Tag Archives: x-men

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BGBOPREB-Cv1-ds-5de97San Diego Comic-Con is over and we’re recovering. We have about a week before we need to prepare for Gen Con! Yes, another convention is being covered next week!

Until then, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web in our morning roundup.

Around the Tubes

iO9 – NASA Will Put Rocket Raccoon And Groot On Its New Mission Patch – This is really cool.

Wizards of the Coast – Wizards and Transparency on Social Media – Hopefully more geek companies adopt this.

Kotaku – Marvel Ultimate Alliance Coming To PS4, Xbox One And PC On Tuesday – It’s a great game!

Inverse – Christ, Superhero: Inside Christianity’s Comic Con Booth – Always been fascinated by this at the convention.

Slash Film – ‘Justice League Action’ Will Feature 152 Different DC Comics Characters – That’s a lot of characters.

ABC News – Los Altos teen with autism creates comic book available online – Fantastic to see things like this.

Comics Alliance – X-Men Books Not Cancelled! All-New Wolverine Goes Rogue In ‘Enemy Of The State II’ – You mean sites that traffic in rumors are wrong?

The Beat – SDCC’16: Batman The Telltale Series let’s play shows you how to be your Batman – Can’t wait for this.

 

Around the Tubes Reviews

Talking Comics – Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1

Talking Comics – Black Hammer #1

Around the Tubes

It’s new comic book day! What’s everyone excited for? Sound off in the comments below!

While you await stores to open, here’s some comic news from around the web in our morning roundup.

Around the Tubes

Kotaku – X-Men For The 90s Kids – Some awesome art.

Truthdig – Meet El Peso Hero, a Latino Superhero Fighting Injustice on the U.S.-Mexico Border – This is awesome.

Montgomery Advertiser – Comic store expanding to Cloverdale – Great to see an store expanding.

Deadline – ‘Beasts Of No Nation’ Revelation Abraham Attah Joins ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ – The movies is sounding good as far as casting.

Variety – ‘Arrow’ Adds Artemis for Season 5 – Very interesting.

Movie Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men Apocalypse PosterBryan Singer does it again!

I have to be honest I had my doubt with this movie. Having watched it last night I am very proud to see that most if not all them have been put to rest. Maybe I’m a sucker for the 80s, (1984 baby here) but the time period, the clothes, the  references, resonated very strongly with me. Xavier’s school in the era of skinny jeans, the cold war and President Reagan is a very fun place to be.  The themes and struggles of that era pair themselves well to the unfurling X-Men Mythos one that continues to tread Xenophobia, difference, the red scare and the spectre of mutually assured destruction. Apocalypse seizes on these zeitgeists in a way that punctuates his threat.  I shared the concerns of how Apocalypse would be presented but these were quickly alleviated. Oscar Isaac‘s really sold Apocalypse as primal and ontological threat.

One of my gripes was the lost opportunity for philosophical engagement. Ideologically Apocalypse is the diametric foil to Xavier, most of their conflict in the movie is confined to physical and psychic combat however. To me this was a bit of a lost opportunity (but still very cool visually). Apocalypse’s Darwinian proclivities could have benefited the film with a more thorough exploration. This is also the case at least 2 of his horsemen, (Psylocke and Storm) who’s motivation for aligning with the God-Mutant aren’t entirely clear.  In the comics, mutants chosen to become Horsemen undergo profound brainwashing that endures for years after the fact, in the movie it wasn’t too apparent whether this was taking place. Additionally  The notion of first mutation was introduced and also could have benefited from more explanation, with 7 installments into the franchise I think the time is ripe to explore the ontology of mutation, especially considering a jaw dropping event that takes place near the end of the film. Spoiler: with a telepathic assist from Jean on the Astral plane Xavier instructs her to unleash her potential giving us a more faithful adaptation of the phoenix force on the big screen.  This moment was huge and I doubt that its ramifications have been all settled.

