X-Men #19, April, 1966

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X-Men #19, April, 1966

“Uh oh! Don’t try anything Angel!—Unless you wanna get tickled with this icy toothpick!”

Central Conflict: The X-Men VS Mimic

Comic within a comic:

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…And we’re back! After “months” of recovery from the bouts of Magneto and Sentinel battling, we rejoin the X-Men in—where else?—the Danger Room. Cyclops leads the team in familiar rounds of exercises designed to underscore (rather than challenge) their powers. Once more, Beast’s bouncing gets a lot of screen time, as does the plucky Iceman. “That’s okay, Warry! I didn’t mean to toss a whole mess of ice flakes at you either!” Ice flakes. Warry.

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Xavier arrives on the scene to congratulate the team on doing what we’ve seen them do at least 19 times before. He also has something to say to his students, “I have an announcement for you! … First, I’ll shut off all the electronic booby traps!” Always a good way to begin a speech.

The “announcement” is a few vacation days which the students spend in some pretty rote ways: Hank and Bobby go cruising for “gals” at the New York City Public Library, Jean goes shopping, and Cyclops withdraws into his usual mopery.

We follow Hank and Bobby first, who get right into some comedy with librarians Zelda and Vera.

—Do you always blush that way, Mr. McCoy?

—It’s the only way I know!

The cheery scene is interrupted by the arrival of one Calvin Rankin. A local hothead with—apparently—his sights set on Vera.

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Calvin and Hank come to blows almost instantly. To no one’s Hank’s surprise, Calvin is able to match his agility and speed exactly. Bobby jumps into the fray and just like that, Calvin can whip up ice attacks. Calvin bounds away from the fight but we stay with him and are granted access to his thoughts. He has long had the ability to mimic the powers of nearby mutants. If he could pull off ice tricks and agility feats, then it follows that he must have been mimicking the famous X-Men out of costume just now.

We follow this charming Calvin to a local shopping mall cafeteria where he gets pretty worked up over some table sugar.

When he involuntarily levitates the sugar to him, he deduces other X-Men are nearby. The fabulous Marvel Girl in particular.

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Calvin thinks, “That chick hasta be Marvel Girl—the one with the power of telekinesis! If I follow her, she’s sure to lead me to the others!” We’ve seen this before: The Villain of the Month uses one X-Man to track down or lure the others. But why Calvin? What’s this guy’s deal?

The next day, the X-Men are all x-plaining these events to Professor X. Hank says, “It’s true, professor! He had the same, identical powers as Bobby and I!” (Bad grammar, Hank.)

As they’re discussing this new imminent threat, the doorbell rings. A bespectacled Calvin Rankin arrives and introduces himself to the Professor and his students. All are understandably wary of Calvin—who does himself no favors when he says to Jean, “If you’re wondering how I got here—it’s ‘cuz I followed you from that place!”

Calvin reveals himself to be a fully-formed (and costumed) supervillain here to take on all of the X-Men directly.

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The costumed Calvin calls himself Mimic. Not bad.

He tangles with all of  the X-Men simultaneously. His ability to duplicate their powers stymies them each, including Professor X. He battles them all to a standstill and then absconds with Marvel Girl. She cries, “Don’t you know how hopeless this is? There’s no place you can go where the X-Men won’t find you!”

Mimic drives Marvel Girl to an abandoned mine. This is kinda cool: As Mimic travels further from the X-Men, his powers (save Jean’s) are proportionately reduced—his Angel’s wings diminish, his body loses Beast’s neandertal shape. He takes Marvel Girl into a hidden living space where he explains his origin story because we’ve got pages to fill.

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The story is pretty haphazard. Calvin’s father was a mysterious scientist working on something “more dangerous” than anyone has ever dreamed (never explained). During a moment of youthful curiosity, the young Calvin slips into the lab and disturbs some equipment, accidentally contaminating himself with whatever nefarious materials his father has been synthesizing.

Calvin spends his next years developing into a strange little punk who can mimic the human and mutant abilities near him. Examples: he becomes a baseball, boxing, and scholastic hero. It’s more than a little unclear why he’s better than everyone at everything. Shouldn’t he just be equivalent? And also, if he’s not just mimicking mutant powers, then what are the rules of his mimicry? Might not he involuntarily mimic the school boxing hero’s haymakers and debilitating sunlight allergy (or whatever).

Calvin’s father—the mysterious scientist—takes his son into this very mine so that he can build his son a machine that would his boy’s “powers last forever”.

Here’s where the retelling becomes shamefully sloppy. “For months they hid in the cave while scientist built a machine… But the machine drained so much current that it short-circuited every fuse in the country—!” This nationwide blackout draws an angry mob to their mine. The scientist fatehr dies trying to seal the mine and protect his son. The machine that will somehow make Mimic’s mimicry permanent is lost beneath the collapsed earth.

So Mimic’s raison d’être now is deduced—and helpfully announced—by Jean, “You were that boy! And you want the X-Men to follow you here, so you can trick them into reaching the machine for you!”

As this nonsense story unfurls, Mimic’s wings revitalize7mdash;the X-Men are near!

Now that Mimic can harness all of the X-Men’s powers again, he uses Cyclops’ optic blast to tunnel further into the earth toward his father’s machine.

A last minute battle ensues and Mimic seems to win again.

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Mimic takes up Professor X and positions himself within his father’s machine, ready to throw the switch and—he thinks—make permanent his powers of mimicry.

But instead Mimic collapses.

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Xavier explains to his team that, actually, Calvin’s dad never wanted his son to retain his powers. “Although the lad didn’t realize it, his father created the machine to take those powers away!” How Xavier knows this is unclear. Xavier gives Calvin his signature mindwipe treatment and Calvin ambles away to an uncertain future. Almost like this issue is mimicking other, better issues of the same comic.

M for “meh.”

