X-Men ’97 Episode 9 Ending Just Recreated One of the Most Shocking X-Men Moments Ever

Building up to its finale, X-Men '97 channeled Pryde of the X-Men and Fatal Attractions, making way for the coming of Onslaught!

X-Men 97 Episode 9
Photo: Marvel Studios

This X-Men ’97 article contains spoilers.

For all of the many, many logic leaps that superhero stories require, one of the most glaring occurred in X-Men. Why would the X-Men employ Wolverine, a guy with a metal skeleton, to fight Magneto, a guy who controls metal with his mind? Sure, occasional stories addressed this question, at least by having Magneto toss the ol’ Canucklehead across a room from time to time. But the Master of Magnetism rarely pressed his advantage.

Except, that is, for one story, which laid the groundwork for the ninth episode of X-Men ’97, “Tolerance is Extinction Part Two.” The episode recreates a scene from 1993’s X-Men #25, written by Fabian Nicieza and penciled by Andy Kubert, in which Magneto does the unthinkable (or the inevitable?) and tears the adamantium skeleton out of Wolverine’s body.

But more than a mere callback to one of the most shocking Marvel Comics moments ever, Magneto’s actions in X-Men ’97 set up the future of the series and build on its primary themes. In fact, the episode was chock full of references to the past that build to a dark tomorrow for Marvel’s mutants.

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Pryde of the X-Men

Early on in “Tolerance is Extinction Part Two,” the disassembled X-Men reconvene on the ruins of Xavier’s mansion to share grievances and form a plan. After Xavier takes his lumps from Cyclops and Rogue, the team suits up in all-new costumes… sort of.

For some, the money line came from Cyclops, who tosses a blue and gold costume to Cable. When Cable makes a crack about the outrageous get-up, Cyclops responds, “What were you expecting? Black leather?” Of course, that’s a spin on a similar question that Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine poses to James Marsden in the 2000 movie X-Men, to which Scott answers, “What were you expecting? Yellow spandex?”

Speaking of Australian Wolverines, most of the X-Men ’97 costume changes in this episode hearken back to the first X-Men cartoon, 1989’s “Pryde of the X-Men.” Marvel produced “Pryde of the X-Men” to go along with its Spider-Man and Hulk series at the time, but decided not to take it to series. However, despite some odd changes, including voice actor Patrick Pinney giving Wolverine an Aussie accent, “Pryde of the X-Men” lived on as the inspiration for the beloved X-Men arcade game and in the original X-Men: The Animated Series.

Of course, the “Pryde of the X-Men” costumes came from the comics first, using the designs Dave Cockrum came up with for the 1974 relaunch special Giant-Size X-Men #1. Characters who didn’t show up in “Pryde of the X-Men,” such as Cable and Sunspot, also turn to their comic roots for their new outfits. Sunspot dons the classic Xavier’s school training togs worn in the first years of The New Mutants, Cable settles into the blue and gold uniform he chose during his time as a member of the X-Men in the early 2000s. Even Professor X shuns the trendy turtleneck and jacket of “Pryde of the X-Men” for the brown jumpsuit he favored in mid-’90s comics.

The most notable costume change belongs to Jean Grey. Operating under the codename Marvel Girl, Jean Grey wore the same training togs as her four teammates during her first appearance in 1963’s X-Men #1, written by Stan Lee and penciled by Jack Kirby. But in 1965’s X-Men #39, written by Roy Thomas and penciled by Don Heck, Marvel Girl debuts new costumes for herself and the team. Cyclops gets the traditional blue suit with gold highlights, while Marvel Girl takes on a green miniskirt getup with a pointy yellow mask.

By calling back to these classic outfits, “Tolerance is Extinction Part Two” represents a turning point for the team. It’s one last look back to the simpler days, when the X-Men were just heroes and Magneto just a villain, before things get much, much darker.

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Fatal Attractions, Feral Wolverine, Asteroid M, and the “Death” of Jean Grey

In another wink at ’90s X-Men comics, “Tolerance is Extinction Part Two” splits the team into two divisions: the Blue Team, headed by Cyclops, and the Gold Team, lead by Storm. This was the approach the franchise took with the launch of the much-vaunted X-Men #1 in 1991, scripted by Chris Claremont and drawn by Jim Lee. The new X-Men book featured the Blue Team, full of favorites such as Wolverine and Cyclops, while Storm and Jean Grey held down the Gold Team in the ongoing Uncanny X-Men.

X-Men ’97 ups the stakes by splitting the heroes in three. Professor X and the Blue Team goes to Asteroid M to confront Magneto, while the Gold Team tries to sever Bastion’s connection to the Sentinels. However, Rogue and Sunspot leave the group entirely, joining Magneto and fighting against their former allies.

As chaotic as Rogue and Sunspots’ betrayals are, the Blue Team’s mission leads to a confrontation between Wolverine and Magneto, in which Logan loses his adamantium skeleton.

