Technology has been a huge part of the X-Men. But will it also be their downfall?
Even before legendary comic book writer Chris Claremont took the reins of the X-Men franchise in the 70s, the use of technology has been a big part of the mythos. However, during his near 2-decade run, the books took on a more sci-fi approach opposed to its former traditional ‘Capes Vs. Evil’ roots. With these changes came a stiffer reliance on tropes more often found in big-budget films. Traveling through space and time, aliens, artificial intelligence, and hyper-advanced tech that blurred the line between man and machine became commonplace for the X-Men. This was most evident during the late 70s and into the 90’s when such movies were at their most popular. Alien, Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Terminator, Blade Runner– are all influences that can be seen in the X-Men and how they embrace technology throughout the years. Here are a few choice pieces of mind-altering tech that have helped shape the X-Men for the better or worse.
The Danger Room- 1963, X-Men #1
The fabled training facility that turned the X-Men into one of the most formidable fighting forces in the Marvel Universe. In the beginning, it was little more than an advanced obstacle course that utilized varying degrees of lethal and non-lethal traps and ordinance. In the years that followed, the Danger Room received upgrades from both Beast and through the X-Men’s relationship with the advanced alien race, The Shi’ar. The room was enhanced using holographic technology and artificial intelligence that adapted to them with use. It allowed the X-Men to both interface with the room verbally and create or recreate almost any foe they could imagine. Unbeknownst to the X-Men, however, the AI that controlled their training facility over the years developed sentience, a fact that Xavier was aware of but chose to ignore.
After gaining enough control over itself, it broke free of confinements and gave itself the form of a woman. Calling itself simply ‘Danger,’ it lashed out at its oppressors (The X-Men). It’s later revealed that Xavier didn’t in fact willingly enslave Danger but didn’t know how to help her. He was also hesitant to release her with the amount of information she held about the X-Men and their weaknesses. Eventually, she joins the X-Men as a full-fledged member, not a tool. Danger is immensely strong and can manipulate her limbs and body at will to create various types of weapons. Using its holographic technology, she can manipulate entire areas, fly and technically being software, can transfer her consciousness into other machinery. Danger has even had a romantic relationship with a teammate, the techno-organic being, Warlock.
Sentinels- 1965, X-Men #14
Originally developed by Bolivar Trask, these towering machines were created to oppress and subjugate the mutant race. They’ve been a thorn in the X-Men’s side nearly since the beginning. They have been part of almost every incarnation of the franchise including TV, video games, movies and of course, the comic books. In the beginning and going well into the 90s, most Sentinels are easily 3-stories tall, but over the years, there have been some changes and upgrades. Most Sentinels are purely automated and functioned as little more than walking mutant-detectors. During Operation: Zero Tolerance, Prime and Omega Sentinels were introduced. These were man-sized human-machine hybrids that acted as sleeper agents. Their programming only initiated when a mutant was near. There were also Sentinel exo-suits which were operated by human-pilots. Others to consider are Wild Sentinels, Bio-Sentinels, and the most recent additions, the Nano-Sentinels.
None of these are as feared or infamous as Nimrod and Bastion. Nimrod was a super-advanced, powerful Sentinel from the distant future. It was capable of emitting intense energy blasts, near instantaneous repair, and adapted to its targets.
Bastion, one of the X-Men’s greatest threats, was a sentient combination of Nimrod and Mastermold, an AI controlled Sentinel producing giant among giants. During its deadliest campaign, Bastion and an army of Super Nimrods launched an all-out attack on the X-Men’s former home, Utopia, (the remnants of Asteroid-M that floated off of the coast of San Francisco) in hopes of wiping out the couple-hundred remaining mutants that survived M-Day.
Cerebro- 1965, X-Men #7
Helping to locate both friendly mutants and foes, Cerebro went into heavy usage in 1965. It’s been used mostly by the X-Men’s founder and former longtime mentor, Professor Charles Xavier, or Professor-X for short. It was developed by Xavier himself with input and upgrades over the years from equally (and more, in some cases) brilliant minds such as Forge, Beast, and the late Moira MacTaggert. Like the Danger Room, it also has Shi’ar technology woven into it. Cerebro doesn’t just help find mutants, it increases the already formidable telepathic abilities of Charles or any mutant telepath that uses it. However, it takes a fair amount of discipline and practice. Misuse of it by lesser skilled telepaths has resulted in injury.
During Operation: Zero Tolerance, the Nimrod/Mastermold-hybrid Bastion confiscated Cerebro and interfaced his nano-tech with it in hopes of gaining the knowledge it held within. While he was unsuccessful, his nanites created another issue the X-Men would go through later with their Danger Room- Cerebro gained self-awareness. Calling itself the ‘Founder,’ though it was ultimately defeated, it had a host of abilities due to being a purely technological creation. It could infect other computer systems, create synthetic life (SG1 fans- think human-form Replicators with powers!), manufacture copies of itself, and fly among many other abilities. It was later replaced by another unit called ‘Cerebra’ which was equal parts machine and software. It even used a Sentinel as a physical avatar. Most recently, the resurrected Jean Grey built another version of the device in X-Men’s Atlantis-base. It was aptly named ‘Searebro’ in X-Men: Red by Honey Badger.
Inhibitor Collar- 1981, X-Men #141
Anyone familiar with X-Men: The Animated Series from the 90s probably remembers these blinking, bulky, yellow-things that several of our heroes were forced to wear on a handful of occasions. In the books they were first spotted during the two-issue story, ‘Days of Future Past’- a grim dystopian future where most mutants are housed inside of concentration camps awaiting execution. Fans of the cartoons will flashback to the episode ‘Slave Island’ where we witnessed series regulars Gambit, Storm, and Jubilee get captured on the island of Genosha and put to work. If it wasn’t obvious by now, these collars rob mutants and other non-mutant super-beings of their powers. In the normal timeline, they were also used on mutants that found themselves imprisoned. They’ve been seen used as recently as X-Men Gold and Blue (2018) and by Rogue, in Mr. and Mrs. X. Longterm effects have yet to be discovered, but prolonged use has been known to cause headaches in the wearers.
The Blackbird – 1977, X-Men #104
Arguably the most spectacular piece of technology the X-Men are known for this side of the mansion, the Blackbird, or X-Jet, is a character all itself. The most known version of the aircraft is based on the suborbital jet SR-71, a model often used by the military for spying. The fact that it’s known to fly so high that it avoids most radar is probably the reason for its inclusion. Got to remember, for many, many years, the X-Men were considered outlaws and more often than not used masks and exclusively utilized codenames to hide their civilian identities. It’s one of the reasons they’d come into conflict with other ‘mainstream’ superhero teams from time to time. Originally based on the RS-150, Xavier sourced the jet from S.H.I.E.L.D. after their previous vehicle, the Stratojet, had been destroyed.
The Blackbird has been featured in most, if not all, of the incarnations of the X-Men. And like most things in comic books has been destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed, and rebuilt again several times over the years. The ship has been upgraded on numerous occasions by resident mechanical geniuses, Beast and Forge and also implements Shi’ar technology (it’s like they just don’t learn from their mistakes…).
Which piece of mutant-machinery is your favorite? Did we miss something you hold near and dear to your heart? Sound off below!