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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Fishing in the Discount Bin - X-Men: The Phoenix Saga

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  You know how this works, I watch a movie I own and blog about it.  This time out, I'm doing X-Men: The Animated Series and their adaptation of The Phoenix Saga.  This is in my notes at November 11, 2019.

So, with everyone lamenting how they screwed up an adaptation of The Dark Phoenix Saga once again, I thought I'd go back to when they did it right, and toss my copy of X-Men: The Phoenix Saga in the ol' Blu-Ray player.

Now, the 1990s X-Men cartoon is one that has become the thing of legend, for it's highly accurate adaptations of classic X-Men story lines.  So of course they would tackle the Phoenix Saga.  Way way back in the early days of DVD, the five episodes that comprise The Phoenix Saga were released on DVD.  And of course I snatched it up!  I'm pretty sure it's the first TV show I bought on DVD. 

Actually, I've been doing a lot of research on The Phoenix Saga recently, given the terrible movie.  I was never that big into X-Men comics when I was a kid.  My go-to comics were Marvel's licensed properties...G.I. Joe and Transformers.  And then when Ninja Turtles hit the big time, I was all about TMNT.  So such classic as Spider-Man and Batman?  Never really read them when I was a kid.  So with Dark Phoenix being so bad, I figured it was time to go down to the library and finally check out The Dark Phoenix Saga.  And I was flabbergasted when it failed to open with the whole space shuttle rescue thing. 

That's when I discovered that "The Phoenix Saga" is generally divided into two parts.  Part I is the whole space shuttle rescue and Jean Grey's transformation in the Phoenix.  Part II is when she finally goes mad with her power, and that's The Dark Phoenix Saga.  And the thing is, Part I happened in the comics years before Part II, so Jean Grey actually fought alongside the X-Men as Phoenix for quite some time!  Anyway, the animated series' five-part episode The Phoenix Saga is based on Part I. 

Professor Charles Xavier has a dream about a strange woman calling to him for help.  This vision leads him to command his X-Men to sneak aboard an upcoming space shuttle launch and head to the space station.  So they do, and find that the space station has been commandeered by the Shi'ar Empire.  The X-Men free the space station crew and escape, but the shuttle is damaged.  Jean Grey is the only one who can safely pilot it down with her powers.  She does, but in the process, becomes engulfed by a mysterious, fiery entity. 

The professor finally gets to the bottom of his visions.  Princess L'landra of the the Shi'ar Empire has been calling out to him, telepathically.  Her brother, Emperor D'Ken, has gone mad with power, and seeks to unlock the secrets of the M'Kran Crystal so he can conquer the universe.  L'landra seeks the help of Xavier and the X-Men, and the mythical guardian of the M'Kran Crystal, the Phoenix...the fiery entity who has now bonded with Jean Grey. 

Watching this again tonight, I forgot how great the 1990s X-Men cartoon was.  Yeah, the animation is a little choppy, but the characters and the stories are all top notch.  And I love how the animators were able to sneak in little cameos from the Marvel Universe.  Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, and War Machine all get "blink and you'll miss it" cameos in this epic. 

but of course, they do manage to tack on the death of Jean Grey, just as they tweaked the end of their Dark Phoenix adaptation to resurrect Jean.  Since you can't really kill anyone in cartoons, though, here's how they do it.  Once they save the universe, they try to destroy the M'Kran Crystal so it can't fall into the wrong hands again.  But, it's indestructible.  So Jean and the Phoenix resolve to bury it in the heart of the Sun and forever stand watch over it.  But it's completely played as a death scene. 

And that's where the performances come through, as it's very rich in emotion as all this plays out. 

X-Men: The Phoenix Saga represents one of the greatest cartoons of the 1990s at it's peak.  The series is going to be one of the launch titles on Disney+...it'll be well worth a binge.

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