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X-Men #18, March, 1966

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X-Men #18, March, 1966

“I am without the power of my mutant brain, due to this mental wave-distorter Magneto has fastened to my scalp!”

Central Conflict: The X-Men VS Magneto

Masthead-humor:

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Magneto knows how to lay a trap. He just has no clue what to do after that.

Freshly returned from the Stranger’s captivity (we don’t know yet how or why), Magneto has slipped into an empty X-Mansion while the team is away battling the Sentinels. Using a convoluted set of mousetrap-like mechanisms and tricks including sliding glass doors, slickened hallways and flying axes, Magneto has captured the entire team, save Iceman who was last seen comatose in the hospital.

So what do you do once you’ve overpowered and outsmarted the X-Men?

Not this.

Magneto gathers them all together, traps them in a steel gondola and sends it up into the ionosphere where, presumably, the X-Men will all suffocate and die. Or more presumably, they’ll collaborate and devise a way out of this too-complicated scheme.

Back on earth and in the X-Mansion, Magneto answers the doorbell and reveals himself in full costume to Angel’s parents who have shown up to say hi to their son and his classmates.

When the Worthingtons see Magneto at the door, they’re understandably confused and suspicious. Before they run away, Magneto hypnotizes them because his powers are conveniently inconsistent. How his power of magnetism enables him to hypnotize anyone is unclear but off we go.

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Now that they’re under his sway, Magneto straight up commands Angel’s parents to, what else?, go bed.

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Magneto is having a great day. He’s free of the Stranger, defeated and captured most of the X-Men, and now has—for some reason—hypnotized Angel’s parents.

The lens shifts back to the hospital where Iceman languishes and a much too handsome doctor and nurse puzzle over him. The doctor produces an experimental “sulfa drug” which, naturally, can only be delivered via ray gun.

—“Just pray that it will penetrate his incredible skin!

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So things are looking up for Iceman. But he’s not out of the woods yet. “The next few hours will tell the story.”

Meanwhile, back in the balloon, Xavier is the only mutant still conscious. The others are prone and helpless while Xavier talks the situation out to himself. Why he’s talking and not just using thought bubbles is a mystery. Burdened with the “mental wave-distorter Magneto has fastened to my scalp”, Xavier first has to deactivate the device before he’ll be able to find a way out of his ludicrous predicament.

A fair criticism of these books would be the deus ex machina that thunders in at moments like these. Xavier’s trapped, disabled, and effectively alone, so how’s he going to get out of it? Not in any way that you could predict or would even make sense.

“[Magneto] has overlooked one basic item! My ability to read minds and project thoughts is due to the counter-ego which I possess! Even now, the counter-ego is probing the distorter—applying as much stress and strain to it as is humanly possible!”

Huh? A counter ego? Well this is the first we’ve heard of this. And it does nothing to explain how this is able to surmount the challenge of the mental-wave distorter. This sci-fi is pretty light on the sci.

But all is forgiven when you get art panels like these:

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Ka-Bok indeed!

Xavier defeats the mental wave-distorter and somehow avoids giving himself an aneurysm. He revives the team so they can set about the work of escaping, or as Beast annoyingly puts it, “It behooves us to evacuate this cubicle before the air is dissipated.” Ugh, get out of this gondola, Beast.

Back in the X-Mansion, Magneto sets to the work of—well, we don’t know what he’s doing. He showed up to take his revenge on the X-Men by trapping and killing them. Which he stopped short of accomplishing by sending them all up in an air bag rather than just finishing the job, but hey, that’s what a villain does.

Now that Angel’s parents have shown up, he’s focused on committing a crime of opportunity. He suddenly has two captives capable of generating a mutant; Magneto decides, “No longer will I have to search for new mutants! At last I have the means to build a vast army of them—an army to serve only me!” Magneto’s going to make use of the Worthingtons by secretly analyzing their “body cells” and duplicating them.

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Not at all creepy, right?

Seems like we’re taking a page from the Bolivar Trask’s World Domination by Artificially Manufactured Army Plan. Although here, instead of using a fleet of towering Sentinels, we’re going to actually just build mutants themselves.

Good thing Xavier has all the equipment necessary to do this just laying around. All Magneto needs is the raw material. “When I’m done, my army of mutant slaves will be large enough to easily conquer any force that mankind can throw against it!”

Back in the death balloon, the X-Men struggle to find a way out of their predicament. It’s not going well.

One way that might work would be for Xavier to send out a telepathic Hail Mary to the Fantastic Four or Iron Man (as he’s done before), or to dispatch his astral projection to Earth to activate some back up plan for exactly this scenario, but that doesn’t happen. Instead, Xavier checks in on Magneto to see what he’s up to. I would posit that in this situation, IT DOES NOT MATTER. Xavier and his students are all moments away from death by asphyxiation, whatever shenanigans Magneto is enacting back on the ground won’t matter to a gondola full of dead X-Men.

Regardless, Xavier sees what Magneto and the Worthingtons are up to. And he is Shocked, capital S.

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Okay, so now there’s more at stake than just the X-Men: Angel’s innocent, idiot parents. Xavier decides to call out for help. Who does he summon? Surely a flight-enabled superhero, someone who has the power to reach them and the strength to pull them back down to Earth… Or Iceman, someone with neither.

“Bobby! Bobby! This is Professor X! Can you read me? You’re needed son! You’re needed!”

It’s unclear how Iceman is going to do anything to remedy this situation but everyone seems ready to give Iceman the benefit of the doubt. So while we wait for Iceman to whip up a miracle anyone would think him incapable of, Xavier ponders, “Perhaps by scanning [Magneto’s] brain, I can learn how he escaped from the Stranger.” Again, why is this important now?

All of this reviewer’s complaining is immediately shut down by probably the coolest formal decision these books have committed to thus far. What are we talking about? Frames, of course. Frames!

