‘X-Men ’97’ Enters ‘The Inferno’ Hellscape with Mr. Sinister and Madelyne Pryor

[Editor’s note: Spoilers for “X-Men ’97” Episode 3 below.]

After its first two episodes, Marvel’s “X-Men ’97” (currently streaming on Disney+) had us hooked with that duplicate Jean Grey cliffhanger. It really is a successful continuation of the beloved “X-Men: The Animated Series” from the ’90s.

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All was revealed in the trippy Episode 3 (“Fire Made Flesh”), which introduced nemesis Mr. Sinister, the genius Victorian geneticist, while revealing that the duplicate Jean Grey is the actual Jean Grey, while the first Jean Grey was none other than Madelyn Pryor (aka The Goblin Queen), Sinister’s infamous clone possessing the same psychic/telekinetic powers as the original.

Now things are really screwed up for the Cyclops and Grey married couple because Pryor is the actual mother of their newborn mutant son, Nathan, whom Sinister has sinister plans for as part of his world domination. That’s where the season’s most fantastical action sequence thus far comes in, with Pryor inflicting a mind-bending, hellish attack on X-Mansion to distract the X-Men while Sinister experiments on baby Nathan. This was borrowed from the comic book franchise’s “Inferno” crossover, in which demons invade New York City.

“Pulling from ‘Inferno’ was part of [fired head writer] Beau DeMayo’s initial vision from day one and was a huge inspiration for us,” supervising producer/head director Jake Castorena told IndieWire. “It was just a matter of how we were going to tell it. The whole hellscape was a testament to all departments coming together to get the final look [of the 2D animation by Studio Mir], from the neon colors to the magma flowing in the right directions, to the illusion of heat, to Cyclops powering Bishop to do Omega level moves, to making sure the telepathic powers and telekinetic powers are working.”

Scene from Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.
‘X-Men ’97’Courtesy of Marvel Animation

The X-Men endure a rollercoaster ride of emotional trauma as each descends into their own private hell to fight a flurry of demons before regrouping to thwart the trickery. But it takes Jean waking up from her sleep to take on Madelyn, the mind projectionist.

“The fun thing about using ‘Inferno’ as a reference was figuring out how to bring the feeling of those stark and striking tones and contrast and color differences due to the printed page into the moving visuals that we have,” Castorena said. “But it’s a natural progression when you watch Episode 3. Every episode you watch will be the slowest you will ever watch. That’s where the fresh but familiar comes in.”

Yet animated tech and episodic storytelling have come a long way in the 27 years since the original series, and the filmmakers had to meet the challenge of expectations. “It’s not just a children’s medium, it’s another medium of telling stories,” Castorena added. “And that bar is being raised constantly, and our show, like everything else in animation, has to match.

“But at the same time, it still has to feel like the same sandbox that we remember,” he continued. “What were the tools and techniques available at the time? That was the genesis of how we figured out how to communicate our better understanding of dynamics between people and character archetypes, and how to apply those lenses too, and still keep it within the dichotomy that is the X-Men love and drama triangles.”

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