byzantine's The X-Men #21 - From Whence Comes... Dominus? review

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Conflicts among the X-Men.

This issue seems to be in part a Western, in part a science-fiction story. But of more importance is that the X-Men are finally in conflict with each other. The individual personalities of the various team members have long been established. But in combat situations they usually followed the orders of Professor X or Cyclops. Here there are clear arguments over differing strategies and some open hostility among the members. Seems like a breath of fresh air in the series.
The issue has a somewhat promising start. The X-Men are still aboard their jet and approaching the current headquarters of Lucifer when a mysterious beam of pulsating light suddenly appears in their way. A force field connected to the mysterious light affects their flying vehicle and they briefly lose control of it. Seconds later, they notice "massive shapes" transported within the light. As explained later, they have the teleportation rays of the Quist.  Nearby modern-day cowboys also observe the lights. They are Porter Mack, owner of a local dude ranch, and his men. Porter is worried that the lights would drive away his customers and decides to investigate further. 
The centre of all this activity is Buchanan's Butte. The X-Men have trouble approaching it by jet due to two active geysers which erupt everytime their aircraft approaches. They figure the geysers are artificial, probabnly created by Lucifer as a defense mechanism. Cyclops and Xavier waist no time in locating the source of all this water: a nearby river heading right towards the Butte and to the underground beneath it. The two leaders figure this is the water resource Lucifer uses and probably the only safe way towards his headquarters. Xavier sets the jet on autopilot while all six X-Men use a hovercraft to land.  
The brief hovercraft scene allows Thomas to portray some decent interactions between the X-Men. Warren is impressed with Xavier's taste in vehicles and admits it outshines his sports car. Hank and Robert, close friends, are bantering with each other. Robert points teasingly to "the tiny signs of materialism in Warren's character", while Hank observes with amusement that Mr. Drake is beginning to sound like the Beast himself. Jean is keeping to herself and mostly remains silent. Probably reacting to Scott telling her to shut up in the previous issue. Scott has noticed her silence and wants to know if there is anything wrong. Jean bitterly thinks that Scott only pays attention to her only when "he thinks there's something wrong". A good reference to the long-running subplot of Cyclops being rather cold to Marel Girl while actually being in love with her. 
It is then time for the team to part. Xavier is left behind near the hovercraft. The others enter the nearest ravine, heading for the river. They soon come across Porter Mack and his men. Porter immediately recognizes the X-Men from news reports about them. Reports which named them as suspects in a series of bank robberies in New York City and wanted by the police. The culprits were actually Blob and Unus disguised as X-Men. In any case, Porter figured he could claim a reward by capturing them.    The X-Men make short work of the tough guys, which appear to be severely outgunned. A nice scene re-establishing how outclassed most X-Men opponents truly are. 
The X-Men proceed to flow down the river, Mr. Drake providing a raft made of ice. But Lucifer has a few surprises of his own. The sudden appearance of a whirlpool destroys the raft and sends the five mutants struggling in the waters. Meanwhile, two Quist robots easily capture Xavier and transport him to Lucifer. Angel is the first X-Man to reach the surface. But immediately dives again to help the others. He soon locates Scott and Jean. Scott had managed to get a hold on a hydraulic pipe with one hand while grasping a half-drowned Jean with the other. Warren helps them both reach the nearest river shore. But once they set foot on it, all three find themselves trapped in a transparent cage. 
Elsewhere, the Beast is in serious trouble. He is still submerged below the water, can not even locate the surface and his air is running out. Before Hank can drown, a Quist robot pulls him out of the water. His orders to capture the X-Men in effect resulting the life of one of them. At this moment Iceman comes to the rescue. He had created a surfboard made out of ice to navigate himself through the river. Together the two pals take down two Quist robots before attempting to flee. But Lucifer simply has a metal wall appear right in front on them. Their own speed sents them crashing head first into it. Lucifer has now captured all six X-Men. 
