X-Men #150 “I, Magneto...”
Decades ago, comics were sold in grocery stores, three comics to a bag, with the middle comic being a mystery. One day I used my paper route money to buy one of these bags, and inside it was X-Men #148.
I hadn’t tried to actively collect a comic since Firestorm had been canceled years before, in the great DC implosion of the ’70s. But that issue of X-Men? I was sold. I knew a little about the characters from an old reprint, but most of these guys were utterly new to me. Of the new guys, Wolverine and Nightcrawler were the two coolest characters I had ever seen, and they were hardly in it.
Things only got better with issue #149; by then, I was convinced this was the greatest comic ever made. I think I caught X-Men at a good time, where the stories were for the most part one or two issues in length, and there was a minimum of the angst that would later plague the series. X-Men at this time was mature but fun, with what I think is the most iconic line up: Colossus, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Storm, Wolverine, and
Sprite Ariel Shadowcat Kitty Pryde. Speaking of Kitty, she was about my age at the time, so I found myself identifying with her a bit, which I can’t help but think was what John Byrne and Chris Claremont had in mind when they created her a couple of years earlier, to provide readers with a point of view character who young readers could latch onto.
So issues #148 and #149 were good, and they were entertaining. But #150 was on a whole different level. Before we jump in, allow me to provide a touch of exposition. Jean Grey had died in issue #137, and Scott Summers had quit the team. Angel rejoined and had become team leader… and quit in issue #148, because he thought Wolverine was nuts, which just added to the guy’s mystique. Storm was made leader then and she and Kitty went out on the town with Spider-Woman to see Dazzler perform. They ran into a mutant named Caliban (his first appearance, by the way), while elsewhere Scott Summers AKA Cyclops washed up on a beach with a woman named Lee Forrester, a ship captain. Scott didn’t have his glasses, so he had to be blindfolded. The pair then met the island’s owner: Magneto. Oh, and Wolverine and Nightcrawler played hide and seek. Winner owes the other beer. Guess who won.
Issue #149 had Professor X send the X-Men off to check out Magneto’s old volcano base, because if Mags isn’t chillin’ in an asteroid in low orbit, he’s got himself a volcano, or an island he’s dragged up from the bottom of the ocean. That’s just how the Master of Magnetism rolls. Kitty stowed away on the X-Men’s jet and the gang found out somebody moved in after Mags left. It was a guy named Garrok who was sort of, kind of a mess, and it was the X-Men’s fault. He tussled with the team and wound up taking a tumble down a bottomless pit. Meanwhile, Scott and Lee got outfitted in some swanky new duds and Magneto told Cyclops that, oh, by the way, I know who you are and you can remove the blindfold because your powers don’t work on my island.
This brings us to issue #150, where Magneto is monologuing like a boss to the world’s leaders via hologram.
As we get shots of all the world leaders, Doctor Doom is notable by his absence; guess he doesn’t rate in Magneto’s book. Harsh. Mags lays down the law, saying mutants have been hunted like animals and it’s going to stop now, and he’s demanding full nuclear disarmament, or else. Mags signs off and Scott and Lee confront the man himself, who basically says the world is already messed up with starvation, poverty, and disease, so without a military budget to worry about, maybe the world superpowers can fix that stuff.
Lee points out there’s this thing called “freedom”, and Mags pretty much says it’s overrated. He then asks Scott who Lee is, and what happened to Jean Grey, and Summers recaps X-Men #137 in a couple of panels. Mags says he’s sorry and Scott calls him a hypocrite, but the Master of Magnetism says his whole family was wiped out in his homeland so Scott can kindly shove it. Before Scott can stick his other foot in his mouth, somebody launches missiles at the island. But Mags easily handles the missiles, sending them back into the sea. Then he deals with the Soviet sub that sent the nukes.
Yeah, Mags ain’t about half-measures. But wait, he’s not done! It turns out his threats to the heads of state wasn’t a bluff, and he can create volcanoes on command. The Soviet city of Varykino gets wiped out, but Magneto makes sure the destruction is slow enough so that everybody gets out alive. Yeah, sure. I’m willing to accept guys with laser beam vision and spider powers, but the idea that a whole city can be evacuated without casualties? Nope, not buying it.
