It may be hard to imagine now but there once was a time when the X-Men's comic wasn't particularly popular. The reason for this was simple. It wasn't particularly good. That wasn't originally the case when it was in the hands of Lee and Kirby who brought us Magneto, the Blob, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Ka-Zar, the Stranger, the Juggernaut and the Sentinels. But Jack was gone after X-Men #17, February 1966 (only doing layouts after X-Men #11, May 1965) and Stan was gone after X-Men #19, April 1966 (which featured the first appearance of the Mimic). The usually enjoyable Roy Thomas stepped in with art by Werner Roth but the stories featuring (hem) Dominus, (um) the Locust, and (er) El Tigre who became (ack) Kukulcan were uninspired. Which brings us up to December 1966 when that month's issue of the X-Men brought back the Mimic and featured a four panel appearance by a certain friendly neighborhood wall-crawler.
The Mimic (Calvin Rankin) is attacking the X-Men, which may come as a shock to regular readers of this title (assuming there were any regular readers) who remembered that Calvin lost his Mimic powers back in X-Men #19, April 1966 after subjecting himself to his father's machine which he believed was designed to give him his mimicked powers permanently but actually was built to remove his mimic abilities. The Mimic absorbs the powers and abilities of anyone close by, much like the Super-Adaptoid, but loses those powers when he gets too far away from the being he is mimicking. In his previous appearance, he absorbed the powers of the original X-Men: Angel (Warren Worthington III), Beast (Hank McCoy), Cyclops (Scott Summers), Iceman (Bobby Drake), Marvel Girl (Jean Grey) and Professor X (Charles Xavier). Once Calvin was returned to normal, Professor X fiddled with his mind, removing his memory of being the Mimic. So how come he's standing here now, with all the X-Men's powers again, including Angel-wings even though Warren is out of action after getting in the way of Cyclops' eye-blasts while fighting Kukulcan in X-Men #26, November 1966? I assume Roy will eventually tell us.
Using their powers against them, the Mimic systematically picks off the X-Men at their Westchester school. (My favorite moment is when he uses Cyke's optic beams to shatter the base of a statue that then falls on Scott... even though they all appear to be fighting in a completely empty room. Who the heck put that statue in there? And where was it hiding for the first two pages?) Finally, the Mimic has defeated everyone except Marvel Girl (and Professor X who tips us off a bit to what is happening when he says, "Mimic, wait! Don't harm her! Remember, this was merely a test of strength.") Mimic doesn't care. He uses the Prof's own telepathic bolts against Marvel Girl, strikes a triumphant pose with his left fist thrust in the air and gloats, "From now on, nothing and nobody in the world will stop the Mimic!!"
Now Roy and Werner take us back to the time when the X-Men first returned from their battle with Kukulcan. Cyclops, Beast, and Iceman all help carry the stretcher that holds the wounded Angel. (Jean did not join the group against Kukulcan since she is a Freshman at Metro College.) Professor X tells them to take Warren to his study. He wants to examine Warren to see if he'll ever fly again. Scott stays by the closed door, guilt-ridden over accidentally hurting Warren and wondering if he ever dare tell Jean how he feels about her since he wonders "will I ever be able to convince her and myself that subconsciously I didn't want Angel eliminated as a rival?" Finally Charles emerges from the study to announce that Warren will recover but needs complete rest or "he may lose forever his power of flight". He adds that Cerebro, his mutant-detecting device, has received warning of "a new mutant menace, one which may be the greatest we have ever encountered yet it comes at a time when our fighting strength is at its lowest ebb!" So things look bad for the good guys even before the Mimic shows up.
On the campus of Metro College, Jean is gushing over a fellow named Ted Roberts who excels in running, pole vault, diving, and swimming. (Another jock calls him "a real triple-threat man" so maybe the swimming and diving count as one.) Alone with Ted, Jean gets him to open up about his older brother Ralph ("No matter where I go, what I do" says Ted of his brother, "I'm always in his shadow") but he is interrupted by an explosion from the Chemistry Building. Jean and Ted race over there in time to see Calvin Rankin pulled from the building. The explosion, of course, restores Calvin's memories. (This wouldn't be a comic book if it didn't.) Jean takes one look at him and gets this feeling that his Mimic powers are returning, too.
Over in some hidden laboratory, the Puppet Master plans his revenge against the Fantastic Four. He takes a blob of his radioactive clay and sculpts an image of "one whose true name I know not" but whom he knows "is the secret leader of the powerful X-Men"... Professor X! The Puppet Master, prompted by the Mad Thinker, sculpted an image of the Prof in Fantastic Four #28, July 1964 only to have the doll squashed underfoot by the Beast. This time the puppet becomes "charged as if with electricity" and the Puppet Master realizes that the Prof has erected a "psychic shield" since their last encounter. He needs to come up with another plan for his revenge.
