X-Men Epic Collection volume 3 1968-1970: The Sentinels Live


By Roy Thomas, Arnold Drake, Gary Friedrich, Dennis O’Neil, Linda Fite, Jerry Siegel, Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, Werner Roth, Don Heck, George Tuska, Barry Windsor-Smith, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1275-8 (TPB)

X-Men was never one of young Marvel’s top titles but it did secure a devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek prettiness of Werner Roth as the blunt tension of hunted outsider kids settled into a pastiche of the college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience.

The core team still consisted of tragic Scott Summers/Cyclops, telepath and mind-reader Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, wealthy golden boy Warren Worthington/Angel, ebullient Bobby Drake/Iceman, and erudite, brutish genius Henry McCoy/Beast in training with Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound (and temporarily deceased) telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the gradually emerging race of mutant Homo Superior.

However, by the time of this massive full-colour paperback and digital tome (collecting issues #46-66 from July 1968 to February 1970) of the turbulent teens’ original series, plus material from Ka-Zar volume 1 #2-3 and Marvel Tales #31, despite some of the most impressive and influential stories and art of the decade, the writing was definitely on the wall for Marvel’s misunderstood mutants…

Following the supposed death of their mentor and founder the team was in for even greater heartache when ‘The End of the X-Men!’ (by Gary Friedrich, Werner Roth, Don Heck & John Tartaglione) was declared in issue #46, with the reading of Charles Xavier’s will.

Former government liaison FBI Agent Duncan reappeared and ordered the team to split-up: monitoring different parts of the country for mutant activity just as the unstoppable Juggernaut turned up once more…

The series was at that time offering ‘The Origins of the Uncanny X-Men’ in the back of each issue and Iceman’s past concludes here with ‘…And Then There were Two!’ (Friedrich, George Tuska & Tartaglione) as Cyclops rescues the kid from a human mob and recruits him to Xavier’s school…

Friedrich was joined by Arnold Drake to script Beast and Iceman’s adventure ‘The Warlock Wears Three Faces!’ wherein the ancient mutant once called Merlin once more re-branded himself: this time as the psychedelic guru Maha Yogi, whilst Drake, Roth & John Verpoorten explained the cool kid’s powers in the info feature ‘I, the Iceman.’

Drake penned the Cyclops and Marvel Girl tale ‘Beware Computo, Commander of the Robot Hive’; a fast-paced thriller with a surprise guest villain, whilst ‘Yours Truly the Beast’ wrong-footed everybody by explaining his powers before actually telling his origin epic.

X-Men #49 gave a tantalising taste of things to come with a startling and stylish Jim Steranko cover, behind which Drake, Heck, Roth & Tartaglione revealed ‘Who Dares Defy… the Demi-Men?’: nominally an Angel story, but one which reunited the team to confront the assembled mutant hordes of Mesmero and Iceman’s new girlfriend – the daughter of Magneto! This shocker was supplemented by Drake Roth & Verpoorten’s natal chapter ‘A Beast is Born.’

Drake, Steranko & Tartaglione reached astounding heights with the magnificent ‘City of Mutants’ in #50: a visual tour de force that remains as spectacular now it did in 1968, but which was actually surpassed by Magneto’s return as ‘The Devil had a Daughter’ in #51 before the saga concluded in a disappointing ‘Twilight of the Mutants!’

Don’t misunderstand me, however: This isn’t a bad story, but after two issues of Steranko in his creative prime, nobody could satisfactorily end this tale, and I pity Heck & Roth for having to try.

The pertinent Beast origin chapters in those issues were ‘This Boy, This Bombshell’; ‘The Lure of the Beast-Nappers!’ and ‘The Crimes of the Conquistador!’ and that particular epic of child exploitation and the isolation of being different ended in #53’s ‘Welcome to the Club, Beast!’ but that last issue’s main claim to fame was a lead feature drawn by another superstar in the making.

Hard to believe now, but in the 1960s, X-Men was a series in perpetual sales crises, and a lot of great talent was thrown at it back then. ‘The Rage of Blastaar!’ was illustrated by a young Barry Smith – still in his Kirby appreciation phase – and his unique interpretation of this off-beat battle-blockbuster from Drake, inked by the enigmatic Michael Dee, is memorable but regrettably brisk.

More mutant mayhem commences with ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive… Cyclops!’ (X-Men#54 by Drake, Heck & Vince Colletta), which introduces Scott’s kid brother Alex just in time for the lad to be kidnapped by Egyptian acolytes of The Living Pharaoh. It appears the boy has a hidden power the Pharaoh covets, necessitating framing the X-Men’s leader for murder…

At the back, ‘The Million Dollar Angel’ (Drake & Roth) began the tale of Warren Worthington III, precocious rich boy rushed off to prep school. When he grew wings, he hid them by making himself the most despised and lonely person on campus…

Roy Thomas returned as scripter for #55’s ‘The Living Pharaoh!’ (Heck, Roth & Colletta) which saw the full team follow the Summers brothers to the Valley of the Kings and soundly thrash the faux king’s minions, only to have the new mutant’s unsuspected power go wild. Meanwhile, in ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread!’ (Thomas, Roth & Sam Grainger) little Warren has left school and plans a superhero career until an atomic accident brings him into contact with a couple of kids code-named Cyclops and Iceman…

Nobody knew it at the time – and sales certainly didn’t reflect it – but with X-Men #56 superhero comics changed forever. Neal Adams had already stunned the comics buying public with his horror anthology work and revolutionary adventure art on Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow but here, with writer Thomas in iconoclastic form, they began expanding the horizons of graphic narrative with a succession of boldly innovative, tensely paranoid dramas pitting mutants against an increasingly hostile world.

