Ever since Disney absorbed 20th Century Fox, fans have been waiting to see what Marvel would do with the X-Men and Fantastic Four. While Marvel Studios wasted little time in announcing a live action Fantastic Four movie, there has been thus far no official mention of mutants or X-Men related characters in the MCU. Not only that, there hasn’t really been much in the way of mutant activity across any of the screen projects being worked on. It seems that Marvel Studios wants to let the memories of the previous live action franchise fade a bit before properly introducing mutants back into the movies.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t have big plans for the folks at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. However, these plans have come in a most unexpected way. The first Marvel Studios X-Men project isn’t a movie, a live action TV series, or even a reboot. It’s a continuation of what is probably the best known and most beloved interpretation of the franchise of all time: the 1990s X-Men: The Animated Series which ran for five seasons beginning in 1992.
That’s right, Disney+ will air a Marvel Studios animated series called X-Men ’97 beginning in 2023. And you have to appreciate the style in which they made the announcement, referencing a beloved Wolverine meme from the series.
Released at the height of the X-Men’s popularity in comics, X-Men: The Animated Series was perhaps the ultimate distillation of Marvel’s mutant lore, bringing hundreds of characters to the screen over the course of its 76 episodes, and adapting some of the most famous stories from the comics, from the classic Dark Phoenix Saga to recent (at the time) events like The Phalanx Covenant. And for many fans, it was their first exposure to Marvel’s mutants, and the series leaned into the interpersonal/soap opera elements of the comics nor the socially conscious themes that had informed the books almost from their inception.
Even among comics fans, X-Men: The Animated Series is often considered the definitive interpretation of the X-Men mythos. The core team on the show consisted of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, Wolverine, Rogue, Beast, Gambit, and Jubilee, all of whom rocked the designs that they were wearing in some of the highest selling comics of all time. The series took the often impenetrable X-Men lore and made it feel accessible for folks who had never read the comics. And it wasn’t shy about introducing recent mutant favorites like Cable, Bishop, Apocalypse and others on screen, a move which helped cement these characters who at the time were only known to comics die-hards in the pop culture consciousness.
Why X-Men ’97? Because 1997 is the year the series aired the final episodes of its fifth and final season. However, that season was marred by long delays between airings. It kicked off in September of ’96, but despite only consisting of 10 episodes, it didn’t finish airing until September of ’97. In other words: it’s technically a 1996 season of TV. Which means whatever comes next is 1997.
So, as that X-Men ’97 title suggests, it looks like the plan here is to simply pick up where the classic series left off. A few years ago, X-Men: The Animated Series showrunner Eric Lewald talked about what the sixth season of the show would have potentially looked like, saying:
“Season Six could open, months later, with the X-Men in disarray – a few gone, the ones remaining at each other’s throats. They miss their leader. Then somehow they are called to – and transported to – an existential crisis on Lilandra’s distant world. The team grudgingly reunites ‘for Charles,’ heads off to space, solves the crisis, and a somehow-healed Charles Xavier is either able to return to Earth with them or, if he can’t, his heroic final sacrifice heals the team’s wounds and they return to Earth as the proper X-Men again.”
It’s not clear if that would still be the case here, and we have to imagine the series would require at least some reintroduction for younger fans who don’t have the same attachment to the series as their older counterparts. However, a teaser image from the series doesn’t include Professor Xavier, which indicates that they’re probably not picking up too long after the events of that finale considering his absence.
It’s also not clear in what capacity X-Men: The Animated Series executive producers Eric and Julia Lewald are involved with X-Men ’97, since Beau DeMayo (The Witcher) is credited as executive producer and head writer. Although it does seem like they’re doing something with it.
“Thanks to the dedicated people at Marvel, many of whom grew up on X-Men: The Animated Series, our X-Men family is preparing to return, with more stories for the fans who loved our show,” they wrote on their website. “We are honored to be included, to assist the creative team in any way we can. Now, twenty-five years later, to our X-Men family, with gratitude and love, we say ‘welcome back.'”
X-Men ’97 will arrive on Disney+ in 2023.
What do you want to see on the return of X-Men: The Animated Series? Let us know in the comments!