Bryan Singer is to be commended for the way he interwove the plotting and pacing,  the interaction between the mentor X-Men and younger team was masterfully done in a way that was organic and believable. I was worried how they would throw the neophyte X-Men into the ring training and all, but their involvement and the nature of the threat they are presented with makes it work. The progression of the film did feel a bit fast but there was good economy of screen time per character vs set up on the hero side of the equation. As I mentioned earlier however Apocalypse and his horsemen suffered a bit in this regard. Quicksilver returns once more doing what he does best …stealing scenes. This time his powers are shown off to an 80’s hit track that had everyone in my theatre laughing. Made me wonder and anticipate what he’ll speed out to if they get a 90’s sequel off the ground.

Magneto had some very good scenes, and the story did a good job raising some pathos for his character. A new plot element takes its cue straight from the comics, and really cements Magneto as a tortured soul, justifiably incensed with humanity. As I mentioned earlier however die hard fans will be left unclear as to how much of Magneto’s rage is his own, versus how much is of Apocalypses influence.

As the installment closing out the second X-Trilogy I would say X-Men: Apocalypse did its job admirably. The call backs and homages to past movie elements really show how much Singer and Simon Kinberg love and respect the franchise while providing winks to the audience. Above all this however, X-Men: Apocalypse injects fresh blood and opportunity into a run that could have easily gone stale 16 years and 7 films in. To see the broad range of philosophies presented thus (egalitarian, Darwinian, bioethcial etc) aside multiple/alternate timelines, is quite a feat. It is fair to say that the x-movies have juggled and adapted its source material wonderfully, while using time travel to cleverly edit out or otherwise erase its less than stellar flops (Sorry Brett Ratner). As the X-students say after walking out of a Star Trek movie “The third movie is always the worst”

There is a post credit stinger you will want to stick around for, providing another hint that we are not finished with the X-Universe just yet. This stinger also hints at another iconic villain I am excited to see. Apocalypse is one of the most iconic villains in the X-Men rogues gallery, was he perfectly adapted? That is debatable. Will this movie have you excited for what’s to come? Without a question….yes it will and for me that’s where this movie’s strength lies. Clearing away the stagnancy of what came before   and being the fire that ignites new life, to paraphrase Apocalypse’s words, I think that was the underlying ethos for this movie as well…that’s kind of meta.

Final Thoughts

Although the political themes weren’t showcased as strongly as I had hoped, the opening title sequences explored them quit a bit symbolically. They are really starting become a hallmark of the franchise, reaching James Bond Levels of Iconic.

Overall Score 8.5

Movie Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men Apocalypse PosterThe X-Men must united to battle the world’s first mutant, Apocalypse who has an extinction level plan. That’s the simple premise of X-Men: Apocalypse, the third film of the second trilogy of X-Men films. This is the sixth featuring the team of mutants, the ninth in the series of “X” films. And much like X-Men: The Last Stand, the third film in each trilogy is the weakest.

Let me list the issues of the film… the pacing, the acting, the special fx, the use of characters, the plot itself, you name it, there’s issues and some of them are massive. I’m not even going into the fact the film takes place a decade later and actors haven’t aged a day. The film is a very slow long slog as it builds towards the inevitable fx driven show down.

For what feels like the first hour of the 2 and a half hour film individuals talk, we relearn everyone’s powers, and we get the lay of the land as people are caught up on new incarnations of characters we’ve seen before.

It’s not until Quicksilver shows up that the film gets entertaining. Once again Evan Peters as the character steals the show not just in his kinetic acting, but the action as well that uses his abilities to a fun extent and with a sense of humor that adds some levity to what is a rather dour film.

When it generally comes to the actors themselves, everyone seems to have taken steps back and often feel like they’re phoning it in. Lines are spouted with little emotion, little that gets me interested or even feels natural. The lone standout is Michael Fassbender who shows a range of emotion, though generally floats around. Olivia Munn as Psylocke stands around doing little until the end. Alexandra Shipp mostly does the same as Ororo Munroe/Storm with just a few lines here and there. It’s almost laughable at Lana Condor‘s role as Jubilee. Much like the character’s three previous appearances, here too she’s just filler.

