For the longest time in comics, the X-Men have been Marvel’s premier franchise, with a comparable repertoire in outside media as well. This was cemented in the 1990s with the release of the iconic X-Men: The Animated Series, which defined the mutant characters for a generation of children. For those who had never read the comics, it was their first exposure to the characters. It wasn’t, however, the team’s debut on the small screen.
Although many are aware of the X-Men’s previous appearances on Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and the pilot Pryde of the X-Men, the team actually had an earlier, far less illustrious television premiere. This relatively obscure appearance not only essentially copied them into another team’s adventures, but it didn’t even get their names right. Here’s a look back at how the X-Men, or at least, the original team in everything but name, first graced television.
The team formerly known as the X-Men appeared in the 12th episode of the Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner section of The Marvel Super Heroes. The series is known now for its laughably crude and cheap animation, which involved photocopying images directly from the comic book panels in order to minimize any actual animation. The trio of stories had Doctor Doom using a radio device to essentially summon villains to ruin the celebration of the heroic Allies For Peace. Said Allies are none other than Angel, Beast, Iceman, Cyclops and Marvel Girl, who are led by the mutant mentalist, Professor X. Despite them clearly being the first class of X-Men, the characters are never referred to as such. The storyline itself is essentially an adaptation of Fantastic Four #6, but swaps out the First Family in exchange for Marvel’s merry mutants. This results in an egregiously uncharacteristic situation of the mutant teens being adored by the public in the same way the FF are.
The invading enemies include Mole Man and his Moloids, who are dealt with in hilariously awful looking fashion as the Allies For Peace awkwardly fly, jump and stomp their way to victory. The worst offender is Iceman, whose weird stomping animation is matched only by his out-of-place voice, which sounds like a character twice his age. When these threats are dealt with, Doctor Doom enlists the aid of the Submariner to trick and trap the Allies with a device that levitates the Peace Building into space. Unbeknownst to Namor, Doom planned on trapping him as well, forcing the Atlantean to team up with the mutants. From there, Namor exacts his revenge on the mad doctor by electrocuting him, after somehow absorbing electricity from a meteor shower.
As strange as the situation is, there was a legal explanation for it. Grantray-Lawrence Animation, the company that produced the animated feature, didn’t have the rights to the Fantastic Four. Thus, the X-Men were chosen to fill the rather obvious Fantastic Four sized hole that the story required. Doom’s enmity for the team is obviously one that he usually has for the FF and feels completely at odds with both Silver Age and current Marvel continuity in regard to being directed toward the “X-Men.”
As for why the X-Men were fit into a role that made absolutely no sense for them, the team at the time wasn’t at all what it currently is. The original X-Men comic book wasn’t very successful, and it wasn’t until Chris Claremont relaunched the book in the 1970s that the team would be launched into stardom. Even the now-iconic minority allegory of mutantkind was rarely emphasized during the characters’ painful growing years, and they were essentially just another generic superhero team, albeit one with an easily explainable origin for their powers.
This uniformity in origin also made them similar to the Fantastic Four, who had the same luxury. While this logically explains the team’s unorthodox use in the episode, what is still unknown is why their names were changed to the Allies for Peace. It’s possible that the production company lacked the full rights to the X-Men as well, but given that the teen mutants are all referred to by their actual names from the comic books, this explanation is unlikely. Whatever the case was, the team would thankfully rise to much greater heights in the future.
While the X-Men are known now for their amazing cartoons, their first appearance in animation was so generic, it didn't even call them X-Men.