Decent but far from great.
Roy Thomas has written hundreds of stories involving magic and magic users in titles such as "Conan the Barbarian", "Red Sonja", "the Defenders", "Brother Voodoo" and "Ghost Rider". The story of this issue is among his very early efforts on the subject. This ought to be exciting. Unfortunately, what we get is a decent story with some fancy ideas. But a rather clumsy execution.
- The Juggernaut is further established as a powerhouse. The X-Men have notified the National Guard of the United States on this threat. So the issue opens with two guardsmen firing a bazooka at Cain. An anti-tank weapon. The resulting explosion fails to penetrate the force field of Cain.
He retaliates by smashing the ground with his fists. Causing enough shock-waves to simulate an earthquake, causing the nearby side of a mountain to collapse. The guardsmen flee in haste as "countless tons of massive boulders come cascading down". Later Iceman laments: "What ever happened to the weak villains ... like Magneto and the Sentinels?"
The original depiction of Cain by Lee and Kirby was rather unexciting and had trouble knocking out opponents. Roy Thomas reinvents him as a Hulk-like figure who could probably destroy armies. Guess which one is preferable.
- Jean uses the Mental-Wave amplifier to telepathically communicate with the comatose Xavier and get information on their situation. The Amplifier has been only used once before, in #20 (May, 1966) and its nice that Thomas remembered it.
Xavier was mentioned in the previous issue to have done some serious studying of Cyttorak. So Jean gets information on the history of Cyttorak's temple in Korea. We also get a flashback to a battle there, centuries ago, between the Ancient One and the guardian Xorak.
Thomas uses past tales to provide references on his newer narratives. Comics continuity at its best. And a decent introduction for the Ancient One.
- The "highly trained" and "disciplined" X-Men manage to master the secrets of the various devices in the secret lab of Xavier. Managing to use the devices to create a life-support system for their mentor.
A small scene which points to the students of Xavier being familiar with advanced technology. We have learned before that Xavier's training includes college-level studies. But never in which field. This issue would suggest that applied mechanics were included.
-Doctor Strange offers to teleport two X-Men to Korea. Cyclops naturally is one of them. He has to choose a partner while his entire team volunteers. He chooses Jean. Though unsure himself if he is counting on her telekinetic power. Or if he is simply looks for the company of the woman he loves. Meanwhile, Jean is happy and vows to herself to not "let him down".
Thomas advances the subplot of these two as a couple. And gives them some very human moments where priorities and emotions are tangled.
-Strange uses a spell to transfer knowledge of an incantation directly to the minds of Scott and Jean. A pretty impressive use of his magic. Followed a few pages later by the two X-Men using magic for the first time: "By dread Dormammu's deadly twin [Umar]... by Hoggoth's hoary strands ... let these two descend within ... the Ruby of Crimson Bands.
Nice use of magic and a continuity nod to Umar having replaced Dormammu as a mystic entity at the time.
-In Korea, Scott and Jean find out that the Temple of Cyttorak is right next to the borders within North and South Korea. And they are about to meet a patrol of the North Korean army. But Jean uses her powers to cause a landslide, resulting in the soldiers fleeing for their lives.
A nice reminder of how powerful Miss Grey is. With even Scott realizing that he picked the right X-Man for the job.
- Jean is mesmerized by the Ruby of Cyttorak and almost touches it. Scott prevents her from becoming another Juggernaut. The seductive power of magical items was to become a major theme in later Marvel stories. This is a pretty good introduction.
- Neither X-Man is a match for Xorak. But they find out a secret of the Crimson Cosmos. It exists outside time. Their presence there and that of their wrist watches reintroduces the flow of time. Causing Xorak to rapidly age to oblivion. This is a classic fate for immortal magic users who lose their powers. Thomas would go on to use it frequently in Conan tales and fits rather nice here.
-The fate of the Juggernaut is reminiscent of a classic Conan tale by Robert E, Howard. He is tricked into touching the prototype of the Crimson Gem and is drawm to the Crimson Cosmos. Remaining powerful but in a world where only he exists.
The finale is so reminiscent of "The Tower of the Elephant" (1933) where the sorcerer Yara is tricked into touching a mystic ruby and is absorbed by it. In a world where his powers can not help it. Nice touch.
- Factor Three has used the entire battle with the Juggernaut as a diversion. Breaking into the damaged Xavier Mansion and easily abducting the comatose Charles. The implication being that they needed him alive for some reason.
A unusually effective bit of strategy from the villains of the title. The X-Men seem rather boneheaded for leaving Charlie unsupervised.
- What exactly is the motivation of the Ancient One in this flashback? He visits the temple of Cyttorak to study the Crimson Gem. But he mentions two things. First, whoever touches the Gem becomes a "Living Juggernaut". Second, many have sought this Gem. But none returned with it.
We soon learn that Xorak has been entrusted with the safety of the Gem. He kills the various seekers of the mystical artifact and is single-handedly responsible for the lack of avatars of Cyttorak on Earth. So, the Ancient One banishes Xorak to another dimension (the Crimson Cosmos) and leaves the Gem unguarded. Fair game for whoever reaches it.
In other words, the Ancient One set the situation to allow the creation of Juggernauts. What for? Did he wished to become one, employ one or something? No explanation.
- Xorak himself plays an important part of the issue and is supposedly a horrifying figure. What we get is an unimpressive-looking monster that would be right at home with silly creations of Jack Kirby from the late 1950s and early 1960s.
- Three Cerebro-related bloopers in a single scene. Astonishing! First of all. What Cerebro? In #32, the device was "smashed--beyond repair". Here it appears toppled over but intact. The X-men simply lift it up and put it to work.
Second, Cerebro has been specifically designed to locate mutants. Though it has also located mutant-like signatures from people like the Stranger and El Tigre. Here it is used for a global search for the Ancient One. Who is not a mutant and has never met the X-Men. They only know what he looked like in his youth.
Third, Doctor Strange, who has absorbed the essence and memories of his mentor, turns up. Wanting to know why Cerebro summoned him. Last I checked Cerebro is not a communication device. How it managed to summon Strange from Stonehenge is never explained.
- The X-Men act as if never having met Strange before. Or even heard of him. Which isn't exactly correct. They attended the same wedding event and participated in the same battle back in "Fantastic Four Annual" #3 (1965). Roy Thomas for once has overlooked an old story.
- Angel, Beast and Iceman spend much of the issue attempting to delay the Juggernaut from stealing an airplane. It is more than clear than Hank and Warren are useless in this situation. With Robert able to delay Cain for a couple of minutes at most. Their scenes are pretty much a waste of space. Completely irrelevant.
In a moment of outstanding stupidity the trio throw the helicopter of the X-Men at the Juggernaut. Destroying the vehicle, not their foe. Leaving the X-Men with the jet as their sole means of transportation by the end of the issue. This will play a part in the subplots of later issues.
But riddle me this, what was that move supposed to accomplish? Which part of Cain being invulnerable didn't they get.
-Thomas seems to be under the impression that Cyclops need to establish himself as leader. So part of his scenes with Jean include him giving orders to her. Which wouldn't be a problem if their content actually made sense.
But lines such as "Quickly, Jean --- your telekinetic powers!" and "Now --- with all your might --- send them back towards the Outcast" are painfully bad. Jean knows what she can do. The reminders are useless. So are the powers of Mr. Summers for most of the issue. What was the purpose of bringing him along again?
Juggernaut is written out for a while. He would next be seen in #46 (July, 1968).