New To The ‘X-Men’ Universe? You Should Be Watching ‘The Gifted’
It's set in the X-Men universe, but with a new cast of characters.
Brought to you by 'The Gifted' on DVD.
When a superhero universe has a legacy spanning 55 years in print, 18 years on film, and another 26 on television, it can be daunting for newcomers to work out where to dive in. Thankfully, The Gifted – which is set in the X-Men universe, but with a new cast of characters – is the perfect solution.
One of the biggest complaints from new comic book readers is they don’t know where to start. It’s a fair criticism, given the answer varies depending on the publisher, the character, or the book.
Film and television comic book counterparts used to be an easier solution, as there was only a handful of superhero stories and most of them followed a chronological order. Yet as geek culture has been brought out of the metaphorical locker, it was stuffed into for years and become just the culture, its mainstream appeal means there are a lot of options.
The X-Men, for example, are one of the most beloved and enduring superhero properties. So much so they made the transition from print to silver screen with a film franchise that started in 2000 and has now spanned 11 films, grossing more than $5.72 billion collectively. That’s before we even factor in the two new X-Men films coming down the pipeline in 2019: the epic Dark Phoenix (releasing in June) and The New Mutants (set for August).
On the small screen, there are two very different, very specific offerings. Legion on FX is a psychedelic trip with well-known actors playing lesser-known mutant characters in a series that might be a little too high-concept and weird for those outside of the comic book world. The more accessible – as shown in the difference between ratings – is The Gifted, a show firmly set in the X-Men universe but providing fresh characters for newcomers to latch on to.
“You never know you’re a mutant until it happens the first time,” says teenage mutant Lauren Strucker (played by Natalie Alyn Lind) in the The Gifted’s pilot episode. She and her younger brother, Andy (Percy Hynes White), are the vessel for the audience, with their powers arriving unexpectedly and surprising their very normal, very suburban parents, played by genre favourites Stephen Moyer from True Blood and Amy Acker from Joss Whedon shows like Angel and Dollhouse.
Moyer’s Reed Strucker has a slightly more sinister edge to him, having worked for the organisation that hunts down and imprisons young mutants. He finds his core beliefs shaken, however, when his own children evolve to be the very thing he has made a career out of hunting. The family of four goes on the run from authorities, adding a sense of tension and pace to this world that mirrors our own but also sits comfortably within the X-Men universe.
The Strucker family is an effective narrative vehicle: after all, everything from their mutant abilities to the underground world occupied by other gifted (or mutants) is new to them as well. The audience learns alongside the family as their fight for freedom eventually leads them towards the path of some more familiar names. No, not Magneto or Professor X or Storm or Rogue: the big guns are saved for the cinematic universe. But we do meet other mutants straight from the pages of the comic, often considered cult favourites but not given a whole lot of room to move in the films.
There’s Blink, played by Jamie Chung in this iteration, along with Thunderbird, portrayed by James Redford: both have been members of the main X-Men team at various points in the comics, but they have also had their own spin-off books. It’s a fitting choice from creators as they hint at the idea of bigger stakes to come in later seasons of the show, but the characters don’t bring their own baggage from the films like Wolverine would, for example.
Polaris (Emma Dumont) is also part of the main cast along with Eclipse (Sean Teale) and some lesser-known mutants that colour the world. There’s even Sentinels (and the Sentinel Services), which offer a winking deep-cut to hardcore X-Men fans.
Most importantly, The Gifted expands upon the central themes of the X-Men comics, films, and popular animated series from the ‘90s. The messages were never subtle and they don’t need to be when you’re communicating through super-powered beings. As an allegory for racism and homophobia that plagues parts of America, the X-Men stories have always been a fitting commentary on the persecution of minorities. That message is clearer than ever in season one of The Gifted and season two, as it gears up for release in Australia.
“This is the story of two families who came together to protect each other,” Lauren says in a voiceover. “Not the ones with resources, but the ones in the shadows, fighting to hide, to escape, to survive. This is our story.”
From the studio who brought the X-Men, Wolverine and Deadpool to life on the big screen, it’s infused with the same production values as its cinematic counterparts with everything from the set design to the special effects heightening the tale. It’s rare that a story can satisfy veteran fans and newcomers, but The Gifted is one of the few exceptions.
(All images courtesy of 2oth Century Fox Home Entertainment)
You don’t want to miss the action in Marvel’s new TV show, The Gifted. Season 1 is out now on DVD.