The Sentinels seem to be a timeless threat, and I’ve already devoted an article to their hidden history – back in 1906, when the Hellfire Club of the time first became obsessed with the idea of what we would call mutants. With them proving as important as ever in the pages of Wolverine and the X-Men, not to mention being featured in X-Men: Days of Future Past, it seems appropriate to cast back to a truly classic plotline.
Roy Thomas and Neal Adams brought the Sentinels back in their 1969 arc. By this time, Uncanny X-Men was a failing comic; sadly, even the injection of vivacious life they brought into it wasn’t enough to get the mag back on its feet. Still, when you read their comics you get the feeling they were ahead of their time; love triangles, uncontrollable powers, a little bit of Claremont-esque long-windedness… It’s all here, buried in the depths of Uncanny X-Men history, and mostly forgotten. Adams’ artistic style is also much more effective than anything the X-Men had seen to date.
The threat of the Sentinels was building up from #57 (multi-mag arcs were a tendency of Thomas’, who liked every issue to flow into the next). Their first target is Lorna Dane, whose powers had just manifested (and frankly were of varying degrees at the time).
Another pack of Sentinels had captured the despairing Havok, whose powers seemed so far from control and made his brother Scott look like a two-stone weakling. That’s when Beast and Iceman, watching a news broadcast, realise just who is behind this threat; Larry Trask.
#57 ends with a Sentinel looming ominously outside Hank and Bobby’s apartment building, meaning that the next issue kicked streat into the action:
You see what I mean about Thomas and Adams being ahead of their times? This was actually one of the first X-Men comics I read, and this image alone left an indelible image in my mind. In a superb montage, Larry Trask declares – on the TV broadcast – how powerful his new, improved Sentinels really are; meanwhile, the Sentinels tear the X-Men to bits.
Ultimately, Bobby must sacrifice himself for Hank to escape, to go and warn the others; the Sentinels are back in business, out in the open and hunting mutants. Both Hank and Warren end up going it alone, and meanwhile Larry Trask releases an imprisoned – and cleverely de-powered – Bobby. When Bobby reacts violently, it’s all playing into Trask’s hands.
It turns out that Havok has made a deal with the Sentinels, but when he sees the state Bobby’s in, he reneges on the bargain. The result is one toasted Sentinel – itself a major achievement in this arc – and Trask takes him down. At this time, Alex was linked to the Living Monolith; as he falls, Professor Abdol rises again. However, Sentinels are there, and they effortlessly neutralise the man who’d kept the X-Men occupied for a few issues. It’s a real testament to their efficiency.
Events are spiralling out of control. Angel is captured, Mesmero is taken down (another villain who’d kept the X-Men busy), and Banshee is easily taken down. His near-escape, however, is the final straw for Trask; he commands the murder of all mutants, to the horror of Judge Chalmers, who seems to be acting as his conscience.
A brief scrap ensues, in which Trask is knocked down – and you see that medallion he wears? It gets knocked off, revealing to the Sentinels that their creator is in fact a mutant, and this is the reason for his father’s hatred of mutants. The Sentinels intend to follow Trask’s last order – to secure and destroy all mutants in the area.
Meanwhile, Scott, Jean and Hank have regrouped, and located Trask’s base; they are blasted out of the sky. We then get images of the Sentinels proving relentlessly effective against some of the other mutants we’ve seen revealed in the X-Men comics: Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are being captured, Toad has been snagged, Unus contained, anti-gravity devices have taken care of Blob, and Mastermind was ineffective against the Sentinels. That’s when the remaining X-Men are tracked down, and a fun scrap – against just one Sentinel – follows.
The X-Men trick their way into the building, pretending to be the captured Quicksilver, Toad, and Scarlet Witch; and we get some really cool teamwork. It becomes one of the typically fun X-Men battles, complete with Claremont-esque wording:
When Judge Chalmers is injured, it gives Scott a chance to free the prisoners (yes, that’s Cyclops, dressed as Quicksilver). At Chalmers’ instigation, Cyclops using logic to defeat the Sentinels; he challenges them that all life on Earth is a mutation, driven by the radiation of the Sun. And so, in a beautiful twist, the Sentinels leave the Earth to attack the Sun itself, a task for which they are seriously under-equipped.
Maybe a key lesson from this arc is that Second Genesis was inevitable. The seeds of the 1970s revival were already cast in the fertile soil of Marvel’s creativity – and, though Uncanny X-Men would come to an end, the X-Men would inevitably rise again.