The Best Part of ‘X-Men ’97’ Is Magneto’s Hair

Week after week, X-Men ’97 keeps exceeding all of my expectations. What could have been a hollow exercise in ’90s nostalgia has turned out to be a terrific show in its own right: Not just a fitting successor to X-Men: The Animated Series, not just a good cartoon but, at least through its first five episodes, one of the best TV shows Marvel has ever made. The original X-Men cartoon was good for its era, but it was never this good; not narratively, and certainly not visually.

This week’s episode, “Remember It,” had everything you could want from an X-Men television series: Epic action, heart-wrenching melodrama, dry humor, fractious team dynamics, political intrigue, obscure mutant cameos, love triangles (that’s right, multiple love triangles), massive world-changing stakes, and one hell of a cliffhanger.

All of those elements are worth discussing and celebrating. But there is one aspect of this show that is not getting talked about enough, one that elevates X-Men ’97 even further into the upper echelon of great Marvel adaptations. This element is aesthetically perfect, but even more than that, it is a symbol of everything that is good about this show, and about animated adaptations of comics in general.

I speak, of course, of Magneto’s hair.

READ MORE: The One Big Problem With X-Men ’97 So Far

Magneto’s hair didn’t get a ton of screen time on X-Men: The Animated Series. On that show, Magneto was most often portrayed as the X-Men’s main antagonist, and he hid his locks beneath his signature red helmet, which was not only a fetching fashion accessory, it also shielded his mind from the telepathic powers of his frenemy for life, Charlies Xavier. (In superhero gear as in life, form must follow function.)

In X-Men ’97, Xavier has “died” (i.e. gone off to space with his hot alien girlfriend Lilandra) and left Magneto in charge of the X-Men. Magneto reluctantly accepts Xavier’s “dying” request, and attempts to change his mutant terrorist ways. In doing so, he also makes a big symbolic change. He swaps his classic red and purple armor for a purple spandex uniform. His new costume includes a sleeveless skintight bodysuit, purple arm sleeves, bare shoulders, and a cowl-neck cape.

To be clear, this is a bizarre thing for any person to wear in public, much less a 60-year-old man who can bend steel with his mind and fashions himself as the leader of an entire race of genetically evolved human beings. (Also, what is Magneto doing to stay so ripped at 60? Look at how jacked his triceps are! I’ll have what he’s having.) But it must be noted that this bold fashion choice is drawn straight from Marvel Comics, and even from the same era of Uncanny X-Men when Xavier “died” (i.e. went off to space with his hot alien girlfriend) and Magneto became X-Men team leader.

You will note, however, that the Magneto on this cover bears one distinct difference from the character who appears in X-Men ’97: His hair is much shorter, with a widow’s peak at the front. (He basically looks like Quicksilver; which makes sense, they are father and son.) In X-Men ’97, Magneto’s hair is so voluminous with so much height and flow, he looks like he’s about to go tour with Poison (especially when he’s wearing that sleeveless tunic).

While impressive, Magneto’s hair is not notable to me because it is thick and lustrous. (It is admirable because it is thick and lustrous, but not notable.) The thing that keeps catching my eye is not the flowing mane in the back; it’s those two little bangs up front.

Look at them again. Do they resemble anything to you?

That’s right; these two pointy bangs emerge perfectly from Magneto’s scalp so that they form the letter M. Not only does Magneto have a giant “M” on the front of his costume, he’s got a tiny “M” on his forehead too.

Sometimes X-Men fans make fun of this specific Magneto costume because it is ridiculous. What kind of person wears their first initial of their name on their shirt? And I suppose they are not wrong; it is ridiculous. (Maybe Magneto should join Alvin and the Chipmunks instead of Poison.)

But this is also a ridiculous costume that reveals character. Magneto is the sort of egocentric, self-important blowhard who would walk around announcing his name to everyone he meets, in ways big and small. He is for sure wearing his hair in a cute widdle ‘M’ on purpose and he is for sure waiting for you to notice it and comment on it.

But he doesn’t have to comment on it, or say anything else about his costume or his hair. Giving Magneto this outrageous ’do is X-Men ’97’s way of subtly explicating his character in purely visual terms. Magneto may be trying to honor his friend Charles Xavier’s legacy by turning the other cheek, but those two little bangs say he hasn’t completely changed. This is show-don’t-tell TV-making at its finest.

It’s also something you could only do in comics — or in animation. Yes, Christopher Reeve’s Superman had the character’s signature spit curl. But our recent Men of Steel of the big and small screen, Henry Cavill and Tyler Hoechlin, have not. Fox was so afraid of making a movie that actually resembled X-Men comics that it took them more than a decade to put them in anything resembling the team’s blue and yellow uniforms. They would never have dared to let Ian McKellen or Michael Fassbender swagger through an X-Men movie with an ‘M’ made out of hair on their forehead.

That’s another thing I love about X-Men ’97. Marvel has made some very satisfying live-action movies, and live-action is surely the most financially advantageous way to turn the X-Men into mass entertainment. But it may not be the most creatively advantageous way to adapt the colorful, outlandish world of comics. Magneto’s magnificent, character-defining hair is something that could never exist in live-action. But it works beautifully on X-Men ’97, a show that embraces its roots, both in animation and comic books.

X-Men ’97 is currently streaming on Disney+. Sign up for Disney+ here.

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