Marvel Animation’s Roadmap to the Stars: How X-Men ’97 Could Lead to Marvel’s Greatest Cosmic Stories Being Told on Screen

Marvel Studios waded into the shallow end of the nostalgia pool with X-Men ’97. It was a low-risk project for them in that it had a very high floor thanks to the deeply revered X-Men: The Animated Series. Through three episodes, ’97 has performed well above that floor and the only question left to answer is just how high of a ceiling the project has, especially with new viewers. Once the wistful sentiment wears off of those who grew up watching TAS on Saturday mornings, the series still has to keep the attention of a new, younger audience in order to sustain success into a second season.

Should it do so, however, Marvel Studios May have found a new recipe to success in Grandma’s ’90s cookbook and may just decide to continue to go backward to go forward and revive some of their other ’90s animated series. While there’s currently no indication they are planning to do so nor any guarantee they could replicate the microwaved hype of X-Men ’97, previous animated series such as Silver Surfer, Fantastic Four and, yes, Spider-Man preemptively and unknowingly put the pieces in place for Marvel Animation to adapt some of Marvel Comics greatest hits of the ’00s.

It’s in the DnA

Beginning in 2006, Marvel Comics published a related series of cosmic crossover events largely created by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, aka DnA, with a kickstart from Keith Giffen. Over the course the next five years, Marvel’s publishing house redefined the cosmic corner of Marvel Comics for the first time since Jim Starlin‘s decade and change time as the defining voice of their space operas. Through Annihilation, Annihilation: Conquest, War of Kings, Realm of Kings, The Thanos Imperative and The Annihilators, the House of Ideas revitalized old heroes and villains, reimagined others and reminded readers just how broad the the cosmos is. Serendipitously, Marvel Animation could be poised to repeat the success of their publishing partner by simply retelling these incredible stories on a stage that has already been set for them.

More than five years passed between the end of the run of Marvel and Saban Entertainment’s animated series (X-Men, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Silver Surfer, Spider-Man Unlimited and Avengers: United They Stand) and the publication of Annihilation; however, those series laid enough foundation to allow Marvel Animation to orchestrate a run through Abnett and Lanning’s cosmic opus. Incredibly, most of the main players of the DnA’s cosmic stories were introduced in the ’90s animated series and those who weren’t could easily be worked into an episode of one of a few series that would most likely be revived.

The Dope Old School ’90s Animated Series Introduced Some O.G. Peeps Who Will Play a Phat Part in the Cosmic Stories

Before looking at how Marvel Animation could move ahead, let’s take a quick look at the work that was done in the ’90s that could provide the springboard into the Cosmic crossover events.


The granddaddy of them all, as it were, X-Men: The Animated Series brought new life to Marvel’s properties in 1992, paving the way for Fox to roll out their X-Men films which, along with 1998’s Blade, put things into place for Marvel Studios to roll the dice on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ironically, the success of X-Men ’97 may now convince Disney to further invest in animation. The circle of life. X-Men: The Animated Series largely took its inspiration from Chris Claremont‘s work on Marvel Comics’ Uncanny X-Men but also drew on plenty of other issues and runs. Outside of the core X-Men themselves, the original animated series introduced several characters and locations during its five-season, 76-episode run that would be key players in an animated Cosmic arc.

Key Characters and Places Introduced in X-Men: The Animated Series
  • The Shi’ar (Season 3)
  • The Starjammers (Season 3)
  • The Blue Area of the Moon (Season 3)
  • The Kree (Season 3)
  • The High Evolutionary (Season 4)
  • Moondragon (Season 4)
  • The Phalanx (Season 5)

Fantastic Four

Paired with Iron Man as part of the Marvel Action Hour, Fantastic Four ran for 26 episodes over two seasons from 1994-1996. For the most part, the series adapted the earliest adventures of the team from the comics and introduced dozens of characters that would fit neatly into Marvel Animation’s Cosmic narrative.

Key Characters and Places Introduced in Fantastic Four
  • Skrulls (Season 1)
  • Silver Surfer (Season 1)
  • Galactus (Season 1)
  • Firelord (Season 1)
  • Terrax (Season 1)
  • Kl’rt, the Super-Skrull (Season 1)
  • The Negative Zone (Season 1)
  • Annihilus (Season 1)
  • Blastaar (Season 1)
  • The Inhuman Royal Family (Season 2)
  • Attilan (Season 2)
  • Darkhawk (Season 2)

The Incredible Hulk

The Jade Giant was given 2 seasons of his own animated series that totaled 21 episodes which aired in 1996 and 1997. Though neither Banner nor Hulk are key characters in any of the Cosmic stories, his children are and including him also allows for some great stories to be told in the revivals which can’t just be about the Cosmic stories.