A normal panel in these books is a rectangle with four ninety degree corners. But check out what happens when we enter a memory:

Frames

The exposition, still in the real time of the narrative, is framed by hard ninety degree angles… but as we slip into memory, the corners round. For the rest of the retelling, the round corners tell us—formally—that we’re outside of the forward motion of the story proper.

We fancy.

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When the Stranger absconded with Magneto and Toad way back in issue 11, we were told that they were “never to return.” Where’d they go? And why?

Well, apparently, the Stranger held Magneto and Toad on a “deserted, forsaken planet.”

Left to his own devices, Magneto wandered to a “graveyard of old spaceships” (very cool idea) where he, rather easily, activated the dead ship with his “matchless magnetic power.” Magneto didn’t need the extra baggage of Toad, so he booted him out and rode the rocket back home to Earth.

Back in the present, “an icy, crystalline figure glides noiselessly over the wall of ‘Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters’!” Iceman skids onto his home turf where he observes Magneto lurking about his dorm.

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Plucky and intrepid, the youngest X-Man interrupts Magneto’s (nonsense) plan and rescues the Worthingtons by forming an “ice barrier” between them and Magneto. Magneto attacks Iceman with a flurry of flying household appliances, screaming, “I’ll destroy you with a gesture! Every object in the room will become a threat–! Nothing can overcome the power of supreme magnetism!!”

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Iceman escapes with some fancy icework (an ice shield, an ice sled, an ice tunnel).

While he and the vastly superior (though you wouldn’t know it) Magneto battle, the lens abruptly shifts to the X-Men in their balloon.

With oxygen all but depleted, Xavier commands Cyclops to blast a microscopic hole in the the canopy. As their death trap plummets back to earth, Marvel Girl slows it down telekinetically. Beast helpfully comments, “I surmise the professor’s stratagem! Jean’s levitation power will serve as a brake!!” Thanks again, Beast. Really helpful to point this out verbally while we’re all running out of oxygen.

The “stratagem” works and the gondola lands safely—and exactly—back at the X-Mansion. Free of the trap, the X-Men join Iceman’s fight against Magneto.

Now that the two story strands are reconnected and the stage is set for a logical, satisfying conclusion, it’s time to abandon that completely and usher in some left-field nuttiness. Enter: The Stranger.

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Despite Magneto’s pleading (“He mustn’t get me! He mustn’t!”), the Stranger returns for his wayward captive.

Magneto is chased away by the Stranger, who is for reasons unknown obsessed with Magneto.

Iceman then turns his attention back to the Worthingtons, who he rescues and revives, thus cementing (or flash freezing) his status as a full-blooded, able-bodied, X-Man.

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What have we learned? That Iceman is just as capable as any other X-Man? Okay. Usually, it’s Beast that gets the most screen time but he’s got no monopoly. We also didn’t really see that much Iceman, certainly not enough to call it a solo issue.

Magneto’s back in the mix and that’s a great thing (though he was run off by the Stranger yet again). Wonder if he’ll come back with a vengeance, like, tomorrow?

The X-Men #17, February 1966

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X-Men #17, February, 1966

“Unfortunately, we have no legal right to insist that he unmask!”

Central Conflict: The X-Men VS an unseen, mysterious, returning villain (yep, you guessed who).

Darkest subtitle yet:

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The X-Men have escaped the Sentinels, but they’re undeniably worse for the wear. Beast’s punting foot is fractured (“Have a care, Kildare! Each and every toe is virtually priceless!”), and Iceman slips into a coma-like delirium.

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The police and the military show up at the site of Master Mold’s destruction to scratch their heads and marvel at the X-Men’s heroism (which they didn’t witness).

–“There’ll be some mighty red faces from now on, Professor! All those who called the X-Men menaces to society will have a lot of apologizing to do! In fact, I myself used to fear their power, until they risked their lives to help all of us! Don’t you agree, Professor?”

The X-Men and Xavier are all carted off to the local hospital for evaluation and medical treatment. Xavier plays it coy and pretends not to be the mutants’ leader, rather “a civilian adviser” here to help the military interact with these superheroes.

Xavier regularly reminds his hospitalized team to “Exercise extreme caution! Do not remove your mask!…Your true identities must not be exposed!”

Meanwhile, Angel exercises his preternatural skills of stealth and subtlety:

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A very helpful nurse explains verbally to everyone in the room, and the reader, that Angel is checking the “automatic phone answering device at X-Men headquarters—to learn if there were any messages while they were away!” Does this nurse always talk like this, narrating exactly what she and everyone else in the room clearly sees? What kind of brain damage does this evidence?

Anyway: Good thing Angel checked the voicemail. His parents “left word they’re coming to visit! They’re worried because they haven’t heard from me!” So off flies the winged WASP in an inspired middle-of-the-book splash page (check out the charmingly elementary curve of the earth).

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Here Angel presages the Ferris Bueller beat-the-parents-to-the-house mad dash and makes it successfully within the X-Mansion before his ‘rents or Rooney do. However. Things are amiss.

Angel senses a deadly calm in the house, the eeriness that only comes with knowing you’re being watched. But who’s doing the watching? At this point, the X-Men have roughly a dozen hardcore enemies, any one of which could be lurking in their crib, coiled, hissing, and ready to strike. It could be anyone, right? Right? It’s probably not the one villain—the obvious, capstone villain—whose mysterious disappearance a few issues ago left all of us counting the pages until his inglorious return. It’s probably not that villain, right?

Of course it is.

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This unseen intruder taunts Angel: “Welcome home, you winged blunderer! You shall never leave here again—under your own power!” Angel takes flight in the tight hallways but is defeated, like all birds, by a window seen too late. Not kidding.

But there’s something more interesting at work here than the Angel’s klutzy defeat. Let’s take a look at the silhouette of the villain. Not much to see here, just rudimentary head and fist. The head is domed—not unlike Lucifer’s or even The Vanisher’s. But again, we know who it is. This reader, however, only just noticed this piece of shadow sneakily camouflaged in the black canvas of some wall art.