There’s some twists and turns, though many are foreshadowed, like Jean Grey’s horrible nightmare and a “dark” force out there. Comic fans will likely perk up to that line.

All of that leads up to the big showdown between the X-Men and Apocalypse where it looks like all of the money went to the special fx and little to the sets. The sets have a quality where I’ve seen better in model railroads as far as how natural they look.

The one upside? The 3D actually looks decent and is worth it for the film. From the opening credits to the final battle, it’s a lot of fun.

X-Men: Apocalypse doesn’t feel as much a culmination of the three previous films as much as an attempt to kickstart everything that’s to come from Wolverine to New Mutants, to the next X-Men films. It’s a start that sputters…. a lot. It’s clear that director/writer Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg know and love the X-Men, but have issues putting the puzzle pieces together, especially when they take on too much.

Is the film worse than X-Men: The Last Stand? That’s debatable and I’m not quite sure the answer.

Overall Rating: 6.1

X-Men: The Animated Series Gets an Honest Trailer

Relive the ’90s cartoon courtesy of Honest Trailers!

Fashion Spotlight: Four Horsemen, War Munitions, Maritime Merc

Ript Apparel has three new designs! Four Horsemen, War Munitions, and Maritime Merc, by Akiwa, AtomicRocket, and onebluebird, are on sale today only! Get them before they’re gone!

Four Horsemen

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War Munitions

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Maritime Merc

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Fashion Spotlight: Old Fashioned Homicidal, Shield of Omens, Mutants, Inc.

Ript Apparel has three new designs! Old Fashioned Homicidal, Shield of Omens, and Mutants, Inc., by Nemons, Toonhead, and BoggsNicolas, are on sale today only! Get them before they’re gone!

Old Fashioned Homicidal

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Shield of Omens

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Mutants, Inc.

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This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, we’ll receive a percentage of the sale. Graphic Policy does purchase items from this site. Making purchases through these links helps support the site.

A People’s History of the Marvel Universe, Week 11: The Mutant Metaphor (Part III)

Face front, true believers!

In Week 9, I discussed the link between “the mutant metaphor” and 1950s and 1960s science-fiction. One of the most important of these links was the overwhelming presence of the nuclear threat in the post-WWII world – almost as soon as the atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, sci-fi creators began to think about the dangers of the new atomic age, and whether mankind’s future was to travel the stars in ships powered by atomic energy or to see their species and their civilization end in nuclear fire.

And the X-Men are part of this tradition, as the so-called “Children of the Atom.”

phomu 11 1When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were designing the X-Men back in 1963, the original idea was to have mutants be an unintended consequence of the nuclear age – having been changed in-utero starting with the first atomic bombs in the 1940s and then the prevalence of nuclear tests throughout the 1950s, nuclear energy would explain the common origin of Xavier’s team and allow for the creation of new mutants as needed:

phomu 11 2 phomu 11 3Eventually, this close of a connection to atomic energy was moved away from when later writers and artists realized that having every mutant’s backstory involve parents working in the nuclear power industry was actually somewhat limiting, but it was very much a part of Silver Age X-Men comics. What persisted from the Kirby/Lee era through to the Chris Claremont era was the fear that mutants would take over the world after a nuclear war. For Magneto, and indeed with other “evil mutants,” the idea of a nuclear war took on the same significance that colonial wars would for revolutionary Marxists.

While the X-Men frequently fought evil mutants, there was really only one particular arc where the conflict was both political as well as physical; namely, the Factor Three arc. This arc is largely disappointing in classic Silver Age over-promising fashion – the Factor Three had been acting from behind the scenes for months, sending Kirby robots and a kidnapped Banshee and a jailbroken Juggernaut after the X-Men, only to turn out to a bunch of characters we’d already seen before: the Blob, the Vanisher, Mastermind, and Unus the Untouchable, plus the mysterious Changeling and the Mutant Master. However, in issue #37, Factor Three capture the X-Men and decide to put them on trial for betraying mutantdom:

phomu 11 4Like all trials, this judicial process raises political questions as well: here, the charge against the X-Men reflects the political ideology of “evil mutants,” who believe that solidarity between mutants requires a united front against humanity. And it raises the central problem of the Silver Age X-Men – that with the exception of their fight against the Sentinels , they primarily fight against other mutants on behalf of that world “that hates and fears them.”

