Clearly mindful of the “X-Men” movie trilogy as well as the upcoming “Wolverine” solo feature, Nicktoons’ animated series based on the popular comicbook puts the clawed hero front and center while creating a serialized story arc around the “mutants as persecuted outcasts” theme. Comics fans will appreciate the serious tone, and kids will enjoy the plentiful action; still, the program pales next to the Saturday-morning version that Fox carried in the early 1990s, with uneven animation and a messy narrative that could use a bit of Wolverine-style slicing and dicing.
The two-part premiere assumes considerable X-knowledge, beginning a year after the X-Men have broken up, following an explosion at Professor Xavier’s institute for mutant youngsters. Wolverine must start reassembling the old angst-ridden gang — including the erudite Beast — when the Mutant Response Division rears its shadowy head, incarcerating mutants as well as those that might sympathize with them.
Adding to the confusion are several characters with divided loyalties, among them Rogue, who throws in with the evil Brotherhood of mutants; and the winged Angel, whose father is in league with an opportunistic senator determined to cash in on mutant-phobic hysteria.
Voiced by Steve Blum in a gravelly manner that brings to mind the recent Batman, Wolverine remains a thoroughly engaging character, even if he can’t cut loose with those Adamantium claws without being relegated to a more adult channel or timeslot. “Your son’s a mutant. Deal with it,” he snaps to a pair of ordinary parents.
Ultimately, the program is reasonably good fun for X-Men aficionados, but the reliance on past movie and comic references — and the way the show’s reality diverges from previous exercises (or if you prefer, X-ercises) — blunts the appeal, as does the occasionally stiff animation quality.
So while Cartoon Network already caters to boys with its action series “Batman” and “Clone Wars,” “Wolverine” provides Nicktoons its own presold franchise — albeit one that doesn’t match those programs as an unqualified cut above, despite all of its hero’s slashing derring-do.