Examine:

what!!!

See the hood ornament? I didn’t on my first reads. But Kirby and co. snuck it in there. Ninjutsu!

Back in the hospital, Xavier notices that Angel isn’t answering his mental pages. The Professor confides to Cyclops that he suspects Angel is back at the mansion and that there is “some danger awaiting us there!” I guess the protocol in these situations is to blindly return to the house in small, easily-ambushable groups of two. It starts with Cyclops and Xavier.

Once back in Westchester, they make it as far as Xavier’s office before all goofy hell breaks loose and Xavier is defeated by “a mechanical mental-wave distorter” and Cyclops by—anticlimactically—another “transparent shield” (or as it’s also know, a window).

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So now Iceman’s chilling in his coma, Angel has fallen, and Xavier and Cyclops just suffered a humiliating defeat on home turf. So next in the batting order is Beast and Marvel Girl.

Marvel Girl: Hank, I’m worried! The Professor and Cyclops are gone—and so is their car! Angel is also gone—and there hasn’t been a word from any of them!

Beast: Just like a woman!! If someone isn’t fracturing your eardrums every conceivable minute, you begin to fear that something’s amiss!

This is real dialogue, by the way.

This back and forth goes on for another entire page before Beast is convinced to escape the hospital—spectacularly—with Marvel Girl to investigate their teammates’ disappearance.

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Arriving at the mansion, Marvel Girl notes the foreboding silence that meets them. Beast, at the height of his powers of strategy, says, “Stay behind me, lass! I’ll charge in at top speed, to bear the brunt of whatever awaits us!”

Charge in? Top speed? Lass?

It doesn’t go well.

Beast is trapped immediately. And Marvel Girl is accosted by the intruder who deploys the ultimate Bond-villain line.

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You(!) indeed. This villain, whoever he is, has so far bested most of the X-Men with stealth, sabotage and shenanigans. So what to do with the X-Men now that he’s captured them? It’s an X-Men book, so he can’t just dispatch them. No. He decides to lock them all in a steel gondola and send it up in a hot air balloon because comic book.

We still haven’t seen the villain entire yet, only his shadow and now his hands. Nice choice of gloves, by the way.

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Now that the X-Men are totally screwed, the lens leaves the scene for the long ago promised pair of Angel’s parents. The Worthingtons, looking their most Rockwellian, approach the X-Mansion.

—Strange that no one came to the door! They must have heard our car!

—Perhaps they’re busy with exams, dear!

The blundering duo walks right up to the crime scene and rings the bell. They don’t recognize the man who answers, but we do.

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Magneto’s people skills need some work. He introduces himself by saying, “I? I am power—!! Men call me—Magneto!” Why the em-dashes? And why the insistence on calling yourself “power.” It’s like calling yourself a rogue, or a visionary. If you have to say it, you know you aren’t it.

This is a strong issue. After the exhausting antics with the Sentinels, it’s fun to see the team in kickback mode, chattering and goofing around with one another. It’s balanced with the tension of the stalker in the mansion who we know all along is Magneto—he was bound to return sooner or later.

These books are flawed, sure, but there is successful World Building taking place here. We know who each X-Man is individually (more or less) and we know the global anxieties—and now the constant, singular villain—that beset them. Magneto’s snaky return establishes him as the X-Man’s truest and best enemy. Bring on the years of endless battles.

The X-Men #16, January, 1966

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“You called me—a man—for the first time!”

Central Conflict: The X-Men VS Master Mold

Weirdest breaking of the fourth wall:

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After two lengthy issues, we find ourselves here at the conclusion of the first Sentinel saga. The first splash page of Issue 16 screams, “In which a life is lost…– a battle won!”

Well, okay. That kinda neutralizes the tension. So, we know the X-Men are gonna win, I guess. But which life is to be lost? I’ll give you one guess. Correct! Not one of the X-Men’s!

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But we’ll get there.

At the end of the last issue, our mutants were recaptured by the Sentinels, and Master Mold (essentially a Lincoln-monument-like doom god of robots) had ordered Trask to create an army of Sentinels. How Trask is to do this is a little unclear since the clearly stated purpose of Master Mold itself is to manufacture an army of sentinels.

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Xavier, meanwhile, is mentally and physically exhausted after deploying his astral projection against the Sentinels. Having only barely just returned himself to his body, the professor decides that rather than trying again to rescue his X-Men, now is the time to go solve the mystery of the fallen Sentinel (Don’t remember him? Neither does anyone else: this was two issues and eight hundred thousand words of dialogue ago.).

“Back in the city there is a fallen Sentinel! If I can find out why he fell, I’ll have the key to their defeat!”

So where are the X-Men anyway?

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They’re trapped in—what else?—a “heavy grav globe.” The X-Men are all smashed together in an implant-shaped cage filled with… I dunno, gravity? “No matter how they struggle, there is no way to overcome the irresistible power of increased gravity!”

The heavy grav globe is inviolate. Cyclops and Iceman both come up with some novel attempts to break it which only results in the weirdest instance of X-Man to X-Man dialogue we’ve seen so far:

Iceman: I failed you! It was all up to me and I conked out!

Cyclops: Don’t ever say that again, boy! You did all that any man can do—you tried your best!

Iceman: You called me a man! For the first time!

Cyclops: You’re as much a man as any of us, Bobby! Never forget it!

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Nearby, Trask and his Frankenstein’s monster Master Mold are having a talk. Master Mold instructs Trask to share the “knowledge to create a vast army.” Ah, okay, now we’re getting somewhere… So, Trask has the knowledge and Master Mold has the “power” to create the Sentinel Army. That’s not much of an explanation but it’s more than we’ve gotten in the past two issues of Trask/Sentinel back-and-forth.

Master Mold’s deal is this: help him build an army of Sentinels or he’ll wipe out the “nearest” city with his “disintegrator ray.”