Similarly, when the Mutant Master passes sentence against the X-Men, his peroration reveals a good deal about both the political ideology of “evil mutants” and the role of atomic weapons in both their thinking and in the “mutant metaphor:”

phomu 11 5The dominant mode of “evil mutant” political thought is a kind of cod-Darwinian logic that sees the struggle for survival as a zero-sum game in which only one species can win.  Hence the idea that “too long has the inferior species called homo sapiens held sway on the earth,” and that in order for that species to be replaced so that “homo superior shall inherit the earth,” it is necessary that “there must be a total destruction of the power of the human race.” Now there’s a lot to be said about how Marvel’s idiosyncratic grasp of science has shaped the X-Men (I’ll get into this more in a future issue where I discuss the Neanderthal/Cro-Magnon analogy in X-Men comics), but there is a certain resonance here to the use of quasi-Darwinian arguments for eugenics and racial nationalist politics.

However, it is the “evil mutant” embrace of the atomic bomb as the instrument of natural selection where we can see the strongest link between the mutant metaphor and anti-nuclear science fiction. The mutant threat, called into existence by atomic weapons, will use “their own mightiest weapon – the hydrogen bomb!” to bring an “end for all time of the civilization of homo sapiens.” The analogy between the plans of the Mutant Master and the potential outcome of Mutually Assured Destruction is hardly subtle, but there is a crude power in Ross Andru’s pencils and Don Heck’s inks, of cities falling into a Miltonian lake of fire, of the planet itself cracked open by a mushroom cloud.

Moreover, we can see in Roy Thomas’ writing a view of the Cold War that comes straight out of the anti-nuclear science fiction of “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Rather than a struggle of ideologies or a struggle between Good and Evil, the Cold War is seen as a dangerous weakness that a third party (or maybe a third factor…) can manipulate through “an infallible plot which shall soon lead east and west into a vengeful and destructive nuclear war,” thanks to a series of false-flag operations designed to convince the US and the USSR that the other is to blame.

phomu 11 6The contrast with Stan Lee’s rah-rah all-American leanings, back when the Fantastic Four went into space to “beat the commies” in the Space Race, is quite striking. And while I doubt that this particular issue was in the minds of Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman when they were writing X-Men: First Class, the resonances between the plans of the Mutant Master and Sebastian Shaw to escalate US/Soviet tensions and bring about mutant ascendancy through nuclear war are strong.

phomu 11 7However, there is a flaw at the heart of mutant extremism in Silver Age X-Men. Because of the relative absence of anti-mutant prejudice in early X-Men comics, we don’t’ really get a context for why “evil mutants” view humans as their enemies, let alone why they should describe themselves as “evil.” (This is much the same problem that the original Magneto had. Hence in these issues, we see the members of Factor Three describe in vague and nebulous terms that their “hatred for normal humans” stems from humans’ “fear and hostility toward us,” but we don’t really see mutants suffering the kind of oppression associated with this kind of radicalization.  Thus, we as readers side with the X-Men’s arguments that nuclear obliteration is a bit of a steep punishment for “mistrust of mutants” by humans, which strikes me as a bit of a strawman to say the least.

phomu 11 8And this weakness is a continuing problem, because it means that there isn’t really a foundation for why “evil mutant” politics should exist. And a result, you get a half-hearted and ultimately condescending end to the story; the X-Men free themselves and thwart Factor Three’s plans for nuclear holocaust by showing that, just as the US and USSR were being egged on by a third party seeking to profit from their conflict, the “evil mutants” conflict with the X-Men was due to them being misled by an alien “outside agitator.” (Which clever readers might have guessed from the earlier page that suggested that the mutants would only inherit the “remains of the earth”) And at the end of the day, “my ideological opponents are dupes of evil aliens” is still an ad hominem attack rather than a full response to the arguments of mutant extremists.

