byzantine's The X-Men #31 - We Must Destroy... the Cobalt Man! review

Mixed results

Roy Thomas uses the issue to resolve a number of the series' subplots. Paying some attention to the personal lives of the characters, ending the resident love triangle (Warren-Jean-Scott), introducing Ralph Roberts. And setting ip a couple of subplots for the following issues.  
 
Unfortunately, the issue also attempts to introduce a new villain. Cobalt Man never found a proper place among the rogues' gallery of the X-Men. Particularly since the fellow doesn't have any real motivation to go after them. Roy Thomas managed to produce a new nemesis for Iron Man. He just introduced him in the wrong series.  
 
There are certainly enough entertaining moments in the issue: 
 
-Professor X attempts to act as a matchmaker. Back in #26 (November, 1966), Jean Grey loaned to the Prof books from the college library. When Xavier announces that the X-Men have Friday night and the weekend completely free, everyone has plans for the night. Except from Scott Summers who volunteers to keep his mentor company. Xavier instead arranges for the boy to visit Jean and return the books.  
 
Xavier's actual thoughts on the matter: "For months, I've known that Scott loves Jean --- and feels he hasn't the right to tell her! Perhaps an egghead prof can give Cupid a helping hand!" A pretty good scene. So far, most stories have seen Charlie tasking his students with various missions. But paying little to no attention to their private thoughts and problems. Here the man comes off as a bit more human.  
 
- Beast is the main source for verbal humor in the series. Always having an amusing line or two to offer. But a few of his thought pannels here reveals a more serious side to the character and some self-doubt. "Mutant! It's only here that the word can be spoken without fear... and hatred! Here ... I'm a mutant ... and X-Man. Out there I'm nothing but a misshapen freak--- or worse! So I take refuge behind a vocabulary".  
 
Finally, a character reacts to all the anti-mutant sentiment out there. Finally, readers learn that it does get to him. Also making Hank more of a "tragic clown" figure: " smiling on the outside but crying on the inside" 
 
-Previous issues introduced a subplot to Ted Roberts. That he felt overshadowed by his older brother Ralph. The issue introduces Ralph and his past history. Ted certainly has a hard act to follow. Ted is a former college athlete, a champion of his time . He set the record for touchdown passes in American football and also competed at pole-vaulting. He graduated as a nuclear physicist, got a job at Stark Industries and then opened his own research lab: "Roberts Research Lab". Starting out as a "boy industrialist". 
 
Yet, Ralph sounds impressive. And he has further plans. Creating vehicles capable of subterranean exploration, deducing the secrets of Iron Man and creating his own armor, besting Tony Stark at his own field. Hero or villain, that ambition and drive make him sound promising. Unfortunately, only Ralph is interesting. None of that transfers to Cobalt Man.  
 
-Bernard the Poet and Coffee A-Go-Go are back. We haven't seen either since #14 (November, 1965). Bernard is a fine comical character and a coffee shop makes for better scenery than the hot-dog stands of recent issues. For once Bernard's poem is not nonsensical. Its more a comment on the illusion of progress: "Life is a yo-yo --- and mankind keeps tying knots in the string! Go up... go down... then call it progress!"  Nice touch. 
 
Vera and Zelda clearly admire the man. Bernard even flits a bit with the latter. Until a frozen cup of coffee, courtesy of Robert, sends him packing. Heh, Iceman is the jealous type. Something of a new area for the youngest X-Man.  
 
- Warren has been thinking lately on giving up his infatuation with Jean. An amusing scene has him attempt to enter his favourite eating place, "pizza palace". Only to find himself in  " the Monkee’s Paw", a modern-day nightclub. With young people dancing to the "groovy sounds" of "I'm a believer" by The Monkees. Thomas seems to be keeping up with the times. This song was released as a single and went on to become the best-selling record of 1967.  
 
This is arguably the first time that the original X-men have a close encounter with the youth culture of their time. It was about time and a good touch by the creative team.  
 
In the most important development of the issue, Warren runs into his childhood friend Candace "Candy" Southern. They get properly reintroduced. Setting the scene for one of Marvel's long lasting relationships. Miss Southern was the main love interest of Warren from 1967 to 1986.  
 
