‘X-Men: Evolution’ Is Better Than ‘X-Men: The Animated Series’


The Big Picture

  • X-Men: Evolution
    transformed the traditional X-Men story by portraying the mutants as teenagers attending high school in Bayville, California, making them more relatable.
  • The portrayal of Cyclops in
    allowed the character to be a teenager who shows a range of emotions and cracks jokes, shaking up the dynamics of the X-Men.
  • X-Men: Evolution
    introduced lesser known characters and took a slow burn approach to storytelling, allowing various mutants to share the spotlight and adapting iconic storylines in a unique way.

The X-Men have been a staple of television for a very, very long time. Even before they helped kick-start the superhero movie boom, Marvel’s mighty mutants appeared in various animated series, including Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and X-Men: Pryde of The X-Men. Most fans will point to X-Men: The Animated Series as the pinnacle of these shows; after all, it managed to introduce the X-Men to a wider audience. Now that X-Men ’97 has made a triumphant return to this version of the X-Men, the debate has been reopened (even if everyone agrees the theme song is still incredible). But there’s another X-Men series that deserves just as much recognition, if not the title of “best X-Men series” ever. That series happens to be X-Men: Evolution.

X-Men: Evolution

This rendition of X-Men features Cyclops, Jean Grey, Rogue, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat and Spike as teenagers as they fight for a world that fears and hates them.

Release Date
November 4, 2000

Robert N. Skir, Marty Isenberg, David Wise

Kirby Morrow , Venus Terzo , David Kaye , Brad Swaile , Meghan Black , Noel Fisher , Christopher Gray , Michael Dobson


‘X-Men: Evolution’ Wasn’t Afraid To Make Critical Changes to the X-Men Characters

By now, everyone knows the X-Men’s story: telepath Charles Xavier gathers a group of mutants and trains them to be heroes at a boarding school. The end goal is for the X-Men to prove that humanity and mutantkind can live in peace. With X-Men: Evolution, things are quite different. Although most of the X-Men live at Xavier’s school, they attend high school in the fictional town of Bayville, California. Making the X-Men teenagers fully drove home the metaphor of mutant abilities kicking in at adolescence. Not only did the X-Men have to fight various threats, but they also had to get to school on time and deal with raging hormones. It made an already relatable group of characters even more relatable, especially when it came to their daily lives. One example is the Season 1 episode “Survival of the Fittest”; most of the X-Men are locked in a fierce rivalry with the Brotherhood of Mutants and despite Cyclops (Kirby Morrow) urging everyone to play by the rules, he loses his cool during a white water rafting race and uses his optic blasts to knock the Brotherhood’s boat off course.

In fact, the show’s best element may be its portrayal of Cyclops. In most X-Men media, including the comics, Scott Summers is often portrayed as a strict, humorless leader who often butts heads with the more popular Wolverine. But in Evolution, Scott actually gets to be a teen. He cracks jokes. He shows a variety of emotions. He even gets to be a badass; in the Season 3 episode “Blind Alley,” Cyclops manages to survive being dropped in the desert by Mystique (Colleen Wheeler), who takes away the glasses he wears to control his optic blasts. While Cyclops was a major part of X-Men: The Animated Series, his storylines more often than not featured him getting into arguments with Wolverine (usually over Jean Grey) or being the X-Men’s stoic leader. Letting Scott Summers be an actual teenager shakes up the dynamics of the X-Men to great effect.

Cyclops wasn’t the only member of the X-Men who was characterized differently. Wolverine (Scott McNeil), who for once wasn’t the center of the show, abandoned his usual loner persona to be a more hands-on teacher and protector — X-Men ’97 seems to have adopted this trend, as Logan hasn’t been a major focus of the story so far. Jean (Venus Terzo) was more outgoing and flirty; in fact, it took until Season 3 for her and Cyclops to officially become a couple!

But the character who changed the most is Magneto (Christopher Judge). Throughout X-Men history, the Master of Magnetism has been haunted by the memories of surviving the Holocaust, and is determined to rule the Earth so that mankind cannot visit any atrocities on mutants. X-Men: Evolution‘s take on Magneto is a bit more Machiavellian than his previous counterparts. He abandons his daughter Wanda (Kelly Sheridan), aka the Scarlet Witch, in a mental institution when her powers grow out of control and later forces the illusionist Mastermind to brainwash her into loving him. He revealed the existence of mutantkind to the world, forcing the X-Men into a corner. Even one of his Acolytes, Colossus (Michael Adamthwaite), is only working for him because Magneto threatens to kill his family. Making Magneto less of a well-intentioned extremist does lose some of the character’s complexity, but makes him an effective villain.


