X-MEN: EVOLUTION Season 1
Do you refer to all of the X-Men (including Wolverine) by their full names instead of their code names? Do you reassure yourself that the discrepancies between various versions can be explained by invoking alternate timelines? Do you while away boring tasks by mentally assembling teams with synergistic combinations of mutant powers? Can you use the expression "oh my stars and garters" with a straight face?
If you answered "yes" to all of the above, you should buy X-Men: Evolution Season 1. If, instead, you rolled your eyes in disgust and assumed I was joking, you should probably pass on it.
The first season is exactly what one would expect of an X-Men take-off targeted at the Saturday morning cartoon crowd. Major characters are accounted for, but the intellectual elements are missing, or at least obscured by the saccharine "feel-good" tone of the show. Like all things X-Men related, the stories are character driven. However, relying heavily on tired high school clichés, they have all the emotional depth of a Hallmark greeting card.
The scenario has teenage versions of Jean, Scott, Kitty, Kurt, Evan, and Rogue (ok, even I don't know her real name) attending high school with several members of the Brotherhood. Clearly, this must be some alternate timeline because otherwise serious liberty has been taken with the biographies of some major characters.
Despite the dubious tutelage of principal Raven Darkholme (a.k.a. Mystique), the young mutants learn that its important to know who your true friends are, home is where the heart is, your family is all those who love you, and teamwork should come before rivalry. Professor Xavier and his fellow faculty members, Ororo and Logan, exchange kids-will-be-kids looks and all is well with the world.
The central theme of mutants as a metaphor for various oppressed groups does not come into play, as the story assumes mankind is unaware of the existence of mutant abilities. However, those lovable teenage misfits in the Brotherhood make enough trouble to keep the X-Kids busy and make the series enjoyable. If you shudder at the idea of supervillians so adorable you just want to tousle their hair and pinch their cheeks, let me reassure you that the cuteness does have a limit; the major antagonists are taken seriously and represented as adults. You won't see the master of magnetism wielding his powers to steal road signs, or a teenage Mystique banishing a pimple with her shape shifting ability.
In all fairness, the aspects of the first season which so disappoint the basement-dwelling thirty-somethings make it perfect for children. The episodes generally stand on their own, requiring little or no effort to follow. Morality is fairly black-and-white and happy endings are the norm. There is a final confrontation at the end, but little was done to lead up to it. Don't expect to be dazzled (or challenged) with creative plot twists.
For adult fans, the greatest strength of the X-Men: Evolution series is the writers' uncanny talent for putting the characters' powers to use in amazing combinations. For example, in the first season, you'll see Nightcrawler and Shadowcat making synergistic use of their abilities. I personally found this rather refreshing, as I have often postulated (during a boring commute) that Kurt and Kitty would make an astounding team. Evolution is one of the few incarnations of the X-Men where power-related plot holes are difficult to find. Unlike many science fiction creators, the Evolution writers clearly define the "rules" of their universe and play by them consistently. These subtle indications of genius foreshadow what is to come in later in the series.
Considered in isolation, the first season is mediocre and rates three stars. I was tempted to give it four simply because of the inherent sentimental value in seeing my favorite superheroes (and a few villains) as adorable animated adolescents. The main reason for the die-hard fan to purchase season one, however, is the expectation of what is to come. The humor, intrigue and drama of the later seasons build upon the characters and relationships established in the first episodes, so if you intend to watch the series it is best to get in at the beginning.
And no fan should go without seeing the rest of the series. In the second season, X-Men: Evolution, like its protagonists, undergoes a rapid and dramatic transition from an immature, simplistic form to a thing of awesome and unlimited potential. The contrast is enough to elicit and exclamation of "oh my stars and garters".