When you’re a kid, you don’t necessarily recognize great storytelling when you see it. You don’t stop to think “Oh, they’re setting up the following episode in the B-story of this episode,” because you’re too busy being enthralled by the story at hand. But, 23 years later, when you’re paid to watch movies and TV and pick them apart, you realize everything the makers of an inexpensive Canadian cartoon based on a Marvel Comics property were doing with just 22 minutes. I’d always remembered X-Men‘s sixth episode, “Cold Vengeance,” as the episode with Wolverine, some Inuits, and Sabretooth, but what it really is is setting up the saga on the mutant slave island of Genosha. Damn, you guys.
Already, in just the sixth episode, X-Men has set Wolverine up to be possibly the most important character. He’s the only one that, so far, we get any sense of a backstory for, with the exception of Professor X. It’s amazing how well the writers of the show translated the comics to screen, because if kids wanted to read about these characters, they were roughly the same. Wolverine took off at the end of “Captive Hearts” because of his unrequited love for Jean and he gets his own episode here, while the other X-Men have to deal with his absence.
First, let’s talk about Wolverine’s story. I remembered this was him going up to the snowy Canadian wilderness to get away from it all, and I remembered Sabretooth showed up to make things not so good, but I’d forgotten this was also about an Inuit tribe and the most beloved man of the tribe getting jealous when Wolverine—who is super strong and heals super fast, let us not forget—shows him up in front of everybody. As soon as I saw the characters, I remembered completely. There’s something about the character who’s jealous of the outsider that I never liked. Seems like a pretty safe narrative trick. But, it serves the purpose.
What I really enjoy about this storyline is how we see Wolverine react to being not only accepted by a new group, but admired and quickly beloved. He talks about how he feels at home, and how, with the Inuits, he’s happy for the first time in a long time, insinuating that even with the X-Men he doesn’t feel like he fits in. And really, you can’t blame him; they immediately turn on him when he tries to tell them in his own irascible way that Sabretooth is not to be trusted. Professor X may have helped quell his rage, but he couldn’t take away the loneliness. Here, Wolverine feels like he can contribute without judgment… except in the case of the jealous guy.
This episode also nicely sets up the idea of recurring villains. Sabretooth ran away at the end of “Deadly Reunions,” but here he is back and ready to make Wolverine’s life miserable for the few minutes he leaves him alive. He talks about how Wolvie’s slipping and, time was, he’d never have been able to get the drop on him. This again alludes to a lot of history we haven’t yet seen. Nothing is spelled out in this show, and nothing is as easy as it seems. Sabretooth is more of a de facto obstacle in this episode, being the thing that stands in Wolverine’s way to achieving happiness. The jealous Inuit sells Wolverine out to Sabretooth, once he learns they’re both mutants, but eventually he sees the error of his ways and helps to defeat the baddie. But Wolverine can’t stick around. Because we’d have a completely different show if he left.
So, I’d remembered all or most of that A-plot, but I’d completely forgotten the B-plot, which is actually where I think the episode gets really interesting. Cyclops, who has already set himself up as being intensely high strung, gets pissed off that Wolverine left, saying the guy is too unreliable to have on the team, even though Jean tries to explain that it’s her fault. He later snaps at Gambit for “spreading lies” about a supposed tropical resort on the island of Genosha that’s not only a safe haven for mutants, but a welcome respite for them. Professor X, however, thinks checking it out is a good idea, and sends Storm, Gambit, and Jubilee for a vacation to investigate.
A ton of this episode is spent with this, and with the three X-Men going to Genosha. Everything seems on the up and up but the fact that we keep cutting back to it without any real plot point happening all but proves something ain’t right. Eventually, the big cliffhanger for the episode happens. The concierge looks up the three travelers and tells the bellhop to take them to the special rooms, which turn out to be traps. This is a mutant harvesting operation, and the sight of a Sentinel at the end means we’re in for more bad stuff.
I really think it’s great how they used this episode to set up the next episode. It shouldn’t surprise me this much, and I know I keep reiterating, but animated series at the time rarely spent this much time and effort into creating storylines, and not only that but dealing with huge issues head on. Mutant Registration and possible eradication is a major theme of the whole X-Men mythos and they’re keeping it right in the foreground.
Next week, we get right into it. Storm, Gambit, and Jubliee – not to mention a handful of other X characters, have to deal with imprisonment at the hands of Gyrich, Trask, and their Sentinel army. “Slave Island” next time, and I can’t wait.
Images: Saban Entertainment/Genesis Entertainment
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!