by Brett White
With Trask Industries “celebrating its 50th anniversary” by launching a super informative website (it also ties into “X-Men: Days of Future Past“—sshhh!), suddently Sentinels are all the rage! People can’t stop talking about the giant, purple, mutant-hunting robots—and rightfully so! Need I reiterate that they are giant purple robots? It does not get much cooler than that.
The robotic foes have been a thorn in the X-Men’s side since their early days, and the mechanical menaces have popped up in everything from video games to cartoons over the franchise’s 50 years of existence. Truthfully, we could easily do more than one Required Reading post about the Sentinels—and we could even throw in a Required Watching or two (“Final Decision” from “X-Men” season one!). But when it comes down to the most essential Sentinel stories, here are the five that made the cut.
“Among Us Stalk… The Sentinels!,” “X-Men” #14-16 (1965)
The Sentinels’ first appearance contains pretty much every element that would come to define Sentinel stories. Robots versus mutants? Check. Mad genius inventor with quasi-good intentions and a boatload of prejudice? Check! The mega-sized Sentinel manufacturer named Master Mold? He’s there. And a finale that hinges on the robots gaining too much sentience? Yep! This jam by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Werner Roth presents one of the first multi-issue arcs ever told in “X-Men,” spanning three whole issues. It also presents the only time Bolivar Trask (played by Peter Dinklage in the upcoming film) appeared in the comics.
“Mission: Murder,” “X-Men” #57-59 (1969)
Bolivar Trask’s son Larry took up the family business in this classic tale by Roy Thomas and Neal Adams. The Sentinels re-emerged literally bigger and badder than ever, just as Adams’ started really experimenting with photo-realism and vertigo-inducing panel layouts. These issues also introduce Havok to the team, thus reuniting Cyclops with his long lost brother. It was actually Larry Trask who gave Havok his trademark black costume and silver headgear, as well as the codename “Havok.” While the finale of this tale does involve a rather groovy medallion, it’s widely regarded as the best “X-Men” story of the ’60s.
“Deathstar, Rising!,” X-Men #98-100 (1976)
With a whole new team in place, writer Chris Claremont and artist Dave Cockrum were able to unleash the Sentinels on a totally unprepared band of mutants. Future stalwarts like Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Storm were all new to working as a team, leaving them at a disadvantage when new Sentinel architect Stephen Lang revealed his custom creations: the X-Sentinels! The brawl spread all the way to outer space, eventually sending the X-Men on a dangerous crash course back to Earth that would prove to have horrific consequences for Jean Grey (it starts with a “P” and ends with “-hoenix”).
“Days of Future Past,” “Uncanny X-Men” #141-142 (1981)
Appropriately enough, the source material for Bryan Singer’s upcoming X-Film just so happens to be one of the robots’ most important stories. In the post-apocalyptic and far-flung setting of 2013 (yep), Sentinels and anti-mutant hysteria have gripped the world. The surviving mutants live in labor camps and the rest of America lies in relative ruin. Only by traveling back in time can the remaining X-Men hope to avert the horrors they’ve experienced. This story is essential if only to see the Sentinels actually kill a number of old-timer X-Men.
“Operation: Zero Tolerance,” “X-Men” volume 2 #65-70 (1997)
This being a ’90s crossover, there are of course almost a dozen other issues that tie into this main event, but none of them compare to the quality of these issues by Scott Lobdell, Carlos Pacheco and Pasqual Ferry. A new breed of Sentinels called Prime Sentinels have emerged, led by the mysterious Bastion. These new sentinels represent the blending of human beings with Sentinel tech and they pose quite a threat to the mutant race. They quickly capture A-List X-Men like Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops and Jean Grey, leaving only Iceman and two very new and very edgy recruits—Dr. Cecelia Reyes and the ultra-violent Marrow—to stop impending doom. While fans regard the ending as a bit of a cop out, the issues leading up to it are incredibly thrilling.
Which Sentinel story is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below or hit us up on Twitter!