31 Years Ago, One Forgotten ‘X-Men’ Character Changed Kids’ Cartoons Forever
In the early 90’s, kids’ cartoons suddenly matured in tone and appearance. Shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Gargoyles led the way, but one of the most iconic among those classics was X-Men: The Animated Series. From 1992 to 1997, these spandex-clad mutant heroes saved the world from countless enemies pulled straight from the pages of their Marvel Comics counterparts, protecting humans who fear and hate them. When this captivating Fox Kids show debuted on October 31, 1992, the game was changed.
Over 30 years later, it remains one of the best kids TV shows of all time and is gearing up for a direct sequel series arriving on Disney+ in 2024. However, there’s one moment that every kid growing up who watched the show still remembers, something rare even by today’s standards.
One of the pieces of the puzzle that elevated X-Men over other shows was how the storytelling was more complex than its Saturday morning competition. The creative staff working on the show wanted to keep their animated series fairly faithful to the source material, including the ramifications of their difficult job that doesn’t always have a happy ending. They found it difficult to have serious stakes in a show rated TV-Y7, during a time when a Power Ranger could take a sword slash to the chest and walk away physically unscathed. They needed to find a way to add realism to the show, and that came in the shape of a mutant who could take any form he wanted. Unfortunately, his form would be six feet under.
The Life and Times of Morph
Morph was a brand-new character exclusive to the X-Men animated series, a mischievous shapeshifter with a penchant for celebrity impersonations described as the only person who ever made Wolverine laugh. In other words, even the toughest person could let their guard down with Morph.
Unfortunately, this X-Man drew the short straw when it came time to pick someone to take one for the team. Eric Lewald, showrunner and writer on the series, called the termination of Morph “crucial” in his book, “Previously on X-Men.”
“By proving that death can be a real consequence of the X-Men’s work, we made all future jeopardy real.”
In the second part of the series premiere, “Night of the Sentinels,” the X-Men raid a federal anti-mutant building, but their mission comes with a cost. Moments after their covert objective is complete, enormous robots swarm the group. Morph is fatally zapped off-screen and abandoned as the team retreats to lick their wounds. This was a huge deal for a kids’ show in 1992, a traumatic moment in a cartoon that no viewer expected to see so early in the series.
Ron Rubin, the original voice actor for Morph, recalls the moment he learned the quick conclusion for the role he worked so hard to book.
“I get a script and I think it’s the second episode, and I see that my character is being left for dead. This is the worst nightmare for any actor… What you want to do as an actor is flip to the last page of the script and see your character there. So, when I saw that they’re killing off Morph, I was like, “No!”
A Second Coming
Morph’s fatal encounter turned out to be short-lived, as a monkey wrench was thrown into their grand design weeks after the series was greenlit for a second season. During marketing research, executives discovered despite only appearing for two episodes, a majority of young viewers stated Morph was their favorite X-Man. The network demanded this changeling return to the series, which thanks to the wacky nature of mortality in comics, wasn’t too farfetched of an order.
As viewers learned early in season 2, Morph survived that Sentinel’s hand-blast, and joined forces with the aptly named “Mister Sinister.” Under Sinister’s mind control, Morph tries to destroy the X-Men from within using his mimicking abilities to wreak havoc. Ron couldn’t have been happier about this development. “It was horrendous to be killed off, but then it was great to be brought back.”
Morph eventually recovered from his dark phase and returned as an infrequent reformed ally in later seasons, who redeemed himself for good in the series finale.
With the Disney+ follow-up, X-Men ‘97 coming in 2024, from joining the streaming platform, it’s been Morph is back on the squad. This time, he’s without his human face, instead using a featureless pale look originally seen in the mid-90s during the Age of Apocalypse comics.
While his stint as a member of the X-Men 30 years ago was brief, Morph is ready for a second chance, and fans are excited to reconnect with this longtime favorite.