Elsewhere, Xavier crawls himself to a roadside where he’s picked up by a couple of traveling salesman who (helpfully) escort him back to the television studio where this mutant/Sentinel throwdown got started.

Xavier mentally “probes” the fallen Sentinel. Deep in focus, he arrives at the conclusion that the Sentinel is… “built like a giant TV set! He will not receive a picture properly if there is interference! Something has interfered with him! If only I could learn what that something is!”

Well, give it a minute, Professor. I’m sure you’ll—

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Oh, okay. So it’s the giant crystal right outside the window. And it somehow interferes with the Sentinel’s receptors. That’s… kinda… weak. (Before this revelation, this writer’s theory was that Magneto was lurking in the shadows, messing with the onstage action for superlative reasons that would be exhaustively explained.)

So back in Master Mold’s fortress, the Sentinels cart a comatose Beast toward the prison of the heavy grav globe. Cyclops takes advantage of the moment and, as the Sentinels open the cage, unleashes an assault of optic blasts. He escapes and frees his team. They even recapture Beast—who still hasn’t woken up after his experience with the “psycho probe” last issue.

The jailbreak is going pretty well. Marvel Girl uses her telekinesis to topple Sentinels, Iceman slows them down, and Angel flies circles around everyone, causing the Sentinels to wreck their own hideout.

But one way or another, all good escape attempts must come to an end. Another detachment of Sentinels show up and devastate the X-Men with a chest ray attack.

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The mutants are all  thrown to the floor and attacked by Sentinels. Helpless, it looks like all is lost, until Xavier shows up in a team of Police helicopters dragging a massive crystal.

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Because this crystal—whatever it is—somehow possesses exactly the right anti-Sentinel properties, all of the Sentinels in the fortress are debilitated at this most crucial moment. Once more, it’s Xavier to the rescue.

For some reason, this effect doesn’t extend to Master Mold himself. Even as his extant Sentinels fall around him, he still has the wherewithal to order Trask to begin the manufacture of more Sentinels, saying, “First, there shall be eight new Sentinels—then eight more—then eight more—each new group appearing faster and faster—until their number mounts so quickly that they become virtually uncountable! Begin!!”

Trask appears to comply, toiling at his massive console, but internally, he’s agonizing. He thinks, “So long as men endure upon the planet, mine will be the most hated name of all—for it was I who betrayed the human race!” Trask abandons the efforts and in a Samson-esque moment of clarity, brings the whole temple down on his enemies and himself.

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Sadly, the Traskrifice goes unnoticed. The X-Men, busy escaping the collapsing fortress, are ignorant of Trask’s last-minute redemption.

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Our exposition-loving narrator offers, “Perhaps the truth will one day be known! But, until that time, it lies buried beneath countless tons of rubble—buried in the breast of Dr. Bolivar Trask, whose last earthly sacrifice brought the work of a lifetime crashing down about him—whose last earthly lesson proved to be: beware the fanatic! Too often his cure is deadlier by far than the evil he denounces!”

Woah. That’s a pretty didactic turn, X-Men comic books.

But, whatever, let’s just be glad this arc is over. This was an overstretched story; the reversals, recaptures, and returns to the scene of the crime were starting to pile over one another.

But for all the explosions and “heavy grav globes”, we did get a major contribution to the X-Men mythos. To a certain demographic of X-Fan, the Sentinels stand shoulder to shoulder with the other giants of comic book villainy (Magneto, Dr. Doom, maybe not the Joker). And while these monolithic monsters don’t have the personality or verve of any number of would-be dictators or dominators, they are the personification of the central antagonism the X-men face: the dark, bewildered fear the rest of humanity holds for them.

The X-Men #15, December 1965

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X-Men #15, December, 1965

“It’s all right, Mrs. McCoy! I’m anxious to observe your son under all conditions!”

Central Conflict: The X-Men VS The Sentinels

Mutant Playground Equipment:

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Man creates monster. Monster kills man.

How old is the Golem story? How far back does the Promethean fear reach? Am I a Cylon?

If you’re a vein of science fiction storytelling and you don’t ever point to the idea that man’s creation will one day replicate, surpass and enslave man then you might be doing it wrong. Here, with the Sentinels, Stan Lee is dutifully checking the Fear the AI/Terminator/Thinking Machines Box.

When last we saw the Sentinels, they had kidnapped their creator Bolivar Trask and taken him back to something called “Master Mold”. The X-Men followed “mental emanations” to a spot of empty and pastoral beauty in, presumably, the New York state countryside, where they hope to rescue Trask and defeat the machines. With typical 60s Marvel jubilance, the landscape itself opened up to reveal a starship Enterprise-looking hideout. Lasers were fired, X-Men flung.

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Now, as our mutants tumble and fly, we see enacted the mad comedy that typifies these books.

“Wow-eee!”

“If any of these careening boulders dent my noble cranium, it’ll be bye bye Beast!”

“Holy smoke! The ground is opening right under my feet!”

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After the X-Men all save themselves by levitating, flying, or climbing ice ladders, they escape the base’s range “nature activator rays” and regroup to plan their next step. Determined to “invade” the base and learn just what Master Mold is, the X-Men devise—in typical X-Men style—the least likely method imaginable: Iceman whips up what this writer can only describe as an frozen merry-go-round on which they careen through the air.

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Because this is a terrible plan, it goes terribly. The ice disc—why would this fly?—goes wonky and Beast and Iceman are snatched up by the machinations of the secret hideout. “Metallic tentacles!!!” “We’re being drawn into the fortress—caught like sitting ducks!”

Angel flaps off to try and rescue them, but is diverted by a “gusher” of flaming fire.

Beast and Iceman are trapped within the citadel (“Deposit them in the transparent cage! Good! Good!”) and for the millionth time, the X-Men regroup to “brainstorm” their next step.

