X-Men Epic Collection: The Sentinels Live! (2018)
Reprints X-Men #46-66, Ka-Zar #2-3, and Marvel Tales #30
Written by Roy Thomas, Arnold Drake, Gary Freidrich, Denny O’Neill, Linda Fite, and Jerry Siegel
Art by Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, Werner Roth, Don Heck, George Tuska, Barry Windsor-Smith, and Sal Buscema
The X-Men were in a spiral downward during this period, with writers coming and going every few issues. Roy Thomas’ run was paused for a few issues before returning with a surprisingly new collaborator on pencils. Eventually, the steam would run out of the concept, and for four years, there would be no new stories published in the X-Men title, only reprints. In this book, we see that last period where you could pick up a new monthly story featuring only the original team. After all this time, some of their personalities are still muddy and often contradictory when new writers jump on the book. There are some hidden gems here, though, stories that rooted themselves so much they still have effects on the title today.
Issue 46 opens with the X-Men visiting the grave of Professor X, who died in the previous collection. Foggy Nelson, Daredevil’s law partner, oversees the reading of the Professor’s will. This all happens to correspond with the return of the Juggernaut from his bejeweled prison. As opposed to his previous appearances, the “unstoppable” villain is beaten in a single issue, and the real focus of the drama is the disbanding of the school and the X-Men splitting up. The backup stories featuring the origins of the X-Men continue in the back half of the books.
From here, we solo or pair stories about the characters. Issue 47 spotlights The Beast and Iceman as they fight one-off villain Maha Yogi. The concept of this villain is pretty decent, a spiritual guru exploiting his victims, which is very reflective of the spiritual experimentation in America at the time. Issue 48 focuses on Cyclops and Marvel Girl against a generic robot enemy. Issue 49 sees the team re-united against villain Mesmero and the Demi-Men (shrug). One important note here is the introduction of Lorna Drake, who was dating Iceman then. She’s suspected of being the daughter of Magneto due to her magnetism powers, but I’ve always been confused as to if that’s true or not.
I want to note that these issues are written by Arnold Drake. Drake working on an X-Men book is noteworthy because he was the co-creator of Doom Patrol at DC Comics. Doom Patrol debuted the same year & month as X-Men #1 and features a team of super-powered outcasts led by a professor in a wheelchair. It is one of the strangest coincidences in comics, in my opinion, and even more interesting to see how vastly different these two teams have developed since. Drake and writer Bob Haney were some of the earliest creators at DC to warn that this upstart Marvel was doing bold new things that appealed to their youthful readers. DC management dismissed them, and we see how that turned out.
Issue 50 has art from Jim Steranko, which is a step up from the typical work in this book. The Mesmero story concludes with Lorna debuting her heroic persona of Polaris. Magento also shows up and claims that he’s her father, which continues into issue 51. There’s a struggle between the X-Men and their arch-foe, which ends with Polaris leaving with her dad. Issue 52 debuts Erik the Red, one of the single most confusing characters in X-Men lore. We quickly learn this is a fake identity created by Cyclops to infiltrate Magento’s forces. He helps rescue the X-Men and Polaris. Erik returns in the Claremont run, but it’s not Cyclops. He turns out to be an agent of the Shi’ar Empire, but in the late 1990s, Erik the Red shows up, and I think it’s a clone of Magneto or something. If you have a link to a source that makes sense of this, I would be happy to read it.
Issue 53 pits the X-Men against Fantastic Four foe Blastaar and has pencils from Barry Windsor-Smith. These are entirely unlike any of his better-known work, and it’s clear he was attempting to ape Jack Kirby. Issue 54 begins an arc introducing Alex Summers, Cyclops’ younger brother, and brings back Roy Thomas. Alex is targeted by what I think is a mutant, The Living Pharaoh. Alex’s powers involve absorbing radiation from stars, which will empower the Living Pharaoh somehow. Issue 55 continues the story, and then in issue 56, the most significant mind-blowing change occurs. Neal Adams takes over pencils, and suddenly X-Men goes from looking like a cheesy light 1960s book to a wild, psychedelic, dramatic adventure story. Adams plays liberally with the grid, completely shattering it at some points and letting characters extend outside the lines. It was a delight to see this fantastic art.
The story fluidly moves from the Living Pharaoh arc into the return of the Sentinels with issues 57 & 58. That latter issue sees Alex Summers debut his superhero identity of Havok. Iceman, Polaris, and Havok get taken by the Sentinels. Thomas brings back a lot of old faces, including Banshee and The Blob, as the Sentinels are rounding up all mutants at the behest of Bolivar Trask’s son, Larry. Cyclops, Marvel Girl, and Beast disguise themselves as Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Toad to get into Trask’s facility, where they can take out the killer robots.
Issue 60 kicks off another storyline by introducing Sauron, the hypnotic pterodactyl mutant. You read that right. When Dr. Karl Lykos allows his mutant powers to emerge, it transforms him into a humanoid green pterodactyl. Yeah, I don’t get it, either. The fight with Sauron continues into Issue 61, where the X-Men pursue him to the Antarctic. The X-Men end up in the Savage Land in Issue 62, where Angel is captured by a mysterious man, and his cadre of mutates. I have never quite understood the difference between the Savage Land mutates and mutants; part of me just doesn’t have the energy anymore to care. They are pretty much mutants, regardless. What matters most is the gorgeous Neal Adams art he’s producing for all these issues. This is a case where the art makes a decent story even more compelling and readable because Adams communicates the story in exciting ways.
Issue 63 reveals the mysterious man is Magneto bringing himself back into the X-Men’s lives for the nth time. He’s handily defeated, and issue 64 tosses Sunfire into X-Men lore, a Japanese mutant using his powers to exact revenge on the United States. I appreciate that Roy Thomas doesn’t blanketly vilify Sunfire and gives him good motivation with anger over the nuclear bombings in 1945, which was only about a quarter of a century earlier. That’s like talking about something that happened in the late 1990s for us, pretty fresh in your mind if you’re a Millennial.
Issue 65 sees Roy Thomas drop out for one issue, and Denny O’Neill takes over writing. Adams, thankfully remains on the art. Polaris and Havok reveal a shocking surprise to the rest of the team: Professor X is alive and well. He just lied to his students and faked his death. Marvel Girl reveals she knew this whole time. It is excused as him needing to go undercover to take out invading aliens, but the team takes this revelation way too lightly. Professor X was quite a manipulative asshole during this time, and later writers would remember this fact every once in a while.
Issue 66 brings Roy Thomas back but Adams leaves, replaced by Sal Buscema. Buscema is fine but nowhere near as glorious as Adams was in the book. This final issue is wrapping up the loose ends from the last issue. The X-Men will remain together, but with issue 67, the book begins reprinting the old stories. This would begin a four-year quiet period; the characters continue showing up in other books, and that will be the subject of our review next week.
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