I have to say I liked the way Thomas gave her a detailed background in her very first issue. Zelda had been appearing for years with not even a last name. The only thing we know of Vera at this point is that she is a librarian and an ex-girlfriend of Calvin Rankin. But Thomas seems to give some more depth to the love interests of his characters.  
 
- When Scott and Jean first have the chance to face the Cobalt Man, Scott intends to charge alone. Jean finally shows some assertiveness: "Not on your life, Scott Summers! My costume's in my suitcase ... and I'm going in with you!" She later reminds her partner that she doesn't need his protection. "You needn't protect me! I can take care of myself". 
 
Thomas seems to be setting Scott and Jean as a prospective couple. And adressing Scott's fears that he will somehow hurt her. A feisty personality seems to suit her well.  
 
- Finally, a classic Marvel scene of heroes facing money problem. Hank and Robert have to leave their dates and respond to the emergency. But they are in New York, the battle is in Long Island and they don't have enough money for a cab. Beast delivers two funny lines. 
 
The first is the following "Alas for the days when super-doers were all millionaires in masks". A funny  reference to a popular trope for 1930s and 1940s heroes, where the hero was financially affluent, socially prominent or even a member of the idle rich. You know the type, imitators of Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro, or even the Shadow. In comics, the most famous and enduring examples of this trope are arguably Batman/Bruce Wayne, Green Arrow/Oliver Queen and Iron Man/Anthony Stark. The latter being particularly significant in this issue. 
 
The other line is hilarious in retrospect. Hank comments "I'll wager the Avengers need never resort to hitchhiking". Beast would go on to become a mainstay of the Avengers in the 1970s and experience their means of transportation first hand.  
 
-The downfall of the issue is the Cobalt Man, alter ego of Ralph Roberts. Ralph suffers an accident while pole-vaulting due to faulty equipment. He suffers a concussion. He next puts on his armor and is supposedly overwhelmed by its powers. Basically, he has the powers of Iron Man but goes on a mindless rampage. Destroying his own lab and creations first. 
 
This was already a  disappointment  for me. I enjoy reading on the complex plots and motivations of villains. "Crazy" is typically indication that a character will be performing pointless destruction and have no plan at all. Never got the point in stories like that. But then Cobalt states his new purpose: the destruction of Tony Stark, Iron Man and Stark Industries. With motivation like that, shouldn't Ralph be appearing in "Tales of Suspense"? Because I can't think of a reason for him to fight the X-Men.  
 
Even worse. The rampaging Cobalt Man is not the major threat of the issue. His armor is the real danger. Threatening to explode with the force of a "cobalt bomb" and destroy Long Island.  Making the Cobalt Man's motivations irrelevant. At this point I'm starting to miss the presence of a more serious villain. Like Stilt-Man/Wilbur Day who actually did manage to manipulate people and events in his first appearance. 
 
As for the Cobalt Bomb concept itself? This was a frequent trope in fiction of the 1950s and 1960s. Inspired by the theories of Leo Szilard (1898-1964) and a couple of actual experiments of the 1950s. Which all failed. To this day there has been no real C-bomb.  The basic idea was that such a bomb would release massive quantities of gamma radiation and decay at a much slower rate than other radioactive isotopes . Thomas isn't being particularly original here. 
 
The issue ends with a bit of a cliffhanger. Ted Roberts has been spending most of his free time in the company of Jean Grey. And hints at recognizing his friend even in the guise of Marvel Girl. An interesting development for her secret identity. But neither Roberts brother would be seen prior to #34 (July, 1967). 

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Other reviews for The X-Men #31 - We Must Destroy... the Cobalt Man!

    "If that's the best you can do -- I'll take it!" 0

    Once again we have what could be a great X-Men issue were it not for the main plot/conflict. As others have noted, the characters moments driving the first half of the issue are great, considering where we are in the development of the X-Universe. Warren finally takes some initiative with the Love Triangle, even though he seems to contradict himself somewhat (at first he wants Jeannie to decide but eventually he just gives her over to Scott and her college buddies - too much competition scares h...

    1 out of 1 found this review helpful.

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