The Screwjob & The Brawl-Out: When Wrestling Gets Real

When it comes to wrestling controversies, few match up to the immortal infamy of the Montreal Screwjob and the recent drama of Brawl Out.

Both occasions featured embittered talents acting in such a way that would later have massive implications for wrestling history. 

For Bret Hart, it was about the humiliation of dropping his WWF Championship in 1997 at Survivor Series against rival and at-the-time turd bucket Shawn Michaels in the middle of the ring in his local beloved Montreal. In front of his family and friends in attendance, no less.

For CM Punk, it was a bunch of miscommunication from many sides in All Elite Wrestling from 2022-2023, and the lack of how to handle it and his emotions properly. Things got a little intense backstage, leading to the AEW World Championship being vacated, the birth of AEW Collision (and certain talent being banned), and a limo with broken glass. Punk would soon be fired from AEW with cause. 

People will argue over and speculate about the questions behind each event for years to come. It’s wholly inescapable. To this day, fans and wrestlers have varying and strong opinions about both instances. There’s no avoiding it, so just accept it.

But exactly how do these moments compare? Well, that’s what I’m going to go into.

Credit: All Elite Wrestling

So anyway, X-Men 97 dropped on March 20, 2024, to much acclaim. Marvel’s ongoing superhero animated series serves as a continuation of the original series that broadcast from 1992-1997. This long-running series introduced most audiences to the nuance of a sci-fi soap opera that captures the hearts and imaginations of children everywhere. Generations have grown up with the band of merry mutants from the acclaimed Marvel Comics franchise, and it feels like it was made partially for that audience.

What makes X-Men 97 important among the many adaptations across various mediums though? I’m so glad you asked.

Spoilers ahead for X-Men: The Animated series and X-Men 97. You have been warned.

From the opening, fans of the original are treated to a lovingly recreated intro from the past, with several neat inclusions. The theme is fine-tuned yet keeps earnest to the spirit of the 90s series while subsequent episodes have different animated clips woven within. For those who typically skip the intros or take the time to pay attention to something else (your phone, shame on you), this may go unnoticed. But the differences don’t stop there. 

The art style maintains the same design and aesthetic with its previous iteration while also modernizing the feel of it. The dynamic fluidity of the animation nicely complements this when actions count the most. When Rogue swings the Sentinel by its tendrils in the aforementioned intro, you feel the movement, as though the earth was shattering around you as it landed. 

And the voice acting. Oh man, the voice acting. Several of the original actors reprise their roles of the iconic characters they once spoke life into, and even with the age in their voices, they haven’t missed a beat. Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, and Beast all feel like I’ve grown alongside them and it makes my 90s nerdy kid heart happy. They sound like they’re having such fun.

Imagine my shock, however, when I found out that Professor X and Cyclops sounded so much like they used to, only to find out they were different voice actors entirely; their original voices have since passed away. This is the level of talent we are dealing with, voices so skilled that they can replicate and tribute the ones that came before. Each new voice adds to the formula while adhering to modern voice acting standards. For some, I can hear the childhood love and reverence for the original. That must be so cool, working on a show you watched as a child.

Of course, we can’t discuss what makes X-Men 97 so great without mentioning the writing. In the 90s, audiences praised X-Men: The Animated Series for how it addressed the topic of bigotry towards mutant-kind, while also staying true to the peculiar, science-fiction elements of the comics and the sentimental, melodramatic aspects that accompanied it. 

97 replicates that and more. A contemporary audience might find the themes and meaning behind the plot to be relatable, especially to those who wake up regularly to abominable news occurrences, but with an original twist that only a story like that of the merry band of mutants could provide. For those who have to wake up to horrible news every day, from terrorism to hate crimes to the extremes of identity politics, the show isn’t afraid to get uncomfortable.

For example, when the young Roberto da Costa (otherwise known as Sunspot) is abducted by the mutant-hating members of the Friends of Humanity (FOH), he proclaims he’s “one of the good ones”. These human captors don’t care for his pleas, instead wanting to cause him harm for that which he cannot control. You can’t appeal to those who are too far gone into the depths of hate.

Luckily, the X-Men are here to save the day. Storm and Bishop display their awesome powers before Cyclops comes in and wipes the floor with the Friends of Humanity in a stylish fashion that astonishes many who are not familiar with his game. This older Scott Summers and his concussive blasts have redeemed previous portrayals of the “boy scout.”