Meanwhile, Trask watches in horror as the Sentinels work at the controls to defeat the X-Men. One Sentinel crows, “It was a simple matter to defeat the invading humans!” Hang on. Invading humans? Don’t you mean Mutants, the creatures you were designed to police? Seems like a mistake a Sentinel wouldn’t make, especially when—a moment later—Trask reaffirms, “You were made for only one purpose—to guard the human race from mutants! That is your only duty!”

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So now we know what Master Mold is. Sort of.

Here’s how you create a race of Sentinels, I guess.

Step 1. Create Master Mold.

Step 2. Walk away.

Turns out Master Mold is pretty ingenious. This maximally efficient, set-it-and-forget-it, Sentinel cooker makes Bolivar Trask the Henry Ford or Ray Kroc of violent, artificially intelligent, super machines.

So anyway.

There’s always a moment in an X-Men book where things go delightfully off the rails. We get ours here when the lens returns to Xavier and his team; still at bay, now short two X-Men forward attackers. Their goal hasn’t changed but now they need a new tactic.

Defying all logic, Xavier says…

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So what now? Xavier is going to use his telepathic power to override the machines’ programming? I’m no telepath, but that seems not very likely. Also, why not give this job to Jean? Jean could use her telekinetic power to, I dunno, blind all the Sentinels, flip their off switches, or maybe just separate their heads from their bodies, no?

Well, because this is nuts, Xavier’s plan works and he incapacitates each of the sentinels at the control panels of their hideout. “This is passing strange! They have been affected by some unknown, outside source!!”

Master Mold, who is—by the way—a super tall mega-sentinel seated on a throne (because why not?), decides to ignore this new and mysterious threat and instead focus on plumbing Beast’s mind to reveal all of the mutants and X-Men’s secrets. “Place the subject under the mental psycho-probe!”

Interestingly, the “mental psycho-probe” is a lamp.

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Under the “irresistible influence” of the psycho-probe, Beast reveals not the secrets of the X-Men, but his own heretofore unknown origin story. Which is pretty pat.

“The neighborhood—bullies picked on me—because I was a new arrival—and also—because of my anthropoid physique! But I myself—did not suspect—the powers I possessed!”

Hank’s mutant powers develop at pace with his adolescence, until—just like your high school experience—he’s outed as a mutant during a football game and chased off the field by an angry mob.

Aware of Hank’s mutantness, Xavier makes a house call.

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Back in the present day, Xavier senses that Hank is “telling too much” to Master Mold. Xavier jumps into action by launching his own “astral image” to interrupt the interrogation. Xavier has performed this maneuver before when he sought Namor in Atlantis. It’s done a little less spectacularly here, but as always, it is cool to see Xavier on the field.

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Xavier’s astral image penetrates the hideout and rather than attacking, deactivating, or otherwise neutralizing the Sentinels, he goes straight for Hank. “Though I can accomplish no physical acts while in my astral form, I can mentally focus my brain waves and bombard Hank’s mind with sharp thought particles that will temporarily deaden his own thoughts!”

Thought particles.

The trick works and Hank shuts up. But things are going less well elsewhere. The X-Men are able to rescue Ice Man but only briefly; soon they are all trapped again by a phalanx of Sentinels. Xavier’s astral projection pursues Master Mold but is deflected by the Sentinel’s “micro-electric blasts!”

Firmly in control of the situation, Master Mold points at Trask and barks, “I command you to create an army of Sentinels for me!”

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Hold up. How could Trask create Sentinels? Didn’t Trask create Master Mold to create Sentinels? Weren’t they explicit about this, like, a couple of pages ago?

We’ll have to get clarity on that one next time, as this issue ends on a hard cliff hanger.

The introduction of the Sentinels is poised to reach across three issues. The action and art are, as usual, goofily brilliant and boisterous, but the writing here is lacking. We’ve advanced the epic of the Sentinels hardly at all. We did get to see Master Mold but we still don’t know what felled the Sentinel an issue ago (this writer guesses it was some new—or returning?—mutant skulking in the edges of the panels, waiting to be introduced). Beast’s “biography” is a couple of bland panels (we’ve already seen young mutants terrorized by muggles, already seen mutant powers in action on sports fields: Toad, Xavier himself). And what should be the high point, a psychedelic Xavier projection combating Master Mold, is crammed into a tight exchange too late in the issue.

But there’s more to come, and the writers and artists of these books haven’t failed yet. Even if sometimes it feels like they’re only working with thought particles.

 

The X-Men #14, November 1965

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X-Men #14, November, 1965

“Don’t worry—It’ll be all right—As soon as I put my glasses back on—!”

Central Conflict: The X-Men VS The Sentinels

Raciest X-Joke So Far:

sex joke

Now that the mouth-breathing musclestorm that was the Juggernaut has dissipated, the X-Men are given some well-earned R and R. I wonder if it will be interrupted by some new, loud, superlative threat.

Their period of “recuperative therapy” looks pretty kinky: Cyclops kicks back in a nitrous-tank, Angel hangs from the ceiling by leather, and Iceman happily chills in an “ice intensifier.”

—Bobby, I think you’ve been in the ice intensifier long enough. You seem to have reached your frigid peak by now.

—Aww, just a few minutes more, Professor! This is the coolest, if you’ll pardon the pun!

We won’t, Bobby.

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Elsewhere, we join new character Dr. Bolivar Trask, anthropologist, at his press conference in “another city.” Trask, looking his most evil Walt Disney-esque, effuses on the new threat faced by humanity. “We’ve been so busy worrying about cold wars, hot wars, atom bombs and the like, that we’ve overlooked the greatest menace of all!”

He’s talking about our mutants of course.

Disney

When you’re a teenaged student at a prep school, and you survive an attack by the headmaster’s step-brother, you get a reward. Case in point: now that the X-Men seem to have recharged, Xavier lets them all in on the good news that they’ve earned a vacation.

