), Wolverine And The X-Men: Final Crisis Trilogy (published September 1st, 2010), Wolverine And The X-Men: Heroes Return Trilogy (published April 27th, 2009), and Wolverine And The X-Men: Revelation (published May 4th, 2010) are also available.
"Only as a team do you stand a chance. Only together can you change the course of the future. And you, Logan, you must lead them."—Charles Xavier
For decades, X-Men has been one of Marvel Comics' most profitable properties. The comic book spawned a popular live-action feature film trilogy that made a star of Hugh Jackman, as well as various animated television series, including X-Men: The Animated Series (1992-1997) and X-Men: Evolution (2000-2003). With Marvel's launch of its own animation studio, the comic book publishing giant brought everyone's favorite team of super-powered mutants to the small screen once again in 2008 with Wolverine and the X-Men. The show was Marvel Animation's first venture into episodic television, and quickly proved it was every bit as good as the team of superheroes' earlier animated adventures, if not better. That's an amazing thing considering Wolverine and the X-Men began as an act of studio marketing cynicism. Marvel requested a Wolverine-focused X-Men series to tie in to the theatrical release of the live-action feature, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Supervising producer-writer Craig Kyle, head writer Greg Johnson, and writer Chris Yost delivered an intelligently plotted show that is grounded in character and borrows liberally from all eras of the X-Men comic books. It's a blast.
The series begins with a bang as an explosion destroys the X-Mansion, leaving Professor X and Jean Grey missing in action. The X-Men disband. A year later, disturbed by Senator Kelly's anti-mutant scheming and the reformation of the Brotherhood under violent mutant extremist Magneto, Wolverine teams with Beast to bring the X-Men back together and save human- and mutantkind. Soon, Professor X contacts the team telepathically from 20 years in the future, informing them that they must prevent the coming war between mutants and humans, which will lead to Earth falling under the control of Master Mold and his army of giant, mutant-killing robots called Sentinels. In the professor's absence, Wolverine must lead the team. Our heroes find themselves caught between Senator Kelly and his aggressive Mutant Response Division, and Magneto's scheming from his island home of Genosha as they struggle to unravel the mysteries of Master Mold and the explosion at the X-Mansion, and to prevent the coming mutant holocaust.
One can't accuse Wolverine and the X-Men of a lack ambition, that's for sure. The series boldly reimagines and reorders X-Men lore from across decades of the comic book, throwing everything from Master Mold and the Sentinels to Weapon X to Magneto's Acolytes at the audience. And while the show primarily focuses on a smallish band of mutants consisting of Wolverine, Beast, Rogue, Angel, Emma Frost, Iceman, Cyclops, and Nightcrawler (in his own subplot), it also includes a seemingly endless procession of characters from the comics' glory days, including Gambit, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, Blob, Toad, Shadow King, Domino, Mystique, Dazzler, Juggernaut, Silver Samurai, and Sabretooth. During one episode, Wolverine even meets up with Nick Fury from S.H.I.E.L.D. and faces off against the Hulk. For the most part, this wealth of characters, concepts, and narrative threads is seamlessly integrated into the show's overarching story of impending doom (it certainly does a far better job of juggling story and character than the X-Men theatrical features, which too often gave short shrift to major characters or touched upon memorable comic book storylines without really paying them off). But by the time the series begins to borrow from the books' famed "Dark Phoenix Saga" in its last few episodes, there's a sense that it's gone too far, that Kyle, Johnson, and Yost have tried to jam too much content into their season-long story. The show's denouement doesn't quite crash and burn, but it's not nearly as satisfying as it could or should have been—especially since it ends with a cliffhanger that points to the alternate universe "Age of Apocalypse" story from the books. Unfortunately, Marvel cancelled production of a second season because they couldn't come up with the necessary finances, leaving the series with an unnecessarily untidy ending.
Despite these flaw, Wolverine and the X-Men is a deeply entertaining mix of fun and well-animated action, smart storytelling, and engaging character moments (it's obvious from the get-go that Kyle and his crew love these characters and want to do nothing more than honor them). Besides, if a series is going to stumble a bit, better it do so because of too much ambition than not enough.
Wolverine and the X-Men: The Complete Series (Blu-Ray) contains all 26 episodes of the series, spread across three discs:
The episodes are presented in full 1080p at the original 16:9 broadcast aspect ratio. Because of the limitations of 2D animation produced on a television budget, the Blu-ray doesn't deliver a huge improvement in video quality over its DVD counterpart, but it does offer a more stable image with brighter colors. Eagle-eyed viewers may notice the occasional banding artifact, but you'll see none of the shimmer or combing apparent on the more compressed image of the standard definition release. Audio is presented in a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 mix that is perhaps too expansive and robust for the show's humble TV origins. The track is crisp and bright, to be sure, but doesn't make aggressive use of surrounds, even during the show's more bombastic action sequences.
Supplements include 29 commentary tracks for the 26 episodes. The first three episodes are each treated to two tracks: one by Craig Kyle and Greg Johnson, the other by directors Boyd Kirkland and Steve Gordon. The remainder of the episodes each has a track by Kyle, Johnson, and Chris Yost.
"The Inner Circle: Reflections on Wolverine and the X-Men (18:51) is a retrospective featurette that explores the show's origin, its various storylines, and the characters involved. Talking heads include Craig Kyle, Greg Johnson, Chris Yost, and voice actors Steven Blum (Wolverine) and Nolan North (Cyclops).
"Making Wolverine and the X-Men" (5:15) is a promotional featurette lifted from the Wolverine and the X-Men: Heroes Trilogy DVD release. It's mostly fluff, though Craig Kyle does a fair job of defending his team's decision to make Wolverine the de facto leader of the X-Men.
Wolverine and the X-Men: The Complete Series (Blu-Ray) isn't perfect, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a smart reimagining that manages to remain faithful to the comic books' many characters. Strong animation and clever storytelling make this the most appealing of the mutant team's various TV outings.
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