phomu 11 9On the other hand, there’s more than just condescending paternalism that emerges from this reveal. For all that Professor X. gets criticized for his high-handed approach to politics, it is interesting that in this moment, Xavier saves the world through an appeal to mutant solidarity, convincing his former enemies to band together with the X-Men, as “there is no need for mutant to battle mutant.” Moreover, once the X-Men and the former Brotherhood of Evil Mutants have defeated the evil alien from Sirius, Xavier’s closing dialogue looks to the possibility that the dichotomy between good and evil mutants might be transcended, as long as we “remember the day when there were no evil mutants, no good mutants, only a handful of men fighting side by side to protect our planet from a common foe.”

This ending probably owes more to JFK’s argument for a nuclear test ban that “our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal,” than it does to a fully-thought-out vision for Professor X’s mutant politics. However, it is good to see Xavier thinking and talking in these kind of terms, because it’s something of a rarity in Silver-Age X-Men comics.

Indeed, as “blinded by hatred” the ideology of the “evil mutants” might be, they do kind of have a point in their indictment of the X-Men, in that the Silver Age X-Men are an organization acting primarily in defense of human interests by defending them against “evil mutants.” This is a major problem with the Professor X as MLK analogy, because however committed he was to non-violence as a tactic, King was always engaged in political activism on behalf of African-Americans. And while King was surveilled and harassed by the FBI, Xavier works with them:

phomu 11 10I’m sort of surprised that this wasn’t entered into evidence as Exhibit A in the case against the X-Men, because here we have Xavier proposing to “help you…and the human race by tracking down myself the mutants in this country.” On the other hand, we do see that Xavier is trying to shift government policy as a result – he’s actively trying to persuade the FBI that “mutants may be either good…or evil,” and that “if [mutants] are hounded…persecuted…they may band together to become the very menace that you fear,” and that there is a better way for humans and mutants to interact.

One could also interpret this interaction tactically – through this cooperation, Xavier (rather than the FBI) is the one tracking down mutants, and then enrolling them in a paramilitary organization. And in an era before Cerebro, Xavier’s collaboration gets him access to files about emerging mutants across the country:

phomu 11 11And here’s where the protean nature of the “mutant metaphor” kicks in – Xavier’s dialogue that “the anger of society turns him into the very menace it fears” is far more reminiscent of a liberal social worker or psychologist arguing for gentler treatment of juvenile delinquents in the 1950 than anything having to do with civil rights, or indeed atomic weapons and science-fiction.

It’s all a bit of a mish-mash, which both offered an opportunity and provided a pressing motive for Chris Claremont to put his own stamp on the “mutant metaphor” – but that’s a topic for another People’s History of the Marvel Universe

Around the Tubes

POWER-MAN-AND-IRON-FIST-#3The weekend is almost here! What geeky things will people be doing? Who’s taking part in International Tabletop Day? Let us know in the comments!

While you decide on that, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web.

Around the Tubes

Kotaku – The Highs and Lows of X-Men Video Games – So many lows.

 

Around the Tubes Reviews

ICv2 – A Goofy Guide to Penguins

CGM – Batman: Europa

CBR – Dark Knight III: The Master Race #4

Comic Attack – Power Man & Iron Fist #3

Nothing But Comics – Saga #36

Newsarama – Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: Amazing Spider-Man #11, Justice League #49, Sex Criminals #15, More

A People’s History of the Marvel Universe, Week 10: The Mutant Metaphor (Part II)

Last time, I talked about the “protean” nature of the “mutant metaphor,” its roots in science-fiction of the time, and how at least initially there was relatively little mention of mutant identity and anti-mutant prejudice.

