I believe I’ve already said that I’m not much of an X-Men fan. And I believe I’ve already said that the post Lee-Kirby and pre-Claremont-Byrne X-Men are particularly miserable issues. Nevertheless, we must force ourselves to look at another one because everyone’s favorite wall-crawler is featured. The last time (in Uncanny X-Men #27 (Vol. 1), December 1966), we only got four panels of Spidey. This time we get considerably more. But will that make the issue any better?
Banshee has spent weeks searching “the mountains and valleys of Central Europe for the sinister group known as Factor Three” and now feels he is “near its secret sanctuary.” Okay, so who is the Banshee and what is Factor Three? Well, Banshee is Sean Cassidy, an Irish mutant who ends up becoming a member of the new X-Men in Giant-Size X-Men #1, 1975 but we don’t have to worry about that now because this is only his second appearance. His first was X-Men #28, January 1967 in which he does the bidding of the Ogre in the service of Factor Three. They attempt to kidnap Professor X but the X-Men thwart them. In a subsequent battle, Professor X uses a mental bolt on Banshee’s headband. Banshee explains that “through this headband, the Ogre actually dominated me and if I hadn’t done my part, he could have killed me by remote control.” Banshee goes on to tell the X-Men that “Factor Three is the most dangerous secret organization on the Earth! It has the means to conquer the world or even to destroy it!” In X-Men #32, May 1967, Factor Three rouse Juggernaut from a coma and instruct him to join them at their “secret base in Europe.” However, in X-Men #33, June 1967, the X-Men defeat Juggy before he can leave the country. When they return to their Westchester mansion, the X-Men discover that Factor Three used Juggy as a distraction allowing them to kidnap Professor X who is now in a coma of his own. (Whew! Aren’t you glad we’re dealing with Spider-Man in detail rather than the X-Men?)
Let’s get back to our story. Banshee flies over the little Alpine village, bearded farmer, and cattle that seem to be what all of Central Europe is composed of on Marvel Earth. He uses his ultrasonic scream to discover a mountain is hollow. A mechanical spider emerges from the mountain and attacks Banshee with a paralyzing ray. Banshee escapes to his rented chalet where he radios the X-Men to “beware the spider” (you can see where this is heading, can’t you?) before passing out. Banshee is picked up by Agents 10 and 14 of Factor Three who transport him by “gravo-disk” to the mountain, declaring their intent to “report to the Master.” Soon after, they contact a man at a control panel who decides to send “one of my reconnaissance-units to America to see how much the Banshee managed to tell the X-Men.” (All of this sure seems to mean that the figure behind the console is the Master. But he’s not.)
Back in the USA, Peter Parker has decided to take a motorcycle ride out to Westchester County. (Roy knows what a ridiculous coincidence this is so he has Peter say, “Y’know it’s funny how I just hopped on my cycle and ended up here in Westchester County! It’s almost like fate was pulling me here, for some mysterious reason I can’t even imagine! Aw, come off it, Parker! You just got lost, don’t make a big thing of it!” That should take care of that. He also has Peter refer to his “last run-in with the Kingpin,” which was our last run-in in FTB, too.) Spying an abandoned mill beside a stream, Peter decides to explore. Just then, an egg-shaped object flies in for a landing. Peter changes into his Spidey duds just in time to see the egg open up and the mechanical spider emerge from it. The robot attacks Spidey with its paralyzer ray. Evading the attack, the web-slinger declares, “I’m gonna take it apart and see what makes it tick!”
Back at the X-Mansion, the mutant-detecting machine Cerebro emits an alarm. The X-Men are surprised since, as Iceman says, “It’s only monitoring the surrounding area!” Angel pinpoints the mutant to “Sector M-2” and Beast announces that “Our potential antagonist must be near the old Hawkes Mill.” The X-Men head out to investigate but Cyclops orders Marvel Girl to stay behind. (As I recall, this happened a lot in the Silver Age.)
Meanwhile, Spidey lures the robot into the mill. There, he jumps on it, grabs its neck and forces it down so that it ray-blasts itself which makes “the mechanisms inside it go wild.” The robot explodes and disintegrates, knocking Spidey out. When he regains consciousness, he notices that the egg-shaped craft is gone and the X-Men have arrived on the scene. Beast tells the group, “Isn’t it apparent…that he’s the spider of whom the Banshee warned?” Convinced Hank is right, Angel tries to grab the web-slinger. Spidey eludes him and snags his wings with his webbing. “That’ll teach you to fool around with a guy who’s tangled with the Vulture!” he says as he yanks Angel down into the stream. Iceman tosses some ice cubes at Spidey but Beast waves him off and takes over the attack himself, climbing the mill wall after the web-spinner. (Don’t you love the way the X-Men take turns attacking Spidey instead of nailing him all at once?) This attack ends with Spidey kicking him from behind in the behind. Angel catches the Beast as Iceman takes his turn, trying to sneak up on Spidey. He’s amazed that the web-slinger spots him sneaking up because he doesn’t know about the spider-sense. Of course, the fact that he’s “sneaking up” by riding on a big ice slide while carrying an ice lance might have something to do with it, too. After Spidey avoids Iceman, Cyclops thinks about using his optic blast but decides not to because he knows the rule is that the X-Men must attack one at a time. No, actually he decides to try to reason with the wall-crawler.
