Batman v the X-Men 2: The first 13 episodes

I’ve been watching 1990s nostalgia cartoons while using an exercise bike. I gave my initial impressions here but I want to discuss some more detail about the episodes. The problem is there isn’t an easy way to do a side-by-side comparison. There are 76 X-Men episodes and 109 Batman episodes but the first season of Batman is 65 episodes long. The X-Men came in more even chunks spread over five seasons. As season 1 of the X-Men has its own story arc, I thought it would be simplest to use the X-Men-sized chunks to look at both shows. That will give a false impression of change in the Batman show where season 1 is the length of seasons 1-4 of the X-Men.

As I said in the first post, the obvious differences between the two is the elegant and well thought through aesthetics of Batman on the one hand versus the often very ropey art of X-Men on the other. What the X-Men lacked in visuals (and music) it made up for in a serial story telling.

There are deeper differences. Notably, Batman doesn’t need to introduce himself. The show doesn’t let Batman’s reputation do all the work but it never has to explain its own premise. The X-Men on the other hand, particularly in season 1, is very much intended as a primer for the comic book.

We get the early 1990s line-up for the X-Men: representing the originals Cyclops, Jean-Grey & Beast, with the later additions of Wolverine & Storm, then Rogue & Gambit and finally newbie Jubilee. There is one original character Morph, whose role is to get killed in the opening two-parter (it’s the X-Men so he’ll be back later). The over-arching theme of season 1 is the baseline story of fighting anti-mutant bigotry. Along the way, season 1 takes a quick tour through some of the X-universe, including Magneto, Morlocks, Sabretooth, Juggernaut, Genosha, Apocalypse and a version of the Days of Future Past plot (with Bishop as a recurring character).

As I already said, Batman doesn’t need to explain his premise but there is still a back-to-basics aspect to the first 13 episodes. Of Batman’s famous rogue’s gallery of supervillains, only the Joker appears multiple times. Scarecrow, Poison Ivy and Penguin get episodes but the only extensive origin story is a two-part episode on Harvey Dent becoming Two-Face. The emphasis is on Batman fighting organised crime and the idea of Batman as a detective and crime-fighter rather than a superhero.

The X-Men series tries to pack as much mutant IP into the first series as it can. When Gambit, Storm and Jubilee find themselves enslaved on Genosha, they are trapped with a whole bunch of other mutants. Most of these go unnamed but a visually recognisable as other mutant heroes and villains. Cable drops by in the Genosha episodes as well but billed as a mysterious freedom-fighter rather than as a time-traveler carrying on the family business.

The X-Men series is driven by and for the comic books, whereas the Batman series is trying to be not just its own thing but an attempt an a Batman synthesis. Kevin Conroy’s Batman/Bruce Wayne is a distinct version of the character but it is a version that is influenced by the comic book versions, the Adam West version, and the Tim Burton film version. The retro-visuals also tie this version of Batman to older movie and radio serials. In the first 13 episodes, there’s some quiet additions to the wider Batman cast of characters with the addition of Officer Montoya as a recurring character.

So, on the one hand we have a manic X-men and a methodical Batman. Where the X-Men have an advantage in these first thirteen it is in the often histrionic emotional stakes. The hurtling stories make little sense and are often compressed versions of longer comic book story lines but the cast is always just a little bit over wrought by everything (except for Beast who spends most of the season in jail). The Batman series has some decent stories to tell but it purposely lacks momentum. These are episodes that (aside from Harvey Dent) have little continuity on purpose.


11 responses to “Batman v the X-Men 2: The first 13 episodes”

  1. Well I liked Batman as a kid, but I think X-Men was one of the most influencel shows for me(even if we didn’t get more than 2 seasons because violence here), so this is interesting. I kind of liked the maniac approach, Cable was confusing I must confess.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I liked and still like Batman better. But then I was an adult when they came on; when they were making Batman, I was visiting a friend who worked at WB animation and got to wander around and look at the art zcx Catherynne Valente

    Liked by 1 person

    • Whoops, new keyboard! Anyway…

      I wandered around looking at the art people had tacked around their cubicles and on the walls. Which was as cool as you’d think from people who draw cartoons. They were doing Tiny Toon Adventures at the time, and the soon-to-premiere Batman.

      Anyhow, I got to see some of the Batman concept drawings, and thought it was so cool that they were painted on black paper, not white. This was an idea I’d never seen, and I could see how it gave them more depth and when there were colors, they popped more. So I knew how it would look. Also, I saw a concept drawing for the characters from something upcoming called Animaniacs, which I was immediately told not to talk about so my friend wouldn’t get in trouble. Even though I’d signed an NDA to get past the lobby.

      Plus Batman had the great voice cast.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “something upcoming called Animaniacs, which I was immediately told not to talk about so my friend wouldn’t get in trouble.”

    When they said there’d be trouble if stuff got loose, are you sure they weren’t just explaining the premise of Yakko, Wakko and Dot?

    Liked by 2 people

    • LOL, no. But I did not need it explained that WB and Spielberg have many good lawyers. And I hadn’t forgotten I’d signed the NDA with my real name, which I was using online back then, which is how I’d met my friend in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. One nitpick. Morph wasn’t really an original character for the show. He was just a slightly repurposed version of Changeling, who had been an adversary before discovering he had a terminal disease and agreed to stand in for Charles Xavier while the Professor secretly readied his psionic defenses for the Z’nox invasion. He was killed and the X-Men believed it was the Professor who died for many issues.

    When they started the cartoon series, they wanted to emulate the relaunch of the X-Men following Giant Sized #1 by killing off one of the characters, but weren’t comfortable with the optics of introducing Thunderbird, a Native American mutant hero and then killing him off immediately like in the comics. So they went back, found Changeling, and just shifted his name to Morph to avoid trademark issues with DC comics then popular ‘Changeling’ character created in 1980.

    The original Neal Adams art was pretty clearly the basis for the updated Morph:

    Liked by 1 person

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