X-Men season 3, Vols.1, 2 & 3 review
The animated series gets into serious X-Men lore, with the loss of Jean Gray and the emergence of Phoenix...
X-Men, Season 3, Volume 1
Season 3 of the X-Men cartoon was the point where the series’ full potential was definitively realised. Although beset by production delays, the season – double the length of its predecessors – contained not one, but two multi-part epics as well as some two-parters, with time out for some of the better standalone episodes. Truly, the series was hitting its stride.
The disc opens with a two-parter, Out of the Past, which features the X-Men in combat with Yuriko Oyama – aka, Lady Deathstrike – and the cyborg Reavers, who have discovered an alien spacecraft crashed beneath New York. While the ties to Wolverine’s past drive the story, things really kick into high gear when Logan breaks open the ship, inadvertently releasing an alien entity called the “Spirit Drinker”. Although an action-packed two-parter in its own right, it actually improves on repeat viewings as its place in the Shi’ar mythos becomes clear, and acts as a brilliant pointer for how the series is going.
The remainder of the disk is taken up with The Phoenix Saga, a 5-episode epic that those who watched the cartoon the first time around can’t fail but remember fondly. Forget X-Men: The Last Stand; if you ever wanted to see an adaptation of the original stories that gets it right, this is the place to look. In fact, there’s a fairly good case to make that this series actually improves on some aspects of the comic’s version – not least by keeping it fairly clear that Phoenix and Jean are separate entities.
Although five episodes are devoted to one story, the story-arc never gets repetitive, with each episode having a distinct identity. Indeed, if there’s any problem with the saga, it’s that it’s almost too diverse, as the various locations don’t really show much cohesion over the course of the story, each being supplanted by the last until the X-Men end up as far away as the Shi’ar empire, before making their way back to Earth after paying the heaviest price of all.
Doubtlessly, any fans of the original cartoon series looking for their favourite stories to make it to DVD will be looking forward to this, and the disc, which collects seven Shi’ar-themed episodes, will make a fine addition to any collection. Given that the Phoenix Saga itself already received a DVD release, years ago, some extras would’ve been nice, but it’s clear by now that the bare-bones approach is being taken with these volumes – and, let’s face it, the season 3 opener, Out of the Past, is enough reason to get this over the other version.
X-Men, Season 3, Volume 2
The second volume of season 3 is a bit less focused, as the X-Men adjust to life without Jean around by, er, getting into the usual scrapes and barely acknowledging the situation. In fairness, this part of the series was where the production problems hit originally, so if the quality seems uneven, that’s why.
The disc opens with No Mutant is an Island – a direct follow-up to The Phoenix Saga, in which Cyclops, unable to deal with Jean’s death, leaves the X-Men. He travels to the orphanage where he grew up, and helps the current owner fend off advances from an investor (actually Zebediah Killgrave, the Purple Man) hoping to use her mutant children as a private army. Unfortunately, the guest stars are fairly weak, Rusty, Skids, Boom-Boom and (lord help us) Whiz-Kid, and Cyclops’ decision to leave the team isn’t very convincing. The episode does end with a major revelation that leads directly into the Dark Phoenix Saga… or, rather, it should, but the production order doesn’t give it to us that easily.
No, instead there are more stand-alone episodes to watch. Obsession sees the return of Archangel, stuck on a single-minded quest to destroy Apocalypse. The spotlight falls on him and Rogue, while a subplot about Beast’s relationship with Apocalypse’s sentient ship is a little too rushed to make sense. Unexpectedly, Obsession actually manages to be one of the series’ better efforts – not least because of the fantastically overblown dialogue Apocalypse spouts while beating down the team. “I am the rocks of the eternal shore. Crash against me and be broken!”. “How many peoples have dreamed of my end? You are no closer than the Babylonians with their swords and fire sticks.” If lines like that aren’t worth 20 minutes of your time, then nothing is.
Longshot takes perhaps the most irritating X-Men character ever and tries to wrap a second story around him, following his appearance in last season’s Mojovision. It’s more or less the same as before, as Mojo tricks the X-Men into performing on his TV shows, and they manage to defeat him. Again, this episode fails to deal with the central problem that there’s nothing particularly relevant to the X-Men in Mojo’s schtick, and better stories than this have had trouble getting over that hurdle.
The last standalone episode on this disc is Cold Comfort, which I should admit is one of my favourites. When the X-Men capture Iceman trying to break into a government warehouse, they are forced to deal with one of the few X-Men who ever quit the team, as well as – eventually – the revelation that the government is putting together its own X-Men-style team, known as X-Factor. Guest-stars and cameos aplenty make the action scenes in this episode some of the most mutant-filled around, and it’s just a pity that the team rarely got mentioned in the series again!
The disc caps off its 6-episode run with Strange Heart, Savage Land, a two-parter that returns the X-Men to the Savage Land so that they can face off against Sauron, Zaladane and Garokk, the petrified man. After already spending so much time in the Savage Land during season 2, this makes for a disappointing return – especially when you know what you could be watching.
All in all, only two episodes of the 6-episode set could be called “good”, and while they are of high quality, the fact remains that this volume of Season 3 is largely filler, and ultimately hard to recommend.
X-Men, Season 3, Volume 3
Volume three of Season 3 finally gets around to showing the return of Jean Grey, resolving the story begun in the first eight episodes of the season with a four-parter, plus an epilogue.
The Dark Phoenix Saga covers the first four episodes on the disc, opening with Jean in the care of Moira MacTaggart on Muir Island, but still possessed by the Phoenix force. Attempts to free her aren’t going well, but things go from bad to worse when the Hellfire Club abduct Jean in the hope of controlling Phoenix. The Phoenix escapes, and its new lust for evil awakened by the Hellfire Club leads it to destroy an entire star system. For this, the Shi’ar place Jean on trial and declare that she – and the Phoenix – must be destroyed to protect all life in the universe.
While the story is a much closer adaptation of the comics than its predecessor, it doesn’t have quite the same scale of grandeur. It is, however, a brilliant way to round off the storyline, and once again crammed with enough guest stars to keep the multi-parter interesting – everyone from Dazzler to Emma Frost to Gladiator of the Shi’ar guard.
The fifth episode on the disk once again ties in with the Shi’ar meta-arc as Orphan’s End features Corsair returning to Earth, and the eventual pay-off to the revelation that he is Cyclops’ father. It’s a nice coda to the Shi’ar storyline and ties up the last dangling thread, such that one can’t help but feel that these first five episodes should’ve been collected immediately after Season 3, Volume two’s “No mutant is an island”. Perhaps a dedication to production order prevented them from doing so, however…
…if that were the case, then we wouldn’t get The Juggernaut Returns as the final episode on this volume. For some reason, the Rogue-centric “Love in Vain” is skipped in favour of this fairly comedic “archaeology nerd becomes the Juggernaut” story. It’s not a terrible episode, and arguably the shift in tone makes a change from the rather heavy subjects of the Shi’ar-centric episodes – but it definitely feels like it’s just killing time on this disc.
Once again, there are no extras to speak of and only the barest menus. In fairness, the lack of animated transitions makes these menus better than season 2’s, but an unskippable advert that precedes the disc undoes any goodwill. Let’s face it – you’re not buying these DVDs for the extras, but given how easy it would’ve been to find SOME supplemental material, well, it still feels like a let down.
Links: X-Men season 3 – Vol 1 – Vol 2 – Vol 3.