Back at the mansion, Jean is cooling her heels, wondering if her teammates are all right. “I’ve had no word from them since they left,” she thinks, “not even on their signal watches.” (For when they hang out with Jimmy Olsen?) She is concerned that “Cerebro suddenly went blank” right after they left. Then she happens to notice “a special note…among the Professor’s files on Factor Three.” “He must have meant to tell us about it but was captured before he had a chance,” she says. (Ow! Ow! The coincidences are killing me!) Professor X says, in the note, that he “put a special crystal in the headband of the Banshee” which will allow the X-Men to contact him “simply by adjusting Cerebro to a different frequency.” Jean changes the frequency but Banshee doesn’t answer since he is “strangely quiet and unmoving.”
Back at the mill, Spidey gets snippy when Cyclops tries to find out what he’s doing there. Finally, the X-Men decide to attack as a group. Spidey web-swings into the mill. Beast dives and grabs him around the waist but Spidey slugs him on the top of the head with a “Bok!” Iceman encases Spidey’s legs in an ice block but Spidey web-swings into a wall, shattering the ice and repelling Iceman. Angel flies in a window to confront the web-head as Cyclops cuts loose with an eye-blast that cuts Spidey’s webbing. Unable to stop his momentum, Spidey swings out the window and lands in the stream. Before he resurfaces, Cyclops receives a message from Jean on his, ahem, signal watch, informing him that “Cerebro stopped recording the presence of an evil mutant just after we left.” (So, if Jean was always able to contact Scott using the signal watch and if she knew from the moment they left that Cerebro stopped registering the mutant…as we learned several pages back…then why didn’t she contact Scott right away? I mean, besides the fact that there wouldn’t be a fight scene with Spidey.) When the web-head returns, one of the X-Men tells him, “The fight’s over! You’re not the spider menace we’re looking for, after all!” (I can’t tell you which X-Man says this since it is only a word balloon pointing off panel. Oh, and it actually says “Your’e not the menace” but I thought I’d clean up the typo.) When Spidey hears of the “spider menace,” he replies, “you must mean the eight-tentacled robot I fought earlier until it exploded.” Iceman thinks Spidey is lying but Cyclops thinks “his story fills a lot of gaps” adding, “assuming that a mutant-built robot could affect Cerebro just like an actual mutant!” (Can we hold it right there? How many of you actually believe Cerebro is going to detect a robot because it was mutant-built? I don’t see any hands raised. And let me add this thought balloon from Beast a couple of pages back, “Spider-Man doesn’t act like an evil mutant…still if he isn’t then why did Cerebro send us to this exact spot?” So, it sounds like Cerebro can not only detect something “mutant-built” but also can tell an evil mutant from a good mutant… or at least the Beast thinks it can. But, then again, as we’ll learn in X-Men #39, December 1967, the robot isn’t mutant-built but alien-built. So, what’s up with all this? Sounds like Cerebro’s capabilities are as nebulous as Spidey’s spider-sense. Or maybe just this story is.)
The X-Men apologize to Spidey for attacking him. When Beast starts to explain, Spidey says, “Don’t worry, I get the picture! You’re a bunch of full-time nuts!” The X-Men depart, driving off in the Professor’s Rolls Royce. “Now I’ve seen it all!” Spidey thinks, “Those kookie mutants pick a fight with me because of some robot and then ride off into the sunset in a Rolls Royce while I stand here, soaked, with the beginnings of a Summer cold! Some super-heroes have all the luck!”
That’s it for Spidey but let’s finish up the issue anyway. The four X-Men return to the mansion to discover that Jean has pinned down Banshee’s location. She has managed this because, apparently, the crystal in Banshee’s headband can be traced by Cerebro even though the Professor’s note only says, “it would enable us to contact him at any time.” (See two paragraphs back for the nebulous capabilities of Cerebro. Or of the story.) She tells the group that Banshee is in a Central European mountain range. The gang gets ready to travel there. Scott tells Jean he’d feel better if she didn’t come along but that he can’t order her to stay. Jean tells him she is coming along but she thinks, “I’ll never forget, my darling, how you wanted to shield me, to protect me from harm! And I’ll always love you for it, no matter what!”
