In 1984, Margaret Loesch became the president of Marvel Productions, the animation studio owned by Marvel Comics, which included the remnants of DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, the studio that had produced the cartoons ‘The New Fantastic Four’ and ‘Spider-Woman’ in the ’70s. Loesch was particularly enamored of Marvel’s comic book ‘The Uncanny X-Men’ and felt strongly that the mutants would make a great cartoon series. She made it her mission to bring them to Saturday mornings, but it was an uphill battle.
Marvel Productions had one hit Saturday morning cartoon on NBC, ‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’, which costarred Iceman, a former X-Man in the comics, and Firestar (spelled “Fire-Star” on this show), an original creation who was also given the backstory of having also been an X-Man on the cartoon.
The X-Men popped up in numerous cameos and had larger guest-starring roles in two episodes– Season 2’s “A Fire-Star is Born” and S3’s “The X-Men Adventure.” They also made a significant but silent cameo in S3’s “The Education of a Superhero.”
In the latter, Spidey, Iceman, and Firestar befriended a fledgling super being, Francis Byte, who transformed into an electrical monster called Video-Man. (Video-Man had previously appeared as a stand-alone villain, but they seemed to forget all about that in this episode.) At the end of the episode, the Spider-Friends dropped Francis off at the X-Mansion, so that the X-Men could train him to control his abilities.
Plans were in place to develop an ‘X-Men’ spinoff series, which would have depicted Francis’ evolution as a hero, but unfortunately, NBC passed.
The X-Men lineup varied on ‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’. In “A Fire-Star is Born,” the team consisted of Professor X, Angel, and Cyclops, with new additions, Storm and Wolverine, who was strangely Australian. In “The Education of a Superhero,” Prof. X, Cyclops, Storm, and Wolverine remained (none spoke), but Angel was gone.
Also depicted were Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Kitty Pryde in her Ariel costume. But in “The X-Men Adventure,” which aired afterward, Wolverine was gone, replaced by the long-dead Native American mutant Thunderbird, and Kitty was in her Sprite costume, which had appeared earlier in the comics than the Ariel identity.
In addition to Video-Man, the planned ‘X-Men’ cartoon would have included Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel, a character that wasn’t a mutant, but had appeared as part of the supporting cast of the ‘Uncanny X-Men’ comic book, eventually becoming the cosmic-powered Binary. From what I’ve read, her depiction on the cartoon would have been close to the Binary identity.
But as stated, NBC opted not to carry the proposed ‘X-Men’ spinoff.
“The X-Men Adventure” episode first aired in 1983. It would be six long years before Marvel’s top-selling mutants would return to animation.
In 1988, Marvel Productions delivered the syndicated anthology series ‘Marvel Action Universe’, which featured cartoons based on the R-rated film ‘RoboCop’ (!), the toy line ‘Dino-Riders’, and reruns of ‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’. The show was aired on either Saturday or Sunday mornings, depending on which day the carrying station chose to run it. ‘RoboCop’ really wasn’t a property for kids, so it didn’t go over well. ‘Dino-Riders’ also failed to connect.
Even so, ‘Marvel Action Universe’ lasted for two seasons, and one morning, many kids were startled to discover that the ‘RoboCop’ segment had been dropped for an ‘X-Men’ cartoon!
Unfortunately, entitled “Pryde of the X-Men,” this was a one-and-done pilot, which was once again, spearheaded by Loesch, that was meant to lead to an ongoing series. It did not.
The GORGEOUS animation was rendered by Japan’s Toei Animation, which had also contributed to many Marvel Productions collaborations with Sunbow Entertainment, like ‘GI Joe’, ‘Transformers’, and ‘Jem’.
That glossy pilot featured what some would consider the definitive team from the ’70s-’80s– Prof. X, Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Wolverine, with the addition of Dazzler, a character that had only recently been added to the roster in the comics. She was also given a brown bomber jacket that was later added to her comic book costume. A recently released Dazzler action figure was released, dressed in her costume from this pilot, complete with jacket.
The pilot depicted the introduction of 14-year-old Kitty Pryde, a mutant that could “phase” through walls, but couldn’t quite control her abilities. Initially, Kitty was terrified of the demonic-looking Nightcrawler, but, like in the comics, she came around when she realized how selfless he was.
In this pilot, the X-Men battled Magneto and his “Brotherhood of Mutant Terrorists”– Blob, Toad, Juggernaut (not a mutant, jussayin’), Pyro, and the White Queen (Emma Frost). In the comics, Emma has telepathic abilities, which she retained in this pilot, but she was given the additional power to fire spears of psychic energy.
Marvel seemed to have gone all-in on this pilot, as the White Queen was added to their roster of characters that would appear in live-action at events like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, alongside Magneto and Wolverine. (Oh, yes, I TOTALLY wrote about that with video links! Check that out HERE.)
Alas, “Pryde of the X-Men” did not lead to an ongoing series… yet.
However, it does retain a significant place in the history of Marvel’s Merry Mutants. In 1992, Konami released an arcade game based on “Pryde of the X-Men” which became a staple of all placed that took tokens. The game came in two formats, a smaller four-player version, or an amazing six-player game that allowed players to play as the entire X-Men team from the cartoon– Colossus, Cyclops, Dazzler, Nightcrawler, Storm, and Wolverine. Kitty and Prof. X appeared as NPCs, and the game pitted the gamers against the “Mutant Terrorists” from the show as well as a few extras, like Mystique. The game still has a cult following today, and was briefly available for gaming consoles and cell phones, but that was a while ago. If you want to play it now, you better track down an upright game someplace.
Personally speaking, I was too young to have read the ‘Uncanny X-Men’ comic in its ’70s-’80s heyday. So a lot of my impressions of this group was formed by these animated appearances. Which is why I still can’t stand Kitty Pryde to this day. Whiny brat.
The appearances on ‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’ and “Pryde of the X-Men” intrigued ’80s kids. They just seemed cooler than your average superheroes– I mean, none of them had “Man” or “Woman” as part of their name! What?!
But these attempts did not lead to their own series. But Margarate Loesch didn’t give up. And… that is the subject for another Super Saturday.
‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’ is available to stream on Disney+.