Ahh, the X-Men franchise. Ups and downs. Great ideas and bad ones too.
And now I'm reviewing the latest animated X-Men series, titled Wolverine and the X-Men. That's certainly an... unexpected title.
Before we begin, I would like to talk about my own personal relationship with the X-Men franchise.
Like many others, I was first introduced to the X-Men with the 90's era X-Men animated series. This was a good show. It had good plotlines (most of the time), good characterization for the era, lots of good action, and a concept that I thought had a great deal of potential that was mostly realized.
I never really got into the main-line Marvel comics universe. I did manage to lay hands on a trade paperback of the Dark Phoenix Saga (before the X-Men series sucked the soul out of it). I felt that it was an excellent series, even though I had no familiarity with half the characters, and probably the best comic story I've read.*
I fell out of X-Men for a while after the first animated series ended. Then, the X-Blitz happened: the X-Men films, X-Men Evolution, and Ultimate X-Men.
I liked X-Men Evolution quite a bit. I can't say much for the art style, but it certainly had stronger characterization than the previous series. Where the first X-Men series seemed to have dozens of random plotlines that they could pop between every episode or two, Evolution stayed pretty well focused on at most two major arcs. Arcs would end and new ones would appear. And so forth.
Ultimate X-Men, the only comic I've ever really collected, was quite good for a while. I don't know if I cared much for the art style, but I really liked certain characterizations. I liked how the early books had Xavier just casually using his telepathy to invade the minds of anyone, students and enemies alike. Mental privacy is a privilege in his presence, not a right. I can't say I liked how fast they dipped into the Phoenix well, but overall it was good... for a while.
I stopped collecting it when Cable showed up.* And when they undid Beast's death. Two cardinal sins for me.
My opinion on the X-Films mostly mirrors that of the general populace. The first was good, the second was very good, the third was... well, it was OK from an objective standpoint, but as a lover of the Dark Phoenix Saga, it was absolute horseshit and a waste of a golden opportunity. First Class was very good.
You'll notice that I skipped one. And that's what brings us back to this subject: Wolverine.
I'm not a fan. How much "not a fan?" I would say that Wolverine is probably the single biggest mistake that the X-Men series has ever made. That's not hyperbole; that's how I feel about him. There are many reasons for my distaste for him. But one of the biggest is this.
X-Men is, first and foremost, an ensemble piece. That's why, unlike most comics, it's not named after any one character. Even Charles Xavier is not strictly necessary. I'll go deeper into these issues as I review this series, but the fundamental problem with Wolverine is that he's popular. And because he's popular, writers use him. A lot. And when they do, they have an annoying tendency to make everything about him, because he's the breakout character. And the only way to do that is to take away from other characters.
Just look at the movies, which were slowly but surely consumed by Logan's presence. He was always the viewpoint character (which itself is an example of the problem), but he eventually took over to the point where he got his own movie. Granted, that movie was really bad for reasons that have little to do with him (specifically). But when the X-Men are reduced to cameos in their own film series, something has gone horribly wrong.
The very title of this show, Wolverine and the X-Men, is the ultimate expression of that. It basically fulfills the progress of the X-Franchise since Wolverine showed up: Wolverine, and some guys he sometimes hangs out with. This series as a whole isn't that bad with it, but it has quite a few moments where the authorial favoritism is clear.
Before we begin, I do make one promise: I won't call Logan a Mary Sue or any Sue-derived name. I'd just be piling on anyway; the series itself is pretty clear on this subject.