Lucifer uses the opportunity to narrate to Xavier a brief history of the Quist, Dominus and their methods of conquering other races. Which are surprisingly simple. First, the Quist establish secret headquarters in the planet they want to conquer. Then Dominus is teleported there along with the robots operating it. Apparently the Quist have forgotten how to operate their super-computer. Dominus proceeds to place every sentient creature on any given planet under its mental control. Even people of "great and advanced" civilzations become mere slaves. The Earth is simply the next target for the Quist. Lucifer also introduces a fitting motto for his race: "For it is our destiny to command". 
The scene shifts back to the captured Jean, Scott and Warren. The robots are about to open their cell in order to place Hank and Robert with them. The trio is ready for an escape attempt, attempting to use a method which worked before against the sentinels. A continuity nod towards issue #16. They fail as the Quist robots anticipated their move. But before long the X-Men have another chance. Only a single robot, Epsilon, has been assigned to guard their cell. Epsilon hardly pays attention to what they are doing. Enabling Jean to use her telekinesis on the cell's control panel to deactivate it. With their cell gone, the X-Men are free. Epsilon still has its back turned on them. Enabling Cyclops a beautiful shot at it. The first back-stabbing move from Scott in this issue. There will soon be a second one. 
At first everything is fairly straightforward. The escaped X-Men are simply evading the various robots while exploring the vast facility. But while they are approaching the room where Dominus is stored, they receive a mental command: "X-Men! This is Professor Xavier! You must do as I direct-- without question! Without hesitation! Under no circumstances must you attempt to damage the gigantic mechanical complex which is called ... Dominus!" Then the argument begins. The X-Men now know that Dominus is the threat their facing. But now why they should not damage it. Cyclops wants to oney the order, figuring Xavier must have a plan. Angel that they should really perform some "tube-smashing" while they still have a chance. Warren doubts that the command was genuine, suspecting Lucifer was responsible. Jean agrees: "Lucifer might be somehow duplicating the Professor's telepathic thoughts!" They both want to confromt Lucifer, Iceman ready to follow them. Entering the room, the X-Men discover Xavier and Lucifer standing side by side. 
They still get no clear answer on who had sent that mental command. Xavier seems in a catatonic state and Lucifer gives no answers. Fortunately for them, their opponent is no powerhouse. Jean uses Lucifer's own cloak to trap him. Now nothing prevents them from attacking Dominus. Its time to make a decision. Warren goes on the offensive. Scott is trying to get him to stop. But Robert throws his support behind the flying mutant. Rather unusual since Robert and Warren rarely get along. Warren never gets a chance to reach Dominus. Cyclops stops talking and simply blasts the Angel's back. Mr. Worthingtom falls from a great height, but Hank and Jean manage to rescue him in time. Meanwhile, Iceman attempts to knock some sense into Cyclops. Jean, unsurprisingly, prevents Mr. Drake from harming Summers. Cyclops tries defending his stance and Jean throws her support behind him. Iceman points though that "All I see is that you blasted Angel to protect this machine!"  With Beast offering his own doubts concerniing the mental command which Summers believes in.  
Before the X-Men can resolve their conflict, the five remaining robots enter the room. One is destroyed by another blast by Cyclops. The other four are tricked into attacking Dominus and get destroyed by the computers' self-defense mechanisms. Appparently the computer was never defenseless. But the Quist are now in trouble. The Supreme One immmediately contacts Lucifer and points that his failure has cost them dearly. No living Quist remembers how to operate Dominus, the computer is useless without operators. Without Dominus, their mental hold on all the conquered races is threatened. Instead of expanding further, the Quist are about to have their hands full with revolts. But he has one last message for Lucifer, one of punishment. Lucifer finds himself exiled to another dimension, pathetically begging the X-Men to help him.  
The X-Men get to leave the battleground victorious. Xavier explains that he knew about the self-defense mechanisms. He could not tell them because he focused all his efforts on piercing Lucifer's mental shields and having the villain give reckless orders to the robots. 
The X-Men are given solid characterization in this issue. The Quist, not so much. Nevertheless, they would return in the following years. Not all of them, as the Supreme One has yet to return. Lucifer returns in "Iron Man" vol. 1 #20 (December, 1969)  and then goes on to face Captain America. Dominus returned in "West Coast Avengers" vol. 2 #17 (February, 1987)  by then having gained a humanoid body.

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