Review: Before watching Wolverine, go back to basics with the X-Men Animated Series

I watched the X-Men animated series when it was originally broadcast in the early 1990s. I'm a comic-book fan now, but back then I hadn't yet begun to donate giant wads of cash to that industry. I knew nothing about the characters or the comics, and the animated series was my introduction.

Watching this show is how fell in love with the literature-quoting Beast (voiced by George Buza, who plays a trucker in the film X-Men). I learned all about Storm's (Alison Sealy-Smith) past in Africa and watched the romance that couldn't be consummated between sexy Cajun-voiced Gambit (Chris Potter) and raspy-voiced and giant-breasted Rogue (Lenore Zann). I was introduced to the Sentinels, and I watched Jean Grey (Catherine Disher) get possessed by the Phoenix. (And watched her do it much better than she did in the third film ... sorry, Famke.)

X-Men was one of the longest-running animated series on Fox Kids, and to date it's the longest-running Marvel Comics-based television show, running for five seasons.

Seasons 1 and 2 (Walt Disney Video, $23.99 each) came out on DVD on April 28. The show is not just for hard-core X-Men fans. If you aren't familiar with the series at all, this is an excellent way to get yourself up to speed before you take a look at X-Men Origins: Wolverine. If you've seen the earlier films, this will give you some more background on the characters you already know and a few you may not.

There are no special features on the DVDs, but let's be honest. They aren't really necessary for an animated series. Sure, Stan Lee talking about the characters would have been cool, but the man is hardly a hermit who never discusses his work. It's available elsewhere. The quality of the writing still holds up after all this time and doesn't seem terribly dated. It stays pretty true to the source material, which keeps it from sounding as preachy or condescending as many other Saturday-morning cartoons. The characters are well fleshed out, and the storylines are easier to follow than they are in the comics. You don't need any background in the lore to appreciate the show. The 2-D animation is almost refreshing after years of the 3-D style, though younger kids may miss the textures they're used to on shows like The Clone Wars

The first two seasons ran in an order, something fairly unheard of for a Saturday-morning cartoon, though the following seasons were shown a bit more randomly. Season one had 13 episodes, and season two had the same. The DVDs, however, are split up a bit strangely, with the first including three episodes of season two and the second including three episodes of season three. But that takes us all the way from the introduction of Jubilee and the Sentinels through the entire Jean Grey/Phoenix saga.

All in all, the series is entertaining for fans and newcomers alike. Plus, it gives you a chance to bone up on the lore before you watch Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber battle it out on the big screen.

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