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xmen 97.png

How 'X-Men '97' Sidestepped Cyclops' Biggest Sin And Redeemed A Tragic Foe

By Tori Preston | TV | March 28, 2024 |

By Tori Preston | TV | March 28, 2024 |


xmen 97.png

There’s a lot that X-Men ‘97 is getting right. Last week’s two-episode premiere proved the show is both a seamless continuation of the original animated series, picking up after Xavier’s “death” from the show’s finale, and a modern update that draws parallels to our own recent history (Magneto’s UN trial being stormed by an anti-mutant hate group was an obvious and welcome January 6th reference). From the animation style to the iconic opening credits, from Magneto’s hips to Gambit’s abs, the mission is clearly to do what worked before — only better. Which is why I was delighted to find that this week’s episode, “Fire Made Flesh,” pulled another familiar stunt from the original series: It did a speed-run through a major comic event in a single episode, in this case the multidimensional crossover “Inferno.”

Fans of late ’80s Marvel Comics gonzo excess may have been disappointed to find that X-Men ‘97 did away with most of what made “Inferno” so memorable (the midriff-baring BDM gear and Manhattan being overrun by demons, natch), but writers Beau DeMayo and Charley Feldman accomplished an even more impressive feat. They whittled the event down to what impacted the X-Men most, and in doing so, managed to sidestep Cyclops’ biggest sin from the comics while simultaneously doing justice to the person he sinned against: Madelyne Pryor, Jean Grey’s clone. In the comics, Jean Grey died during the events of the “Dark Phoenix Saga” (well, she dies a lot but this was a biggie). Scott was sad, but then he ran into a woman who looked exactly like Jean: a spunky pilot in Alaska named Madelyne. They get married and have a baby named Nathan (who grows up to be the future mutant Cable), but then Jean gets resurrected, and Scott basically ditches his family to go gad about with his ex-girlfriend. See, when I complain about how much Cyclops sucks, it’s not just because he’s got the personality of self-righteous cardboard — it’s because of what he did to his first wife.

(Yes, I know Marvel editorial basically backed original writer Chris Claremont into a corner when they decided to resurrect Jean and get the original X-Men back together. His intention was for Scott and Madelyne to live happily ever after and she wasn’t supposed to be a clone at all. Comics, man. Comics.)

X-Men ‘97 is working within a slightly different continuity. When a Jean lookalike arrives at the mansion looking for the X-Men, it is indeed the return of the “original” Jean Grey. It’s just that the woman Scott married, who just gave birth to his son, also thinks she’s Jean! The original series introduced Mr. Sinister, a mad mutant geneticist with a hankering for Scott and Jean’s bloodlines, and the sequel series pays off that plot by revealing that Sinister created a Jean clone and swapped them at some point. Crucially, though, the clone never had another personality. They’re both Jean Grey, which means Scott was always basically faithful to the same woman. There was no Madelyne.

Once Sinister triggers his clone to obey him, she takes baby Nathan and leaves for Sinister’s lab - but not before leaving psychic illusions for the rest of the X-Men to fight back at the mansion. The clone, influenced by Sinister but genuinely hurt by the fact that Scott didn’t immediately support her in his Two-Jean confusion, transforms into the Goblin Queen (flashing some thigh but still vastly more clothed than in the comics). The X-Men rush to the lab and a fight ensues that pays homage to “Inferno” (the clone drops them into a fiery pit where demons fly around), but the original Jean wakes up and psychically projects herself to the clone, smashing Sinister’s control. The clone takes Scott’s hand, and together, they save their son from Mr. Sinister’s experiments… but not before the baby is infected with a techno-organic virus that can’t be cured in this time period.

In the comics, Madelyne as the Goblin Queen goes mad and tries to take Jean down with her, but fails. She perishes, and Jean steps in to help raise baby Nathan until he’s infected with the same virus and is sent to the future for a cure. The tragedy of Madelyne Pryor was that she never got to live her own life. She was created to be a replacement for Jean and that’s all she ever was to everyone around her. Nobody wanted her for herself. It took decades for the comics to offer Madelyne the sort of justice that ‘X-Men ‘97’ did so neatly. The show allowed Jean’s clone to say goodbye to Nathan herself, as she sent him to the future with Bishop. She leaves the mansion - and Scott—of her own volition, to find her place in the world. Scott never has a chance to abandon her for the real Jean because she doesn’t give him a choice. And as she leaves, she chooses her own name: Madelyne Pryor. Who she becomes from now on is up to her. Nobody else.

So Scott is still cardboard but hasn’t suffered the complete character assassination of the comics, Nathan is in the future about to become Cable (whom the X-Men already met in the original series), Jean’s back and knows Scott married sorta-her but maybe not her-her, and Storm just ran into Forge at a bar in Texas. There’s seven more episodes to go this season, but based on this episode alone, it’s clear Beau DeMayo and his staff don’t just respect the original cartoon and the comics — they recognize the flaws in the storytelling and are capable of making some clever shifts to bring the plots on track. Which makes me invested in the future of X-Men ‘97 while also being concerned, since Marvel and DeMayo mysteriously “parted ways” a few weeks ago…