Among Us Stalk… The Sentinels!
Issue 14 is yet another milestone first appearance, introducing the Sentinels. As with the Blob and Juggernaut, I was not aware that this villain had so much history with the X-Men. I probably would have bet money that the Sentinels were a Chris Claremont creation. Instead they go all the way back to the Kirby/Lee issues. Considering Galactus and remembering the insane concept art that Jack Kirby drew for Argo, it starts to make a lot of sense.
The story resumes with the X-Men still getting over their epic first encounter with Juggernaut. All but Jean are showing weakened abilities, but by now they are nearly healed. Cyclops is wearing what looks like a space helmet but is called an “Energy Register”. IceMan is sitting in what looks like a block of ice but is called an “ice-intensifier.” Beast is on crutches and Angel is in a parachute harness. Then suddenly one by one he tells them all that they’re healed and they all feel great. Just like that. This is all really starting to look like a cult.
Almost as if to smother my suspicions, Xavier tells his students that they are all getting a long overdue vacation. There is much rejoicing. The X-Men don’t seem quite as eager for the next battle as they did before meeting Juggernaut. Jean and Warren plan on traveling home to visit relatives. Cyclops changes from his visor to his sunglasses. Beast crams his giant feet into people shoes. Warren is stuffs his wings into his girdle and we get to see his parents. They still have no idea that their son is a mutant. Warren speaks very highly of them, and is certain that they would approve if they knew. Naive, young Warren Worthington III. Don’t you know they hate you?
Scott Summers is finally about to make his move on Jean when Warren swoops in and takes her. They fly away in his shiny Mercedes coupe convertible. You had plenty of chances, Scott. It’s obvious to every single character that Scott and Jean are nuts for each other.
Henry and Bobbi have other plans. If you remember from their last night out, these two are some real hip cats. They like to sip coffee and take in the jazz over in Greenwich Village. Bobbi even runs into the same waitress, Zelda. It’s 1965 and again the crowd is listening to jazz and not folk rock, but whatever. Free your mind.
Meanwhile, miles away there is a man named Bolivar Trask, and he’s stirring up a lot of hate and fear over mutants. He seems to be modeled after Senator McCarthy from ten years earlier, only now the threat has moved from communists to mutants. He is a precursor of Senator Kelly. Xavier calls up the television studio raving mad and demands a live debate. They agree.
Trask wastes no time moving from pandering, hateful rhetoric to dangerous, opportunistic commercialism. This is America and in America you have to have more than an agenda. You have to have something to sell. Trask has built an army of robots that he calls Sentinels. Their job is strictly to detect, capture, and destroy mutants. I have no clue how this is suddenly legal but god damn. That escalated quickly. Things went from smear campaign to final solution in just a few days.
Then things get even worse. The Sentinels stop following Trask’s orders, and they seem to be self aware. The mutant apocalypse has begun, on daytime TV, and it’s already out of our hands. The Sentinels declare that to protect mankind they need to conquer it. Trask is taken hostage and brought to their lair.
Xavier calls in the X-Men, and their first battle with Sentinels is as good as their first fight with Juggernaut. These comics were really getting great around this time. There is more action and less bumbling. They often break into smaller groups and we get different combinations of their powers working together.
Soon they have brought down a Sentinel and can study it. They locate and attack the Sentinels’ main headquarters, which is a giant hill that lifts out of the ground into a giant rotating gun turret. This is a three part story, so we’ll continue soon with Issue 15.
A lot of what I found in this issue really surprised me. First of all, as I mentioned above I had no idea that the Sentinels were so old. Second, the sentinels are far more advanced than what I thought we’d find in the first model. They’re agile and formidable. The X-Men run into some trouble fighting just one of them. Right away it is believable that these things, in high numbers, will be able to hunt down and kill every mutant on the planet. There was even a mention of Mastermold. Finally, I’m surprised by how quickly the mutant threat plot is moving along. In the past we’ve seen humans act frightened and threatened towards mutants, but never with this kind of widespread paranoia and intense hatred. Now there is a political and cultural movement to rid our communities of any mutants. There is a new idea that “normal” humans have the right to live in some sort of genetically pure world. In one issue the situation moved from citizens chasing a monster with torches and pitchforks to an accepted social bigotry being pontificated in the media by intellectuals and “experts”. Charles is right when he says that this is a far greater threat than Juggernaut.