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X-Men the Animated Series
by yo go re

"Night of the Sentinels," the pilot episode for X-Men the Animated Series, aired on Saturday, October 31, 1992 - exactly 30 years ago today. Happy birthday, Morph!

The mutant shapeshifter Morph returns to haunt the X-Men after being captured and manipulated by Mr. Sinister.

The writers of X-Men wanted to give their show stakes, so they decided to kill a character in the first arc. Originally they were going to take a cue from the comics and have it be Thunderbird, but then they realized it was probably a bad idea to introduce only a single Native American character just to off him, so they went through the comics' history until they found Changeling, an obscure character who had died to protect Professor X way back in 1968, and decided to adapt him instead.

Picking a "new" characer also allowed them to give him any personality they wanted. John Proudstar was an angry jerk and a loner, but Kevin Sidney could be lighthearted and good friends with Wolverine, making his planned death more impactful. The cartoon based the character's design on Neal Adams' art, something that really comes through well in Paul Harding's sculpt.

Actually, make that "sculpts" - Morph includes an alternate head with touseled hair, a small, sinister grin and deep bags under the eyes. Yes, the bags under his eyes are sculpted. The problem with the TV show's creators making Morph likeable, so that viewers would be upset when he died, was that viewers were upset when he died. How unexpected! To assuage that, he was brought back in Season 2, but as a villain - and to show that he was a villain, his skin was paler and there were dark circles under his eyes.

ToyBiz made a Morph in 1994, but it was just a plain uniform body, which wasn't how he appeared in the cartoon. This figure also uses an existing body - that new one that's too tall and a bit flat, but does have the advantage of pec hinges in addition to all the usual joints. Still, not a great choice. He does at least get the benefit of a new leather jacket, which is how he appeared in the cartoon. Though it prevents the pecs from being of much use, so one step forward, one step back. The straps on his legs and boots are new, too, since this body is a different size than all the ones that have had similar bands in the past. The figure can have either fists or open hands.

Unfortunately, since this is a character from the animated series, Hasbro has chosen to give it "animated" paint - aka, big blocks of color to make it look like an painted cel. This is far from the first time such a thing has been done on an action figure, but that doesn't mean it's great. Like, the sculpt is obviously as realistic as every other Marvel Legend, not an animated style, so why try to force it to be? (Well, the answer is that they're also rereleasing a bunch of other figures in this same "line" - Wolverine, Jubilee, Storm, etc. - so the paint on those is used to set them apart and get buyers to double-dip, and doing Morph in normal colors would highlight that strategy. Doesn't mean we have to like it.)

To sell the notion of these figures as being based on the '90s cartoon, they get special packaging. Not like the retro figures, with packaging that apes ToyBiz's work, but simple rectangles specifically meant to look like old VHS boxes; X-Men: the Animated Series predates the invention of DVDs, so home video release was really home video release. If you're old enough, seeing this will absolutely trigger deep parts of your brain, to the point where the little black half-circle at the bottom on the side will have you thinking you're actually about to pull a video cassette out of its cardboard sleeve. The art on the sides even harkens back to the graphic design of the '90s. It's good stuff. And the packaging is plastic-free, with the figure inside being held in a folded cardboard brace, rather than a typical tray, so this will be simple to recycle. Love it!

By the time the writers decided to replace Thunderbird with a different character, they could no longer use his original name: in the '80s, DC had decided "Beast Boy" was too immature a name, so Gar had started going by Changeling. That was fine, Marvel's hadn't been used since 1970, so it's not like there was a conflict there (Gar wouldn't go back to his original supranym until a 2000 miniseries.) But with DC actively using the name, it wouldn't be cool for a Marvel cartoon to do the same, and so his identity was changed to Morph. This toy would be better if it weren't trying to split the difference - either give it normal paint, or sculpt a cartoon head - but it's fun to get Morph in the form that made him popular to begin with.

-- 10/31/22

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