Marvel's most underrated superhero show deserves another chance
Wolverine and the X-Men might not be the most popular superhero cartoon, but it's one of the best things Marvel's ever done (animated or otherwise).
There's something about the X-Men that lends itself to TV shows over movies. The huge roster of characters and sprawling adventures that barely fit into a feature-length film just make more sense as serialized stories. (Or maybe a video game.)
X-Men: The Animated Series will always be the pinnacle of Marvel animation, and X-Men: Evolution holds a special place in the hearts of the millennials who grew up with it. But one underappreciated X-Men show that flew under the radar for many fans deserves another chance (and a second season). I'm talking, of course, about Wolverine and the X-Men, the actual best X-Men show — and maybe the best superhero show ever — that never got the praise it deserved.
Wolverine and the X-Men premiered in 2009 and ran for a single, 26-episode season. Release on Nicktoons and pegged to the critically reviled X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the series was written off by many, but anyone who was fortunate enough to see it can attest to this show's many strengths.
The premise is instantly appealing: A mysterious event decimates the X-Men, causing Professor X and Jean Grey to disappear. As a result, the X-Men disband: Cyclops spirals without Jean, Storm goes to Africa, and Iceman moves back home with his parents like a true millennial. Meanwhile, a new paramilitary organization called the Mutant Response Division is formed and starts capturing mutants, causing Wolverine and Beast to get the gang back together.
Meanwhile, Professor X becomes conscious 20 years later in a dystopian future caused by Sentinels (giant, mutant-hunting robots). Using telepathy, he communicates with the past, appointing Wolverine as the new leader of the X-Men and urging them to fix the future. This gives us two timelines to work with: Classic X-Men adventures in the present, and postapocalyptic adventures for Professor X in the future.
In a third plotline, Wolverine and the X-Men also features the best representation of Genosha ever seen on the screen (it's also one of the only). Magneto's nation for mutants is a glimmering metropolis populated by refugees from around the world — along with his children Polaris, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver. The movie Dark Phoenix also showed us Genosha in live-action, but it was more of a shanty-town assembled from reclaimed materials, and the film only spent a few moments on the fascinating concept of a country built for mutants. Wolverine and the X-Men devotes much of its plot to the story of Genosha, exploring both the successes and pitfalls of Magneto's plan.
Elsewhere, Wolverine and the X-Men offers some of the best portrayals of fan-favorite characters. Emma Frost is a real standout, offering a much more nuanced take on the character than the one-dimensional villain seen in X-Men: The Animated Series or the movie First Class. Watching Cyclops hit rock bottom and then recover is fascinating too, and any X-Men show that puts Kitty Pryde front and center is already lightyears ahead of the competition.
The mystery of what happened to Professor X and Jean Grey (who turns up eventually) drives the plot of the show, but it should come as no surprise that Wolverine still goes on plenty of cavalier solo missions. In one episode he takes on the Silver Samurai, and he even ends up fighting the Hulk after Nick Fury shows up asking for Logan's help.
Other X-Men characters get side-quests of their own too. Cyclops squares off with Mister Sinister in an ill-advised attempt to locate Jean Grey. Even the inter-dimensional supervillain Mojo shows up in a Nightcrawler-focused plotline. In 26 short episodes, the series covers more ground that all the X-Men movies combined and multiple seasons of the more popular Animated Series.
Ultimately, it's worth watching Wolverine and the X-Men for the ending alone. Without spoiling the answer to Season 1's biggest mystery or its epic cliffhanger, I'll just say that if Season 2 had happened, it would have been absolutely epic. With the show's return to the spotlight on Disney+, maybe it's not too late to bring back this underappreciated classic. But even if that never happens, it's still worth checking out the most underrated superhero series of all time.
WELCOME TO X-MEN WEEK, INVERSE'S CELEBRATION OF THE FILM THAT KICKED OFF MARVEL'S MOVIE DOMINATION.