Marvel Missed Out on James Cameron’s ‘X-Men’ Movie

Stan Lee enticed the director with a certain wall-crawling web-slinger.

Adapting Comic Storylines Wasn’t the Main Focus of ‘X-Men: Evolution’

While the roster of X-Men: The Animated Series was packed full of fan-favorite mutant heroes, it never really changed throughout the series. The X-Men would often run into characters who were also members of the team in the comics, but they never joined up (in fact, X-Men ’97 marks the first time the active roster of X-Men will change.) X-Men: Evolution takes a different approach. Not only does its student body grow with each season, but various mutants get the chance to share the spotlight. The most prominent examples are Nightcrawler/Kurt Wagner (Brad Swaile), Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat (Maggie Blue O’Hara) and Rogue (Meghan Black). Nightcrawler is arguably the heart of the show — his mile a minute mouth and his habit of comforting his friends in their toughest times endeared him to many fans. Kitty and Rogue also became fan favorites; Kitty more so for her upbeat nature and Rogue for her surly approach. One of Evolution‘s more iconic moments features the two, who couldn’t be more different, dancing together (and it was just the first of many, many shout-outs to other teen-centric shows and films.)

Season 2 introduced a new class of mutants, and a new teacher: Hank McCoy, aka The Beast (Michael Kopsa). McCoy started off as a teacher at Bayville High, until an experiment unlocked his mutation and transformed him into a massive, blue-furred beast. It took Spyke (Neil Denis) and the other X-Men to snap McCoy out of his feral state, upon which he took up a teaching position at the Xavier Institute. McCoy’s introduction was a key example of how the show took a different approach to adapting iconic storylinesfrom the comics.

In contrast to X-Men: The Animated Series, which would often adapt as many storylines as it could (another trend that X-Men ’97 seems to be continuing), Evolution took a more slow burn attempt. The Season 2 episode “Power Surge” featured Jean’s powers spiraling out of control, which was meant to set the stage for a potential adaptation of the Dark Phoenix saga. Season 2 would also introduce the New Mutants, which further shook up the dynamic by introducing fan-favorite mutants like Jubilee and Iceman. Seasons 3 and 4 featured the X-Men coming into conflict with the ancient mutant Apocalypse, who transformed Magneto and Xavier into his Horsemen; needless to say, it was far better than the cinematic mess of X-Men: Apocalypse. By not racing to adapt the big stories, X-Men: Evolution was free to chart its own path.

X-23 First Appeared in ‘X-Men: Evolution’

If X-Men: Evolution has one major claim to fame, it was the series that introduced Laura Kinney — aka X-23 — to the world. Laura first appeared in the Season 3 episode “X-23,” as she sought to kill Wolverine since she held him responsible for the misery inflicted upon her. Logan refused to fight her, and encouraged her to make a life for herself. Laura’s appearance marked a key departure for Evolution; her childhood, briefly shown in flashbacks, was full of pain and horror, which resulted in one of the darkest origin stories ever put on Saturday morning animation. In contrast, X-Men: The Animated Serieswas hamstrung by bizarre censorship rules that didn’t allow death to even be mentioned.

X-23 would follow in the footsteps of Harley Quinn and made the jump from cartoons to comics in the NYX miniseries. Christopher Yost and Craig Kyle, the writers behind Laura’s debut episode, would introduce her into the Marvel Comics canon with an X-23 miniseries. Finally, Dafne Keen portrayed Laura in Logan, and much like Evolution, she formed a strange yet heartfelt bond with Logan. While X-Men ’97 is an amazing continuation of X-Men: The Animated Series, X-Men Evolution stands out for the risks it took. Creating a fan favorite character, giving the spotlight to lesser known mutants, and using the comics as a guide rather than a strict set of rules helped make Evolution the best animated incarnation of X-Men to date.

X-Men: Evolution is available to stream on Disney+ in the U.S.

Watch on Disney+


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