Speaking of which, one of the curious things about the original run of X-Men, especially from the “mutant metaphor” angle, is that their mission to “protect a world that hates and fears them” means that the X-Men spent a lot more time fighting “evil mutants” (more on this next week) than defending mutants against those who “hate and fear them.” However, the major exception to this rule in the Lee/Kirby era, the one place where the X-Men confronted anti-mutant prejudice head-on, was the Sentinels:

pomu 10 1Even when it was discussed, the “mutant metaphor” tended to be mostly back-material in the original run of X-Men. Issue #14 was an exception, where the metaphor took center stage: the issue opens with a startling revelation, as the existence of mutants shifts from urban legend and occasional siting to public knowledge as Bolivar Trask outs all of homo superior:

pomu 10 2There’s a lot to unpack here: first, I find it curious that an anthropologist (as opposed to a geneticist or a demographer or what have you) is making this announcement, and curiouser still that an anthropologist somehow developed the advanced expertise in mechanical engineering and robotics necessary to build the Sentinels. (A clear case of the Omnidisciplinary Scientist there…) Second, as I discussed last week, the allusions here to the Cold War are much stronger than to the Civil Rights Movement – Trask namechecks “cold wars, hot wars, atom bombs and the like” (more on this next week), rather than “states’ rights, outside agitators, forced integration, etc.” Even more so than last week, the emphasis is on the mutant as Fifth Columnist – there is a resonance here between Trask’s seemingly unsupported claims that “mutants walk among us” and Joe McCarthy’s dramatic but numerally vague claims about Communist infiltration of the U.S government. The headlines that blare “Mutant Menace” could equally read “Red Menace,” suggesting a critique of a mass media more interested in shock and sensation than careful investigative reporting. Third, Trask introduces a new theme when it comes to the “mutant metaphor” – the idea of an inevitable unavoidable conflict between mutants and humans – which will continue throughout the original appearances of the Sentinels and will be continued in the Claremont run. The now famous invocation of Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens, in all its archaeological anthropological inaccuracy, has yet to appear, but you can see some of the origins of the idea here.

No matter how you analyze it,Trask’s press conference accomplishes something pretty unusual in Marvel Comics history – it gets Professor Xavier to actually engage in mutant rights politics. As I’ll discuss more next week, one of the problems with the version of the “mutant metaphor” that sees Professor X. as a Martin Luther King Jr. is that Professor X doesn’t spend that much time doing social movement work – preferring instead to train teenage mutants to act as a paramilitary force that engages in an oddly liberal version of the anarchist practice of propaganda of the deed. But here, Bolivar Trask’s call to smash the “mutant menace” drives him to action:

pomu 10 3To begin with, given the many well-founded critiques of Silver Age Xavier’s character, it is interesting that Trask’s press conference strikes an instant nerve – clearly Charles has been waiting for the day that mutants are out for some time, and for all that he may disagree with Magneto about the possibility of human-mutant coexistence, it’s interesting that he expects this revelation to lead to a “witch hunt for mutants” and the “wheels of persecution” beginning to grind, without his intervention. And speaking of the sci-fi roots of the “mutant metaphor,” the page to our left really makes this clear with the “artist’s interpretation” of Trask’s remarks. Big-headed widows-peaked aliens wielding the whip over human slaves, being carried through futuristic cities in palanquins, and re-enacting the gladiatorial combat of the Roman Coliseum – this dystopia owes far more to Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and John Carter of Mars than it does the racist paranoid imaginary of the 1950s and 1960s.

However, it is the theory of politics here that I am primarily interested in, because Xavier here is depicted as practicing politics in an extremely establishment fashion. Rather than engaging in public protest, direct action, or a media campaign, Xavier’s understanding of politics begins and ends with a “public televised debate” between two academics. And indeed, in both appearance and his debating style, Professor X resembles nothing so much as the arid intellectualism of Adlai Stephenson-era liberalism. Acting (somehow) as the “spokesman for America’s intellectual community,” Xavier’s argument is pitched less on terms of human rights or moral calls or the Constitution than a general statement about the dangers of “ignorance” and “unreasoning fear.” (There might be a link here to Gunnar Myrdal’s famous description of American racism as a mental pathology, but it’s a stretch.)

