The Original ’80s Animated X-MEN Pilot Is Deemed Homework for X-MEN ’97

We only have two episodes left of X-Men ’97, and former series showrunner Beau DeMayo has been giving fans “homework” for the final episodes of season one. This homework takes the form of old X-Men episodes or comics to prepare for what’s coming next. The latest assignment comes in the form of watching the original X-Men animated pilot from 1989.

In the clip for episode nine of X-Men ’97, which you can see above, we see the team suit up in their classic costumes. Cyclops wears his suit with the skullcap, Wolverine puts on his brown and tan costume. Storm has her original suit from the comics. These are the same looks from the comics, also famously used in the original X-Men pilot, “Pryde of the X-Men.”

Another factor used in “Pryde of the X-Men” was Magneto’s orbiting stronghold, Asteroid M. His fortress was already teased several times in the show’s opening credits, as it appeared in X-Men: The Animated Series. We think the addition of “Pryde of the X-Men” as so-called homework only further fuels the notion that Magneto’s base of operations is making a big comeback. You can watch the full “Pryde of the X-Men” episode right here:

X-Men: The Animated Series is one of the most iconic superhero cartoons ever made. Without its huge success, it’s unlikely Fox would have ever greenlit the first X-Men film. But the X-Men cartoon we got was almost entirely different from what Marvel originally planned. Back in ’89, Marvel commissioned a pilot episode that introduced the X-Men’s junior member Kitty Pryde, hence the title “Pryde of the X-Men.” It only aired sporadically in syndication, before an eventual VHS release with a very odd live-action intro of Spider-Man talking about the importance of voting… to a presumably kid audience. (Sure, why not).

“Pryde of the X-Men” is fascinating for several reasons. It is a sort of spinoff to the version of the team first introduced in 1982’s Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends series. That is why they continued the weird decision to make Wolverine Australian, an idea first used in Spidey’s cartoon. (And which kind of predicted Aussie actor Hugh Jackman’s eventual role as Logan). For some reason, the producers substituted Rogue with Dazzler.

The VHS cover for the 1989 X-Men animated pilot episode.
Marvel Entertainment

The cartoon had the classic line-up and concept from Uncanny X-Men, despite the late ’80s comics featuring a different team at the time. Despite its theme song paling in comparison to the ’90s show, the original pilot has some great things going for it. Overall, the animation was better. Plus, it featured iconic team members like Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Kitty as regulars. Kitty never once appeared in the ’90s show, which always felt like a glaring omission—maybe one X-Men ’97 will eventually rectify.

Graphics from the 1992 X-Men arcade game.
Marvel Entertainment / Konami

Back then, no network believed in X-Men as an animated series. It was producer Margaret Loesch who successfully pitched Fox Kids on the X-Men concept on the second try, in 1992. She cited the massive sales figures for X-Men #1 as an example of the IP’s popularity. No executive believed in X-Men, but Loesch staked her reputation on Marvel’s Mutants becoming huge. She was right, and the rest is history. Although X-Men: The Animated Series as produced bore little resemblance to “Pryde of the X-Men,” the one-off cartoon had a second life. Its designs and concepts were the basis of the massively popular Konami X-Men arcade game, also released in 1992.

The characters of the original 1989 X-Men animated pilot.
Marvel Entertainment

As different as both shows were, they had one big thing in common. Both pilots featured a POV character who was a young girl discovering her mutant powers, and she’s our eyes and ears into this new world. In the ’90s series, it was Jubilee. We could easily see this approach, which began in “Pryde of the X-Men,” translated into the eventual MCU X-Men. It’s just too good and obvious a storytelling device. In the end, we would not be shocked in the MCU X-Men film begins with a teenage girl approaching the doors of a certain mansion located at 1407, Graymalkin Lane. But for now, it looks like X-Men ’97 is going to pay homage to this once-forgotten iteration of Xavier’s students.

Originally published on March 22, 2022.

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