Cold War fears
This isn't the greatest issue in terms of action. But Roy Thomas has managed to create a tale inspired by some very real fears of the Cold War era. It renders the issue a period piece, but a pretty good reflection of its time.
It has been almost a year since the introduction of the term "Factor Three". But this is the issue which clarifies its meaning. The organization views itself as a third factor (faction) in international politics, alongside the "First World"/"Western World" and the "Second World"/"Communist World".
Their plot is not the most original. But it was the stuff of nightmares back in the 20th century. They are going to instigate conflict between the two wide alliances. The villains have arranged for the assassinations of leading "Iron-Curtain officials". Events that will be blamed on the United States. At the same time, Factor Three is going to usurp control of American intercontinental ballistic missiles. Missiles that will immediately target the very heart of the rival coalition.
The events are supposed to start World War III, ensuring that humanity will wipe itself out in a nuclear holocaust. Factor Three will supposedly be able to assume control over a ruined planet. Chilling material and decent depictions by Ross Andru. The obvious flaw to the plan is this: what exactly makes certain that Factor Three members will survive such an event? Not adressed here, though Thomas makes it a plot point over the next couple of issues.
Otherwise the issue has a number of good moments:
- The opening of the issue finds the X-Men on board a commercial plane. When the plane is attacked by one of Factor Three's flying saucer-like vehicles, the mutants exit the plane in mid-air to face their foes. Cyclops blasts the saucer, resulting its complete destruction. It is never established if there were pilots on board the vehicle. Cyclops is at first not too pleased to have committed murder.
But then rationalizes it: "They were willing to commit murder dozens of innocent passengers just to get at us -- So, no use wasting too much pity on them!" So no long speeches on how heroes never kill. Just an indication that it can happen in combat. Its not much, but the Silver Age restrictions on the action seem to be fading a bit.
- On the ground, the X-Men seem to be doing surprisingly well in combat with the enemy robots. Until their opponents intentionally guide the X-Men right into a misty location on the Alps. The mist helps conceal sleeping gus. Which knocks out the X-Men in seconds.
A surprisingly effective strategy for the villains. Though Thomas seems to be recycling a scene from #34. In that earlier scene, the Mole Man allowed three X-Men (Jean, Robert, Warren) to chase him around. Leading them right to the River Lethe where the foams incapacitated them. In other case, it allows battles to be determined by strategy and not mere powers.
- The X-Men wake to find themselves on trial, accused of treason against their fellow mutants. With the jury consisting of four-familiar looking agents of Factor Three. Which present their grievances with the team. Issues where heroes are placed on mock-trials by enemies are somewhat overused by now.
But it was a pretty original plot for the X-Men series. Their own past coming to haunt them? Much better than struggling to face the villain of the week. Also providing motivation for their enemies.
- The gathering of villains is quite a blast from the past: Vanisher, Mastermind, Blob and Unus. All classic villains created by Lee and Kirby. Thomas seems to have been doing his homework.
*The Vanisher was definitely a surprise. He was previously a one-shot character from #2 (November, 1963) and was rendered amnesiac. Here he is raging at the X-Men for how they have treated him. I'd guess Telford has a pretty good reason for acting mad.
*This is the eight appearance of Mastermind (More if you count retcons). The surprise is that he was last seen in #11 (May, 1965), turned into a statue by the Stranger. He simply explains that the effect of Stranger's powers faded away after a while.
*This isn't the first time Roy Thomas uses Blob and Unus.He featured them as partners back in #20 (May, 1966). But they had not appeared since then. Blob expresses his frustration at having to hide for so long.
All these are nice touches. Unfortunately the issue has its share of particularly silly moments:
*Warren jumps from a flying plane ... without releasing his wings. Scott has to heroically approach his teammate and "get off his jacket" ... "rip it... and his shirt -- right off his back!" So we have one X-Man making a rather boneheaded move and another heroically undressing him. Insert joke here.
*The X-Men get their proper introduction to the Changeling. Cyclops feels that he has to taunt the villain to learn what his power is. Its one of these moments that you feel the characters could use a good dictionary. : (1) "an infant of a fairy, sprite or troll that the creature has secretly exchanged for a a human infant" (2) "an infant secretly exchanged for another infant" (3) "a fictional creature which can change shape to mimic others", a "shape-shifter".
Take a wild guess. Is the villain a shape-shifter? Is he going to impersonate somebody? The implications seem so obvious.
*All villains seem to be asking for the death of the prisoners. But the Mutant-Master places the X-Men within some kind of mind-control device. Arguing that being mind-controlled slaves would be a "life-in-death". One basic question. Why don's you shoot them already?
Naturally this is another "death trap" which the heroes take seconds to escape from. Since nothing prevents them from using their powers. A couple of panels ago, the Changeling was proclaiming the Mutant-Master to be the greatest Homo-Superior mind of them all. Following this little mistake, you would expect this overrated genius to utter: "D'oh!"