As the X-Men prepare to flit off to their various vacation destinations. Each must take an extra step or two to conceal their mutations. Warren ties back his wings in a girdle, Hank pulls on “specially hinged” shoes, and Scott breaks out the Ray Bans that—somehow—protect everyone in sight from his optic blast.

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Lonely Scott wants to drive Jean to the train station but Warren beats him to it (“’natch”).

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‘Natch.

So again we’re reminded that everyone loves Jean Grey. Maybe it’s her telekinetic abilities, or the way she plays team nurse after a rough rumble with Juggernaut, or maybe it’s the fact that she’s the only woman in the house or appearing regularly within these pages—whatever it is, she’s just plain irresistible to the teenagers and the headmaster.

To the writers’ credit, they’re keeping the muted Scott/Jean/Everyone Else Alive Ever love triangle going somewhat organically. Scott loves Jean but doubts that she sees him as anything other than the tormented, loner team leader. Jean loves Scott but thinks his singular vision won’t allow a girlfriend. And Warren is a Ken doll.

‘Natch.

The students all go off to celebrate their leaves in different ways. Bobby and Hank split for their hipster coffee spot, Angel heads home to Long Island where he’s waited on by his family butler, and Jean—well, we don’t know, she just kind of vanishes for most of this book.

Xavier watches Scott do the dejected Charlie Brown walk out of the X-Mansion, and then turns to peruse the newspaper. Dr. Bolivar Trask’s fear-mongering must be good stuff, he’s got front page billing with the headline, “Mutant Menace!” Xavier reads that what he’s always feared has now eventuated: mutant fear has come into vogue. “Dr. Trask warns that the superior abilities and supernatural powers of the hidden mutants will enable them to enslave the human race, replacing our civilization with their own!” In Public Relations terms, this is “not good.”

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Xavier’s not happy. “I cannot let this go unchallenged! It could cause panic thruout the world!” Newspaper in one hand, telephone in the other, Xavier rings the “National Television Network” and makes a proposal: “I want to engage in a public televised debate with Dr. Bolivar Trask as soon as possible! I claim his theories are both erroneous and potentially dangerous!”

Because Xavier gets stuff done the debate is scheduled for the very next night. ‘Natch.

Xavier and Trask are seated at a stage where a respectful, thoughtful debate is surely about to take place. Right? I mean, it’s not like Trask—an anthropologist—is going to interrupt his own argument and say, “At any rate, I have created a new defense for mankind! Whether I win or lose does not matter… for the mutants will never take over the human race now! Not while my new army of Sentinels lives!”

At least this would make for great TV. It’s tough to imagine any public forum that wouldn’t be livened up by the speaker abruptly shifting gears and summoning his “army of” anything onto the stage.

So enter the Sentinels. Twice the size of a man, decked out in Magneto’s color scheme, and wearing large, golden Aztec god faces, the Sentinels are something to behold. Again, it’s unclear what business an anthropologist has inventing a robot army but whatevs, they’re here and they want to party. Trask offers to demonstrate the robots’ subservient nature and orders them to seize Xavier, not as an attack, merely as an illustration. How can this go wrong?

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Well, it can wrong lots of ways, and quickly too.

Just like you knew they would, the Sentinels decide their “brain is superior to your brain!” and “We are the Sentinels! We serve none! It is our destiny to command!” It’s quite a jump from obeying simple verbal commands to “It is our destiny to command”, but, hey, this is Marvel in the 60s; anything/everything can/will happen (loudly).

The lead Sentinel activates a chest-ray that incapacitates Trask. Everyone panics and Xavier calls in the troops.

–X-Men! X-Men! Professor X calling! Condition Red!…Come at once! Come at once!

You could pretty much write your own X-adventure from here on out. The mutants come running and, soon, grappling, with the Sentinels. Beast takes on most of the action (why is this? Every time there’s a throwdown, Beast is the one who gets the most screentime. This writer’s theory is that his acrobatics are either the most fun to draw or the most thrilling to witness. I dunno.)

One of the Sentinels captures Trask and flies out from the studio (though it’s never explicitly shown how these creatures made it into or out of the building, they’re too tall for doorways.

Why capture Trask, you ask?

Here’s some pat reasoning:

sentinel

Meanwhile, back in the battle, Beast and Cyclops move in for “Operation Duo-Smash” (“Your battering ram and my ray blast! Let’s go!”) but it fails miserably. “Hank crashed into the wall with such force that he knocked himself out!”

beast

While Beast lies on the floor, prone and vulnerable, a Sentinel raises a massive robot fist to decimate him. “But then, suddenly, the most unexpected event of all occurs! For no apparent reason, the towering Sentinel stops [and] falters…” and collapses with a supernal “THOOOM”.

So, the X-Men didn’t exactly win this one; the fight just kinda stopped occurring. Now that they’ve got some breathing room, the team huddles to determine What Next. Trask has been kidnapped and even though he’s unquestionably a dangerous dickhead, it still behooves the X-Men to go rescue their antagonist. Without any real clues, Xavier begins to receive “vague mental impulses” that indicate the Sentinels have taken Trask to something called “Master Mold”—“their headquarters”.

The team jumps into their Rolls-Royce(!?) and head off into the countryside to rescue Trask.

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“According to the mental emanations I received from the fallen Sentinel, this is where his headquarters will be found!”

Well how could mental emanations be wrong?

Seems like they are though, because here in the New York countryside, there’s no sign of Sentinels, Trask, or whatever “Master Mold” is. All is pastoral, peaceful, and dull.

Until:

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And so the issue ends on another hard cliffhanger. The “fortress” comes lifting out of the earth, ray guns a-blasting, X-Men a-toppling. Meanwhile, the narration informs us that due to “the most unprecedented demand in fandom’s history” the publication rate has now accelerated to monthly! It’s kind of charming to imagine waiting monthly for loud, splashy, bang-you-over-the-head content like this, now that every weekend brings new dark and/or multi-format superhero IP to a device near you.

