X-Men ’97 Is Ready to Battle for Everyone’s Souls

X-Men ’97 Is Ready to Battle for Everyone’s Souls

The moment mutantkind has been dreading has come—and after the ashes of Genosha taught our heroes to expect the worst, not even the little preparation they have is going to be enough to stem the tide. But as X-Men ‘97 sets the stage for its grand finale, whether or not the X-Men will survive the experience isn’t the question: it’s once again time to see who will capture their hearts and minds in the aftermath.

Much of “Tolerance Is Extinction”—the first part of three that will wrap up X-Men ‘97’s excellent debut season—this week is about setting the stage for what’s really to come as the X-Men rally and go on the assault against Bastion and his Prime Sentinels. It’s less about the moment-to-moment, but establishing the stakes of what’s really going on here as Operation Zero Tolerance steps out of the shadows and into terrifying light. For our heroes, it’s their backs against the wall, as the Summers (including Cable, no matter how much he tries to avoid his father) investigate Bastion’s past and the X-Men back at the mansion all discover simultaneously just how many humans have been pushed through the Prime Sentinel program—unwittingly, perhaps, like Trish Tilby, or otherwise, like legions of angry young men who found community for their bigotry online that Bastion saw opportunity in. If the X-Men are mutantkind’s best, their powers used to save mutant and human life alike, what happens when humanity’s worst gets put on a level playing field?

Image: Marvel

For the most part, it’s pretty rough news for the X-Men. “Tolerance Is Extinction, Part 1” is packed with ‘97’s best action animation so far, as we see Kurt and Logan team up to defend Xavier’s home, Bobby and Jubilee on the run, and Jean, Scott, and Cable effortlessly rally to take on a whole town’s worth of Prime Sentinels. The scope of the conflict here is huge, not just in the overwhelming numbers, but the breadth of it all: a global impact we see cheekily alluded to throughout the episode as we get animated cameos from non X-Villains like Doctor Doom and Baron Zemo, familiar foes like Silver Samurai, and yes, even animated heroes like the ‘90s show’s version of Spider-Man (no dialogue, no Chris Barnes, alas).

But that breadth also brings it back to the scope of the mutant struggle: it’s not just their home under siege, but Bastion has given a cybernetic face to mutant hatred that was simmering everywhere. They’re on the news, they’re families in homes, they’re people at the mall, they’re partygoers, they’re gangs at bars. Much of X-Men ‘97’s heart has been about whether or not the X-Men and mutants at large should be beholden to the simple tolerance of humanity—Henry Peter Gyrich’s line from the premiere, the title of our finale showdown, constantly thrown back at their face. Now, it’s not just an idea, it’s running through the streets, battering down the gates of their homes, it’s on news broadcasts dropping the story of their genocide to tut that the X-Men lied about Charles Xavier’s whereabouts. Giving that simmering prejudice a face in the Prime Sentinels and weaponizing it is less of a perversion of humanity, and more like a mask dropping. This is what the X-Men have always been up against: it’s just now that what they’re up against can fly at super sonic speeds and shoot mutant-eradicating laser beams.

Image: Marvel

It is in that context, away from the action spectacle, that X-Men ‘97 lays the groundwork for what comes after this fight—and prepares to bite its teeth into something far meatier than any mutant-on-sentinel scrap could be. In Bastion’s lair, Valerie Cooper—revealed to have been a willing but ignorant ally to Bastion’s Sentinel program, yet horrified by her experience at Genosha—sees Magneto laid bare, proverbially and literally, so she can see the horrors of the holocaust still marked on his flesh, a reminder and parallel so potent it pushes her to do the right thing in the wake of her terrible failure, freeing him in the process. Back at the X-Mansion, even as news reports decry Charles’ survival with footage of his declarations in Shi’ar space, Xavier comes crashing back to Earth, ready to rally his X-Men again. X-Men ‘97 may have opened with Magneto at least understanding Charles’ dream in his absence, willing to offer a hand in sharing Earth with humanity. But things have changed in his long absence, and Charles Xavier, as much as he wants to, no longer calls the shots.

Their disparate responses to the Prime Sentinel’s assault across the world already gives us something of an indication as to how two schools of mutant thought will emerge in the wake of the battles to come. Magneto’s is a show of power, a threat that while not destructive, is laden with that promise, in the form of an electromagnetic surge that blasts across the world, knocking out every Prime Sentinel with his single utterance of the episode: enough. Charles? He calls his children home, to him, to his care, to put on that united front to a world that hates and fears them—and is currently trying to exterminate them. Magento’s blast is a declaration of war, according to Wolverine, but is it really, when the Prime Sentinels have been attacking them with tooth and claw for the whole episode before it? What does Charles’ return to earth really do, beyond create more distrust to humankind at the worst time? Which of these two divergent paths of leadership actually lead to a momentary pause in the conflict—even if it was a pause laden with warning?

Image: Marvel

The real battle “Tolerance Is Extinction” is setting up is not one almighty scrap between mutantkind and its allies and the Prime Sentinels, but for the soul of them all—and the X-Men’s focus—now that Charles and Magneto are both on the playing field again. Can Charles’ dream persist, after the nightmare it became on Genosha? Will Magneto lead mutantkind to war, or simply make a show of force to humanity’s purported tolerance? And most importantly, can they work together—or have things changed to much to leave anything but a schism between them?

Whatever the answers we get over the next few weeks, it’s just as clear that this only the beginning.


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