These are just the opening moments of the show. 

In the second episode, “Mutant Liberation Begins”, this moment has repercussions. The FOH leader from the X-Men attack adorns the menacing gear of X-Cutioner, calling for a storming of humans within the UN Headquarters. His battle with Cyclops during the raid feels so in sync with the rhetoric shared by many hateful people either online or in the streets of society—the hateful words born of fear of difference.

Much like Bret Hart, the mutants in Marvel’s many universes have been getting screwed, again and again. Frustrated isn’t the damn word for it. Why must we sit with hatred in our hearts? Why must we ignore as our brethren cry for help, damned to fall to silence? Our logic is flawed and we’re becoming undone.

Here, the show reminds me of the conversations often spoken in hushed tones by the downtrodden. How to act in front of oppressors for safety. How to stand up in the face of it when the injustice is just too impossible to ignore.

This is evident later in the episode, when Magneto (who joined the X-Men in the closing moments of the first episode), who desperately wants to turn over a new leaf, acts justly and with the compassion he yearns for humans to share toward mutants. The pain and rage in his heart that lead up to his moment of heroism thanks to X-Cutioner and the FOH gives way to vulnerable mercy. This is not the master of magnetism that sought to ruin humanity so mutant-kind could thrive, but a friend of Charles Xavier who hopes for peaceful coexistence. In this, in his restraint to wreak havoc, he weeps rage and snarls heartbreak.

Then the third episode, “Fire Made Flesh”, wore its heavy inspiration from the comics on its sleeve. It replicated and condensed the sinister Inferno storyline, with some liberties. The animation and writing fit the mind-bending terror that curse the X-Men as the story of Madeline Pryor begins. This episode shows that this version of the show is consistent with smaller details, such as Morph’s face changing to their old 90’s appearance to show the effects that the episode’s true villain Mr. Sinister had on them, or transforming Illyana Rasputin’s magical cameo paid in tribute to the comics. Some of these happen in flashes, blink and you’ll miss it.

The power of the show’s message is evergreen, refusing to be lost in the decades. This replica of the 1990s is lovingly restored with detail and care. Even the fact that Morph’s non-binary presentation is meticulously crafted so that even though they don’t reference the word “non-binary” as it wasn’t as widely known in the 90s shows respect to this world that Disney and Marvel seek to maintain. 

Speaking of non-binary, that’s the beauty of the evolution of mutants like Morph. It opens up so much to discussion. Of course, they’d find comfort and understand who they are after shapeshifting into men and women for years on a molecular level. But what of Mystique, who can change form on a physical level? Perhaps nothing, perhaps it works differently for her (though she still is LGBT+ representation due to her being bisexual). Whatever the effects their mutant powers have on who they are, it doesn’t matter. People are being represented, and I imagine those who grew up watching the original find their own comfort in these characters who’ve grown up with them.

Watching the first few episodes thus far has placed me into the shoes of childhood, sitting on the carpet as the VHS whirred the images of the first two episodes of X-Men: The Animated Series, “Night of the Sentinels Part 1 and 2”. I had a grin on my face the whole time, and when the emotion called for it, glassy eyes. I even found myself genuinely laughing at certain points, intended or not.

X-Men 97 faithfully captures the magic of X-Men: The Animated Series while giving the content so much more to love. The source material is also kept in mind, as seeds are planted the way they were in the comics, the likes of which could take months, maybe years to pay off, leaving mutant fans with a lot to sink their teeth into. 

While newcomers may come to Disney+ to catch up or watch any of the numerous recaps of the classic on YouTube, they can also be pleasantly treated to this new and earnest introduction to the characters as is. Just as Jubilee played the role of the viewer’s eyes at the end of the 20th century, so does Roberto da Costa, so newcomers can relate as they learn.

If you are salivating about the impending integration of the mutants further into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this will be a great primer. 

I give X-Men 97 a high, high recommendation, especially if you were a fan of the original.

And that folks, is how the Montreal Screwjob will forever share the importance of Brawl Out. Wherever any of us stand in the grand scheme of it all, we will always be in its shadow. 

It’s not an easy environment. The online and real-life discourse may never fully dissipate.

I think we’ve all learned an important lesson from all this.