X-Men #14 (last issue | next issue)

"Among Us Stalk..The Sentinels!"

Writer: Stan Lee
Layouts: Jack Kirby
Penciller: Jay Gavin (A pseudonym for artist Werner Roth taken from the first names of his sons. He would be credited under his real name starting with X-Men #23)
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: Artie Simek
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Cover date: November 1965 (the first monthly issue; prior to this it was bimonthly)
Cover price: 12 cents

The X-Men, badly injured in their battle with the Juggernaut last issue, are carefully training under the guidance of Professor X to get their powers back up to their previous levels. (Come to think about it, where did the Juggernaut go after the X-Men defeated him? Perhaps they tied him up and stuck him in a broom closet next to the body of Mastermind.) The Professor rewards their diligent efforts by announcing that they are all allowed to go on vacation. Naturally, you know as well as I do that some menace will strike soon anyway.

Meanwhile, Dr. Bolivar Trask holds forth at a press conference of eager journalists who hang on his every word. Dr. Trask is one of the country's foremost anthropologists, and we all know journalists are eager to hear what anthropologists have to say. Trask, no Ghandi, thunders that mutants represent the greatest danger the world has ever faced and contends that we must strike now before they conquer us. And I thought anthropologists were about understanding and studying new groups of people, not hating and fearing and killing them. Silly me. "Within minutes" (minutes??) the headline of the Daily Globe reads "MUTANT MENACE!"

The X-Men are packing for their vacation: the Angel packs his wings in his girdle like contraption, the Beast packs his feet into a pair of specially designed shoes… Much to Cyclops' regret, the Angel snatches up Jean Grey to drive her to the train station before Cyke can ask her out. Angst, angst. Professor X sees the Daily Globe and looks inside to see an artist's interpretation of a future predicted by Trask: humans enslaved by mutants and forced to fight in gladiatorial games for their amusement. The Professor fears persecution of mutants if this sort of hysteria goes unchecked, so he rings up the "National Television Network" and proposes a televised debate between him and Dr. Trask. Apparently the news media in the Marvel universe is at the beck and call of anyone with a PhD.

The next night, "two soap operas and a widely heralded adult western" are preempted for the Xavier/Trask debate. Professor Xavier preaches against fear and ignorance, but Dr. Trask announces that he has a defense against the mutant "menace": an army of robot Sentinels. Trask provides a demonstration and has one of them take Professor X into custody. No one told Dr. Trask it was bad form to have a giant robot grab your debate opponent. Five more Sentinels step out on stage and Trask tries to order them around, but the robot leader zaps Trask. "Trask was an anthropologist," thinks Professor X, "not a robotic expert! His knowledge of cybernetic brains was inadequate! His Sentinels are out of control!" Never send an anthropologist to do an engineer's job.

The Professor mentally summons the X-Men, cutting short their vacations. The Beast and Iceman are at their favorite hangout in Greenwich Village, the Coffee A-Go-Go. It's a stereotypical beatnik dive, complete with a guy playing bongos. Iceman finally asks out Zelda, the waitress he is sweet on, and she agrees. But as soon as he asks, they get the mental summons and he must immediately ask for a rain check. Zelda is not amused. Thankfully for the Angel, his parents are more understanding and allow him to take off without explanation before the butler Curtis can even serve dinner.

Five of the Sentinels return to their base with Dr. Trask as a captive because they want to use him to create more robots. Sentinel 3-R remains behind to guard the people in the studio. Since it has no human brain, the robot is immune to Professor X's power, but the Prof does use his power to try to calm his fellow prisoners. One of them freaks, though, and nearly gets zapped. The Beast and Iceman arrive and start to open up a can of whoopass.

Nearby, Cyclops is approaching in a cab. (How humiliating. I bet the Justice League never had to take a cab.) A sharp turn causes Cyclops to lose his glasses, an event which is already becoming a cliché. He blasts a hole in the top of the cab and has to avoid an angry anti-mutant mob before he can make it to the studio. Cyclops joins the battle and Sentinel 3-R soon falls, but not because of what any of the X-Men did. Mentally issuing instructions so as to not reveal his secret identity, he orders the X-Men to clear the studio. The Professor thinks that discovering the reason the Sentinel fell will be the key to defeating them, and he will later turn out to be right.

The airborne Angel sees the Sentinels leaving with Dr. Trask, but instead of five there are now nine. The Angel is immediately attacked. Before he can pursue the Sentinels, he is pulled down to a train by some unseen force. It's Jean, and together they go back to the studio where the Professor and the other X-Men are examining Sentinel 3-R. Before it fell, the Professor says he heard it say the words "Master Mold". Somehow, despite the fact that it's a robot, the Professor can detect vague mental impulses from the fallen Sentinel, namely the location of their base.

At that base, the Sentinels tell Dr. Trask that they intend to conquer humanity to "protect" it and will create an even larger army of robots for that task. They detect the approach of the vehicle, a Rolls Royce containing the X-Men. They stop and get out of the limo at what seems to them to be a grassy hill. Suddenly, the hill rises to reveal a fortress, and that fortress opens fire on the X-Men.

This is the beginning of a great three issue arc concerning the Sentinels. The mutant hunting Sentinels would be redesigned and recreated again and again, first by Dr. Trask's son Lawrence Trask, then by the federal government under Dr. Stephen Lang, and again by Shaw Industries. One of the best X-Men storylines was Days of Future Past, a tale of a terrifying future America ruled by Sentinels which have extinguished most superheroes. Later, from that future came the robot hunter Nimrod, one of my favorite villains. Nimrod ended up combined with Master Mold into something called Bastion. All of this is discussed in detail in allseeingeye's great writeup at Sentinel.

With that said, the introduction of the Sentinels is a dramatic story, a great slugfest which also underscores the themes of prejudice and persecution which are so important to this book. Yet this story also stretches credibility to the breaking point for me. I can accept a lot of unbelievable things, and what you can and can't accept will be different from what I can and can't. But for me, the idea that an anthropologist singlehandedly designed an army of robots is laughably ridiculous. Where did he get the funding? The expertise? Did he take a correspondence course in robotics? Remember the Professor thinking that the problem was Trask's lack of expertise? It made me think of a talking dog. He might not talk well, but you're impressed that he can talk at all. And as for Trask, well, I'm impressed that an anthropologist can build an army of robots, even if they are a little flawed.

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