This “X-Men” series helped a generation embrace their differences — can it again?

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All the X-Men cartoon characters in the image
'X-Men '97' Marvel Studios (Photo by Disney)

The X-Men Are Gayer Than You Thought

Jean Grey? More like Jean GAY! Not sure if you knew this, but the X-Men are actually gay as fuck. A group of ragtag misfits whom society refuses to understand — it’s pretty poignant. Chosen families are popping up more in new shows and movies, but one of the first and most influential is the superpowered team, the X-Men. Fighting prejudice and bigoted hate groups and embracing their differences to overcome society-made obstacles make this a show for anyone not cis, white, and straight to feel seen.

A lot of people who have felt ‘other’ found themselves represented in X-Men media, even if the comparison isn’t 1:1. We attach to the oddballs and admire their perseverance. One of their most influential outings comes in the form of a five-season (and soon to be more!) series from the 90s called X-Men: The Animated Series. The show aired from 1992 to 1997, which is why the new season, 26 years later, is called X-Men ’97. It even has a gay creator, Beau DeMayo, who was mysteriously let go from the project as of March 2024.

X-Men: The Animated Series is Great on Disney+

You may know the X-Men from their live-action movies, but you’ve never seen them so expressive and passionate. The team dynamic the 20th Century Fox movies were lowkey missing is oozing in spades out of this show. Characters have arcs and flaws and flirt hard! The guys have insane biceps and abs through their campy uniforms (I’m talking to you, Wolverine and Cyclops) and probably gave an entire audience major bi-panic growing up.

Wolverine, The Beast, Storm, Jean Grey, Rogue, Cyclops, Professor X, Morph (IYKYK), and Jubilee were transforming Saturday mornings and the minds of young people everywhere in the 90s. Their series is deservedly getting a 10-episode bonus season, growing on the classic show’s ongoing story. Let’s hope a new generation of kids can meet this iconic chosen family with a lot of gay undertones (and let’s face it, OVERTONES MAMA) to not only normalize who the LGBTQ community is but all the powerful things we’re capable of when we come together.

New Media Means New Representation 

For decades, queer comic fans and allies have made it known that they value this comparison. Even if Wolverine and Cyclops present as straight cis-men pining after fellow straight-hottie Jean Grey, it’s innocent fun to consider a possible twist where the two macho men choose each other. Not to mention the homoerotic tension between the characters… but I digress. The truth is that a lot of these partnerships are now feasible. We’re allowed to think this way because times have changed for the better. What was once never expected to be seen on screens for gay folks is now in the realm of possibilities. So shipping Wolverine and Cyclops together isn’t so much a faraway dream as an achievable outcome.

Oh, and the vibrant theme song is catchy as fuck. It makes you feel like you’re playing one of those old classic arcade games. The animation feels classic and creative, pushing the boundaries of what was broadcast on children’s networks at the time. The continued success of the X-Men franchise (with some notable flops along the way) has brought us to the year 2024. After 13 X-Men and Wolverine spinoff movies, Marvel is returning to its roots and rebooting the classic 90s X-Men.

Wolverine on a bed looking at a framed photo.
‘X-Men ’97’ Marvel Studios (Photo by Disney)

The Influence of the X-Men

The series starts with Jubilee, a headstrong Chinese-American teen who discovers she’s a mutant. Fireworks of every color blast from her hands, which would come in handy on a Pride Parade float. When her foster dad expresses fear of her differences and even goes so far as to REGISTER HER WITH THE GOVERNMENT, Jubilee faces changes like no other. People and robots hunt after her just because of her new identity, and that’s when the X-Men save the day.

“I didn’t ask to be born like this,” “I didn’t choose this,” and “Why won’t people understand we just want to get along?” are all lines spoken by Jubilee, who begins her journey viewing her mutant status as a curse. Not knowing how things will change because you learned something new about yourself is a quintessential queer experience.

There’s even an evil human politician who runs on a platform to send mutants (he calls them “poor unfortunate creatures” and “abominations”) to internment camps. He’s proud to be anti-mutant, and it reminds me of a certain former President in our world. The themes resonated then and especially do today.

The X-Men offer newby Jubilee a safe space to live and learn at Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. It’s more than just for kids; it’s a superpowered education with its doors open for any mutant. Even Wolverine, who’s never been more snarky and fun, in my opinion, appreciates the haven Charles provides. Captured villains are protected by the compassionate X-Men, upholding the school’s philosophy of being a refuge to anyone in their community. An allegory for LGBTQ solidarity? Heck yes.

Magneto’s War for Equality 

“I won’t stand by and watch it happen again. I won’t!” — Magneto 

The X-Men cartoon characters
‘X-Men ’97’ Marvel Studios (Photo by Disney)

The origin of Magneto has always been really interesting to me. He’s a holocaust survivor with the power to manipulate metal. He grew a pretty valid hatred for humans after seeing the damage they could do and vowed to use his abilities to liberate mutants everywhere. He raises a mutant army, is well-known for his quirky helmet, and offers a path forward, albeit violent, for mutant-kind. My Jewishness and resentment towards Nazis is something so ingrained in my religion/culture, so I always understood Magneto’s frustration with the world. The series briefly touches on his harsh origins without clarifying the Nazis were involved, which was a bit of a bummer. Without his distinct Jewish origin, I feel a chance was missed to really remind the world of the atrocities of WWII.

The series also touches on biases in the courtroom and law. People in power suppressing those who are different is a reality queer people understand all too well. Black and Brown people also face this harshness, and the X-Men’s mutant allegory has been used to highlight the disparity white people inflict on anyone non-white.

Fashion, Flair, Mutations 

We need to talk about the pure queen convention on this show. Rogue has this slick southern drawl and crazy 2-tone hair, always dropping crazy lines about how men are trash. Storm serves lightning, thunder, and stunning beauty in her flight-capable bodysuit. Her catchphrases are so beloved that the voice actress continues to fulfill requests to ‘call upon the full power of the storm!’ more than 20 years later. And Jubilee has a neon punk outfit that every girl and gay boy wishes they owned. It’s funky and eccentric stupidness that you’d see on a Ru Paul design challenge. That’s a compliment!

And the men… wow. Bulging muscles from comic-accurate costumes make this a gay superhero fan’s dream show (me, darling)! The series’ impact really cannot be understated. Its airing gave so many kids who felt like outsiders, gay or not, that they were worthy of being safe. We can be heroes in our story, even if the world unfairly turns against us.

This is not a reboot, in fact, it’s a continuation of the original series that takes place after the bombastic season 5 finale. When a major character dies, and the X-Men have to rebuild under new leadership, how will they face adversity together as a team? This show coming back is more than nostalgia and eye candy for the ’90s gays. Watching is a new opportunity for folks to meet old faces whose greatest power may be their empathy and teamwork.

X-Men: The Animated Series is coming on Disney+