Later, Lee and Scott have a quiet moment where Scott treats Lee like an adult and admits things look bad, and he’s going to have to fight Magneto somehow, because that’s who he is and what he does. The pair kiss, while overhead a familiar looking jet, a modified SR-71 Blackbird, starts flying erratically. It’s the X-Men and they’ve been caught in a super-charged magnetic field that’s messing with their controls.
Wolverine had been up getting himself a sandwich, and now he’s bouncing all around the cockpit. His adamantium-laced skull connects with Storm’s, knocking her unconscious. And Storm is the only person who can save them. Fortunately for the gang, Kitty’s terror ramps her voice up to a level of annoying no adult could sleep through.
Storm gets it in gear and commands the winds to lift the jet. Is it enough?
Nearby on a ship called the Dejah Thoris II (which makes me wonder now what happened to Dejah Thoris I), Professor X along with super-astronaut and big brain Peter Corbeau, scientist and former Prof. X love interest Moira McTaggart, and Carol Danvers, sans powers, are out looking for Scott, so the X-Men being in the area was not a coincidence. Charles has lost his psychic connection with the X-Men, and he’s more than a little concerned. But hey, it’s okay, because it turns out the jet made a soft landing on the ocean floor and the gang has breathing gear in the survival kits. Or, I should say “kit”, since one of them was wrecked. That means Colossus goes without. But as long as he’s in armored form, he doesn’t need to breathe, so he should be alr—
Elsewhere, it appears Scott and Lee had some alone time, if you get my meaning. Scott’s sleeping like he doesn’t have a care in the world, and considering his uber high-stress lifestyle, this whole thing probably feels like a vacation to him. But Lee’s too worried to catch some Zs, and she’s thinking about all the info Scott laid out to her about himself and the X-Men. She’s decided Scott won’t be fighting Magneto alone, and I really like this character. Lee’s written like a normal person, full of fears and insecurities facing a madman with god-like abilities, but she also takes inspiration from Scott’s example and resolves to match his courage as best she can.
Her thoughts are interrupted by something on the dock. She goes down to investigate and a hand yanks her into the water. It’s Wolverine, and he threatens to kill her if she makes a sound, and she realizes he means it. The X-Men have arrived and they’ve got Colossus in tow. Kitty explains she got first aid training in camp, and she and Wolverine manage to give Colossus CPR and bring him back to life. Logan then catches a scent and heads off to track it down, only to almost get ambushed by Cyclops. The gang is happy to see Scott is alive, and he explains why his mutant powers don’t work, which is also why Logan’s senses are dulled and Colossus turned back to normal. He also tells them who’s behind it all.
And suddenly, X-Men becomes an episode of Mission: Impossible (or Leverage, for the younger crowd). Honestly, at the time this blew my young mind away. The gang knew they couldn’t beat Magneto without their powers, but they had a chance of screwing up his plan. It’s possible to save the day without violence? No way! The team breaks up into two groups. The boys are going downstairs to wreck Magneto’s volcano making machine, while the ladies head up to find the computers and mess with them. Storm picks the locks and gets inside, but Kitty sees the manuals are in a different language and probably in code; she’s smart, but she’s not a multilingual super genius. Storm leaves the pair to go look around, and she finds Magneto sleeping. And helpless…
Downstairs, the guys find out they can’t shut off the volcano machine, so they’ll have to wreck it. Nightcrawler and Wolverine head out over a yawning chasm along one of the horizontal struts and Logan proceeds to start slashing away at the vertical struts. The problem is, the sabotage starts to make the machine shudder and shake, and it bucks him off. But Kurt ‘n Pete are on the case.
Upstairs, Storm grabs a knife and seriously contemplates killing Magneto in his sleep. Again, as a kid, this blew my mind. Okay, Wolverine was a borderline psycho and that made him cool. But here was a straight-laced, true-blue heroic type contemplating murder. Storm knows Magneto has already killed people and she’s gotta do it… but she can’t. Because good people don’t murder other people in their sleep. It’s a great little scene showing moral conflict, and how different Storm and Wolverine are. But Storm’s hesitation costs her, as Magneto wakes up.
