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