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:
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.
Now, as our mutants tumble and fly, we see enacted the mad comedy that typifies these books.
“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!”
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.
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!”
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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!”
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.