byzantine's The X-Men #38 - The Sinister Shadow of... Doomsday! review

X-Men vs the armies

Roy Thomas continues his Cold War saga with another decent issue. Though the structure of the story seems to resemble that of a typical Justice Society of America tale of the 1940s. In other words, the story requires the team to split and head for different destinations, completing different tasks. Each told in a different chapter.

The second story is more significant. Nominally it is the beginning of Cyclops' first origin story. Actually its a 5-page story on Professor X, with Cyclops having a cameo. But the events of the story set the stage for the foundation of the X-Men. But lets take a closer look.

- The first story starts with the X-Men escaping the abandoned headquarters of Factor Three. just before the self-destruction of said headquarters. Conveniently enough, Mutant-Master had left behind two operational flying saucers. The X-Men hijack them and gain control of two incredibly fast vehicles. Able to travel across the Atlantic Ocean in minutes.

This has to be the silliest part of the issue. Mutant-Master seems to be helping the X-Men, not trying to annihilate them. Why? Go figure.

The story next splits to three distinct subplots:

*In another base of Factor Three, the Mutant-Master and the Changeling have brief conversations. Which set their roles as leader and second-in-command, explore the nature of their working relationship and the thinking process of the Changeling.

- So. The first fact established is that Mutant-Master is immobilized. Requiring Kevin to do much of the leg-work in the organization. Such as the recruitment of agents "from among the X-Men's greatest enemies". But the Master is quick to establish that he could kill his second-in-command with a mere touch of a button.

This doesn't seem to be a particularly healthy relationship. The Mutant-Master is revealed as another petty tyrant, much like Magneto before him. Who was mostly hated by his own team. Not much originality here, I'm afraid.

- The second fact is far more interesting. The Changeling keeps pointing the blunders of his leader. Such as leaving two fully operational vehicles at the hands of the X-Men. he also anticipates one more blunder. The Mutant-Master brakes radio silence to communicate with Blob and the Vanisher. Changeling warns him against this decision, fearing that any message could be intercepted. The Master ignores his good advise. The message promptly intercepted by Cerebro.

The second-in-command is quickly established to have two qualities the Master lacks. Common sense and a capacity for forethought. A few pages later, the Changeling and Professor X are arguing whether the nuclear holocaust would wipe out the mutants along with the rest of humanity. While Kevin defends the infallibility of their plans, his own doubts are starting to surface.

Character exploration at its best. The Changeling already has more depth than most of the villains in Thomas' stories.

- The third fact gives readers a closer look at what makes the Changeling tick. He contemplates the reason "evil" mutants have grown to hate normal humans. "Because of their fear and hostility towards us!" But is increasingly worrying about the despotic behavior of the Master. Wondering if the members of Factor Three exchanged their role as outcasts, for a new role. That of mere slaves.

Thoughts that probably give us our glimpse to the past of the Changeling. And one to his future. They seem to set the stage for him turning against the Master. For once its a villain who has the most character development.

*The second subplot takes up most of the issue. A trio of X-Men (Angel, Iceman, Marvel Girl) arrive at an unidentified location of Eastern Europe. Nearby there is a medieval castle. Within its walls there is an ongoing meeting of top-level military officials of the Eastern Bloc. The castle is heavily guarded. But the Blob and Vanisher have already infiltrated it to place their bomb.

The X-Men have to make their own way inside. The Beast is tasked with distracting the guards. Which is quickly translated to Hank getting to beat up a large number of small fries. Meanwhile, Jean and Warren enter the castle. Getting to fight Frederick and Telford. Which mostly translates to the Blob doing the fighting while the Vanisher acts as a decoration.

The battle ends quickly when the Vanisher attempt to use sleeping gas on the Angel. A flap of two large wings results in the Vanisher breathing his own gas. Jean telekinetically concentrates most of the gas around the head of the Blob. Knocking out her opponent with ease. Porter barely has time to escape. But Jean, Warren and the unconscious Dukes are quickly arrested.

They land in the same cell as the Beast. Their powers can't help them escaping. So they wait for the Blob to wake up and help them escape. But they are conscious of failing to disarm the bomb and aware that the clock is ticking. This subplot ending in a classic cliffhanger.

Plenty on action here, though not much character development. Just a reminder that you need a small army to take down the Beast, and that Jean can easily outmaneuver opponents. Also this little stand has made the X-Men known as "hired assassins" to the Soviet military authorities

*The third subplot takes only a few pages and is mostly a set-up for the next issue. Two other X-Men (Cyclops, Iceman) arrive at an American military base. They attempt to warn its commander that Factor Three is about to take over their missiles. The commander recognizes only the X-Men themselves as threats.

So the guy wants the duo arrested. Resulting in a scene where Scott and Robert attempt to both avoid the bullets of machine guns and destroy as many missiles as they can.

Not much to write about here. But this is the second time the x-Men face the American military authorities, following #23. I'd guess these events help establish their reputation as mutant terrorists.

-- The second story starts dealing with an overlooked element of the series. The title had been ongoing for four years. But the only X-Men having their own origin stories were Professor X (in #12) and the Mimic (in #19). A background for the Angel had been established over various issues. Wealthy parents, childhood friendship with Candy Southern, private school education.

But there were really no background information on the Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Marvel Girl. With plenty of readers requesting origin stories for years. So Roy Thomas decided to start giving origin stories for all four male students. Where they come from, how they met Xavier, when they joined the X-Men. Jean supposedly didn't need an origin story because she had joined the team on panel in #1. She would receive her first origin story in "Bizarre Adventures" #27 (July, 1981).