On the other hand, it’s hard to make a judgement about depiction vs. endorsement – Lee and Kirby show American families at home and the American public on the street outside the storefront window reacting unfavorably – questioning whether Xavier is a mutant, dismissing the “egg-headed old stuffed-shirt,” angrily resentful that one of their children might be a mutant or that they might be ignorant. (It is interesting, however, that they can’t make up their minds as to whether he’s a “communist” or a “right-winger”- possibly a sign that Lee and Kirby were trying to straddle political divides there.)
By contrast, Trask is all emotion and ad-hominem attack, especially in his McCarthyesque (if true) insinuation that “perhaps the professor has an ulterior motive for his defense of mutants.” On a far more important point, Trask has no intent of having the issue be decided by the political system – well before the debate, Trask has clearly decided that “whether I win or lose this debate does not matter,” because he’s going to use his robots to squish his opponent. Thus, the Sentinels:

pomu 10 4 pomu 10 5In classic sci-fi fashion, Trask’s robotic creations turn on their creator the first time they are used, because you don’t mess with the Frankenstein formula. And so, the threat of mutant superiority is trumped by the rise of the machine: as with other stories of the robot uprising, the Sentinels’ rebellion is founded in the fact that their superior robotic intelligence makes them more suited to be the master than the slave; at the same time, in deference to their programming, the Sentinels justify their future overlordship over humanity by arguing that in order to protect humanity they must rule humanity. And in one last nod to the original, Trask remains useful to his creations only because they need his mastery of reproduction to propagate their species.

What elevates the Sentinels beyond mere sci-fi pastiche, however, is their visual aesthetic. Without a doubt the most recognizably Kirbyesque element of the X-Men Universe, there is something about the design that makes it instantly iconic in a genre not lacking for giant robots. The red-and-purple (later changed to pink-and-purple) onesie and boots and gloves aren’t particularly memorable on their own – the secret is in the stocky, short-limbed proportions that make them look like action figures come to (malevolent) life, their increasing scale (first generation Sentinels stand at 10 feet tall, making humans seem like children; later generations will start at 20 feet tall and only get bigger from there) and of course Kirby’s enduring obsession with the Olmec head that arguably reached its peak with Master Mold:

pomu 10 6There is something genuinely uncanny about the frozen, disapproving visage of Master Mold, which towers above the Mark I Sentinels even as they tower above Bolivar Trask, assuming both the pose and position of some dark Olympian god, even as it demands the secrets of life while threatening death.

Another unusual element of the Sentinels is that they are a threat the X-Men themselves could not directly defeat – while the X-Men successfully penetrate the secret base of the Sentinels and manage to escape once captured, they never manage to come to blows with the Master Mold himself. And part of the reason why is that, following the conventions of science-fiction, Trask has to sacrifice himself to destroy Master Mold and prevent the Sentinels from propagating.

pomu 10 7However, the Sentinels can never be destroyed forever – sooner or later, they will return to threaten mutantkind. In issue #57, less than 10 issues away from the series’ decline into reprints, the Sentinels return, and so do the themes and allusions of the original:

pomu 10 8Here, the parallels to McCarthyism which had previously been more of a matter of tone than content all of the sudden become text, with Judge Chalmers’ Federal Council on Mutant Activities being an obvious play on the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Which I suppose makes Larry Trask, the younger, flashier, and more emotional assistant to Judge Chalmers, the Roy Cohn stand-in. The manila folders of evidence that Trask slams down on the table similarly resemble the leaked FBI reports that were key to the careers of both Senator McCarthy and HUAC.

pomu 10 9On the other hand, Trask brings a starkly personal edge to his political argument that doesn’t particularly fit the metaphor – rather the allusion is more to the feud and the vendetta and their eternal cycles of retribution. Similarly, Larry Trask’s description of the mutant threat bears little resemblance to the idea of the mutant as the unknown Other – the mutant threat he sees is out in the open and more active than hypothethical, and so he gives it a new term:

pomu 10 10The term “mutant war,” reminiscent of predictions of “race war” in the racist paranoid imagination, suggests a very different direction for the mutant metaphor, one that will be built on later to imagine mutant future dystopias that will almost always revolve around the presence of the Sentinels – more on this in a future People’s History of the Marvel Universe issue where I’ll discuss “Days of Future Past” and how Chris Claremont invented the Terminator franchise.