Key Characters and Places Introduced in The Incredible Hulk
  • Bruce Banner/The Hulk

Silver Surfer

Possibly a bit too far out even for the ’90s, Silver Surfer ran for only one, 13-episode season after a legal dispute between Saban and Marvel killed the partially developed second season. Though it wasn’t connected to Fantastic Four and aired after the cancellation, I’m not entirely sure it contradicts any story arcs from it either. Silver Surfer introduced so many of Marvel Comics’ major Cosmic players in its one and only season, making it an integral part of the foundation needed for Marvel Animation to tell the DnA stories.

Key Characters and Places Introduced in Silver Surfer
  • Thanos
  • Drax
  • Gamora
  • Ronan
  • Nebula
  • Adam Warlock
  • Beta Ray Bill
  • Kree Supreme Intelligence

The Avengers: United They Stand

The last of the series to be produced through the collaborative efforts of Marvel Entertainment Group and Saban Entertainment, The Avengers: United They Stand pales in comparison to the superior Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes; however, it put one key character in play (sparing us all another origin story) and a revival for a second season could carve out an episode or two for an adaptation of a mid-2000s crossover event that could be used to help us out.

Key Characters and Places Introduced in The Avengers: United They Stand
  • Ultron

Incredibly, without any possible way of knowing what they were doing, the folks at Marvel Entertainment Group introduced almost every main player in DnA’s Cosmic run. A few big guns are missing but that can all be easily fixed in subsequent revival seasons of the shows listed above.

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No cap: making this revival work as a way to adapt the DnA stories through the animated series is my Roman Empire. So, how do we get there based on what’s been done in X-Men: The Animated Series, Season 1 of X-Men ’97, Fantastic Four and Silver Surfer? That’s the easy part and it just requires giving a few key individuals that main character energy. Here’s a road map to make sure we’re all eating good in our revival era.

The reality is that even if this were to happen, it would be years before it unfolds on our small screens. (Cue Invincible reference): Animation takes a long time. However, with two more seasons of X-Men ’97 already ordered up, Marvel Animation seems like it’s here to stay for at least a while. For the purposes of this totally made-up series of events, we’re operating under the assumption that Season 2 of X-Men ’97 streams before the first DnA domino falls.

The Incredible Hulk Season 3

There’s no such thing as too much Hulk. A third season of the animated series could continue the exploration of his fractured psyche, introduce the animated iteration of the Illuminati and send him off to Sakaar in a cliffhanger episode where he could meet a familiar face. The continued adventures of The Sentinel of the Spaceways will be an integral part of the infrastructure of the shared universe simply because he can be any and everywhere. Season 1 of Silver Surfer ended on a cliffhanger and it provides the perfect opportunity to open Season 2 with him unaware of how he’s come to be on Sakaar and under the control of the Red King. This could be a classic Marvel Animation two or three-parter to wrap up the third season of The Incredible Hulk with an adaptation of Planet Hulk.

Key Characters and Places Introduced in The Incredible Hulk Season 3
  • Caiera the Oldstrong

Silver Surfer Season 2

In the comics, Surfer’s time on Sakaar immediately preceded the awful chain of events that befell the galaxy and having Season 2 of Silver Surfer spin out of Season 3 of The Incredible Hulk provides the perfect opportunity for the first big event to unfold. Assuming a 10-episode season and the pace at which stories are told in animation, Season 2 could open with a two-part adaptation of Kurt Busiek‘s Maximum Security crossover event. Though it preceded Planet Hulk in publication, it could serve as a great way to integrate the X-Men, Fantastic Four and some cosmic heavy hitters into the narrative. A few changes could introduce the Kyln and one of its prisoners, Star-Lord, who will play a big role later in the season. A flashback episode somewhere along the line can introduce Mar-Vell to the mix, paving the way to explore his legacy later. A quick stop on Xandar in Episode 5 could introduce Xandar, Richard Rider and the Nova Corps and then a three-part season finale could adapt the incredible Annihilation event.