Unfortunately, the X-Men’s visit to central Europe isn’t as easy as that, as the oversized “Next Issue” panel reveals, stating “the super-powered X-Men get to Europe the hard way when they face the menace called…Mekano!” Fortunately, we don’t have to have anything to do with that issue. (Yes, the issue is as bad as it sounds.)
I don’t usually delve into the letter pages of the non-Spidey issues but I have to mention that longtime comic & TV writer Mark Evanier has a terrific letter here writing about the Juggernaut appearance in X-Men #32 using the poetic meter of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” Worth checking out.
Trust me, the rest of the Factor Three story is not worth caring about but in case you do…the X-Men finally get to Europe in X-Men #37, October 1967. Now, the mysterious figure at the console who appeared to be the Master in this issue is referred to as “Number Two.” (I know, I know, “Who does Number Two work for?” I’ve seen Austin Powers, too.) It doesn’t really look like the same figure and maybe it wasn’t initially but it has since been established that it is. (I think Roy changed his mind on this “Master” being the Master from #35 to #37 but that’s just a guess.) Factor Three knocks the X-Men’s plane out of the sky but the mutants survive. (The X-Men were traveling in a commercial aircraft so what about the rest of the passengers? Who knows?) Factor Three captures the mutants and their old foes the Vanisher, Unus, the Blob and Mastermind reveal themselves as part of the evil organization. Number Two is revealed as a character called the Changeling who shows them that Factor Three is holding both Banshee and Professor X prisoner. The true master is revealed as the Mutant Master, who tells them that he is arranging a nuclear war between the USA and the USSR so that mutants can take over the world. (He tells them that his group is called Factor Three because they are “the third factor between East and West.”) In X-Men #38, November 1967, the X-Men escape and try to thwart the plan but they don’t do this until X-Men #39. Eventually, the Changeling, suspicious of his boss all along, figures out that even mutants wouldn’t be able to survive in a world ravaged with radiation and helps the X-Men discover that the Mutant Master is actually a green and tentacled blob; an alien from Sirius. Defeated, the Mutant Master declares that “a Sirian may know destruction but never capture,” and commits suicide “by his own destruct-button.” So much for Factor Three. Well, sort of. There’s some sort of semi-Factor Three business that goes on later on in Thunderbolts but we’re not going to worry about that. By the way, Professor X is killed in X-Men #42, March 1968. He stays dead for two years until Marvel decides they need him again whereupon they devise a story in which Professor X returns (in X-Men #65, February 1970) and reveals that the Changeling was called upon to impersonate him while he was undertaking a secret mission and that it was the Changeling who died in his place. The Prof’s mission involves an attack by the alien Z’Nox which Spidey eventually encounters as well (in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 2) #22-24, September-December 2000) but, then again, Spidey has encountered pretty much everybody, hasn’t he? One more thing. Agents 10 and 14 turn out to be no one in particular. Okay, actually they’re androids but they turn out to be no androids in particular.
Let me say one more time that I’m not much of an X-Men fan, especially when someone other than Lee-Kirby or Claremont-Byrne is guiding them. So, maybe I’m being a bit harsh. But, really. This story is slow getting started, then relies on coincidences that seemed stretched even for a comic book. The robots are spider-shaped for no other reason than that the plot requires that the X-Men mistake Spidey for the enemy mentioned by the Banshee. (Though, to be fair, the Mutant Master does turn out to be a tentacled blob and Spidey does refer to the spider-robot as an “eight-tentacled robot” so I suppose we can assume that the robots were made in the shape of their creator. At least Roy was trying.) The robots trigger Cerebro’s mutant sensor for no other reason than that the plot requires it. The X-Men take Spidey on one at a time rather than as a group to extend the battle, I suspect, but the whole thing proves to be a pretty tedious fight. Werner Roth’s artwork is standard and uninspired. Nothing about it stands out. Even Dan Adkins’ exciting cover annoys me. I love the way Spidey is swooping in, his back to us, motion lines emphasizing his speed, while Cyclops seems to recoil from the attack but what is Marvel Girl doing there? She stays home. Remember? How she’ll always love Scott “no matter what” for grounding her? I know it’s artistic license but still… it bugs me just enough that it nullifies any points the issue might get from the cover.
One measly web. Thank goodness, we don’t have to deal with the X-Men again until Uncanny X-Men (Vol. 1) #75, December 1970 and then it will be short and sweet since it’s a reprint of Uncanny X-Men #27 (Vol. 1)
And speaking of reprints, we’ll look at Marvel Tales #10 next.