Mutant Academy: X-Men Evolution “X-Impulse”, “Rogue Recruit”

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In this week’s Mutant Academy, I will delve into X-Men Evolution Season 1, Episodes 2 and 3 “X-Impulse and “Rogue Recruit”.  These episodes are origin stories for my two of my favorite X-Men, Kitty Pryde and Rogue. “X-Impulse” also introduces Lance Alvers (aka Avalanche), who doesn’t understand what consent is, and ends up joining the Brotherhood as well as Destiny, a mutant who can see the future and is Rogue’s caregiver in Caldecott County, Mississippi.

“X-Impulse”, Written by Greg Johnson and Rick Ungar; Directed by Gary Graham; Originally Aired November 11,2000

With its completely random B-story featuring Wolverine fighting his rival Sabretooth for no logical reason at all, and the utter creepiness of the earthquake powered mutants Lance Alvers, “X-Impulse” isn’t one of X-Men Evolution‘s better episodes despite introducing my favorite superhero of all time, Kitty Pryde. The episode begins with Kitty unexpectedly getting phasing powers by falling from her bedroom to the basement and freaking out her parents. This causes Cerebro to light up, and Professor X and Jean Grey are on their way to recruit her as a student at the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters.

Her parents aren’t big on strangers knowing about their daughter’s “gift” and slam the door in Xavier and Jean’s faces when they try to talk to them about Kitty. And school that day is miserable for Kitty as she gets shut in a locker by a couple “mean girls”, fails at the long jump, and constantly gets her arm grabbed by locker graffiti-ing miscreant and wannabe revolutionary named Lance Alvers, who wants to use her phasing powers to steal midterm test answers.

Kitty runs into Jean, who is posing as a fellow student at her school and tries to get her to join the team through empathy and understanding. Saying that she is a telepath is a little too much for Kitty, and she runs away where she bumps into Lance. Lance also empathizes with her about her mutant powers and helps her try to control them… by phasing them into the school office.

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He is a terrible person and keeps trying to get Kitty to run away with them and even attacks her dad. Luckily, Jean Grey is there with her telekinesis to protect him, and Kitty ends up making her mutant power her own by phasing through the rubble and then phasing Jean and her parents through the building. Being a morally upstanding person, Kitty isn’t into this and wants to leave, but Lance threatens to destroy the entire building with his seismic powers. She decides to join the X-Men because they were honest and up front with her while Mystique shows up, enrolls Lance into Bayville High, and gives him the codename Avalanche.

And oh yeah, while this is going on, Wolverine and Sabretooth fight on rooftops. Nightcrawler and Cyclops try to help out their “teacher” and get one of Professor X’s sports cars totaled. But, hey, team bonding is good, right?

In her super speaks like a Valley Girl yet lives in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook way, Kitty Pryde reacts to her powers like I and a lot of people would: totally freaking out. She has enough to deal with: getting good grades, dealing with bullies, and growing up and doesn’t have time for solid objects to go through her physical body. Her screams might be annoying, but her anxiety is understandable as she sees her abilities as a “sickness” and “curse”. Chris Claremont and John Byrne originally created Kitty as an audience surrogate for their teen readers back in 1980 when the X-Men were rapidly getting older, and she plays a similar role in Evolution desperately holding on to normalcy in a world of teleporting blue demons, shapeshifters, and grown men who stab each other with knives on rooftops.

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Greg Johnson and Rick Ungar aren’t afraid to let Kitty Pryde vent her anger about her power, and even though this is criticized by the girls in her school, it’s a perfectly normal reaction to having something insane happen in her life. She just wants a semblance of normalcy by going to school, but her powers keep flaring up and she can’t control them.  Hence, the running away, angst, and just wanting to be by herself. However, Kitty gets a well-earned moment of clarity at the end when she realizes how much her parents care about her, and she returns the favor by saving the day. Mr. Pryde has a great moment where he admits that he has a lot to learn about her current situation and decides to listen to Professor X about his school instead of trying to isolate Kitty.

