Sunday, April 21, 2024
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‘X-Men ’97’ Less ‘Woke,’ More Clinton-Era Flashback



Packed with nostalgia and numerous nods to followers of the comics, the premiere of “X-Men ’97” is less a “woke” retcon as originally feared and more an artful recreation of the original cartoon series that dominated Saturday mornings during the Clinton era.

The new show reportedly broke a record for streaming on Disney+, with 4 million viewers over the first week. By contrast, an audience of 2-3 million viewers is considered good for a series these days.

A continuation of the mid-’90s animated series featuring most of the same Mutant characters, news of “X-Men ’97’s” release met the expected scrimmage line of fan scrutiny. Online discussions were replete with references to a character being re-written as “non-binary” and the alleged erasure of [*ahem] curvaceous body features in the new artwork. Then came the release of the first two episodes in the middle of last week. Judging by the numbers, it’s not another example of “go woke go broke.”

Not yet, anyway. But it’s still early.

Reading the headlines about the premiere, you would have thought there was a massive conservative uprising against the show, rather than the general skepticism that Disney-era Marvel has arguably earned. “The X-Men Have Always Been “Woke” …” industry-friendly ScreenRant claimed. “If You’re Mad That X-Men ’97 Has Gone ‘Woke,’ You’re Missing the Point,” MovieWeb screamed in a headline. “X-Men Fans Push Back Against Anger Over Non-Binary Character,” usually centrist Forbes carried via a staff editorial. Even the Hindustan Times editorialized in a piece titled “X-Men woke controversy explained and busted.” Who are they arguing with, given the viewership numbers?

CASUALTY OF CLINTON’S WAR ON CARTOONS

“Busted” or not, there are several probable reasons why the original series came to an end, and these must be kept in mind to understand why right-leaning viewers aren’t already boycotting the continuation.

For starters, the original series had its liberal tendencies, so they’re used to it and loved the show, anyway. Secondly, the contract had ended with Saban Entertainment and Fox Kids Network, where the mutant heroes dominated the Saturday morning lineup. The final episode “Graduation Day” ended with the presumed death of Professor Xavier who had a chance to say good-bye to his uncannily gifted resident students. Some say this was the natural conclusion and not a season cliffhanger.

But this came during a time of much difficulty for domestically produced Saturday morning cartoons. President Bill Clinton approved a strengthening of the Children’s Television Act of 1990 via an FCC order that required terrestrial TV stations to reserve “E/I” programming (educational and informative) during popular children’s viewing hours. This move opened a synthetic market for educational shows, and drying up demand for animated fiction. This also had an effect of foreign-produced entries such as “Yu-Gi-Oh!” and “Pokemon” having an advantage as they were not subject as much to U.S. market demands and were readily available. Add this to the competition cable and satellite posed to broadcast channels and network TV began to distance itself from shows like “X-Men.” (If you ever wondered how Saturday mornings became all animal shows and anime, there you go.)

Another reason is that the series started to sour with fans, who by and large thought the quality of the scripts had suffered while the show was leaving its moorings. By the time the show wrapped up, the United Nations had congressional-like powers to enforce mutant registration laws, true to ’90s globalist aspirations for UN power over conflicts. The characters were spending more time in space and confusing parallel dimensions rather than in recognizable reality. The show was working hard to weave-in as many random Marvel character spinoffs as it could.

Regardless of the reasons, fans just weren’t into it by 1996. Future TV offerings such as “X-Men: Evolution” didn’t have quite the audience appeal.

LIBERAL AS AN AFTERTHOUGHT

The United Nations on steroids as one example (which “X-Men ’97 continues, as chief series antagonist Magneto is tried before the international body and UN troops may be sent in unilaterally to haul mutants to jail), conservative fans have long-understood that their favorite shows are going to exhibit leftist tendencies over time. A leftward-lean is part-and-parcel to the entertainment realm. By no means has that alone stopped fans on the right from looking past the assaults on their political values and beliefs to appreciate the other virtues of a particular franchise — until it becomes unbearable to them.

But it’s clear conservative fans are giving it a look. And this despite any dog-whistling to Mutants being “born that way,” the expected “love is love” rhetoric, and depictions of angry, gun-happy anti-mutant protesters complete with “Evolution is a lie” picket signs (likely a slap at biblical literalists). Their criticism is warranted. The same outfit that made fan-favorite character Mystique and the lesser-known Destiny a lesbian couple in 2022 are still behind the scenes at Marvel Studios and Disney. In “X-Men ’97,” producers have taken Morph (originally written specifically for the ’90s series) and made him to be “non-binary” as similar characters were in the comic book continuum. Even Morph’s default look changed from the original series, while the other characters were kept mostly the same. Oh, and Morph has “their” for a pronoun, per the end credits.

‘THAT WASN’T THE MAIN PURPOSE’

Enter: writers who would like to “remind” angry right-wing fans that “X-Men” has always been in the “woke” category. They’ll point to a history of religious tolerance and civil rights allegories throughout the storylines, especially after a short break in the mid-’70s (and as if conservatives are the black-hats who opposed all efforts at integration and religious freedom, but that’s another subject).

Not so fast: Creator Stan Lee, in a 2007 interview with AM radio staple “Coast to Coast,” said social engineering was “the furthest thing from my mind.” According to blog That Park Place, Lee said:

“At one point in the interview, Lee said, ‘Now, take the X-Men. I was just originally trying to get an interesting group of characters with interesting powers and I thought it would make it twice as interesting if the public didn’t really like them that much and if they had a worry about their reception by the outside world.’

“He continued, ‘Little by little I began getting mail saying how great it is that I’m doing these stories about bigotry and the evils of bigotry and so forth and race hatred. And I guess I was doing that, but I was doing it subconsciously. That wasn’t the main purpose.’

“In another clip from the program, Lee addresses the idea the characters are an allegory for being representatives of the LGBTQ+ community.

“He says, ‘No, it was the furthest thing from my mind.'”

Contrast that with a social justice focus of recent and rapidly floundering comic book titles. On the DC side, Superman’s son and Batman’s sidekick Robin were written as bisexual. Marvel continues to subject all of its legacy characters to a DEI review. Even Marvel villain M.O.D.A.A.K’s appearance was changed to resemble Donald Trump. New Marvel characters were introduced, such as “Snowflake” and “Safespace,” though it’s doubtful you’ll see children dressed as them at your doorstep next Halloween. Meanwhile, a quarter of all comic books stores in the U.S. are expected to close; even while general bookstores have seen a rise in sales.

As we’ve seen in numerous recent examples, if good fiction takes a backseat to political preachiness, audiences will leave by the droves. And if the storytelling is jumbled and a bland mess, even the biggest of fans will vote with their feet, as they did with 2019’s big screen X-Men entry “Dark Phoenix” or several movies featuring Justice League characters which met with low box office numbers. Look no further than the scorn hurled toward “The Marvels” or the mess that was the most recent Star Wars trilogy.

Comic books character fans like brilliant colors, action, clear-cut struggles between good and evil, a little political or military intrigue, a balance of sci-fi and fantasy, and certainly even a romantic interest or two. “X-Men ’97” is hitting those same squares that made the ’90s cartoon so compelling.

Time will tell whether “X-Men ’97” will devolve into a soapbox for the Left. Audience scores are generally a good indicator of how much progressive propaganda conservative viewers are willing to forgive.

Episode 3 airs today on streaming platform Disney+.