It's been 28 years since X-Men the Animated Series first debuted on television in 1992, but the popularity of the animated series is still going strong, especially with new fans discovering the show on Disney+.
Most of the series' cast recently gathered for an online panel, reflecting on the show's legacy, as well as paying tribute to castmate Norm Spencer (who'd voiced X-Men leader Cyclops) following his passing a few months ago. Among those present were Alison Sealy-Smith (Storm), Cal Dodd (Wolverine), Chris Britton (Mr. Sinister), Chris Potter (Gambit), George Buza (Beast), Lenore Zann (Rogue), Ron Rubin (Morph) and Larry Houston, a writer, producer, and artist on the series.
According to Zann, who played Rogue, the cast had enjoyed recording their roles and being a part of the series at the time, but they'd had no idea just how much the show resonated until many years later, when they started appearing at comic conventions.
"It took years before we found out really what a success the show was," said Zann of her experience with the show's popularity in the time since. "And now, just having done a few Comic-Cons over the last year before Covid, it’s so heartwarming and emotionally overwhelming really to see the love that the fans have for our show and the characters."
Buza, who voiced Beast, agrees: "[It's] a really elevating experience to know your work has survived that amount of time and to know that people still remembered it almost 30 years later."
Cal Dodd, who voices Wolverine, adds "It’s unbelievable how many of them say, ‘You made my childhood.'"
And it's not just fans from the show's original run the cast has been feeling the appreciation from, it's also coming from younger, newer ones.
"Original fans are bringing [their] children to meet as at Comic-Cons," notes Britton, who'd voiced Mr. Sinister, one of the show's major villains. "And they're watching [the show] together now thanks to Disney+, and sort of introducing a whole new generation of fans."
Part of the reason the series still holds up is a combination of its almost timeless character design, paired with the serialised dramatic storylines and stellar performances that have made the X-Men such compelling comic book characters. The stories of mutants trying to live and fit in in a world that is less than friendly to them — if not overtly hostile — has resonated with many fans over the years, and remains as relevant as ever.
"You guys have made almost two or three generations of kids enjoy what you did. You entertained them," says Houston of why the love for the series has endured so long in the hearts of many older fans. "Our show came at really the right time and a lot of the issues we touched on the series, is, unfortunately, coming back today."
Rubin, who voiced Morph on the series thinks so too. "The show is as relevant, if not more relevant these days, with kids on the spectrum, with kids with autism who've been bullied, who feel like outsiders, who feel like mutants, who aren't accepted into society. It's amazing."
"We made them feel like they belonged and that it's okay to be different, and that we need to look out for each other. That we've got each other's backs. To me, that's worth it all," adds Zann. "That is the best thing to come out of this. And if we can help another generation of kids who are going through hell right now in many ways, shapes, and forms [with] racism, and [homophobia]… It really gives me hope that we can at least get to them with a good positive message, that we’re okay. That you’re okay. That we’re in this together."
Sealy-Smith, who voiced Storm, and is the only cast member yet to appear at a convention — and so is yet to experience the level of love some of the others have experienced — points out that one of the defining characteristics of the series is that it featured a prominent female Black superhero at the time, something that was rare if non-existent on television at the time.
"I don't know how many Black superheroes there were before X-Men, but it’s huge," says Sealy-Smith. "I lived out in Scarborough [Canada] for a long time and for those kids, that there was a Black superhero, and that there was then a Black actress who was actually voicing the character… it was a big deal. And so, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of that was too, for people who didn’t often see themselves represented or think of themselves as superheroes."
Of course, Storm wasn't the only major Black superhero who appeared on the series, which featured an appearance from none other than the Black Panther himself, with The Thing's Keith David voicing the ruler of Wakanda for the episode.
"It’s really between Storm and the Black Panther, at the time in the ‘90s for two top characters representing Black superheroes getting seen as being out there," explains Hudson of just how significant it was to have not just Storm on the show, but to also bring in T'Challa. "There were some other characters like the Falcon, but [they were] the two top tier most recognised fictional characters that kids got behind and we were lucky enough to have not only [Storm], but I was able to put the Black Panther as a cameo in one of the episodes, which all the kids when they saw that, the fan reaction, they were so excited to see the Black Panther existing in the same universe as Storm."
All the cast members present wish that Spencer could have felt the level of love fans have for the show and their characters — especially as a clip from a podcast Spencer had appeared on reveals that he still hadn't processed just how big an impact his character might have made on people.
"He was very self-deprecating. He was the funniest guy in the world when he was trying to be. He was unconsciously so funny. When he tried to be he wasn’t funny at all," says Rubin, recalling Spencer. "He’s a great looking guy with a great voice and he played a lot of these heroes, these cocky, confident characters. But in real life, there was a beautiful naïveté, an innocence to Norm… He was such a loving person for all of us who knew him. And super talented and I don’t think he knew how much he was loved."
X-Men the Animated Series is available to stream on Disney+.