Back at the school, the Prof builds a "multi-frequency booster" to attach to Cerebro to better pinpoint the "new mutant menace". He then crosses the Atlantic in his astral body and visits Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. He offers them a spot in the X-Men "against a common threat" but they turn him down because they are now "full-fledged Avengers".
In Midtown Manhattan, Hank McCoy and Bobby Drake are double dating with their respective steadies Vera and Zelda. Just then an alarm bell sounds and a man runs out of a nearby bank announcing, "two armed men just robbed the bank and ran through that alley!" Vera and Zelda run up to the bank to get in on the excitement allowing Hank and Bobby to slip away and become the Beast and Iceman. They hurry into the alley arriving in time to see the two crooks trussed up in webbing and dangling from a wall. Spider-Man hangs from a web about ten feet away and shines his spider-signal on the crooks. It all makes for a great picture..., which is exactly what Spidey, is doing, taking a shot for the Bugle. The Iceman asks him if those are "the two thugs who held up the bank a couple'a minutes ago". "First clue, Sherlock" replies Spidey, "they're not Simon and Garfunkel". The Beast is put off by Spidey's sarcasm and tells Iceman they should depart but Professor X horns in telepathically and tells Hank he "must ask Spider-Man to join the X-Men at once!" Iceman has also received the Prof's message. He can't imagine what Charles wants with Spidey but he asks Spidey to "hold up" anyway. Spidey is already climbing up a wall on his way to the Bugle. "Ol' J. Jonah's frothin' at the mouth for the pix I snapped" he thinks, "and I don't wanna keep him an' his moneybelt waiting". (I assume Spidey is projecting here since there's no way J. Jonah could even know about these pictures... or the robbery for that matter. It all just happened minutes before.) The Beast climbs the wall after him and invites him to "swell the ranks of the X-Men". Spidey turns and faces down the wall to look Hank in the eye as he replies, "Huh? Me, an X-Man? You gotta be kiddin'! Sorry, Charlie, I was just through the whole rush-week bit with the Avengers!" (In Amazing Spider-Man Annual #3, 1966.) "Then you're declining our solicitous proposition?" asks the Beast. "Congrats, boy genius" says Spidey, "The kewpie doll is yours!" The Iceman (who has gotten up to Spidey and Beast's level by creating an ice ladder that he climbs as he creates) can't believe it. "How d'ya like that?" he says, "You'd think we asked 'im to sign up with the Mafia!" "I'll fill you in on the reasons sometime, but just now I'm not in the mood!" says Spidey who finally gets away from this pushy duo by taking to his webs and swinging off. "Now, pardon my back, I'm late for a tarantula convention!" But underneath all the flippancy, Spidey thinks, "It'd be great to team up with a group my own age but fate seems to have meant me to be a loner!" Watching Spidey leave, Iceman says, "I knew we'd get nowhere with that webhead! But why was he shootin' pictures of those hoods?" "Who knows" says the boy genius Beast, "Maybe he moonlights for Candid Camera! We'd better get back to our dates!" And that is the end of Spider-Man's appearance in this issue but let's find out what happens the rest of the way anyway.
The next day, the X-Men head over to Metro College to pick Jean up so she can spend the weekend with them. Cal Rankin sees them arrive, figures they're there because of him, and comes outside to confront them. As the Mimic starts to absorb the X-Men's powers, Professor X invites him to join the group. But meanwhile the Puppet Master, who was using his "scanner" to search Metro College for the Human Torch, stumbles on the meeting. He decides to make a puppet of the Mimic and pit him against the X-Men to see if he would be a good pawn against the Fantastic Four. By the time they get back to the school (where we find out that Jean has redesigned the X-Men uniforms though they look the same to me and that Scott has resigned as deputy leader with Charles putting the Mimic in his place), the Puppet Master has made his Mimic doll and sics Cal on the others... which is what we saw at the beginning of the issue. After seeing his pawn defeat the X-Men, the Puppet Master sends him out in search of the FF.
But it turns out that the Mimic easily won the fight because the Prof was mentally holding the X-Men back. He did this because he sensed the Puppet Master's presence and wanted to catch him off-guard. He also mentally locates the Puppet Master's hideout. The X-Men head there in their helicopter. The Mimic follows close behind since he knows he must stay near the X-Men or lose their powers. The Prof stays behind with Angel but Warren gets into his costume and insists on following even though he is too weak to fly. He follows in his red Mustang convertible.
