The 21 Greatest Episodes of X-Men: The Animated Series

By Adrian Beiting in Cartoons, Comics, Daily Lists
Monday, March 22, 2010 at 8:04 am
Yes, 21. Really, considering how great this '90s cartoon adaptation of Marvel's uncanny X-Men was, it's almost a shame to limit it to even a number that large. The series was simply that good for most of its 76 episode run, although if you sat through to the bitter end you already know that Season 5 was a tough pill to swallow. Nonetheless, limit it we did, letting our choices be dictated by storytelling quality, action quantity and overall relevance to the X-Men canon. Now, almost 20 years after the series premiered, we've seen one X-series come and go and are in the midst of another, yet it's hard to argue that this incarnation, inspired greatly by but not limited to the early '90s work of Jim Lee and company, was the greatest on-screen treatment the X-Men have ever seen, including the movies. From the more grown-up art style and storytelling along with its ability to expand a great narrative across an entire season (capturing the feel of a comic) and having one of the most killer intros and themes in cartoon history, X-Men had it all in a series that truly deserves a place at the table for the greatest Saturday morning cartoons of all time. So, here they are -- our picks for the 21 best episodes in X-Men. Suit up!

21) Cold Comfort
"Cold Comfort" -- the story of why Bobby Drake aka Iceman left the X-Men -- was a fan service smorgasbord too delicious to ignore. Not only did it finally give the popular character some screen time, but it also showed off some vintage X-footage (Beast, Scott, Jean and Bobby in their original uni's), but gave the members of X-Factor some time to shine. The episode isn't perfect, but the story keeps a welcome lighter tone thanks to the familial bickering between Xavier, Bobby and Cyke while shedding light on Iceman's past.

20) A Rogue's Tale
By the time "A Rogue's Tale" was televised during Season 2, X-fans who hadn't missed a beat of the series were already well acquainted with Rogue's much maligned ability to touch-drain the life energies, memories and powers of humans and mutants she makes skin contact with, and her history with Cody, the boy she tragically put in a coma by way of her first kiss. What hadn't really been delved into by the show though was why Rogue is able to lift really big stuff, withstand a merciless beating, and well, fly. Enter "A Rogue's Tale" which explores Rogue's history through nightmares, visions and shapeshifting trickery. In the episode, viewers learn how Rogue was once a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (as Mystique's foster daughter) before she met Professor Xavier, and had been tricked by Mystique into draining the powers (super strength and flight) of Ms. Marvel permanently during an attempted aircraft hijacking -- leaving Rogue much more powerful than before and Ms. Marvel a possible permanent coma patient. The episode strikes a good balance of action and revelation, culminating in a battle within Rogue's mind between the entrapped disembodied psychic spectre of Ms. Marvel, a Cerebro-linked Jean Grey and Rogue herself.

19) Deadly Reunions
The story in "Deadly Reunions" begins with Magneto baiting Professor X by blowing up a chemical plant. After the X-Men attempt to stop Magneto (and fail) Magneto and Professor X face off with Xavier's psychic ability proving too much for Magneto to withstand. Meanwhile Rogue "accidentally" absorbs Cyclops' powers while trying to resuscitate him and memorably blasts herself across the room before Cyke instructs her to close her eyes, deactivating the beams but rendering Rogue blind until the power wears off. Back at the mansion after Senator Kelly declares his soon-to-be successful run at the U.S. presidency, Sabertooth expertly talks Jubilee into releasing his restraints. Once in control, he reveals that he's under Magneto's employ, essentially giving a lurking Wolverine the green light to take out his frustrations on his old foe, proving that his stand on Sabertooth was the correct one. The episode is action packed and features a very cool sequence illustrating the deep confines of Sabertooth's mind while Xavier tries to break through his mental barriers psychically, making it a great episode for the nostalgic appreciators of the show and newcomers alike.

18) One Man's Worth
Inspired by the Age of Apocalypse storyline from the comics, two-parter "One Man's Worth" explores what the future might look like if Professor X was assassinated by Fitzroy and Nimrod in 1959, and features cool new looks for Nightcrawler, Beast, love birds Wolverine and Storm, and their leader, Magneto. Of course, whenever an alternate future is involved in X-Men, Forge and Bishop aren't far behind, and along with Shard, Wolverine, and Storm, they successfully prevent the assassination, changing both the future and present for the best and ending the sweet romance Wolvie and Storm enjoyed in their alternate timeline. Sniff.

17) Beauty & the Beast
In what might be the most strictly emotional episode of the series, "Beauty & the Beast" really does a great job of delving into what makes Beast tick. On the cusp of curing his patient Carly of her blindness, Beast soon realizes that he has fallen in love with her. When the Friends of Humanity kidnap Carly, Beast is forced to team up with her prejudiced father to rescue her. Meanwhile Wolverine has dawned a trucker cap and shades to infiltrate F.O.H Headquarters, where Beast soon joins him to rescue his true love. After some routine roughhousing, Wolverine masterfully orchestrates an escape that simultaneously plays head games with F.O.H leader Graydon Creed by having Cyclops, Jean and Jubilee broadcast a hologram of Sabertooth into the building, revealing Sabertooth to be Graydon Creed's father and causing his F.O.H lackeys to desert him upon the revelation. The episode concludes on a touching note, with Beast telling Carly he loves her and Carly's father thanking Beast for his help.

