Land of Perpetual Twilight
Subterranea is one of the classic settings for any Marvel tale. It was introduced back in "Fantastic Four" vol. 1 #1 (November, 1961) and has been revisited in many tales of the FF, the Avengers and related characters. With such an often visited setting, the challenge for any creator is to offer an interesting take on it.
Roy Thomas arguably succeeds. The conflicts between Mole Man and Tyrannus are not a new concept. But giant robots fighting each other in combats to the death certainly add to the excitement. With the question of what would the victor of their feud have in mind for the rest of the world. With the River Lethe from Greek mythology being a very real feature of the place. Dan Adkins succeeds in making his Subterrannea a visually interesting "land of perpetual twilight". Where new wonders and dangers seem to always be just around the corner.
The basic story is solid. Much of the charm of the issue,however, is in how the X-Men themselves are depicted. :
- Beast has been the resident intellectual since #3. But so far his depiction mostly consists of giving him an extensive vocabulary and leave it at that. Here we have him trying to rebuilt Cerebro from its broken pieces. Something more in the realm of Marvel's resident scientists and renaissance men like Reed Richards and Hank Pym. A role which suits him and makes him stand out from his team.
- Angel and Cyclops continue struggling to work together. When Scott claims that "Iceman and the Angel can't be of any help", Warren takes offense. With a frustrated Scott responding with "Use your head, man!". A pretty good reminder that these two don't always get along.
- Jean is the one to end the argument here. With a reminder that they don't want to mess with her. "Now, you [Warren] and Bobby have a bite to eat and get some rest--- before I take you over my knee telekinetically!" In other words threatening the two unwanted X-Men with spankings. When assertive, Jean tends to be a memorable character.
- The romance subplot of Jean and Cyclops is further advanced. Jean certainly views her love interest with rose-colored glasses: "Scott's so thoughtful -- so selfless!"
- A cliffhanger from #31 is followed on. Ted Roberts has hinted at Jean and Marvel Girl being the same person. Here he asks for Jean to contact the X-Men for him ... and they appear. She might be reacting to an emergency. But has more or less confirmed his suspicions.
-On a lesser note, the issue introduces another aspect of Jean's college life. Jean has a roommate! Always nice to know the characters have social lives outside the various headquarters and battlefields. This series had a very limited supporting cast at the time.
- Warren and Robert to Jean's call for help with no questions asked. That is loyalty. With having a trio rather than a quinted, the character dynamic changes a bit. Allowing Warren to take the leading role. He is the one whose "automobile know-how" masters the use of their advanced vehicle of the issue. He is the one who charges Harvey while the other two are facing nameless Moloids. He is the one who single-handedly destroys the Super-Cobalt Robot. He is the one leading the charge against Tyrannus. If not for leading his teammates to the River Lethe, I'd say the entire issue is a spotlight for the Angel.
- Cyclops comes off unusually vicious and effective in this issue. When searching for the missing X-Men, Scott knocks out the Mole Man with a single karate chop. Then forces the prisoner to lead them to Tyrannus. When faced with an amnesiac Warren, fanatically loyal to Harvey, Scott takes him out with a single well-placed kick. He is the one to suggest some lethe water as proper punishment for the two captive tyrants. Leaving them behind, amnesiac and pathetic figures.
His visor and blasts for once play little role. Thomas seems to be establishing Scott as a take-charge figure.
The poor aspects of the issue:
-The one flaw of the issue is a continuity mistake. The X-Men act as if being unfamiliar with the Mole Man. Jean's reaction to him is "If he isn't Tyrannus -- then who is he?" Cyclops later comments that he knows of Harvey only through "the Fantastic Four's file" on him. Thomas overlooks "Fantastic Four Annual" #3 (1965), where the X-Men fought the Mole Man and the Moloids for a couple of pages.
- There is another disappointment, for me at least , but it has nothing to do with the issue itself. The narrative ends with something of a promise. Cyclops is left contemplating that Ted Roberts knows the alter egos of the X-Men. "Yet, that can wait -- till after our showdown with Factor Three!" This might have been the original plan for later stories.
In fact, the Ted Roberts subplot is dropped completely. So is that of Jean attending Metro College. Once the "Factor Three" storyline concludes, Jean returns to the status of a full-time X-Man. With no mention of attending college or having to offer an explanation to her parents. This leaves the character with no outstanding subplots and little development for quite a while.
As to the fates of the other characters:
*Mole Man returns in "Fantastic Four" vol. 1 #88 (July, 1969).
*Tyrannus returns in "Incredible Hulk" vol. 2 #127 (May, 1970).
* Cobalt Man/Ralph Roberts and Ted Roberts were next seen in "Incredible Hulk" vol. 2 #173-174 (March - April, 1974). Where Ralph becomes a Hulk-like monster.