I love many, many superheroes and I always have. But dating back to my earliest childhood memories, everything has always come down to Spider-Man and the X-Men, for me. While I loved Iron Man, Incredible Hulk and The Fantastic Four, and especially Batman: The Animated Series at the time, those were the ones I needed. Spidey and the X-Men were it. They were the two cartoons I never tried to miss a single episode of. Because of that, I went nuts as a kid any time they shared the same space. And it seemed to happen a lot.
Whenever they’d appear together in comics, I’d get excited. I even owned their crossover video game Spider-Man/X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge, which I was so bad at that I never even made it to a point at which the X-Men appeared. But there was something about seeing them together in animated form, especially at the time, that struck me as something special. It felt like an event.
In general, something about Spidey and the X-Men always seemed to gel together. In some ways, Spider-Man is the best kind of ally. He would help the X-Men out and fight by their side in a way that other heroes in the Marvel Universe were not. Because there are so many mutants, the X-Men books would kind of be off on its own, especially in the 1980s when they began launching spinoffs like The New Mutants, X-Factor and then later X-Force, Generation X and so many others. It felt so much like its own comic book universe almost, so it was largely left alone.
That’s been addressed in comics continuity many times in the past decade, the idea that the Avengers never really stepped in to ally themselves with mutant rights, they just left the X-Men to fight their own battles and speak for their own cause, even when they had characters like Beast, Wolverine, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch as members.
But even if Spider-Man wasn’t a mutant, he could relate to being an outsider. He wasn’t persecuted for who he was or for what he was, but he was never by any means well liked. In both Ultimate Spider-Man and the 1990s Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Spidey thought about his powers—or in the cartoon’s case, his continuing mutation—and thought about the possibility that he might even be a mutant. It was a great metaphor for a teenager questioning his sexuality, and paved the way for his long history of alliance with the X-Men, to the point that he even took a teaching position at the school per Wolverine’s last wishes.
With all of that in mind, we’re going to be counting down the best times Spidey and the X-Men appeared together in animation, from quick cameos to full-blown crossover events. We won’t be going in order, mostly because we want to save the best for last.
“The Phoenix Saga, Part 5: Child of Light” – X-Men: The Animated Series
X-Men: The Animated Series kicked of an impressive, shared Marvel cartoon universe that lasted throughout the 1990s. Characters would appear on other shows, heroes that guest starred in certain episodes would get their own shows would remember their earlier appearances, keeping everything in continuity. Even as quick as this cameo was, though, it might have been one of the best of them. During the powerful climax of “The Phoenix Saga,” with the world threatened, there’s a brief montage of other Marvel heroes dealing with the fallout throughout the world, with characters like Thor glimpsed prominently.
There’s a shot where Spider-Man’s hand shoots out and webs a group of bystanders about to be crushed by falling debris. It’s so quick, but it establishes that Spidey exists in the same universe, making it an exciting cameo even if we don’t see the hero in full. It was also a genius move, because the episode aired in September of 1994, just two months before the premiere of Spider-Man: The Animated Series on the same network.
“The Origin of Iceman” – Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends
Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends saw several X-Men crossovers given that both of the titular “amazing friends” were mutants. Iceman was one of the original X-Men and Firestar, though created for the show, was also a former X-Man and was later introduced into the comics as a semi-recurring member of the team. This episode of the series gave a very different backstory for Iceman, but it did eventually lead back around to his joining the X-Men. Even though they appear only briefly in a flashback, it’s the original, classic lineup of Professor X, Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Marvel Girl and of course Iceman himself.
The only real change to the lineup itself is that of the original five, Jean, not Iceman, was the last to join. But the episode makes so many overhauls to the overall backstory that those minor changes are barely noticeable.
“Secret Wars” – Spider-Man: The Animated Series
Both X-Men: The Animated Series and Spider-Man were terrific at adapting classic comic book story lines. Maybe the most ambitious of them, though, was this massive crossover that adapted the classic 1980s Secret Wars miniseries. Like the original comic, it begins with the Beyonder calling upon the greatest heroes and villains to pit them against each other on a distant planet in order to prove whether good or evil is actually stronger.
The crossover sees Spider-Man recruit Captain America, Iceman, the Fantastic Four, Black Cat, The Lizard and Storm. Initially, the X-Men as a team were supposed to appear, but that would have crammed the already stuffed event with even more characters and the timing for production didn’t quite match up with X-Men‘s availability. So Storm was chosen as the sole representative of her team.
