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:
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.
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:
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.