X Men: Evolution (2000-2003) is the long-forgotten animated series that was known to be either a hit or miss among young viewers and long-time X-Men fans alike. As the successor of the highly-rated 90’s X-Men cartoon, many people were upset at how Evolution strayed away from this series and, consequently, the original comics. Targeted towards a much younger audience, the latter show placed more focus on developing the social dynamic of the X-Men as high school youth over their lives as mutant superheroes.
Despite the series’ stray from its origin, its premise was refreshing in the world of animation at the time of its broadcast. Characterization is very strong, especially for having such a large ensemble of protagonists- each character managed to get their turn in the spotlight. And because the series focuses on the personal lives of the X-Men, they are much more relatable and grounded in reality (as much as superhero teenagers can be at least).
What stands out the most about X-Men: Evolution is the unexpected complexity in its coverage of a wide array of social issues including: anxiety, discrimination, racism, homelessness, crime, depression, and more. The cartoon isn’t afraid to visit the nitty-gritty aspects of life, and although subtle at times, many of its messages come off as powerful to this day.
The Brotherhood for example is a group of mutant delinquents who are the self-proclaimed rivals of the X-Men. The members are abandoned youth who are taken in by an antagonist, Mystique, to do her dirty work (mostly consisting of battling the X-Men).
From stealing test answers to actual cash, the Brotherhood members are far from heroes; however, they aren’t portrayed as villains either.
Instead the series presents them as a group of youth who have been put through various unfortunate events, so do what they can to make ends meet-and sometimes this just means breaking the rules. Although the series’s central focus is on the X-Men, the Brotherhood’s perspective is shown as well, and although they are far from perfect, they have plenty of subtle compassion that persuades the X-Men (and the audience) to forgive their actions. This is just one of the many examples of the series’ progressiveness through its characterization.
Although social issues aren’t the central focus of the series, it definitely adds strength to its overall narrative.
As a whole, X-Men: Evolution didn’t receive nearly as much credit as it deserves, and has been forgotten in the pool of animated series.
Animated television has been increasing in narrative quality, so we can only hope that it will reach the heights of what the late 90s and early 2000s had to offer.