Even though Professor X doesn’t psychically persuade the Prydes to let Kitty go to the Xavier School like he did in the comics, the invasiveness of the X-Men’s recruiting methods is on display in “X-Impulse”. The morning after Kitty discovers her powers, Jean and Professor X are at the door with no explanation about how they know about her abilities. That is extremely nosy, and it takes the negative example of mutants like Lance to get them to come around and let Kitty go with the X-Men. Jean Grey saving their lives doesn’t hurt too.

Even though he’s a lot cuter than Toad, Lance Alvers is a total creep in “X-Impulse” as he constantly touches Kitty on her arm without her permission and manipulates her to get his way. And even his interactions with his “friend” Griff involves anger and manipulation as Lance grabs his arm when the kid asks him about using his earthquake powers to break into the office. Even though he’s sounds like he’s stoned out of his mind the whole episode and going for a “slacker” vibe, Christopher Gray varies his voice when playing Lance from a laidback, chill one when he talks about how painful using his powers are and then going full rage when he realizes that she doesn’t want to run off with him.  Lance has great powers and hates authority, but there is no intellectual bent to his random actions of destruction. As Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer would likely tell him, “I’m a rebel. You’re an idiot.”

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Except for showing Cyclops and Nightcrawler’s big bro/little bro bond in action, the Wolverine vs. Sabretooth point is utterly pointless. It gives the rest of the team something to do, but is utterly unconnected to the ongoing “Mystique recruits the Brotherhood for Magneto” plot thread. Greg Johnson has Wolverine and Sabretooth spout the hollowest of rival platitudes to each other, and it almost feels like a parody of the whole concept of heroes having an arch-nemesis. I’m with Wolverine when he tells Sabretooth that he doesn’t go for “philosophy mumbo jumbo” after Sabretooth says something about their destinies being intertwined. The fight itself isn’t even that exciting and is mostly loud guitars, motorcyles humming, and Wolverine taking too long to put on his costume. The ending is anti-climactic too with Sabretooth jumping out of an elevator like this is just his monthly demolition/sparring session. The whole thing feels like a few pages of a Wolverine comic that accidentally got printed in Uncanny X-Men.

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“Rogue Recruit”; Written by Simon Furman; Directed by Steven E Gordon; Originally Aired November 18, 2000

“Rogue Recruit” is definitely the better of the two episodes as it breaks the formula and has the X-Men be unsuccessful in getting a new recruit for their team. And “because it’s a weekend”, Simon Furman (Transformers cartoons/comics) and Steven E. Gordon (Avengers Earth’s Mightiest Heroes) finally get to show the entire X-Men team in action as they look for Rogue and are bested by Mystique at every corner. (Of course, Wolverine knows who she is, and no one else does.)

With her special power pop theme song “Who Am I Know?” blasting in the background, Rogue broods outside at a school dance that is being held at a dive bar atop a Mississippi bayou. (This setting is fascinating, and Gordon goes full Southern Gothic with the final battle happening at an old cemetery.) She reluctantly dances with a high school football player named Duncan, who she accidentally touches and drains his stiff arm powers along with his memories. Rogue runs off, and the X-Men assemble and head to Mississippi while her caregiver Destiny tells Mystique that Rogue has accidentally used her powers.

The team splits up with Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, and Nightcrawler in one squad, and Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Storm in another. Kitty is a little afraid of Nightcrawler because of his blue fur and teleporting combined with his constant antics. While the X-Men search for Rogue, Mystique in an incredibly clever move that turns her against them, shapeshifts into Wolverine and Storm frightening Rogue. This is why she is afraid of Wolverine , but opens up to Nightcrawler (wearing his image inducer) until Kitty Pryde is stupid and tackles her. Jean Grey talks to her a little bit too and gives her a communicator to reach the X-Men, but this is all for naught as Mystique shifts into Cyclops and Jean Grey. Rogue gets more and more confused and takes the powers of both Nightcrawler and Storm, which she can’t control.

