X-Men Volumes 3 and 4 DVD

Actors: Cathal J. Dodd, Norm Spenser, George Buza, Cedric Smith, Catherine Disher, Chris Potter, Lenore Zann, Alison Sealy-Smith and Alyson Court
Animated, NTSC
Number of discs:
2 in each collection
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
DVD Release Date:
September 15, 2009



With the movie franchise now into its fourth film and Hugh Jackman bestriding the Earth like a colossus, it's hard to remember a time when the X-Men weren't pop culture staples. But back in the early 1990s, things were much different for Marvel's Merry Mutants. Comic book aficionados knew them and loved them of course, but the man on the street couldn't tell Wolverine from Emma Frost if his life depended on it.

The X-Men cartoon from that era constitutes the first real attempt to break the characters into the mainstream. It suffers from poor voice acting, clunky animation and far too many characters for its own good, but fans at the time must have seen it as manna from heaven. Volumes 3 and 4 of the series - representing the last half of Season 3 and the first half of Season 4 - are being released to coincide with the Wolverine DVD. They encompass a good cross-section of the show, highlighting both its interesting strengths and copious weaknesses all too well.

The best thing that can be said is that it remains extremely loyal to the comics. The animation style is enthusiastically busy, with lots of ink work and details that look like they sprang right off the page. The storylines, too, stick very close to the source, though newcomers may find themselves overwhelmed by the Byzantine plotlines. Volumes 3 and 4 cover a number of notable arcs, particularly the Dark Phoenix saga - considered by many to be the pinnacle of the X-Men franchise - the Age of Apocalypse and the Proteus storyline. The accuracy and attention to detail is impressive, both in the physical look and in the respect it shows for its roots. (Some of the episodes even cite Chris Claremont -longtime writer of the X-Men comics - in their opening credits.)

The difficulty starts when X-Men tries to be entertaining in and of itself. Though visually impressive, the animation suffers from a herky-jerky quality that renders the action awkward in the extreme. The dialogue and delivery are even worse, marred by poor screenwriting which assumes that kids' shows should be vapid and dumb because the target audience doesn't know any better.

Eight principle characters form the core of the team - Cyclops, Wolverine, Beast, Jean Grey, Storm, Gambit, Rogue and Jubilee - along with Professor X himself and a staggering list of guest stars such as Cable and Nightcrawler. That's a lot of superheroes to pack into half an hour, and X-Men proves incapable of juggling them in an elegant fashion. When coupled with the show's other flaws, it makes the experience of watching it an exercise in frustration.

X-Men's real problem comes in comparison to the heroes' current cartoon incarnation -Wolverine and the X-Men - which proves demonstrably superior in every conceivable way. X-Men was the trendsetter, but Wolverine has the advantage of a more sophisticated environment for children's programming. Considering that such alternatives are available, the older series functions best as a nostalgic throwback rather than for any legitimate sense of enjoyment on its own.

THE DISC: A nice transfer and plentiful episodes on each disc make up for the noticeable lack of extras. Volume 3 contains 15 half-hour installations, Volume 4 contains 14 . . . and neither has anything else worth mentioning. The image is decent, however - retaining the original 1.33:1 ratio and allowing a good long look at the show's compositional details - while the comparatively inexpensive price makes up for the threadbare content.

WORTH IT? X-Men fans should appreciate the devotion to the source comics, while those who grew up in the early 1990s may enjoy the trip down memory lane. Anyone else is likely to be disappointed by the generally shabby quality of the show.

RECOMMENDATION: If you're the type who rushed out to buy Volumes 1 and 2, you'd be well served picking up the next two editions. More casual X-Men fans or those interested in better entertainment value for their dollar should wait for Wolverine and the X-Men to appear on DVD. It features the same characters delivered in a much better fashion. 

- Rob Vaux



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