The return of some underused villains
When Roy Thomas is involved in any comic book series, readers can expect the revivals and/or reworkings of several older characters. He started his run as an X-Men writer with revivals of Blob and Unus, as well as a serious reworking of Lucifer. This issue revives some classic Marvel villains who had not been seen in a while: Count Nefaria, Eel, Plantman, Porcupine, Scarecrow and the Unicorn.
I have to admit I found the artwork of the issue less than exciting. Nefaria gets the spotlight treatment with polished art and plenty of close-ups. I doubt Roth payed much attention to the visuals of the other villains or even the regular cast. Mostly distant shots with few visible details. The story is decent but hardly groundbreaking.
The beggining of the story has the X-Men in the Danger Room, facing a new challenge. Xavier has noted two of his students' latest missions have featured "robotic menaces". Namely, the Sentinels and the Quith Ultra-Androids. He wants to train the X-Men in fighting similar threats. So, he has built his own powerful robot, Colosso, and gives his students five minutes to defeat it. The twist is that Xavier payed attention to the weaknesses of the previous robotic foes and made his design much less vulnerable.
Colosso is strong enough to lift any two of the X-Men with its hands. It is too heavy for Jean to lift or even topple. It is built by durable materials which deflect energy attacks. Which means Scott can't even scratch it. It has a ray which temporarily paralyzes opponents. It has jets built in his legs and head which produce heat, thus melting ice. Finally, its head contains sensory devices which alert it to the moves of any approaching opponent, including those coming from behind. Simply put, no single X-Men has the proper powers to defeat it.
What to do? Apply some teamwork. Jean telekinetically borrows Xavier's blanket and places on top of Colosso's head. Which leaves the robot "blind". Hank ties the blanket into a knot and Robert freezes it in place. While Colosso is preoccupied with trying to free its head, all five X-Men attack on multiple fronts. Iceman keeps laying more and heavier ice on Colosso's head. Hank, Jean and Warren jointly push at Colosso's torso. Cyclops has figured that Colosso is invulberable to his forcebeams. But the floor beneath its legs isn't . Jointly they topple Colosso to the ground. Xavier compliments them on their teamwork and plans on improving Colosso. Not that Roy had actual plans for the robot. Colosso would not be seen again until "X-Men" vol. 1 #94 (August, 1975).
Then follows a rather familiar scene. Xavier promises the X-Men two week of vacation time. Their previous attempts at vacation, in issues #14 and #19, barely lasted 24 hours combined. The X-men are in a hurry to leave, each with plans. Or at least they claim to have plans. Jean wants to visit her sister in Albany, an early mention of Sarah Grey. Who remains an unseen character for now. Warren plans to return to his parents in Long Island. Hank and Robert jointly rent a hotel room in New York City, planning to spend their two weeks in the company of Vera and Zelda. Scott makes vague statements about meeting some people. Actually he has no life away from the X-Men. He plans to spend two weeks hiding in his hotel room, waiting for Xavier to recall him. Xavier himself wallows in self-pity, feeling trapped in his wheelchair.
Two scenes of romantic interlude follow. In one of them, Hank and Robert meet their girls for a double-date. Planning to watch a film at the nearest cinema. Zelda stil teases her boyfriend concerning his poor finances. She wants to know if she is paying for their tickets, as usual, or whether Mr. Drake is finally ready to be extravagant. Which in his case means going dutch treat. Hank embarasses himsel by hitting on the wrong person. He notices a person with the same height and hairstyle as Vera and thinks its her. His amorous advances get firmly rejected by said person, Waldo the rock star. A guy with a Beetles-like style. Once the misunderstanding is cleared up, the quartet is ready to watch a James Bond film.
Elsewhere, our regular love triangle is having dinner at a fancy restaurant. Jean had some free time before catching her train. Warren waists no time in romancing her with a dinner invitation. She accepted but dragged Scott along. Mr. Summers is not yet ready to admit his feelings, but enjoys spending time with her. Warren is somewhat disappointed but acts the perfect gentleman. Their thought panels are amusing. Warren is hoping that Jean will be able to return his feelings. Jean finds Warren a wonderful guy but has fallen for Scott. Scott feels like an intruder while his teammates make "a lovely couple".
Sometime later, the trio part. Just in time for the main action to start. Nefaria uses what was a main power for him in his early appearances: creating life-size hologram-like images of people which he could project over great distances. In this case he projects lifelike images of the X-Men over Central Park. The presence of the mutant outlaws in the area is soon reported by local news stations. Each X-Man, minus Xavier, decides to go investigating on his/her own. Each falling into the traps set by one of Nefaria's lieutenants.
These are not really epic fights, more small samples of what the villains can do.
* Jean is the first on the scene. Only to find her hands restrained by tree branches. While she struggles, Plantman approaches her and knocks her out with chloroform. By this point, Samuel was a Human Torch villain whose plant-control powers enabled him to use most plants as weapons. He had taken over Central Park before, terrorized large crowds and extinguished the Torch's flames with ease. Using a common chemical seems a little beneath him.
*Warren is naive enough to simply approach the Scarecrow. Ebenezer has little problem in having his crows ensnare the flying mutant in an adhesive net. Actually this is only the second appearance of Scarecrow, a minor Iron Man foe. At this point in his career, Ebenezer was a contrortionist and escape artist who used trained crows in his crimes. A little crude but effective.
*The Beast seems to be depicted as a common idiot. He has to face the Porcupine. The brilliant strategy of Mr. McCoy involves kicking his opponent. Finding out a bit too little that all those quills on Alex's suit are not for show. With his legs in pain, Beast is easy prey for Mr. Gentry. One hypnotic disk and that is it for the Beast I felt rather cheated actually. The Porcupine was a minor but effective enemy of Ant-Man/Giant Man. Considering Alexander Gentry is a career weapons designer and his costume includes enough weapons to rival Iron Man, I'd expect more of a show.
*In the longest battle of the issue, Iceman faces the Eel. With Cyclops and the Unicorn serving as their respective reinforcements. The Eel by this point had faced the Human Torch twice and Daredevil once. His electrical bolts are briefly featured here, his main ability seems to be bragging non-stop. The Unicorn is an Iron Man foe with a more extensive range of powers. The most distinctive one being able to fire force blasts of "tremendous concussive power". Basically, the same as Cyclops. Other than a brief comparison this little detail is ignored. The two X-Men are dropped by blasts to their backs, which they conveniently turned at their foes.
The captured X-Men are then delivered to Nefaria at Washington, DC. There we are introduced to the dynamic of this team. The five lieutenants are effectively mercenaries recruited to help Nefaria restore Maggia to power. He can't trust any of them, since they are looking for opportunities to depose him and succeed him in their leadership. The only reason they haven't yet allied for a coup is that their ambities are contradictory. Not a bad set-up and it could produce intriguing stories.
But for now, Nefaria is more concerned with making sure that the prisoners are in perfect health. Because he wants to recruit them. His arguments for an alliance are not that sound. The world at large despises all of them. So it is natural they would ally to seek revenge against the world. The X-Men do not agree. But Nefaria is confident that they will stil serve him, willingly or unwillingly. He hints at his great plan, holding the entire capital of the United States hostage in exchange for ransom money. The issue ends with a cliffhanger.
Not a poor issue but it could have been much better. At least the story isn't dull and some great villains return on the stage. On the X-Men side of things, the increasing despair of Xavier and the interactions of the love triangle members give some depth to the characters.