|The X-Men turned adolescent alienation into superhuman powers aimed at addressing the injustices of an unfair adult realm. But more importantly, they kicked butt.
The very successful X-Men cartoon was based on the hugely popular Marvel comic book of the same name. The show was very loyal to the comic, employing some of the latter’s story lines and bringing to the small screen all of the main characters. Like the comic, the series told the story of a group of mutant, teenage superheroes, feared by the common man, yet instrumental in protecting the very society that shunned them.
The wheelchair-bound Professor Charles Xavier, himself a mutant telepath, ran a School for Gifted Youngsters in Westchester, New York. His goal was to gather these special people and train them to harness their unique abilities in a positive way, and to oppose other mutants who chose to abuse their special powers for selfish reasons.
The students at his school were all outcasts who knew since early adolescence that they had unusually remarkable abilities. Cyclops, the group’s leader, could shoot solar energy from his eyes, Wolverine was a quick healer with long claws, Gambit could kinetically charge objects like playing cards, Morph could transform into any shape, Storm could control the weather, Rogue absorbed other people’s powers for her own use, the hulking Beast was strong and agile, and Jean Grey, the Professor’s assistant, had telekinetic and telepathic powers. The series also introduced the newest member of X-Men, the electromagnetic Jubilee. Since the Professor’s nickname was X, his group of outcasts collectively became know as the X-Men.
Although all the mutants were cast off by society, not all of them were good. In fact, a large portion of the bitter outcasts dedicated their lives to evil and revenge. Of the villains, the former Dr. Magnus, now Magneto, was the X-Men’s biggest nemesis. A childhood friend of Professor X's, Magneto fought for the rights of all mutants, usually by systematically destroying the people that turned them away. Other enemies included Professor X’s half-brother Juggernaut, Apocalypse, Proteus, Mr. Sinister, and a group of mutant-hunting robots called the Sentinels.
The main themes of the show were unfair discrimination and segregation. The common people feared and persecuted the mutants, good and evil alike, simply because they were different. Some mutants wanted to ignore and rise above their discriminators, while others wanted justice and a means of retaliation. This wasn’t surprising subject matter, given that the original X-Men comic book was first published in 1963, during the heart of the Civil Rights Movement.
It’s easy to see why the show was so popular with its adolescent viewers, since they could relate to the mutants' (teenagers) being judged and cast out by the discriminating common people (adults). This may have contributed to the show’s runaway success-X-Men topped the Saturday morning Nielsen Ratings after only six weeks, and finished the season as Fox’s top-ranked cartoon.
The show remained a huge hit for the remainder of its lengthy run, which not only opened the way for more Marvel superhero cartoons (Spider-Man: The Animated Series, The Marvel Action Hour, Iron Man, etc.), but proved to the powers-that-be that teen-oriented cartoons could survive in a "kiddie cartoon" universe. The effects were felt across cartoondom for years to come, with the release of such series as Exo-Squad and Invasion America.