Pitched at an older audience, the run of gripping, addictively beautiful epics captivated and enchanted a small band of amazed readers – and were completely ignored by the greater mass of the buying public. Without these tales the modern X-phenomenon could not have existed, but they couldn’t save the series from cancellation. The cruellest phrase in comics is “ahead of its time…”

Courtesy of Thomas, Adams & inker extraordinaire Tom Palmer, ‘What is… the Power?’ reveals the uncanny connection between Pharaoh and Alex Summers, and as the Egyptian mastermind transforms into a colossal Living Monolith, the terrified boy’s mutant energies are unleashed with catastrophic results. At the back, an unbalanced Angel had become ‘The Flying A-Bomb!’ but luckily is defused in time to become the newest X-Man…

Issue #57 revives the team’s most relentless adversaries in ‘The Sentinels Live!’, as a public witch-hunt prompts the mutant-hunting robots to capture X-Men across the globe. Amongst the first victims are magnetic Lorna Dane and Alex Summers, but the sinister cybernoids have their unblinking eyes set on all mutants…

That issue also offers a rundown on Marvel Girl’s abilities in the final back-up feature ‘The Female of the Species!’. From the next issue, Thomas & Adams would have all the pages to play with…

‘Mission: Murder!’ ramps up the tension as the toll of fallen mutants increases, with Iceman, the Pharaoh, Angel and Mesmero all falling to the murderous mechanoids, but when their human controller discovers an unsuspected secret the automatons strike out on their own…

With all other mutants in the Marvel universe captured, Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Beast are reduced to a suicidal frontal assault in ‘Do or Die, Baby!’: pulling off a spectacular victory, but only at great cost to Alex Summers, now known as Havok

Badly injured, Alex is brought to an old colleague of Professor Xavier’s named Karl Lykos – a discreet physician hiding a dark secret. ‘In the Shadow of Sauron!’ reveals that the not-so-good doctor had been bitten by Pterodactyls from the Antarctic Savage Land and become an energy vampire. Now, with a powerful mutant to feed on, his addiction fully manifests as Lykos transforms into a winged saurian with hypnotic powers, determined to sate himself on the other X-Men.

After a shattering struggle in ‘Monsters Also Weep!’ Lykos is defeated, instinctively flying South to the Savage Land. Drained of his power, he reverts to human form and when the X-Men track him down, the tormented leech chooses suicide rather than become Sauron once more…

Searching for his body, Angel is also attacked by Pteranodons and crashes to the bottom of a vast crevasse, precipitating the mutants into another primordial encounter with wild man Ka-Zar as ‘Strangers …in a Savage Land!’

Marooned once more in a lost world, Angel is healed by the enigmatic Creator: a wounded genius protecting the Savage Land’s mutant population with his own team of X-Men counterparts.

As his team-mates search for him, the Winged Wonder switches allegiance, unaware that his benefactor is actually the X-Men’s ultimate enemy…

‘War in the World Below!’ sees the villain’s plans revealed and finally thwarted by the heroes and Ka-Zar, leaving the returning team to tackle a controversial Japanese extremist in ‘The Coming of Sunfire!’ (#64, with stalwart Don Heck doing an impressive fill-in job for Adams) before the next issue revives the long-dead Professor Xavier – only to nearly kill him again in the Denny O’Neil scripted alien invasion yarn ‘Before I’d Be Slave…’: an astounding epic that ended Neal Adams’ artistic tenure in grand style.

The rapid staffing changes were hints of a bigger shake-up and with X-Men #66 (March 1970), despite all the frantic and radical innovations crafted by a succession of supremely talented creators, the series was at last cancelled. ‘The Mutants and the Monster’ by Thomas, Sal Buscema & Sam Grainger, is a potent swansong though, as the team hunt for Bruce Banner in an attempt to save Professor X from a coma induced by his psychic battle against the aliens.

Unfortunately, when you hunt Banner what you usually end up with is an irate Incredible Hulk

Although gone, the mutants were far from forgotten. The standard policy at that time to revive characters that had fallen was to pile on the guest-shots and reprints. X-Men #67 (December 1970) saw them return, re-presenting early classics and in that same month a 3-chapter miniseries began in the pages of Ka-Zar #2. Crafted by Jerry Siegel, Tuska & Dick Ayers, ‘From the Sky… Winged Wrath!’ focused on the Angel and his plutocratic home life, as his father is murdered by a super-scientific foe. Hungry for justice the enraged winged mutant quickly falls ‘…In the Den of the Dazzler!’ (Ka-Zar #3 March 1971), before gaining his revenge in concluding episode ‘To Cage an Angel!’ (from Marvel Tales #30, April 1971).

A hoard of graphic goodies packs out the bonus section here. As well as unused original Roth and Adams art, there is a gallery of original Heck, Steranko and Adams pages; 20 pages of colour Adams’ guides; covers and additional story pages by Mike Zeck & Palmer from 1980s Classic X-Men reprints plus cover art for Adams’ X-Men Visionaries volume, and previous collection covers painted and modified by Richard Isanove…

Although a little scrappy and none too cohesive, these disparate stories are wonderful comics sagas that were too radical for the readership of the times but have since been acknowledged as groundbreaking mini-masterpieces that reshaped the way we tell stories to this day.

These tales perfectly display Marvel’s evolution from quirky action romps to more fraught, breast-beating, convoluted melodramas that inexorably led to the monolithic X-brand of today. Well drawn, highly readable stories are never unwelcome or out of favour, and it should be remembered that everything here informs so very much of today’s mutant mythology. Everyone should own this book.
© 1968, 1969, 1970, 2019 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.