X-Men #58 (July, 1969)

I feel pretty confident in making the statement that Neal Adams’ cover for X-Men #58, featuring the debut of Scott “Cyclops” Summers’ younger brother Alex in the costumed hero identity of Havok, is one of the most iconic of the late Silver Age at Marvel Comics.  But apparently, not everyone associated with that cover was, or is, completely happy with how it turned out — at least, not in the published version.

According to a 1999 article for the comics history magazine Alter Ego by the issue’s scripter (who was also Marvel’s associate editor at the time), Roy Thomas:

…Neal turned in a real beauty for X-Men #58, with a color-held overlay of Havok as the focal point.  Alas, Neal’s suggested color scheme wasn’t followed.  Instead of the blue that would have been the closest equivalent of the black in his costume inside, it was decided (by whom I dunno, but it wasn’t me, babe) that the Havok figure should be color-held in orange and yellow.  Bad idea.

Well, maybe.  I gotta say, though, that that orange-and-yellow has always worked for me. I mean, those colors really popped against the cover’s dark blue-gray background; and besides, blue ain’t black, after all.  Too bad we don’t have a “blue” version to compare the published version with… wait, what did you say?  We do, kind of?  Courtesy of the cover to the trade paperback edition of Marvel Masterworks – The X-Men, Vol. 6, featuring Adams’ art newly recolored by Richard Isanove?  Oh, okay then. 

Hmm.  I’ve gotta say, I still like the original version better — though I’ll grant that that might just be my nostalgia talking.

But, moving on along… If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll recall that in last month’s post about X-Men #57 (the second issue produced by the team of Thomas, Adams, and inker Tom Palmer, but the first by those three worthies that I myself bought), we last left two members of the titular team of mutant superheroes, Bobby “Iceman” Drake and Hank “Beast” McCoy, about to be walloped by one of the mutant-hunting giant robots known as the Sentinels — just as they were watching the master of said Sentinels, one Larry Trask, being interviewed on television.  X-Men #58’s “Mission: Murder!” picks up precisely where the preceding issue’s story left off:

Adams follows this exciting splash page with a jaw-dropping double-page spread, composed of curving, diagonally-oriented panels that depict the two X-Men’s battle against the Sentinel, while inset rectangular panels present the ongoing television interview, with Trask’s comments providing unintentional but eerily appropriate commentary regarding our heroes’ predicament:

After two more pages of less-innovatively designed, but still thrilling action, Bobby manages to earn Hank and himself a temporary breather — which he uses to convince Hank to escape, while he runs interference.  “Face it — we can’t hold out forever!” the Iceman explains.  “And nobody’s going to find Lorna — if we both get caught!” he adds, referring to his girlfriend Lorna Dane, aka Polaris, who was captured by the Sentinels in the previous issue.

Page 6’s single (?) panel depicting the Beast’s escape from Scott Summers’ apartment may not make a whole lot of logical narrative sense, but it’s a joy to look at, nonetheless.

On the next page, Hank forlornly watches as the Sentinel flies away with his captured comrade; then he uses a video communications device to report in to the three remaining X-Men, who are still halfway around the world, in Egypt (where they’d traveled in issue #55, on a mission to rescue Alex Summers from a villainous mutant calling himself the Living Pharaoh).  Upon learning that the Sentinels have returned, Warren “Angel” Worthington III abruptly takes to the skies, intent on flying back to the United States under his own power — leaving Scott Summers and Jean “Marvel Girl” Grey to follow later, by commercial jet.

Meanwhile, having returned from the TV studio to his secret lair, Larry Trask takes custody of his latest acquisition, Bobby Drake; and after dousing him with a gas to inhibit his powers for a four-hour period, has him tossed in a cell:

Havok’s costume — which we see here, properly colored, for the first time — is generally conceded to be one of the great super-character designs, in part because of two distinctive visual elements included by its creator, Neal Adams — first, the suit is always rendered as a solid black silhouette, with no highlights added to clarify aspects of the figure; and second, the concentric circles on (or in?) Havok’s torso, which (unlike a conventional chest emblem) are always shown “facing” the viewer, and which also double as a visual expression of his power when — as in this sequence — he releases the destructive energy that the costume serves to contain and control.

