When I was writing my Batman Reanimated series in 2014, I was consistently stricken by how slow and deliberate the pace of those episodes were. While still only 21 minutes, they centered around one basic plot and were easily wrapped up in the allotted time. This isn’t the case at all with X-Men: The Animated Series. Many different plotlines and story arcs are at work, even in the third episode, and therefore it never feels like we get enough time to spend on anything. This isn’t a criticism—it’s a way of explaining that X-Men never rested on normal cartoon pacing. And with “Enter Magneto,” it didn’t rest at all.
After introducing all he major characters, the two-part “Night of the Sentinels” gave them all a mission to carry out, so we were able to spend a lot of time with them before we got back to plot. “Enter Magneto,” which is the first part in another two-episode mini-arc, doesn’t give us this breathing room. We do get an introduction, as the title might suggest, of the X-Men’s greatest foe. But the X-Men hadn’t actually met Magneto at this point—only Professor Xavier knew him. This theme is mirrored in the appearance of Sabretooth, and Wolverine’s reaction to him. The episode also deals with Beast’s day in court and a narrowly diverted nuclear missile strike. I mean, it’s nuts.
A lot of the first part of the episode deals with Beast. He’s being held at a government detention center, surrounded by bigoted guards who treat him like an animal. Magneto then arrives to try to break him out of prison—a brother mutant aiding in the fight against humanity. Naturally, Beast declines, and this illustrates the central difference between Magneto and Xavier, embodied by Beast in this case.
Beast says, “We need to show the world we are not a threat to humanity, but a part of it,” while Magneto believes they are a superior species and should be able to rule humans, or even destroy them. It’s a somewhat valid argument. Why would you choose to be part of a society that hates and fears you? Magneto’s militant anger comes from his own fear and hatred, while Xavier attempts to demonstrate that everyone is the same. Though, not for nothing, the X-Men are still vigilantes.
Beast’s bail hearing goes about as well as you’d expect it to. The judge pretends to be accepting of this large, blue, furry man standing before him, but even as Beast paraphrases William Shakespeare and tries to out the Mutant Control Agency as a group of kidnappers and extortionists, his bail is summarily denied. This leads to a mutant in the back—Sabretooth, it turns out—to start tossing benches and ultimately get zapped by guards. Wolverine, who is in attendance with Cyclops, thinks they should just let Sabretooth get taken, but Cyclops intervenes and they bring the unconscious Sabretooth to the mansion. More on that in a moment.
Again acting as little more than the audience surrogate, Jubilee gets the lowdown on Magneto from Xavier, which leads to a flashback of the two of them working together in *some country* to help victims of *some war*. They eventually reveal their powers to each other and Magneto’s rage is exhibited due to his own family being killed during *some other war* in *some other country*. I find it interesting that there’s no context given for Magneto in the cartoon other than the barest of minimums. It’s probably too heavy a topic for a kids show that he was a Holocaust survivor, but that’s glossed over to the point of being nothing. He brings up a good point, though, after Charles stops him from killing enemy soldiers: “How can we make peace with them? Look at them! They can’t even make peace with each other.”
Wolverine’s attempts to kill Sabretooth, or at the very least get him out of the mansion, are met with naivety from Xavier, Cyclops, and Storm. Rather than take Wolverine’s word that Sabretooth is dangerous, they say, “Oh, we have to help each other, and we have to help him.” Knowing now that Sabretooth is as bad a baddie as he is, we the audience would immediately side with Wolverine. But for kids in ’92 watching this, maybe they’d be left unsure. Sabretooth never wakes up in the episode, so we only Wolverine’s reaction to go by.
When Magneto shows himself at an army base with missile silos, the team runs to stop him, prompting Wolverine to ask Xavier, “How come we have to trash your old enemy, but we have to go easy on mine?” VALID POINTS ALL AROUND.
The final act of the episode deals with Cyclops, Storm, and Wolverine trying to stop Magneto after he’s already launched three nuclear missiles, aiming them directly toward the base itself. Magneto just can’t wrap his head around why Charles and his students would ever want to protect humanity. He simply doesn’t understand, which will lead to the following episode’s major thrust—that not all mutants share Xavier’s hope for peace, just as not all humans share the dislike of the strange. The episode ends with Storm willing to sacrifice herself to stop the missiles, but instead figuring out a way to short circuit them, falling to earth after exhausting herself, and being caught by Wolverine.
Again, we get something for each of the characters—well, less so for Jubilee but she’ll get a lot next time. Jean, Gambit, and Rogue are also not present, but there’s no room for them. The central friendship/rivalry between Cyclops and Wolverine is a huge, major part of this season and it continues here, with them being allies and even pals in the loosest sense, but with resentment bubbling just underneath. Xavier is the key figure here, though, and we see just how deep his sense of hope goes. As I said before, it borders a bit on naivety.
Next week, we’ll look at the conclusion to this mini-arc, “Deadly Reunions,” which sees confrontations between Sabretooth and Wolverine as well as between Xavier and Magneto. And we’ll get to talk about some Easter eggs too!
Let me know what you think of this episode and of X-Men animated in general in the comments below!
Images: Fox Television
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!