This is just where it started. ‘Natch.

The X-Men #13, September 1965

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X-Men #13, September 1965

“You forgot one thing… I still have a weapon… the supreme weapon… my mutant brain!!”

Central Conflict: The X-Men VS The Juggernaut

Passive Aggressive Iceman:

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The previous issue ended on the sharpest cliff hanger these books have seen so far. The unstoppable onslaught of the Juggernaut had finally arrived at (through) the door of the X-Mansion. Now, our teenage mutants lay strewn about the X-foyer, covered in rubble, wondering if there’s any way at all to take this goliath down (Spoiler: there is).

The entire issue is pretty much a rumble. Xavier, Jean, and Cyclops all take their early shots at Juggernaut but to no result. “See the power of the Juggernaut! My body is so charged with boundless energy that I exude waves of force even when standing still!” These waves of “force” have an inconsistent repelling effect: Xavier’s chair is thrown backward and Jean’s telekinetic power is somehow “shattered”, but at other times, Juggernaut is vulnerable to physical attacks. Also, it’s revealed that Juggernaut’s helmet is made from the same magical material as his Bands of Cyttorak (whatever) blocking any of Xavier’s mental attacks (also whatever).

Cyclops, unable to really land any direct strike, takes to using the crumbling arena of the X-Mansion against Juggernaut. He blasts away at the floor, coring out a dead fall in no time. New penciler Jay Gavin provides a neat and elementary cross-section of the maneuver.

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Xavier uses the break in the action to escape not to a bunker, a safe room, or even to Cerebro,  but to his new “Mento-Helmet”—not kidding. What’s a Mento-Helmet, you ask? Xavier: “As you may have guessed, the purpose of this device is to intensify my brain waves… make them more powerful than they normally are!”

What unfolds from here is a story strand that makes no sense for a couple of reasons.

The Mento-Helmet needs to rev up, okay; so while the X-Men take a pounding in the hallway, Xavier stays put in his workshop. But then, strangely, he says, “My mental power is already so highly charged that I must unleash some energy… I’ll send mental waves out over the heart of the city… releasing them will act like a safety valve to me!” So, what is the purpose of this exercise again? We’re charging brain waves for a mental attack on Juggernaut, right? Why dispel any energy at all? Why not bring it all to bear on Juggernaut at once? It’s unclear if Xavier lacks a plan or if he’s just playing it close to the vest—which he does a lot.

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Happily though, this “need” to unleash energy results in a pretty cool sequence. We track the Professor’s bright green, zig zaggy “brain waves” over NYC where they are passively received by airline pilots, teenagers toying with a HAM radio, a blind courtroom lawyer named Matt Murdoch, and finally Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four.

Johnny is hanging in a garage, working on a Jetsonian car, wondering if this signal from Professor Xavier is for real or a machination of some FF villain. “Reed warned me that any of our old enemies are apt to set all sorts of traps for us… to prevent his wedding from taking place!”

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Meanwhile, Juggernaut is Dig Dugging his way out of the ground to trounce Cyclops and Angel.

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Making short work of most the X-Men, Juggernaut has more difficulty with Beast. The most verbose mutant on the roster, Beast ricochets about the mansion, taunting and distracting Juggernaut in a dazzle of gymnastics, ultimately corralling him straight into the Danger Room. Here, Beast uses every tool and toy available (jets of chemical flame, missiles, a rope) to pummel Juggernaut while Xavier enacts his plan (if he really has one).

danger room

Originally, Xavier’s Mento-Helmet was deployed to amp up his brain-waves for a mental assault on Juggernaut, but that strategy seems to have been abandoned. Now, Xavier is soliciting Johnny Storm/The Human Torch’s help because, well, why is actually kind of unclear.

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So far everything has failed against the Juggernaut. Cyclops’ optic blasts are shrugged off, Jean’s telekinesis is outmatched by his brawn, and Xavier can’t penetrate the villain’s helmet to get to his brain. So what’s the Human Torch going to do?

Blind him apparently.

flame on

Xavier commands, “Bring your flame to peak intensity… like an exploding flash bulb!”

This clears the way for Angel to swoop down and jack J-naut’s helmet. (Why the “force waves” that previously repelled all the X-Men allow this is unclear.)

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Ah, so there was a “plan.”

Apparently, while wrasslin’, Beast loosened Juggernaut’s helmet, The Human Torch (who happened to be nearby and available) was then tasked with blinding Juggernaut, allowing (somehow) Angel to remove the helmet, ultimately clearing the way for Xavier to deliver the final mental blow to the worst step-brother in the world.

Brain Waved

And, why not?, let’s end it with some light sexism. For some reason, Jean gets nurse duty while the boys on the team recuperate.

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As we all know, the Juggernaut will return and he’ll enjoy a rich career as an X-villain. But let’s set aside what he’s going to do and focus on what he’s accomplished here. This has been the best character introduction so far: it’s been a layered, dramatic, and ultimately resonate debut, and the X-World is richer for it. Rather than a monster-of-the-week appearance, we’ve got a nuanced new character who adds some much needed dimension to Xavier himself.

And while we’re at it, how about the fact that Xavier has never really faded into the background here? For the past twelve issues, Professor X has been more or less front and center, active, a player with agency. It might be easy to expect that the main character in all of this would have been Cyclops, or maybe Angel, with their neutral good looks and visually spectacular powers. But that’s not the case. So far this really has been a team book, unquestionably led by the hairless, physically handicapped, often curmudgeonly adult of the group. It’s impressive (in a weird, positively-biased way) that the Prof gets as much screen time as he does.

While the book is certainly deepening the histories of its characters and adding new ones to the gallery, one senses it won’t be long before the inevitable return of Magneto and his evil brotherhood. The hope is that when they do return, they bring something new to the table with them, after all the X-Men have developed some in their absence.