In previous issues, the Living Monolith — who was essentially an upgraded version of the Villain Formerly Known as the Living Pharaoh — had been established as having a strange link with Alex; they both got their powers from absorbing cosmic radiation, and when one’s power levels went up, the other’s went down, proportionately.  Judging by Larry Trask’s wild laughter, that situation may be about to change:

For anyone out there who was born after 1990 or thereabouts, the TV talking head in the top panel above is David Brinkley, who from 1956 to 1970 co anchored NBC’s nightly news program, The Huntley-Brinkley Report, with his colleague Chet Huntley.

And speaking of Chet…

In addition to netting the Angel, the Sentinels are continuing to round up other known mutants as well — including those of the “Evil” variety:

“–a robot!”  The revelation that the Magneto most recently seen in X-Men‘s pages wasn’t the real Master of Magnetism at all, but a mechanical duplicate, represented a retcon of the story from X-Men #49 through #52, which had been scripted by Thomas’s predecessor as the series’ writer, Arnold Drake.  (Why did Thomas think that Drake’s Magneto story didn’t work?  Beats me, but if you find out, please let me know.)

About this time, Judge Chalmers — an old friend of Larry Trask’s late father, Bolivar (the original creator of the Sentinels), and the nominal director of the Sentinels project –arrives at the project’s base.  After confessing to Larry that he’s beginning to have misgivings about the whole shebang, he’s unpleasantly surprised to find that his “assistant” has stored all their mutant “guests” in transparent tubes:

The two men’s discussion is interrupted by a video feed, showing that Scott and Jean, now back in the States, have rendezvoused with Hank, and all three are approaching the base:

The implication here is that Larry Trask has, indeed, never taken off the medallion in all the years since his father’s death — apparently, not even when changing clothes, or taking a shower.  Which is… impressive, I guess?

The Banshee, aka Sean Cassidy, is, of course, another old adversary of the X-Men, who’d first appeared back in issue #28; he’s also a co-creation of Roy Thomas, which may account for him getting slightly more “screen time” than most of the other mutants who make cameo appearances throughout this storyline.  As most of this blog’s readers will already know, he’s also not really a bad guy, having fought the X-Men only under coercion — indeed, he’ll even join the team one day, though that’s still several years on down the road at this point.

Whaaa–?!  Larry Trask is a mutant?!  How is that possible?  And how will the X-Men ever manage to triumph over the Sentinels, whose ability to quickly analyze and then effectively counter any mutant’s powers would seem to make them unstoppable?

In May, 1969, I was extremely eager to find out the answers to those questions; but, unfortunately, in June, 1969, I managed to miss X-Men #59 upon its release.  The next issue of X-Men that I saw — and bought — was issue #60, which came out in July; that issue, which opened in the aftermath of the X-Men’s victory over their foes, at least gave me a basic rundown regarding the secret of Larry Trask — but as to the pressing matter of how our heroes had beaten the odds and taken down the Sentinels?  That answer I wouldn’t learn for years to come.

But that doesn’t mean I should leave you hanging, faithful reader — and so, here’s your recap of what went down in the third part of Thomas, Adams, and Palmer’s Sentinels trilogy, to be known forever after as “Do or Die, Baby!” (a title suggested by Adams, by the way, and then green-lighted by Thomas, apparently somewhat against his better judgement).  You’re welcome, I’m sure.

While the three remaining non-captive X-Men (now back in costume) begin their assault on the Sentinels base (which is located inside a mountain, incidentally), Judge Chalmers provides an explanation of the previous issue’s climactic revelation, for Larry Trask’s benefit as well as the comic’s readers:

“…misguided…”?  Not to go all judge-y on Judge Chalmers, but I’d call that something of an understatement.