I love how his costume flows onto his body; that’s just cool. Mags realizes Storm isn’t alone, and he also knows the X-Men don’t have their powers. But before he can do anything about it, Professor X mind-blasts him. The pair square off mentally, and while Mags doesn’t have mental powers, his will is second to none. But he knows he can’t beat Chuck, so he uses his magnetic powers to unscrew the Prof’s metal fishing chair and whisk him away to the island.
Elsewhere, the boys manage to wreck the volcano machine and they watch it go flying down into the bottomless depths of the Earth. Then Magneto shows up.
And just like that, the good guys are caught and the volcano machine is fixed. Claremont does an amazing job showing just how utterly, thoroughly bad-ass Magneto is here: he’s right up there with Doctor Doom, Kang, and Ultron.
It looks like the heroes are well and truly screwed. But wait! Where’s Storm? Last we saw of her, she got tossed out a window. It turns out her cape got caught on a stone outcrop, and she manages to pull herself to safety. Storm realizes she’s no computer expert, but she does know how to break shit. She takes a chair to Magneto’s computers, and that winds up shutting down his fancy power-inhibiting device. Scott draws Magneto’s attention, and Mags stands in front of Scott…
…and it’s on! What follows is an epic fight, as Nightcrawler teleports behind Magneto and clocks him with a lead pipe, and Colossus drops the roof on him. But Mags has his force field. Cyclops, Colossus, and Wolverine attack to buy Xavier time to charge up a psychic blast. That’s when Storm swoops in and shows how bad-ass she is, sending down a lightning bolt followed by a tornado. Magneto thinks fast and uses Colossus as a battering ram against Storm. Man, Storm’s having a rough night. But Xavier’s had enough time and he zaps Magneto, which almost allows Wolverine to cut the Master of Magnetism’s face off. But Mags doesn’t go down easy, and Cyclops goes back to Plan A, which is to wreck Magneto’s Plan A. He sends Kitty off to destroy the rest of Magneto’s computers while the team keeps the man busy.
I love how Colossus, even though he’s just human, just wades right in, with fists a-swingin’. Magneto’s getting weak and he realizes the men are just a distraction; Storm’s gone all subtle and dropped the air pressure to suffocate him. He attacks her, again, lighting her up with the lightning from her own hurricane. Meanwhile, Kitty takes a look at the mess Storm made and realizes the best way to finish the job is to use her phasing ability. She walks into the computer and starts to destroy its memory banks. Storm is about to catch on fire, so Nightcrawler teleports her out to sea, rescuing her. By now Mags realizes it’s all a ruse… a clever ruse! He rushes to save his computers and finds Kitty, who tries to phase through Magneto.
The result is Magneto gets a painful jolt and his reflex is to attack, electrocuting Kitty. Magneto freaks out when he realizes he might have just murdered a teenager, and that’s when Storm shows up. And now she’s ready to kill. But the fight’s gone out of Magneto, and he realizes that his crusade might wind up killing a whole lot of innocents, including children. He gives up and retreats.
Our story ends with the gang on the beach having a cookout. Xavier points out to Moira how the team has beaten Magneto physically in the past, and it’s gotten them nowhere. But today they might have scored a bigger victory, in that they might have changed his mind. Nearby, Kitty wonders out loud how to salvage the Blackbird jet, saying she’s trying to reach out with her mind like Luke Skywalker. Soon the jet rises from the water and the gang is blown away by Kitty’s new powers. Only, it’s not Kitty moving the jet.
And so our story ends on a lighthearted note.
X-Men #150 is one of the best comic stories I’ve ever read, and that’s coming from a guy who owns The Killing Joke, Watchmen, and Kingdom Come. It’s a tight tale with fantastic characterization, a stellar plot, and amazing art from the late, great Dave Cockrum. This was also a story where we saw Scott Summers at his best, decades before a series of writers assassinated his character with him cheating on Jean Grey and later killing Professor X, all in an effort to make him more, I dunno, “complex”, I guess?
This was also where we saw the beginning of Magneto’s rehabilitation and subsequent transformation into a good guy, with his almost killing a thirteen year old girl being a wake up call. Mags would ultimately come to lead the X-Men in Xavier’s absence, but sadly this “face turn” would be relatively short-lived. While people praise the Chris Claremont/John Byrne era, the following years where Claremont teamed up with Cockrum and Paul Smith were in my mind almost as good.