X-Men ’97 is a Reboot Done Right

The new show balances nostalgia with sharp storytelling.

Rebooting or reviving a beloved series is always a tricky proposition. Do the show runners try to do something new and risk alienating old fans? Or do they wallow in nostalgia and try recreating the magic of the old show and risk being stagnant and hidebound?

It’s a tightrope, for sure. Several of my all time favorites have gotten reboots in recent years, and the results were not encouraging. Despite a few great episodes, the new X-Files seasons never really gelled for me. The Netflix seasons of Arrested Development and Gilmore Girls were a mixed bag, at best. And the less said about the pallid new seasons of Law & Order the better.

So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I turned on the new X-Men ’97 series on Disney+. Like many Gen-Xers and early Millennials, I have very fond memories of the Saturday morning cartoon that ran on Fox from 1992-97. The cartoon was notable for bringing many of the complex storylines from the comic books onto TV screens. Sentinels, the Dark Phoenix, the Logan-Jean Grey-Scott Summers love triangle, and virulent anti-mutant prejudice all made their way into the show. Would the new series continue this? Or would Disney be content to just play the hits and give fans a nostalgia fix?

Well, I am happy to say that X-Men ’97 is a worthy follow up. And if the first two episodes are any indication, fans can look forward to the same level of storytelling and soap opera theatrics.

The series starts right where the last episode ended almost 27 years ago. Professor Charles Xavier was killed by an anti-mutant assassin, and his death has created a truce between mutants and humans… for the most part. There are still those, like the Klan-like Friends of Humanity, that are dedicated to killing mutants to “protect” humankind. And of course, not all of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants have signed on to this either.

Some things have changed, though. Jean Grey is pregnant, and expecting any day. (Which opens up a door to a world of story possibilities, many involving time travel, if you know about the comics history of Nathan Summers). Logan is still carrying a torch for Jean, and other old favorites like Storm, Beast, Rogue, and Gambit are back. (In a wonderful touch, much of the original cast is back to reprise their roles. Remember when animation used actual voice actors instead of celebrities?) Rogue and Gambit should be especially fun to watch, as the first two episodes hint at a relationship between them and a past involvement between Rogue and Magneto.

Oh yes, Magneto is back. As seen in the trailer, he has found Xavier’s will, and it leaves him in charge of the X-Men and the School for Gifted Children. No doubt, this was Charles’s final attempt to bring Magneto around to his way of thinking.

The nice thing about this show is that — unlike other Disney+ projects I could mention (*cough* Ahsoka *cough*) — it does not assume a lot of prior knowledge. Were you a fan of the old series? Great! But maybe you’ve only seen a few of the movies. Or maybe you read the comics long ago, but stopped when they got too convoluted. (Like I always say, if you haven’t come back from the dead at least twice, can you even call yourself an X-Man?) That’s fine too! The series, with its update to the classic intro, does a good job of explaining who’s who and what powers they have. And the writing is sharp enough to give you context for the relationships between the characters without a massive exposition dump. But there are plenty of inside jokes for die hard fans, too, such as a dig at future X-Man Goldballs, unwittingly made by Jubilee.

The animation is very clever. It is clearly meant to be in the same style as the old cartoon, but with a much higher budget to give it some more flourishes. This includes putting a “video patina” on it to make it look more like the ’90s series. It looks great, especially some of the action scenes. Storm landing in the desert, her lightning turning the sand to glass is fantastic, as is the shot of Gambit riding Wolverine and charging his claws with kinetic energy.

After watching the first two episodes, it’s clear that the creators love the X-Men comics and are intent on staying true to them and to the spirit of the old show. This promises a show full of twists and turns, as the X-Men are probably the superhero squad with the messiest backstories in all of comics. And I’ll be watching, probably with a bowl of Fruity Pebbles to make it feel like old times.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Victor Catano
Victor Catano
Victor Catano lives in New York City with his adorable pughuaua, Danerys. When not writing, he works in live theater as a stage manager, production manager, and chaos coordinator. His hobbies include coffee, Broadway musicals, and complaining about the NY Mets and Philadelphia Eagles. Follow him on BlueSky and Instagram at @vgcatano and find his books on Amazon

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The new show balances nostalgia with sharp storytelling.X-Men '97 is a Reboot Done Right