Also in this second outing, we see a renewed focus on the way that media shapes political debate – or if I’m being cynical, the way that the media allows comic books to present politics through a simplified image rather than trying to depict the complicated process of political organization. Hence the use of talking heads:

pomu 10 11 pomu 10 12For those of you born after 1970 (which includes me), these two individuals are Chett Huntley and David Brinkley, who chaired the Huntley-Brinkley Report as NBC’s answer to Walter Cronkite between 1956 and 1970. This rare example of real-life figures making an appearance in X-Men comics is intended to give verisimilitude to the political news, which shows the meaning of the Sentinels shifting.

As already suggested by the Federal part of Chalmers’ Council on Mutant Activities, where the Mark I Sentinels were the rogue creations of an individual mad scientist, the Mark II Sentinels are hunting down mutants on behalf of the U.S government. This represents an entirely new paradigm for the X-universe, and foreshadows the X-Men’s outlaw status in Claremont’s run. Whereas in 1963 Professor Xavier could work comfortably with the FBI (more on this in a future issue), by 1969 the reading public was perhaps more willing to consider that the government might employ genocidal robots to hunt down American citizens for “the indescribable sin of being…a mutant,” in what Huntley and Brinkley describe as a “familiar” reaction to the “mutant problem.” Given the more overt comparison to the Holocaust, I’m not surprised to learn that then-Marvel-intern Chris Claremont offered story advice on these issues.

At the same time, we also see a rare departure for the X-Comics when Huntley an Brinkley explain that “Americans begin to question the wisdom – even the constitutionality – of this modern witch hunt.” We’ve seen anti-mutant prejudice described before, but we haven’t yet seen it be described as an explicitly political controversy, with the issue being raised of whether the U.S Constitution (presumably the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection and due process) protects mutant citizens against the state. Given that we almost never see mutants being discussed in political terms in the Lee/Kirby era, let alone in such similar terms to the Civil Rights Movement, this feels much more like the Claremont era’s discussion of the Mutant Registration Act (another topic for a future issue) than anything else from the original run.

Unfortunately for my purposes, as soon as we get this soupçon of politics, the whole thing veers back into sci-fi, albeit more reminiscent of high-concept shows like the Twilight Zone or Roddenberry’s Star Trek. Once again, the moment that the Sentinels are used, they rebel against their masters. It really makes you wonder why people keep building them. (Incidentally, this is one aspect of these characters that I wish had been used more in later years, especially in Morrison’s run, the aftermath of M-Day, and so forth). Here, the ironic twist is that mutant-hating Larry Trask is himself a mutant:

pomu 10 13As morals go, it’s a bit on the nose – a little bit closer to The Scary Door than Twilight Zone. On the other hand, it’s not like the idea that a rabid ideologue secretly is what they most despise, their passion reflecting both intense denial and projection, is at odds with realism.

And it has one other advantage – with Larry Trask sidelined, there’s no Trask available to sacrifice their life to stop the Sentinels, which means we get the best moment in the whole of the original X-Men run (link), where Scott Summers executes a perfect Logic Bomb that convinces the Sentinels to make war on “the very heart of the raging sun itself!”

pomu 10 14 pomu 10 15Conclusion:

As blunt as a metaphor for weighty themes like genocide, bigotry, and oppression they might be, the Sentinels were pretty much all the original X-Men had in the way of anti-mutant antagonists. And if you’re going to be fiddling with “mutant metaphors,” you’re going to need them around, otherwise people might start to ask uncomfortable questions about why the X-Men spend all of their time hunting down “evil mutants” on behalf of J. Edgar Hoover, rather than fighting their own oppression.

But that’s a topic for…next issue of A People’s History of the Marvel Universe!

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