“You called me—a man—for the first time!”
Central Conflict: The X-Men VS Master Mold
Weirdest breaking of the fourth wall:
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!
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.
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?
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!
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—
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.
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.
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.
Sadly, the Traskrifice goes unnoticed. The X-Men, busy escaping the collapsing fortress, are ignorant of Trask’s last-minute redemption.
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.