Key Characters and Places Introduced in Silver Surfer Season 2
  • The Blood Brothers (Maximum Security arc)
  • Quasar (Maximum Security arc)
  • The Kyln (Maximum Security arc)
  • Star-Lord (Maximum Security arc)
  • Xandar
  • The Nova Corps
  • Richard Rider
  • Mar-Vell
  • Phyla-Vell
  • Genis-Vell

The Avengers: United They Stand Season 2

The first season only introduced a handful of Avengers and the focus was on the West Coast team. A second season could add to the roster but its real purpose is to allow for an adaptation of Secret Invasion that involves the X-Men. Sure, that story was done in Avengers: EMH but it fits so well here and allows for an interesting path to Annihilation: Conquest being adapted as well. According to its creator, Brian Michael Bendis, Secret Invasion was the result of the Skrull homeworld being destroyed in Annihilation, so let Season 2 of The Avengers: United They Stand handle that story while working as a huge crossover while revealing that the Richard Rider who found himself back on Earth and involved in the battle was a Skrull.

Fantastic Four Season 3

Following the events of Secret Invasion and the revelation that the man Earth’s Mightiest Heroes thought to be Nova was a Skrull, the third season of Fantastic Four will open with an episode dedicated to recovering all heroes that had been simmed by the Skrulls. What a story Richard Rider will have to tell once he comes around. Told during an extended two-episode flashback, Rider, reunited with his brother Robbie, will detail his role as the central hero in the fight against the Phalanx and its leader, Ultron, following the fight against the Annihilation Wave. These episodes are a huge payoff from storylines set in motion both in the ’90s series and in the revival seasons. As the episodes draw to a close, Rider can reveal that as the war against the Phalanx came to an end, his ally Kl’rt alerted him that the Skrulls were planning to invade Earth and that as he attempted to return home to warn his friends, he was captured by the shapeshifting aliens.

Annihilation: Conquest is arguably the best story in the Cosmic series and plays a pivotal role in the future of the universe. Should Marvel Animation be so inclined, they could use it to launch a Guardians of the Galaxy animated series that would be far different from the MCU’s live-action films and prior animated series featuring the team. The Guardians still have a major role to play in the next act.

Key Characters and Places Introduced in Fantastic Four Season 3
  • Zak-Del/Wraith
  • Robbie Rider

X-Men ’97 Season 3

Without knowing what stories Season 2 of X-Men ’97 will explore, we can’t really be sure how this will go but we’re just playing here so it’s fine. To keep things on track, Season 3 will need to bring back the Starjammers and update the story of Chris Summers, aka Corsair, to include his third son, Gabriel. A nice, three-episode arc could tell the Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire and put Emperor Vulcan on the throne just in time for a war.

Key Characters and Places Introduced in X-Men ’97 Season 3
  • Gabriel Summers/Vulcan

Guardians of the Galaxy Season 1

A brand new series with a heavy load to carry, Guardians of the Galaxy Season 1 can take a the majority of its episodes to get rolling and give the feel for the team before a two-episode adaptation of War of Kings. The Shi’ar, the Inhumans, the Starjammers and Blastaar, King of the Negative Zone, all get big payoffs in a crazy, all-out war that heavily involves the Guardians and Nova. The mid-season two-parter should leave audiences on a cliffhanger as the consequences of the war are made clear when Quasar’s exploration of “The Fault” leads to his disappearance.

Key Characters and Places Introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy
  • The Fraternity of Raptors
  • The Universal Church of Truth

The Incredible Hulk Season 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy Season 1

Quite a proposal here but if Marvel Animation could pull it off, it would be epic! While audiences have been following events of War of Kings in the middle of Season 1 of Guardians of the Galaxy, Season 3 of The Incredible Hulk will have been setting the stage and telling the tale of World War Hulk. Following the WWH story, an episode or two of The Incredible Hulk will be spent revisiting the planet of Sakaar and its people, including the Hulk’s two sons, Skaar and Hiro-Kala. The stage is now set for part of the story of Realm of Kings to be told in The Incredible Hulk and part to be told at the end of Season 1 of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Key Characters and Places Introduced in The Incredible Hulk Season 3

  • Hiro-Kala

Silver Surfer Season 3

DnA’s Cosmic run ended with two limited runs: The Thanos Imperative and Annihilators. There’s no better place to tell these two stories than in the third season of Silver Surfer. By this point in time, all the main players for both stories are not only on the board but also incredibly well-developed. Characters such as Thanos, Adam Warlock, Ronan and Beta Ray Bill–who first appeared in the ’90s Silver Surfer series–all get major payoffs through the two stories and the audience gets to see one of the great Marvel Comics’ teams in action. While it marks the end of the great Cosmic confluence, a final episode “stinger” could reveal that Thanos is still alive and set the stage for a return to Earth-bound stories based on Jonathan Hickman‘s Infinity story.

This is an ambitious road map, no doubt, and not something anyone should ever expect to see; however, it shines a light on the animation’s ability to adapt great Marvel Comics’ stories a little more faithfully and tell some of them that are likely not going to unfold in the MCU anytime soon…if ever.

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