“Sunfire” – Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends
This episode also saw only one representative of the X-Men—again, unless you count the two Spider-Friends—but it’s exciting for a couple of different reasons. One, Sunfire hasn’t made a ton of animated appearances. In X-Men: The Animated Series he was only ever given a few cameos, mostly non-speaking. So in that respect, this early guest appearance might be his biggest cartoon role to date. In the US, at least, as he did appear in the Marvel Disk Wars: Avengers anime.
In the episode, Sunfire has a brief romantic relationship with Firestar, I guess because the writers felt they’d have a lot to bond over. But Sunfire finds out that he’s being used by his uncle so that he and Firestar can unknowingly aid him in the creation of an enormous Fire Monster. God, I love comics.
“New Avengers” – Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
In a loose adaptation of the acclaimed Brian Michael Bendis comic book relaunch, this episode sees a new group of Avengers assembled when the original team is trapped in a temporal void. The Thing, War Machine, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Spider-Man and Wolverine are tasked with carrying on the team name until the original group returns. Like Secret Wars, this only saw Spidey interact with one X-Man, but it’s the X-Man he’s interacted with the most over the years. While the two of them are completely different characters, there’s a bond there and a deep amount of mutual respect.
Wolveirne is also the X-Man that Spider-Man served as a member of the New Avengers with in the comics, so it definitely fits and the team roster in general is pretty accurate to that series.
“Freaky” – Ultimate Spider-Man
This episode is a loose adaptation of one of the most ridiculous issues of Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-Man series. In a great series that mixed teenage angst and anxiety with what it means to navigate being a hero in the twenty-first century, Bendis took a break from the drama to pen a two-parter titled “Even We Can’t Believe We Did This,” in which Spider-Man and Wolverine switch bodies. The episode is very funny, especially when it navigates how badly these two are at navigating the others’ life, particularly Peter’s screams every time he pops his claws and Wolverine’s absolute inability to web swing.
It misses the punch line of the comic, though, because in the episode Mesmero is responsible for the switch whereas in the comic, it was Jean’s doing in order to get Wolverine to stop hitting on her.
“A Firestar is Born” – Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends
“A Firestar is Born” gives us a backstory on how poor young Firestar earned the name “Miss Angelica Jinx” because things would just go wrong (i.e. melt) any time she would try to hang out with the other kids. This episode also saw Firestar and Iceman attend an X-Men reunion, which is crashed by the Juggernaut who is hell-bent on wrecking his half-brother Professor X’s nice home. In this episode, the team consists of Angel, Cyclops, Wolverine and Storm—the last two of which are introduced as new members.
It’s also worth noting that the episode kicked off the strange animated phenomena of Australian Wolverines, as both this episode and the abandoned pilot “Pryde of the X-Men” featured an Australian accent for the character.
“The X-Men Adventure” – Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends
I had this episode on VHS and I practically wore it out because I loved it so much. As a young fan it was amazing to see Spider-Man and the X-Men interact. This episode also served as my introduction to Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends in general. It sees Spider-Man, Iceman and Firestar hanging out at the X-Mansion where they are introducing Spidey to the Danger Room. Here, the X-Men team consists of Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Thunderbird and Kitty Pryde, going by her briefly used Sprite alias.
The villain of the episode is a former, er, flame of Firestar who blames her for the accident that burned half his body (astonishingly not actually her fault) and forced him to replace most of himself with machinery and become the cyborg known as Cyberiad. Even with such a ridiculous villain, I couldn’t get enough of the episode, which also must have served as my introduction to Kitty Pryde as a character, now that I think about it.
“The Mutant Agenda”/”Mutants Revenge” – Spider-Man: The Animated Series
As a kid, this felt like the biggest crossover before I finally got Freddy vs. Jason. As a regular Saturday morning viewer of both shows and a diehard fan, I remember the premiere of the two-parter as a genuine television event. It’s also amazing that the X-Men would appear on Spider-Man’s show rather than the other way around, as the episodes brought in the full roster of X-Men’s voice cast. But the story uniting them felt organic. Both X-Men and Spider-Man were great at telling season-long stories and this whole season of Spider-Man revolved around Spidey’s ongoing mutation and his race to get a grasp on it.
Through his meeting with the X-Men, he first confronts the possibility that his Fly-like transformation into a spider might not be cured and has to question how he’ll live with that. Watching Spider-Man as I saw him every week interact with the X-Men as I knew them and loved them was astonishing to me. Hearing his voice bounce off of theirs, it was something that even as a youngster I couldn’t believe I was actually getting the chance to absorb.
The cherry on top of the whole crossover, though, is definitely David Warner as a scientist obsessed with mutation, who seeks to kill off mutants but instead winds up turning himself into one. Warner’s character, Herbert Landon, would go on to become a reoccurring antagonist on the show.