In the comics, Wolverine’s loss resulted in a major status quo change for the character. After all, Fatal Attractions, the crossover event in which Magneto tore out Wolverine’s adamantium, marked not only the 25th issue of the relaunched X-Men series and the hit X-Force, but also the 30th anniversary for Marvel’s Merry Mutants. Fatal Attractions re-established Magneto as the team’s big bad, which he did by striking down the most popular character.

For Wolverine, Fatal Attractions revealed that his claws were indeed part of his mutant power. Up until that point (give or take a couple inconsistencies in early issues), Wolverine’s claws were understood to be part of the adamantium skeleton grafted into his body by the shady government program Weapon X. His only true mutant powers were his heightened senses and healing factor.

When the de-metaled Wolverine first popped his bone claws, fans realized that there was more to the hairy runt. Over the next few years of X-Men and Wolverine comics, it grew worse. Turns out, the adamantium kept Logan’s healing factor in check, allowing it to expend most of its energy on keeping the metal from poisoning him. Without the metal in his body, the healing factor went wild, turning Wolverine into a more feral creature.

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And, for some reason, his nose disappeared. Weird times, man.

Things don’t go much better for X-Men ’97‘s Gold Team. Forge and a repowered Storm lead an attack on Bastion. A brilliant inventor, Forge has created a device to dampen Bastion’s powers, while Storm—having regained her abilities after the events of “Lifedeath Part II”—unleashes a full attack on Bastion and the Sentinels. They get an assist from Beast and from Morph, who provides another Marvel cameo when they take the form of the Incredible Hulk.

At the same time, Jean finds Mister Sinister, who taunts her with the intimate knowledge he gained while creating her clone Madelyne Pryor and makes delicious puns about “Jean’s Genes.” Jean counters the attacks with an impressive telekinetic display, until Sinister takes over the mind of her would-be stepson Cable. An inheritor of his mother’s own psychic powers, the mind-controlled Cable overwhelms Jean and appears to kill her.

Shocking for a cartoon show? Yes. But let’s be clear. The X-Men die and resurrect a lot, none more than Jean Grey. She’s called the Phoenix for a reason. So Mister Sinister’s victory may very well be short-lived, especially if Jean returns as the Phoenix, a god-like cosmic entity capable of destroying entire planets.

If X-Men ’97 ends up going the way of the comics, then the team will need an ally like the Phoenix to save the day.

X-Men ’97 and the Coming of Onslaught

As discussed earlier in the season, Onslaught is one of the most infamous and unpopular Marvel Comics events of the ’90s. In it, the combined dark sides of Professor X and Magneto transform Xavier into a gigantic, powerful monster, who manages to kill both the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. How? Well, editorial mandate, honestly, as Marvel wanted to reboot both of those properties in the terrible Heroes Reborn event.

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Although no one in X-Men ’97 has yet referred to monster Onslaught directly, many of the show’s plot beats recall that storyline. Where the Bastion of the cartoon gains power after the destruction of Genosha, the Bastion of the comics gained influence to enact Operation Zero Tolerance after Onslaught stoked anti-mutant fears once again.

More importantly, Onslaught stems from a desperate decision by Xavier. From the beginning of the X-Men franchise, Xavier and Magneto have been the best of friends and worst of enemies, held together by mutual respect and frustrated by the other’s refusal to bend. When Magneto pushed Xavier too far, the Professor responded by wiping his old friend’s mind, hiding Magneto’s evil side within him.

The mind-wiped Magneto stays in a comatose state for some time, while Xavier begins taking on more aggressive behavior. Eventually, he transforms into Onslaught, who then kills the world’s most beloved heroes and makes mutants hated all the more.

What, you might ask, was the event that pushed Xavier to take such an extreme and destructive action? Why, none other than Magneto ripping out Wolverine’s skeleton.

An Ongoing Onslaught?

Just before Wolverine stabs Magneto, Xavier sends a telepathic message to his old friend. “You’ve left me no choice, Magnus,” he says, using a name that recalls their deep connection. What follows is a series of reactions shots from Xavier’s students in disbelief, as the Professor unleashes an unprecedented blast at Magneto. The Master of Magnetism throws back his head in pain, his eyes empty and glowing.

But Xavier’s interrupted by Cyclops, who knocks back his teacher with a concussive blast, explaining that the Gold Team still needs more time.

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Did they indeed? Or did Cyclops realize something, which longtime comic readers realized as well. By going so deep into Magneto’s mind, Xavier was exposing himself to something evil, something that could become Onslaught.

Thus far, X-Men ’97 has cycled through big stories and major events with breathtaking speed, which suggests that Onslaught will only appear in a single episode, one big battle royale, in which the conflict between the mutants and Bastion will be dwarfed by the coming of Onslaught and, potentially, the Phoenix.

Even if the fight itself takes up just an episode, the fallout will surely be more long-lasting. Will the X-Men stay together to make Xavier’s dream a reality? Or will the destruction be so great that the mutants have no choice but to shield themselves from terrified humans?

We’ll find out when X-Men ’97 airs its season finale next week!

X-Men ’97 is now streaming on Disney+.