When I was just out of college, I started watching the X-Men animated series whenever I could on Saturday mornings. Even now, when there are good cartoons on Saturday mornings, I'll plop down on the couch with my daughters and eat a bowl of Fruit Loops while watching. Unfortunately, the cartoons now aren't as good as they were in the '90s. X-Men, Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, and Batman Beyond were all in full swing in the mid to late 1990s. It was a great time to be a comic book cartoon lover.
The X-Men series was based on the X-Men comic book series from Marvel Comics that started in 1963. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the X-Men are a group of mutant humans with extraordinary abilities such as telekinesis, telepathy, teleportation, advanced healing, etc. Led by Professor Charles Xavier (i.e. Professor X), they trained to use their powers to help people even as the world around them was seething with anti-mutant sentiment. On the opposite side, wishing to rule humankind, is Magneto, a powerful mutant who can control magnetism. Magneto leads the Brotherhood of Mutants, a group dedicated to stirring up anti-mutant sentiment in order to cause a war.
Many social issues were explored in the pages of the X-Men comics, including anti-semitism (Magneto was a Jewish boy in Germany during World War II), racism (mutant vs. human paralleled the racial tensions of the 1960s), government control (McCarthyism), and so on. The X-Men animated series dealt with many of the same issues over its five seasons and has been widely lauded for bringing those tough issues to television. The series ran for five seasons on television from 1992 to 1997 and had high ratings for all five seasons.
X-Men: Volume 5 is a two-DVD set that includes the last four episodes of season four and all ten episodes of season five. Included is one of my favorite storylines from the series involving Apocalypse, who wants to bring about a war between mutants and non-mutants so he can rule the world. Also included is my favorite episode, "Old Soldiers," in which Wolverine reminisces about his time in World War II with Captain America when they fought the Red Skull. With next year's big screen debut of Captain America – Captain America: The First Avenger – coming July 22, 2011, it was fun to see Cap again even as a cartoon.
As with all cartoons, the heroes struggle not only with their foes, but with themselves. And the X-Men don't lack for enemies or troubles as a group or as individuals. Time travel, computer virus-like aliens, tyrants from other planets, and ageless villains take their toll.
Animation-wise, this series was one of the most consistent style- and quality-wise of the many great animated series of the time. Unfortunately however, there are no extras. I would have been very keen to learn more about the production process, why producers and writers decided to use one storyline over another, and so on. Marvel should learn from DC's example in this case. The Superman: The Animated Series complete set includes many extras and provides a much more complete viewing experience for me than did any of the X-Men volumes. However, maybe they will now bundle all the episodes into one collection and provide some extras in lieu of all the great Marvel-based movies coming out in the next few years.
If you were a fan of the series in the '90s and are looking to explore the cartoons of your youth, I'd highly recommend picking up X-Men: Volume 5 on DVD as well as the previous four volumes. I'm sure we'll see much more in the way of DVD re-releases over the next year as director Matthew Vaughn readies the next X-Men movie, X-Men: First Class, for a June 3, 2011 release. Next summer should be a great one for comic book movies, but until then be sure to pick up the X-Men animated series on DVD as you chill in the air conditioning this summer!