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The X-Men are dealt a stunning defeat as Rogue gets away and is enrolled by Mystique in Bayville High. Mystique is angry that she was unable to keep Rogue from injuring regular people with her abilities. However, Magneto is very impressed with the recruitment, but Rogue still has Jean’s communicator with her.

Even though he has a predilection for filling his dialogue with inopportune puns, Simon Furman plots out Rogue’s origin story in a way that skillfully combines her first comic book appearance in Avengers Annual #10 where she takes out all the Avengers and steals Carol Danvers’ powers, and her more personal story in the X-Men movie. The result is the most action packed episode of the show so far, and a heartbreaking story about a girl, who can’t touch, hug, or kiss anyone as a simple dance puts a teenage boy in a coma.

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In “Rogue Recruit”, Gordon show that he’s old hat at directing a superhero action sequence with a mildly exciting scene where Wolverine infiltrates the mansion’s security system while wearing a ninja costume. (He also gets his ass handed to him by Storm, who gets to ham it up like the 90s X-Men cartoon.) But when it comes to teenagers dancing or interacting, he and the animators go wooden. Every dancer at the dive bar themed-prom does the same repetitive move, and there is no chemistry between Rogue and her “partner”. Also, having some random guy trigger her powers instead of her first boyfriend makes more logical sense, but lacks the high drama quality of it being from the first boy she kisses. But all of his forgiven thanks to wonderful Goth costume design, which is easily Rogue’s best costume design ever complete with see-through black fabric over her crop top so she can be stylish and not drain other people’s abilities/memories.

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Three episodes in, and Furman decides to break the formula of X-Man recruited/Brotherhood member scared and chased away and have the team lose. There is a reason why Mystique rents out a private jet and limo and spends an episode recruiting Rogue instead of just nabbing her at the end of the episode like with Toad and Avalanche. She can knock out anyone with a touch and absorb their powers, which basically makes her the most powerful non-Professor X or Magneto mutant we’ve seen in the series so far. But to go along with her powers, she has all the weaknesses of a young woman trying to find her identity and having football player and teleporting blue furred German thoughts in her head isn’t helpful.

The fact that Rogue joins the Brotherhood instead of X-Men gives X-Men Evolution a much needed shade of grey that makes it different from the usual good guys vs. bad guys superhero story. Of course, you’re going to stay with a person who talks to you nicely instead of taunting you and attacking you with claws and lightning (Mystique impersonating the X-Men.) even if they’re actually using you for your supposedly limitless superpowers. Rogue has been lonely and isolated for most of her life, and she latches onto the first person, who is nice to her and empathizes with the freakiness of her powers unlike Professor X who calls her “the Rogue” for the entire episode, and some characters, like Cyclops and Kitty Pryde, decide to attack her instead of reason with her.

A superhero action cartoon that shows talking and not punching is the answer to your problems is pretty awesome even if X-Men Evolution’s characters don’t take their own advice.

Stray Thoughts (aka the Nightcrawler Appreciation Column)

-Wolverine calling Kitty Pryde “half pint” will never cease to be adorable, and it’s nice to see the show acknowledge their relationship this early on.

-Awesome character musical cues continue in “X-Impulse” with Nightcrawler boogieing to a ska tune while being tardy to school, and Lance’s raging, edgy guitar solo.

-Everyone should follow Nightcrawler’s example and eat burgers for breakfast every morning.

-I love how Wolverine always puts on a helmet before he rides his motorcycle. Safety first even if you have a healing factor.

-Nightcrawler can do swagger (“We are the X-Men” when tries to kick Sabretooth) and sarcasm (“He loves us.”) about Wolverine after he tells him and Cyclops to buzz off.

-“Stiff and exacting” are perfect words to describe Cyclops as Jean Grey rolls her eyes at Kitty’s school girl crush on the team leader.

-Professor X’s relationship to stairs will always be priceless. Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch even used in their short run on Ultimate X-Men aka the weird one where Wolverine mercy killed a young mutant.

 

 

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