Welcome to the X-Roulette! Shelfdust’s Patreon backers are asked to pick a number at random – and now I’m going to write about whichever corresponding issue of “X-Men/Uncanny X-Men” they chose! This issue was picked by Patreon backer Jon Erik Christianson, who chose number 27 for the roulette – so it’s time to talk about The Mimic!
Maybe we’ve all underestimated the Mimic?
In issue #27 of X-Men, Roy Thomas is now firmly in control of the series, working what appears to be Marvel-style with artist Werner Roth, and the series is pivoting to a longer-term storyline where Xavier tries to recruit some new mutants (heh) to his cause. It sounds like he’s aware of some greater threat that’s out there somewhere, and his current five-strong team of heroes are struggling to stick together. Jean has gone to college, Warren is injured, and Cyclops is struggling to deal with the stress of leadership. With all that in mind, he decides to expand out a little and search for some new recruits.
It’s a neat trick, because the original five X-Men by themselves are a bit of a black hole, in terms of drama. Apart from brief flickers of love triangles amongst any two of the boys and Jean at any moment in time, they’re all from the same sort of background, and don’t foster any kind of real infighting. As a team, they’re a single working unit – and whilst that’s great for them in-story, it leads to an inert comic book series. By finding some more dramatic and conflicted characters who could join the team, Thomas can stoke things up a little, and get more of a reaction in – and off – panel. Enter (or should that be RE-enter) the Mimic, Cal Rankin.
Having suffered a lab explosion at college, he regains both his lost memories and powers at the same time, at which point he decides to try out with Xavier’s school, and join their team. Xavier is totally in for the whole thing – and immediately the rest of the X-Men chafe at the idea. Xavier not only invites a former enemy into their school… but he also makes Mimic the deputy leader of the team! You can immediately see why Thomas would want to bring in some new team members. When you combine that immediate resentment for Mimic with the tease that Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (who at this point has a tame falcon as a pet – bring that back!) may also be joining up, and the privileged and secure world of the five original X-Men immediately falls into unpredictability and chaos. Perfect for sales!
What’s most interesting about the issue, however, is that Mimic spends half of it being mind-controlled. There are several stories around this time of characters trying to join the X-Men and being rebuffed (Blob being a memorable example), but Mimic is compromised before he walks through the door and it isn’t his fault at all. He may be a bit condescending and a try-hard, but he’s also possessed by The Puppet Master just before he has his try-out with the rest of the team. The resulting fight scene which opens the issue is a thoroughly one-sided routing of the X-Men.
It gives Mimic a huge boost as a character. Firstly, there’s the clear result at the end of the fight: he is able to defeat four other mutants at once, and he methodically and carefully takes out each of them. That really goes a long way to show the character as being strong, being a threat, and being an asset for the X-Men if he continues to stay in their school. At the same time, he’s not in full control of his actions, and on the last page we see him struggling to work out how much of the victory was down to his talent… and how much was just because somebody else was in control of him at the time.
It’s hugely economical storytelling, which fits in a few fight scenes and lengthy character-building asides whilst setting up a new status quo and member of the team. It’s really impressive stuff, and the version of Mimic we see here is one that has lasted for decades since. He can use the powers of other people, but what does he bring to the table himself? It creates a new identity for the character, and something which’ll cause problems not just for Cal himself in the next few issues, but the rest of the X-Men as well. It’s a terrific character reintroduction, which throws everything into disarray in such a satisfying way.
Having said all that, Thomas also has a real problem with the end of the issue. With a rematch between the X-Men and the possessed Mimic moments away from happening, Angel reappears and steals the Puppet Master’s doll – day saved! That’s literally the ending of the issue. Given his slow-burn approach to the story which throws page after page away on other smaller moments which don’t really matter to the primary narrative, it seems unlikely that he simply ran out of pages to give us a proper finale. Instead, this feels a bit like a trick finish, designed to make sure that Mimic isn’t actually defeated so soon after scoring his first real victory.
Having given Mimic a moment of triumph wherein he defeats the other four X-Men by himself, the readers have been presented with a reinvented version of the character who stands up as not only an equal member of the X-Men group – but arguably as the strongest of all of them. Ending the issue with his defeat, even if it was because of mind control, would take that away from the character and leave him right back where he started. Instead, the creative team decide to have the ending be a bit of a mess on purpose, so we don’t get to see if the X-Men or the Mimic would have won the final battle. A few thought bubbles along the lines of “I’m fighting against the possession!” “we’re holding back our true powers!” later, and we’ve finished the issue without any character looking like the loser. Every character is still powerful and impressive, and Mimic has not been left looking stupid.
At a time when the X-Men books were suggesting all sorts of possibilities (they even try to recruit Spider-Man here!) the first apparent recruit to the team is a mixed-up, paranoid teenager who is going to try and out-do the rest of his team in an effort to prove his initial victory wasn’t a fluke aided by outside forces. That’s interesting! That’s dramatic! That’s exactly what the X-Men comics need more of!
Uncanny X-Men #27: Re-enter: The Minic!
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Werner Roth
Inker: Dick Ayers
Letterer: Sam Rosen
This post was made possible thanks to the Shelfdust Patreon! To find out more, head to our Patreon page here!