Cyclops, Marvel Girl, and the Beast infiltrate the base just in time to rescue the Sentinels’ latest captives — the three former members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, as well as the Avengers (well, OK, just two out of three for the latter group), known as Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and the Toad:

Maintaining their clever disguises, our heroes barrel on into the base’s interior.  Along the way, the Beast and Marvel Girl are forced to stop and stand their ground against the Sentinels, so that in the end it’s only Cyclops who manages to win through to the central chamber.  Meanwhile, Larry Trask — now being held silent and immobile in one of his own transparent tubes — has managed to signal Judge Chalmers using only his eyes, guiding him to pick up the gun-like device that we saw Trask use on Havok in #58, and to point it at the tube holding the latter mutant:

That last full-page splash, with Adams and Palmer’s spectacular illustration effectively set against Thomas’ dry, documentary-style narration, is an acknowledged classic.. But here’s the funny thing  about Cyclops’ climactic “Hail Mary” play, by which he turns the Sentinels’ guiding logic against them — there’s no clear consensus regarding just whose idea it originally was.  In fact, as long ago as 1982 a claim of responsibility was made by someone whose name doesn’t even appear in the story’s credits, namely, Chris Claremont — then, as now, best known as the longtime writer of the “New” X-Men during the era in which they became the most popular characters in comics.  Interviewed by Peter Sanderson for The X-Men Companion I (Fantagraphics Books, 1982), Claremont remembered briefly working in the Marvel offices as an intern in 1969, and having an early opportunity to make a small but significant contribution to the series he himself would one day be writing:

Roy [Thomas] was wrapping up the Sentinels story, and we were talking in the office one day, just in general terms. He was looking for a rationale to get rid of the Sentinels. As I recall he didn’t think the X-Men could defeat them. There were too many of them and they were too powerful. What he wanted Scott to do was to outwit them, or to use their own logic against them. He wanted him to find some key that could be utilized to that end. With my typically dilettantish and probably inaccurate view of science and generic theories, it seemed to so as I understood it, all primary mutation was the result of solar radiation. Just the gradual seepage of it through the Van Allen belts. The only way to stop unwanted mutation was to destroy the sun. The Sentinels would be arrogant enough to try and stupid enough not to realize that it would cook their goose. They evidently had no self-survival program. “Let’s go to the sun!” Zoop! It seemed like a good idea to Roy so he incorporated it into the story.

But Roy Thomas himself doesn’t remember it quite that way.  As he wrote in the 1999 Alter Ego article quoted earlier in this post:

I’ve no reason to question Chris’ sincerity, but I don’t consciously recall his being involved in any way with X-Men #59. Certainly it always seems odd to me to see him listed in recent reprintings as “co-plotter” – a term I feel would be a bit strong even if he did contribute that single idea.

 

I may be wrong, but my own suspicion is that Chris may be confusing X-Men #59 with the fact that later, in 1972, he definitely did submit a detailed plot idea which I utilized (and credited) in the third Sentinels epic, in Avengers #102-104, as I wound up my 70-issue scripting run on that title.

 

Neal, for his part, feels very strongly that the sun-death concept was his idea, not Chris’ or mine, and that he’d had it two issues earlier!

 

Me? I have no recollection which of the three of us had that particular brainstorm.

The “third Sentinels epic” which Thomas is referring to does indeed bear a story idea credit for Claremont — at least for its first installment in Avengers #102 — as shown in the Rich Buckler-Joe Sinnott illustrated panel below:

As you can see, the plot of this story, featuring the return of the Sentinels from their presumed final resting place in the heart of the sun, does follow quite directly from the climax of X-Men #59; and I don’t think it’s altogether unreasonable to imagine that Claremont, years later, might have conflated the two in recollecting his experience as a Marvel intern.

For his part, Neal Adams went on the record in 1999 (and may have at other times and places as well) when, while being interviewed by Arlen Schumer for Comic Book Artist #3, he noted — in the context of a more general (and complimentary) remark about Thomas’ writing:  “…I had the Sentinels fly into the sun to destroy themselves…”

So if Claremont’s claim seems somewhat dubious, on the basics of the facts (even if sincerely made), maybe Adams’ claim should be given the benefit of the doubt.  After all, in 1999 Thomas himself wrote that he himself had “no recollection” whether the idea had been Adams’, Claremont’s, or his own.

