Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sentinels, Sentinels, Sentinels! (Issue #14, #15, and #16)


Jazz Hands of DOOM.
Publication note: The X-Men have gone to a monthly publication schedule, making my job twice as hard. Though, if I say that about one title going 12 issues a year, what am I going to say when I hit the X-Men runs from the mid-90s, where I'm pretty sure there were 200 X-titles being published at once? What I'll say is: "Bring it on, bub!" then make "Snikt! Snikt! noises and wave my arms around, much to the chagrin of my patient wife. Can't wait!

Personal Note: Growing up, I hated reading books. So many tests were failed because I just couldn't bother. It's not that I couldn't read! In fact, I could read well above my grade level. [Did that sound like bragging? Because it was supposed to!] All I cared to read were comics. When my mom expressed her worry over this matter to my teacher, she was scolded with a, "But at least he's reading SOMETHING, right?!" Oh, if only those teachers had seen this panel (and the many, many more like it):

Working against the "comics as literacy" cause,
one kid at a time.

With the X-Men sent off on a well-deserved "we survived Juggernaut and all we got was no T-shirt" vacation, Professor X heads to a TV studio to debate a mutant-hating bigot called Trask. Professor X gives a well-reasoned, impassioned speech about acceptance that could apply to mutants, minorities, or the gay community, depending on which lens you care to look through. But Mr. Trask has a unique counter-argument: Giant robots.

Professor sends out the call to his X-Men for help, so Iceman again brags about his ability to change quickly.

Also: Booties might be the least
manly word to say, ever.

Anyway, these lumpy purple and pink monstrosities are called Sentinels. They are programmed to police all of humanity and apprehend "muties". But - whoops - they took ED-209's online course in disobedience towards human masters and zap the dude who made them. Then, using the old, "We are way smarter than you, so we will protect you. We will protect you by RULING you!" argument (which, incidentally, should be Stanley's slogan for their new line of robotic tape measures) the giant robots promise they'll get right on the protection/domination thing just as soon as the guy they are smarter and better than, Trask, helps them build more of themselves. They are not programmed for irony.

The group of Sentinels fly off with Trask, leaving one behind as a guard. The X-Men arrive and get to fight this one. They defeat it by tricking it into "Sanford And Son" mode.

It's the big one. I'm comin' 'Lizbeth!

Muties. (Which, as a word, I really like. Every group needs a clear red flag that lets you know you're dealing with some kind of bigot - so now it's easier to identify your mutant haters! An instant classic!)


The X-Men track the Sentinels to their underground lair which shoots "Nature Activator Rays" at them. These rays cause nature to act up. No foolin'. In the assault on the base, Iceman and Beast are captured, but only Beast is brought before the leader of the Sentinels, the "Master Mold" and hooked up to an origins-revealing device.

Comic book rule: Leaders always have chairs and huge brains.

So, yes, we are treated to another bland origin story here. Beast sums it up thusly: "My father was -- an ordinary laborer -- at an atomic project! I probably gained my power -- due to radiation -- which affected him before I was born! I'll never -- know for sure!" Gripping. It gives us no insight into who the Beast is, deep down. It's like having Superman's origin story told like, "He could be from another planet, but we're not sure as we lost his birth certificate. Maybe."

Could an argument be made for the X-Men being PR for the nuclear industry? "Look!", they say to kids, "If you tell your folks to lay off the nuclear protests, one day YOU might be able to shoot lasers from your eyes!" Yet, despite this, the nuclear industry has ONE "Three Mile Island" and all of a sudden nuclear is BAD.

To wrap this issue up, the rest of the X-Men break in and free Iceman. Their plans to save Beast and destroy Master Mold have to wait, though, because the Sentinels have a Heavy Gravity Ray. It makes gravity heavier.


YES, it is the first three-parter! YES, this is the stunning conclusion! YES, I'll wrap it up quick because I know you have better things to do with your day than read lengthy X-Men blog posts!

But first, I'd like to guess as to why we're starting to see multi-part "episodes": Would I be so far off in saying that it's because they had more issues to fill, since this is the start of their monthly run? This is conjecture so please do not site this blog in the thesis paper about the X-Men that you are writing.

I know that the cover of comic books rarely reflect any events that happen inside, but this one was worth pointing out, if only for the portrayal of brave stupidity on Bobby Drake (Iceman)'s part:

"This stick of ice will win the day!"
--Iceman, right before dying

The issue opens with Prof X lamenting that the sentinels were created by a man out of his fear of mutants. This is true, but Xavier never stops to think that there might have been more he himself could have done - like tell the world about his merry band of good mutants, f'r'instance. In fact, all of this could have been avoided, with a bit of pro-mutant PR at the beginning. "Look, America, we're mutants and we're going to protect you from the bad mutants." might have been all it would have taken. Instead, X opts for sneaking around and secrecy. Oh well, I guess Hindsight is 20/20 ... unless your mutant power is hindsight, than it's probably better than 20/10. [Do ophthalmology jokes work on today's comic reading audiences?]

Meanwhile, our heroes (less Beast, who is still off getting his mind probed for boring pieces of origin information) have been trapped in a large fish bowl - like the kind you'd keep a single Beta fish or X-Man in. As they attempt to escape, this is said by Angel:

Super delusion powers.

Really, Angel? Superior? I've been meaning to ask about this "great power" of yours. It's just flying, right? You're not even super strong, right? You just fly? Uh huh. And you think you're better than someone who can shoot lasers from his eyes? OK!

The team's escape attempts are useless until a Sentinel opens the cage to drop Beast in. The team swarms out of the opening and overcomes the robot guards. This scene led to the classic aphorism, "Don't try to put five mutants in a four-mutant heavy gravity globe chamber."

Meanwhile: Prof X returns to the TV studio where he first met the Sentinel and he figures out that it was a decoration on a nearby building that blocked communications to the Redd Foxx Sentinel, causing it to shut down. [See issue #14 -Ed.]. He asks some nearby cops to attach it to a helicopter and fly it over to the Sentinel base. And they agree! [There must not have been any skateboarders to hassle, at that time! ZING! - jay kay, cops! You know I love you! Thanks for protecting me from burglars and expired parking meters!]

Meanwhile meanwhile: The X-Men continue to get better at fighting the Sentinels.

Trask doubted his inclusion of a Keystone Kop sub-routine,
but boy is he glad he put it in there now!

MEANWHILE MEANWHILE meanwhile: Trask, the guy who is being blackmailed into creating more of these things (lest a city be destroyed) realizes, "Wait ... they're going to destroy the city, anyway, after I help them build an army big enough to do it." So he sacrifices himself to blow up the Master Mold and the entire base. Ah! Our FIRST MEANINGFUL DEATH! [I hope someone says that about me when I die ... it'd look great on my tombstone.]

The X-Men barely manage to escape the exploding fortress and are spotted by the helicopter cops, oh no! But wait, you seem to have forgotten how trigger-happy Xavier is to use his mind-wipe skills and in the blink of an eye, the cops remember nothing.

Remember what I was saying about PR for the mutants? This is a good example. The X-Men are the heroes here and Xavier still wants to cover them up! At this point, the world knows that the Sentinels were a bad idea, so now is the time to step up and say, "You are welcome, humanity!" But it's as if the professor LIKES being persecuted. Maybe there is a deeper, sadder story here. Maybe the Prof secretly likes being on the wrong side of popular opinion? He's sick! (And we're letting this man raise the next generation of mutants?!)

Read along in X-Men Volume 2 (Marvel Masterworks)