Late last night, I caught a couple of episodes of the 1990′s X-Men animated series on TV. The dialogue and animation were just as rough as I remember them being, but just watching those two episodes was more enjoyable than watching either of Bryan Singer’s X-Men movies. (There’s really no point in mentioning Brett Ratner’s X-Men movie, is there? Right, pretend I didn’t mention it.) I tweeted about it and have since been thinking about why they’re more enjoyable, even if the animated series lacks such terrific actors as Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen and (not a knight) Hugh Jackman. I’ve got a theory (and it isn’t bunnies).
The X-Men really gained popularity as a comic when Chris Claremont was writing the “All New! All Different!” Uncanny X-Men. One of the hallmarks of Claremont’s writing, and one of the reasons I believe the series became so popular, was a really good handling of soap opera-esque plotting. It wasn’t just the characters that people liked or Claremont’s melodramatic but engaging dialogue, it was the way he (and John Byrne, when they co-plotted the series) wove storylines involving the Sentinels, Magneto, the Savage Land, the Shi’ar Empire, the Hellfire Club, Alpha Flight, Doctor Doom, the Morlocks and especially the “Dark Phoenix Saga.” And if you go back to the original X-Men team, the best stories are just as drawn out and soap opera-esque.
Soap opera storylines are pretty much impossible to do in movies; the dramatic structures of serialized comics and feature films are just too dissimilar. I love the way the Iron Man, Thor and Captain America movies have all led up to the forthcoming Avengers movie. And Marvel Comics has been doing extended, twisty, soap opera plotting in all of their superhero comics since the ’60s. But it’s such a part of what makes the X-Men in particular a comic I keep going back to–I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve re-read the original and “new” X-Men comics–I have a hard time imagining an X-Men movie that will ever be as enjoyable to me as the animated X-Men series of the ’90s.