So the issue starts an ongoing origin story for Cyclops. What do we have here?:

*A teenage Scott Summers briefly looses control of his powers and causes an accident. Potentially lethal to a crowd of passers-by. So he uses a second blast to save their lives. The crowd identifies him as a mutant and turns on him. Forcing him to flee. The events are all recorded on camera, making the news.

Scott only has this walk-on part in the first chapter of his own origin story. Not much established here about him. Except having trouble controlling his powers. Which frankly was not enlightening.

*That scene was part of an ongoing hysteria over the "mutant menace". With similar scenes taking place across the United States. Fred Duncan of the FBI doesn't completely buy the premise. But decides to make it an official business of the office. Starting an investigation on the existence and potential threat of mutants. Making an announcement to the press which is summed up in "the authorities are looking into it".

Thomas here establishes that mutants were a relatively new concept to the Marvel Universe of the 1960s. Or at least to the public at large. With the FBI having no previous files on mutants. A decent enough idea which hasn't been contradicted by later stories. Plenty of mutants were supposedly running around for centuries. But mostly away from the public eye.

* The news reach Charles Xavier. Who has been living as a recluse in the Xavier Mansion for quite some time. He is concerned about mutant-human relations and decides to intervene. His though panels establish something of a timeline for Xavier's activities. He was in Korea when tragedy befell his step-brother (Cain Marko). Since then Charlie has lived a life of self-isolation, alone with his "tormenting thoughts". His Mansion serving as both his "refuge" and "prison".

Thomas is going out of his way to establish Xavier as a tragic figure. But it doesn't quite work. #12 established that Xavier was a healthy young soldier while fighting in the Korean War (1950-1953). The events of the war are by necessity followed by another of Xavier's origin stories. His fateful encounter with Lucifer and loss of his legs, established in #20. Thomas is contradicting one of his own stories. Xavier couldn't have been that inactive.

Apparently later writers, particularly Chris Claremont, realized that contradiction as well. Choosing to more or less discard the idea of a reclusive Xavier. Giving Xavier a rather busy social life between loosing his step-brother and meeting Scott Summers. Lets see, between these two events we have Xavier:

1) Breaking up with Moira Kinross (Uncanny X-Men #389, Excalibur vol. 1 #79)

2) Traveling around the Mediterranean, having his first encounters with Ororo Munroe (Storm) and Amahl Farouk (Shadow King). Established in x-Men vol. 1 #117.

3) Having his first encounters with Magneto, Gabrielle Haller, and Baron Strucker in Israel. (Uncanny X-Men #161). With Haller becoming his lover for a while.

4) First meeting two members of Clan Destine. Helping Grace Destine and Kay Cera/Cuckoo defeat the Synraith in Mexico. (X-Men: Clan Destine #1).

5) Having his first encounter with Lucifer and left crippled for life. (X-Men vol. 1 #20).

6) Having his life rescued by a young Tessa. Better known as Sage. (X-Treme X-Men #44).

7) Being hospitalized in India and romancing nurse Amelia Voight (Uncanny X-Men #309)

8) Having his first encounter with a very young Jean Grey, helping her cope with her powers (Bizarre Adventures #27, X-Men: Wedding Album)

9) Establishing himself as the foremost authority on genetic mutation (Classic X-Men #19)

10) Rebuilding the Xavier Mansion to incorporate technology provided by a time-traveling Cable (Cable #45)

11) Building Cerebro and introducing the deevice to both Moira and Jean (Uncanny X-Men #273)

12) Training Jean in the use of Cerebro and accidentally helping her reach Scott for the first time (Classic X-Men #42).

13) Living with Amelia Voight. Re-establishing contact with Magneto. Introduced to Magneto's students: Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Deciding to get students of his own. (X-Men vol. 2 #-1).

*Xavier flies his private helicopter to Washington, deciding to meet Fred Duncan in person. To do so he must enter a heavily-guarded FBI building. He telepathically arranges for the guard to let him pass and remember nothing. Using similar commands to the rest of the personnel of the building. Until entering the office of Duncan unnoticed.

That has to be one of the most impressive uses of Xavier. And one of his most menacing. Basically no guard can stop him, no mind is safe. When speaking of the "mutant menace", Charlie seems to be a proud example.

*Xavier telepathically incapacitates Fred Duncan and his partner Bill. Forcing the two men to listen to him. He introduces himself as a mutant ... and offers his services. By tracking down mutants across the United States. Pointing that it would be easier for a fellow mutant to approach them, instead of an "outsider" like Duncan. They have to prevent them from feeling "persecuted", less they "band together to become the very menace you fear". Duncan agrees to provide Xavier with information available to the FBI. In exchange, Xavier will keep Duncan informed on his activities.

This is a pretty interesting scene. Duncan was previously a one-shot character from #2. The X-Men's liaison with the FBI. Both Stan Lee and Roy Thomas had previously dismissed the idea of the X-Men working with the authorities. Here it is reintroduced. With more than a hint that this working relationship leads to the formation of the X-Men. This works poorly as an origin story of Scott. But a pretty good one for Charlie.

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    Let's Check the Predicto-Scope, Shall We? 0

    It's located right next to the Plot-Thinner and Suck-o-Matic. Apparently trying to outdo his own inanity, Roy Thomas surpasses the ineffective oblivio-ray with the predicto-scope. Factor Three has been underground too long. Once again Roy Thomas presents us with some potentially good ideas that succumb to horribly inept execution. Leaving aside the farcical presentation of military personnel ("Take no chances! Assume he is alone!"), Thomas can't even keep the motivation of Factor Three straight....

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