The X-Men arrive at Puppet Master's headquarters hidden within a country viaduct but an alarm notifies PM of their presence. He sends the Defender, a huge android puppet he designed after working with the Mad Thinker, out to meet them. ("It's some sort of incredible android!" says Cyclops. "I didn't think it was Ringo Starr!" says Iceman.) Cyclops fires his optic blast at the Defender but it absorbs it "like some kind of super-sponge" and fires it back at them. Beast and Marvel Girl can't budge him and he just assimilates Iceman's ice into his body and fires snowballs back at them. Finally Cyclops blasts a hole in the floor beneath the Defender and sends him tumbling down to the level below. The group reaches the Puppet Master but he holds his Mimic puppet aloft as the Mimic does his bidding and advances on the X-Men. Puppet Master orders Cal to kill them but he resists. While this stalemate takes place, the Angel, fighting to keep from passing out, sneaks in, creeps up behind PM and hurtles forward, grabbing and crumpling the Mimic doll.
Warren collapses with the broken Mimic puppet in his hand. The Puppet Master runs off. The Mimic feels "as if I'm awakening from a dream, a nightmare that almost turned me into a murderer". As Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, and Marvel Girl hover over Angel, the Mimic goes into full pout, wondering if he's "sentenced forever to live only in the shadow of other men's powers, other men's abilities". His mope continues: "Nothing is truly mine! Is there any true home on Earth, in the Universe for the being that men call the Mimic??"
I don't know the answer to the Mimic's question but I do know he sticks around through X-Men #29, February 1967 during which he battles the Super- Adaptoid, pitting X-Men powers versus Avengers powers. By the end of the issue, he has lost his powers but has learned that he "was a self-centered glory- hungry fool who didn't deserve such power" and who finally realizes "the true value to the emotion called friendship". (Is friendship an emotion?) Which would have been a great place to leave the Mimic except his powers return in Incredible Hulk #161, March 1973 where he sacrifices his life by absorbing gamma radiation from ol' greenskin. And that would have been a great place to leave the Mimic except he turns up alive in Marvel Comics Presents #54, 1990 pretty much ruining everything and making me lose all interest in him. Don't ask me what happens to him after that. Go check out an X-Men site.
The Puppet Master returns in Tales to Astonish #100, February 1968 but his Defender android is never seen again. Still stuck in the basement, I guess.
By the way, the Puppet Master began as short, slim, and marionette-like when drawn by Jack Kirby in Fantastic Four #8, November 1962. Jack continued drawing him that way in FF #28, July 1964 and Fantastic Four Annual #3, 1965. Dick Ayers kept him slim but made him taller in his Strange Tales stories (ST #116, January 1964 and ST #126, November 1964). When Bob Powell draws him in ST #133, June 1965, he fattens him up a little bit. But it takes Gene Colan in Tales to Astonish #78, April 1966 to transform him into a full-sized, non-doll-like, overweight type. He keeps this appearance through a number of issues (including this issue of the X-Men) and over a number of years until Kirby gets his hands on him again in Fantastic Four #100, July 1970 and makes him small, slight and doll-like again. In Puppet Master's subsequent appearance (in Marvel Team-Up #5, November 1972, Gil Kane continues Jack's smaller, slighter look. The Puppet Master has looked much like this ever since.
Ted Roberts' older brother Ralph becomes the Cobalt Man in X-Men #31, April 1967 further evidence that every family in the Marvel Universe must have a super-powered member or two. Or three.
And what about that mutant menace the Professor has detected? Well, that seems to have something to do with Factor Three, a bunch of losers we're going to be forced to deal with in X-Men #35, August 1967 because it guest-stars our own Amazing Spider-Man which also happens to be the next time the wall-crawler encounters the X-Men.
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
I've never been much of an X-Men fan. I enjoy the early Lee-Kirby issues and I was hooked for a while on the early Claremont-Byrne issues but lost interest after the death of Phoenix in X-Men #137, September 1980. For the life of me, I can't fathom their continued popularity after that point. The idea of applying bigotry to a segment of the super-hero population to parallel and comment on the prejudice in our own society is compelling, I suppose, but it only takes you so far, doesn't it? Other than that... give me the Avengers, the Defenders or the Fantastic Four any day over the X-Men. I find those characters and situations much more interesting. So, maybe I'm not the best judge of how good an issue of the X-Men this is. I can tell you it comes in the midst of a run of real clunkers and it reads better than those Locust, El Tigre, Warlock (not that Warlock, and not that Warlock but the other crummy Warlock), Cobalt Man, and Tyrannus issues. But the story still sort of sits there and Werner Roth's artwork still sort of lays there and I can't see any reason to give it more than one and a half webs.
Next: 1967! And ASM #44!