#38 – Sentinels
X-Men (various comic book titles, tv shows, movies, and video games 1965-now)
I thought about placing Skynet from the Terminator movie franchise on this list but I determined that the Sentinels from X-Men were way too similar. On the accounts that the Sentinels came first and that they have a more “colorful” history I opted for them instead. That being said the Sentinels are machines with an artificial intelligence that has only sometimes become sentient in a few models, therefore they don’t offer a lot of unique character traits but rather represent an idea as tools of the “enemies” of mutantkind in the Marvel Universe.
In a classic Stan Lee set up, the Sentinels were first introduced after Professor Charles Xavier and Dr. Bolivar Trask engaged in a television debate on the safety of mankind when it came to mutants inheriting the Earth. Trask had created the Sentinels intended to be the mechanical protectors of humankind against the mutant threat… only the ORIGINAL Sentinels obeyed their programming too well and ruled that the best way to protect mankind was to take control of them as well as the mutants. After the Sentinels attempted to kill both Xavier and Trask, the X-Men were directed to Master Mold, a towering primary Sentinel which acted as a Sentinel producing factory. Bolivar quickly saw the error in his ways and ended up sacrificing himself to destroy Master Mold and undo the wrongs he had done.
Since then the Sentinel legacy has been revived by Larry Trask (Bolivar’s son), Stephen Lang, and the United States government’s Project Wideawake ran by Henry Peter Gyrich and Valerie Cooper who purchased the Sentinels from Shaw Industries (which was a company led by the mutant Sebastian Shaw… He’s mostly an asshole). The Project Wideawake Sentinels are the most recognized models that had gigantic clunky bodies and were shown in the 90’s X-Men Animated Series. While these Sentinels never “disobeyed” their base programming, they still served as a reminder of mankind’s mistrust of mutants in the biggest way.
It wasn’t until the Days of Future Past storyline that reintroduced the idea of the Sentinels “evolving” their programming and ended up causing an alternate future timeline where man and mutant were both nearly wiped off the face of the planet. The recent movie, X-Men: Days of Future Past, explains that the Sentinels in this timeline could adapt to and redirect mutant powers (becoming seemingly unstoppable) through experimentation and implementation of Mystique’s shapeshifting mutant ability into their design. This method of technological marvel may or may not have been used to create what the comics refer to as Nimrod, a similarly unstoppable Omega Sentinel that followed Rachel Grey (not Wolverine!) into the main Marvel Universe’s timestream. Nimrod is the pinnacle of everything the X-Men stand against because of its mutative adapting ability and it’s representation of generations hate and fear embodied within it. Plus there’s like a million of them in the Days of Future Past future (which is freaking scary!). This single Nimrod shapeshifted into a human to first observe the times culture, fought to a standstill against Juggernaut, was temporarily destroyed by Rogue (using the combined powers of Colossus, Nightcrawler, Kitty Pryde, and the residing powers she kept from Ms. Marvel), and severely injured a combined team of X-Men and the Hellfire Club at the same time (two Hellfire members died).
After fusing with the remaining pieces of Master Mold’s body and artificial intelligence, Nimrod further evolved into a human-like Prime Sentinel known as Bastion, who posed as a government agent and re-implemented Project Wideawake. During this era mutants were blamed for the loss of the Avengers and Fantastic Four at the hands of Onslaught. A zero tolerance policy was placed on mutants and they were actively hunted by Human-Sentinels altered by nanobots as sleeper agents. Most recently Nimrod/Bastion used alien technology to resurrect a committee of mutant hating human villains and attacked the X-Men during the Second Coming when they were protecting the “mutant messiah” Hope Summers. In this story arc, Bastion opened a portal with seemingly infinite Nimrods from an alternate timeline to attack the X-Men. After personally killing Nightcrawler, Bastion was ultimately destroyed by Hope.
All in all, the Sentinels are a critique on the human condition in regards to going too far when it comes to self-preservation. Humanity has the tendency to shoot first and ask questions later when it comes to something it doesn’t fully understand. Sentinels are a metaphorical “nuclear deterrent” ante up to a threat that humanity fears before even attempting to coexist with. In a way the Sentinels are why HUMANITY itself is the X-Men’s greatest enemy in that they will forever struggle to defend a world that hates and fears them.