16) Obsession
While not exactly essential to the series' continuity, "Obsession" is an enjoyable entry composed in the same style of a good summer blockbuster. Befittingly obsessed with destroying Apocalypse after being unwillingly transformed into Archangel by his technology, Warren Worthington aka Angel's specialists and historians uncover a scroll that displays what is purportedly a weakness in the back of Apocalypse's neck that may be the secret to destroying him once and for all. After a few minutes of having it out with Apocalypse in his giant form near the Statue of Liberty, the X-Men come to Archangel's defense and Apocalypse retreats. Back at the mansion, the X-Men detect a "mighty ship designed by creatures beyond the stars" according the early apocalyptic scholars in one of Beast's books. Meanwhile, Rogue spends some quality time with the recovering Archangel revisiting the fact that she absorbed part of his mind in their previous encounter, and despite the rest of the team's objections goes off to help him on his suicide mission to destroy Apocalypse. Wolverine, Cyclops and Beast board Apocalypse's ship and set a trap which springs perfectly, entrapping Apocalypse in a force field. Unfortunately Apocalypse knows the deactivation code and chooses the moments after to reveal the weakness on the scroll was only a cruel ruse. Fortunately for the good guys, the relationship Beast struck up with the ship's computer while arming the trap comes up big as the ship turns on Apocalypse and jettisons him deep into space after the team escapes in the Blackbird.

15) Weapon X, Lies, and Video Tape
"Weapon X, Lies, and Video Tape" almost gains entry onto this list by merit of its title alone, but luckily for us, the story that came with it is equally great. The episode opens with Wolverine freaking out on the other X-Men after another of what has become a routine set of nightmares and delusions involving his past. After the incident, Wolverine hops in a jeep and heads to Canada, following the coordinates on the back of a picture uncovered by Jean and Beast in his room after his departure. Per said coordinates, Wolverine ends up back at the remains of the lab where his Weapon X experiment took place. The episode uncovers more of Logan's Weapon X training and his history with Silver Fox, Sabertooth and Maverick, and while it concludes with the good guys taking on a giant robot named Talos who hilariously launches boob-mounted rockets at them towards the end of their skirmish, it's still a worthy chapter in X-lore.

14) Beyond Good and Evil
Depending on how much you loved the X-Men episodes featuring time travel, you were either giddy with joy or ready to leap into oncoming traffic by the time would-be series finale "Beyond Good and Evil" rolled around, featuring an epic four part story that teamed the deadliest of the X-Men's foes against them in unison with the objective of fulfilling Apocalypse's plot to use the world's greatest psychics to recreate the universe in his own image from his headquarters in the Axis of Time. With stakes that high and its nods to several series high points, it's pretty easy to tell that this was supposed to be the last one, which may diminish the value of the episode to some degree considering there was a fifth season, but its epic scale more than makes up for any arguable shortcomings, and its nerd-friendliness is unquestionable.

13) Out of the Past
Season 3 premiere and two-part episode "Out of the Past" introduced a lot of new elements to the series -- Lady Deathstrike, a new animation style, intergalactic intrigue and last but not least, shirtless basketball. All kidding aside though, "Out of the Past" was one of those cool haunting episodes that made X-Men special, mostly thanks to the eerie score and the presence of its star character the Spirit Drinker, a terrifying alien creature that has the power to live up to its name by sucking the life force from its victims and trapping their minds within itself leaving only their bodies behind. The episode also serves as another look into Wolverine's past, both regarding Yuriko and his dealings with the CIA, and works as a nice, dark prologue to The Phoenix Saga as it's revealed that the Spirit Drinker's ship was actually a prison cell of Shi'ar design.

12) Reunion

After a season of Bazooka Joe-sized mini-adventures attached to various episodes, the two-part Season 2 finale finally got to the heart of the matter, revealing that the whole Savage Land debacle Professor X and Magneto found themselves snared in was Mr. Sinister's doing, even though it was originally Magneto who created it. Having captured Jean, Professor X, Magneto and Morph who has bucked Sinister's mind control and returned to the X-Men's side, Sinister lures the rest of the X-Men into a trap of a rescue mission. Once the blackbird lands, Cyclops, Storm, Rogue, Gambit, Wolverine and Beast soon learn that their mutant powers have disappeared, just like Chuck and Magnus experienced before them. Not only that, but they're immediately thrown into an unfair battle with Sinister's Nasty Boys who retain their special abilities. With the rest of the team captured, Wolverine who was able to break away during the skirmish teams with Ka-Zar to fight dinosaurs and break his people, and the rest of the X-Men free, concluding with another satisfying session of target practice for Cyclops as he blasts the meddlesome and obsessive Sinister to shreds once again in an epic X-Men season finale.
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