Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A Hero Among Us!

The story of Calvin Rankin, the Mimic (whose super-power is probably self-explanatory), took just under a year to play out in the pages of X-Men, and was arguably one of the more interesting developments of the series. The character was first introduced in 1966--a victim of an accident in his father's lab, which gave him the means to duplicate the powers and/or abilities of those he was in proximity to. Yet rather than using his power responsibly, he flaunted it among his fellow students and those he socialized with, becoming a conceited and arrogant young man who indulged in the advantages and the laurels that the use of his abilities gained for him. Rankin didn't seem to have much use for the traits of humility or even kindness, never having to work to excel at something while able to instantly match the feats that made others stand out.

Attempting to use the X-Men (or, rather, their powers) to access a machine of his father's design that would make his powers permanent, Rankin was unaware that the machine was instead intended to undo the effects of that fateful accident--and so with the machine's use, the menace of "the Mimic" appeared to be over before it really began, though not for long. When his power unexpectedly returned, he reappeared at the X-Men's door and wormed his way onto the team by threatening to expose their identities, though unfortunately around the same time that the Puppet Master was attempting to take control of Charles Xavier. Instead, it was the Mimic who fell under his influence and attempted to kill them all, before the Angel arrived to thwart that plan; but Rankin remained on the team of his own volition at the request of Xavier, who saw in him a valuable asset that would help bolster their defense against the approaching threat of Factor Three.

The Mimic carries the distinction of being the first new member of the X-Men to make the team outside of the original lineup--though as an opportunist, with his abrasive manner and off-putting attitude, Rankin was never considered by the others as anything but an outsider whom they tolerated because of Xavier's wishes. And the Puppet Master notwithstanding, he also arrived at just the right time. With Cyclops feeling responsible for the Angel's recent injury and asking to step down as Deputy Leader, Xavier made the call to appoint the Mimic in his place--a decision which understandably had the other X-Men reacting in astonishment. Yet there was no denying that the Mimic added considerable power to their ranks--all the abilities and powers of the X-Men, plus those of Xavier, in one package. Granted, that's a far cry from having the ability to lead a seasoned team into battle without having spent five minutes in the Danger Room--but, as Rankin noted, Xavier was likely well aware that Rankin wasn't about to take orders from any of the others. If he could be tempered, the team could meet practically any challenge in the field this side of the Sentinels.

But while the Mimic would never get the opportunity to be Deputy Leader in more than name only, he would have a chance to prove to himself what kind of man he was when the chips were down, as he faced his baptism of fire by clashing with another type of mimic--one whose own composite powers made him just as formidable a threat.

It's an improvised session of ice skating by Xavier's students that happens to disturb the Super-Adaptoid from his repose, having taken refuge in a network of tunnels in order to contemplate the direction his existence should take following his elimination of Captain America (or so he believes). But after his fellow X-Men have begun the trek back to their school, the unsuspecting Iceman decides to indulge in the kind of recreational skating only he can, unaware that the one who moves toward him has settled on a course of action for himself which will involve the creation of many more androids like himself, at the cost of innocent lives.

Iceman's parting thought would normally be tongue in cheek, but, oddly enough, the other X-Men don't believe Iceman's recounting of his experience with the hulking mass of metal that attacked him on the frozen pond--which seems hard to swallow in itself, given all that the X-Men have seen and dealt with in their time. None of them have been known to cry "Wolf!" when announcing the appearance of a bona fide foe--so why have a scene where Iceman's experience is written off as a "daydream," when it accomplishes no discernible purpose and doesn't move the story in any particular direction? And to make matters worse, Iceman, who physically engaged the Adaptoid, lets himself be convinced that he was hallucinating? The whole exchange between Bobby and the others ends up being an unnecessary--and pointless--distraction by scripter Roy Thomas in an otherwise well-written tale.

Meanwhile, Xavier is working with the Mimic in a series of training tests--but upon his descent, Rankin's contempt for his new partners, and for their ongoing mission, provokes an argument and leads to his expulsion from the team. It's a decision that doesn't exactly bring Rankin to tears.

Not exactly the best time for your most powerful member to be sent packing, since Iceman's supposed daydream has successfully followed his trail back to the school to confront the X-Men with his plan to turn them into adaptoids. The scene contains another of Thomas's ever-present pop culture references that would continue to litter his work through the years, though in this case its meaning is lost on me* (and most likely on the Adaptoid)--but soon enough, the pleasantries are over when the X-Men are forced to battle for their lives against a being that has the powers of four Avengers at its disposal.

*If any of you have an idea of what Sean Connery has to do with the Adaptoid, there's a free comic book in it for you! (Not really!)