Well, not so fast. Because some seven years later, in his introduction to Marvel Masterworks – The X-Men, Vol. 6, Thomas wrote: “I sorta thought that was my idea” — indicating that he’d reconsidered his earlier statement.  So there are in fact three claims, all of which are still extant, as best as I’ve been able to determine.

I’ve gone into this “minor dispute” (as Thomas puts it in his Marvel Masterworks intro) in some depth, not so much because I think it’s a matter of major historical importance, but rather because a number of supposed-to-be-authoritative sources have picked up on the Chris Claremont claim and treated it as established fact.  For a while, even Marvel was giving Claremont a “co-plotter” credit for X-Men #59 when they reprinted the issue, as Thomas noted in 1999 (my own personal copy of X-Men Visionaries 2: The Neal Adams Collection [1996] stands as testament to that fact) — though they appear to have dropped that attribution in more recent editions, thankfully.  Still, plenty of online resources continue to repeat the Claremont claim as settled comic book history — some (looking at you, Wikipedia) even going so far as to state that the X-writer-to-be received an official plot-assist credit in issue #59 itself. ‘Taint so, folks.  Maybe Claremont did come up with the “fly into the sun” idea; but it’s at least equally as possible that Adams did, or that Thomas did.  The fact is, we’ll probably never know for sure; and the record should reflect that.

But enough about all that.  We’ve still got a bit left of our “Do or Die, Baby!” recap to get through — after all, I wouldn’t want to leave you wondering what happened to Alex Summers after that “BLAM!” back on page 18:

Lykos?  If you’re a longtime Marvel Comics reader, you’ve probably seen this guy around — though perhaps you wouldn’t recognize him from the panels above, as he usually sports a drastically different look, not to mention a more sinister name…  but, y’know, I think that we’d better leave it at that for now.  Be sure and come back in two months for my post about X-Men #60, though, if you’d like to know more about him.  (And about poor Alex, too, of course.)

 

7 comments

  1. Derrick · May 26, 2019

    Always loved The Sentinels. Whenever they showed up I always had a real sense that they could kill The X-Men, something I never felt could happen with any of their other foes, not even Magneto. They’re as relentless and as unstoppable as The Borg. I always loved Scott’s Captain Kirk-ish Hail Mary play. Kirk was pretty damn good himself at turning logic against artificial intelligences who operated on strict logical thinking.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Chris Lindhardt · May 26, 2019

    Whatever happened to Mesmero?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · May 26, 2019

      Still knocking around in the X-books, if I’m not mistaken. (Not currently reading any of them — though I’ll be jumping back on when the Jonathan Hickman run begins.)

      Like

  3. I’ve always found the Sentinels to be simultaneously cool and creepy. Their visual, conceived by Jack Kirby and refined by Neal Adams, is striking and sinister. Their whole single-minded purpose is really unsettling. I like the whole revelation that Larry Trask is a mutant, and the fact that the Sentinels are so insanely literal in their logic that even though they discover he’s a mutant their programming is so literal that they are compelled to follow his order to destroy all mutants that he gave when they still perceived him to be human. So, yeah, Cyclops later using that same literal logic against them to convince them to try to destroy the Sun is a brilliant twist… whoever it was that came up with it!

    This story always reminds me of dialogue from the 1974 Doctor Who serial Robot, in which the Doctor observed…

    “The trouble with computers, of course, is that they’re very sophisticated idiots. They do exactly what you tell them at amazing speed, even if you order them to kill you. So if you do happen to change your mind, it’s very difficult to stop them obeying the original order.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Alan Stewart · May 26, 2019

    Ah, haven’t seen or even thought of that particular Fourth Doctor story in years! Thanks for sharing the quote, Ben.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Daredevil #55 (August, 1969) | Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books
  6. Pingback: X-Men #60 (September, 1969) | Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books

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