X-Men #16 (last issue | next issue)

"The Supreme Sacrifice!"

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: Dick Ayers
Letterer: Art Simek
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Cover date: January 1966 (the first monthly issue; prior to this it was bimonthly)
Cover price: 12 cents

This is the conclusion of a three-issue story arc introducing the mutant hunting robot Sentinels. When we left our heroes last issue, the X-Men had all been captured, Professor X was in his astral form and desperately attempting to return to his body, and Dr. Bolivar Trask, creator of the Sentinels, was in the clutches of the Sentinel leader Master Mold, who was demanding that Trask help it create an army of Sentinels to conquer the world.

We pick up the story with Professor X successfully returning to his body. He helplessly watches as the Sentinel fortress recedes into the hillside, cutting him off from his students. All attempts to defeat the Sentinels have failed, but Professor X remembers a vital clue: the fallen Sentinel back at the television studio from X-Men #14. The Sentinel was not defeated in battle and they could not discover why it stopped fighting. The Professor reasons that if he figures out why the Sentinel stopped, he can find a method to defeat all the Sentinels. So he telepathically flags down some passing motorists and heads back to the studio.

Inside the fortress, Iceman, Angel, Cyclops, and Marvel Girl are all imprisoned inside an impenetrable glass dome and nearly pinned by a gravity generator. Every effort they make to escape fails, so Cyke orders them to conserve their energy. The moment the Sentinels open the cage is the moment they will strike. Meanwhile, the Master Mold is busy intimidating Dr. Trask and showing off his disintergrator beam. MM once again threatens to destroy the nearest city if Trask does not help it build a Sentinel army.

Professor X arrives at the studio and the cops eagerly accept his offer of assistance. He silently probes the Sentinel with his mental powers and discovers that something was interfering with the Sentinel. He points out the window at a nearby structure, the new Crystal Products Building. Holy giant props, Batman! The building has a giant crystal on the side of it and the Professor concludes that the crystal is what interfered with the Sentinel's transmission beams. The Professor now has a plan to defeat the Sentinels.

The Sentinels bring the Beast back from his interrogation last issue and prepare to dump him in with the other prisoners. But as soon as the globe is opened, the X-Men attack. The team puts up a fierce fight, but the battle is as good as over when the Sentinels hit them with a barrage of stun rays. Suddenly, all the Sentinels collapse. Outside, a trio of helicopters are ferrying the giant crystal, which is what caused the Sentinels to stop functioning. Back then, the Professor had a lot of pull in the federal government, and was able to requisition three helicopters and a posse of policemen with little effort. With the Sentinels out of the way, the X-Men go on the offensive.

The Master Mold is still functioning, however, and is supervising Dr. Trask as he creates his first eight new Sentinels. Dr. Trask can't stomach anymore and fearing for the fate of humanity, takes a wrench and delivers a well-placed blow to the "ionic power source". In those days, machines were more fragile and if you hit them in just the right place, they would obligingly blow up. Dr. Trask sacrifices himself to destroy the Master Mold and stop its plan to conquer humanity.

The X-Men arrive just in time to witness the explosion from a safe distance. They flee fire and falling machinery and make it out of the fortress just before the whole thing goes kaboom. "Beware the fanatic!" intones the narrator. "Too often his cure is deadlier by far than the evil he denounces!" But all is not well, as a mysterious menace lurks at the X-Men's mansion, waiting for them to return next issue.

Dr. Trask's sacrifice saved the world, this time. But other fanatics won't abandon a bad idea easily, and both the Sentinels and Master Mold would appear again and again. The Sentinels are great villains and they serve the themes of prejudice and persecution far better than any other foes the X-Men would face. Yet the plotting verges on the ridiculous in many respects, especially with this giant crystal nonsense. I can accept that a big crystal can interfere with transmissions, but it seems to act more like Sentinel Kryptonite than something that blocks transmissions. I guess there are only so many ways to beat up giant robots, as would be seen in some later stories where Sentinels are easily dispatched in boring and perfunctory ways. But sometimes the Sentinels would become a more terrifying and more deadly foe, most notably in Days of Future Past.

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