The gas attack** downs all five X-Men, which would normally make them ripe pickings for the Adaptoid to move in and begin his transmutations of them--but they're saved in that respect when they're told that the process can only be performed on a willing subject, as we discovered when the Adaptoid went after Cap. (A condition that will come in all too handy in a moment.)

**That's a powerful weapon in Hawkeye's arsenal--a gaseous compound that can rob an entire group of super-powered opponents of their muscular control at a stroke. Why is this the first we're hearing of it?

But before the Adaptoid can move on to Plan B--adding the X-Men's powers to his own--the Mimic returns to give a few choice parting words to his ex-partners, only to find they've been dealt with by the Super-Adaptoid. Is this the moment when Rankin steps up and shows us the strength of his character? It's to Thomas's credit that he doesn't have Rankin waver and suddenly discard the selfish, "looking out for #1" aspect of his character makeup, at least initially; but just when all of us were probably wondering if there's really anyone in their right mind who would willingly submit to being remade into an adaptoid, the Mimic--thanks to a wake-up call from Cyclops--realizes that there will be little to nothing of Calvin Rankin left when the Adaptoid is through with him.

What follows is quite a display of storytelling art by penciler Werner Roth (a/k/a Jay Gavin), who succeeded Jack Kirby in the book and whose run in X-Men from 1966-68--first as penciler, then as inker--surely deserves its fair share of recognition. Thomas has reportedly been of the opinion that Roth wasn't suited to X-Men given his tendency to focus more on character interaction than on action sequences; if there's any truth to that, then the scenes of the Mimic vs. the Super-Adaptoid are surely the exception, since you couldn't ask for a better laid-out battle in mid-'60s comics. (And Thomas appears to have no difficulty whatsoever in providing a generous amount of dialog that fits it like a glove.)

The only quibble I ever had regarding Roth's X-Men work was his depiction of the Beast, whose posture nearly always resembed that of a crouched dog (perhaps feeling as John Byrne later did about Nightcrawler, that the character should never be drawn standing upright), even though as Hank McCoy, his posture and height would be drawn by Roth as indistinguishable from Bobby Drake, Warren Worthington, or Scott Summers--nor does the Mimic take on the Beast's crouching stance when the latter's form and agility are being mimicked. (For a real eye-opener, line up Roth's Beast with the character as drawn by Neal Adams--it's the difference between night and day.) But in terms of this particular battle, Roth's work expertly covers all the bases.

It's also a pleasure to see Rankin finally begin to figure things out for himself as he fights against this foe who's more than his match, appearing to have tabled his bitterness and anger in favor of doing his utmost to rid the world of a deadly menace and, most notably, to keep the Adaptoid from harming the X-Men. He fights his best--but when the battle reaches its climax, a last-ditch tactic may seal the doom of not only the Adaptoid but himself as well. Unless, that is, he gets a little help from his friends.

A slight "oops" moment for Roth in the issue's final panel--if Rankin's power has indeed been lost, why would his eyes be glowing behind that mask (which he presumably no longer needs)? Let's go for a no-prize and speculate that his optic energy is taking a few moments longer to fade completely.

We've seen how things don't end well for Cal Rankin, who would play the hero one last time and saves the entire world in the process. For what it's worth, he ends up being resurrected in later stories--and in getting a second shot at life, perhaps it's only fair that the one thing the Mimic couldn't end up mimicking was death.

X-Men #29

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: Werner Roth
Inks: John Tartaglione
Letterer: Sam Rosen


Big Murr said...

I would put the "Sean Connery" remark down to the popularity of his James Bond movies. He's the current gold standard for handsome sophistication...or the opposite of the bizarre Adaptoid. That's my theory of what Thomas was trying for in a weak bit of writing.

Did the Adaptoid once copy Dr. Doom? The windbag pomposity sure grates on my nerves, especially coming from a robot.

The moment the Adaptoid suddenly remembers his core power (and reason for his name) makes me cringe. Or did I miss some explanation why only in the end game does he try to copy the mutant powers?

Comicsfan said...

Murray, it was the Mimic who was responsible for the Adaptoid's lack of success in that regard, twice. The first time was when the X-Men were taken out by the gas arrow and Rankin interrupted the Adaptoid before he could perform his trace procedure--and the second attempt was when he planted a suggestion in the Adaptoid's thoughts to adapt those powers from himself and thereby add all of the X-Men's powers with one trace, a procedure that backfired due to the Mimic's abilities being artificial.

JungGRT said...

I read this story back in the early 70s in reprints.. One of the first comix I remember...thanx for the memories, ComicsFan!

Comicsfan said...

My pleasure, G.T.!

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