Credits: Mike Higgins & Karl Bollers (writers), Martin Egeland (penciler), Howard M. Shum (inker), J. M. Baggins (letters), Kevin Tinsley (colors)
Summary: Having merged with Master Mold, Bastion’s memories are now unblocked. Machine Man attacks Cable, as Bastion recounts his origin. Cable eventually undoes Bastion’s reprogramming of Machine Man telepathically, and the two heroes unite. They trap Bastion inside the Prospero Clinic, where human test subjects are still held captive. Machine Man wants to rescue them, but Cable confirms that they have no brainwave activity. The duo triggers the clinic’s self-destruct sequence and escapes.
Continuity Notes: This issue establishes that Bastion is the amalgam of Nimrod and Master Mold, created after the two were sucked into the Siege Perilous in Uncanny X-Men #247. A “higher authority” judged their consciousness and stripped them of their “artificiality” before sending them back to Earth as one being. Bastion was discovered by Rose Gilberti, who took him in and taught him human kindness. As Bastion learned more about mutants, his programming drove him to develop new Sentinel designs. He abandoned Rose and sought out high-profile mutant critic, Graydon Creed. Soon, he amassed power within the government and formed Operation: Zero Tolerance.
Review: When the mysterious Bastion debuted as the latest and greatest threat to mutantkind, I don’t think anyone expected his origin to be revealed a year or so later in a Machine Man annual. Some characters, like Omega Red, are just made to be disposable cannon fodder for the lower-tier spinoffs. Bastion was supposed to be the personification of the anti-mutant threat, taking his place alongside the likes of mutant supremacists Magneto and Apocalypse as one of the X-Men’s major foes. And as muddled as his debut might’ve been, Scott Lobdell was on to something with the character.
Who were the major anti-mutant figures in the Marvel Universe? None of the Trasks could ever last for long. Senator Kelly had already mellowed out. Graydon Creed was dead, and was usually portrayed as a joke anyway. The X-Men do need an iteration of “The Man” to fight against, and making him a Sentinel masquerading as a human allows him to be an actual physical threat to the team. That Nimrod/Master Mold dangling thread had never been resolved anyway, so there’s even a door already open for his debut. Unfortunately, Marvel’s half-hearted delivery of the OZT crossover didn’t capture the scale Lobdell was going for, and the story actually ended with Bastion getting talked into surrendering. We also learned he had a mommy fixation with some old lady in the woods. Bastion was now the overhyped Next Big Thing, a subject of contempt and mockery by the nascent online fandom.
Marvel could’ve let him rest for a while before trying again, but instead he’s revived for two of the next year’s forgettable “team-up” annuals. And he didn’t even merit an Uncanny X-Men or X-Men annual. He got Cable. Cable was drawn into the OZT crossover for a few issues, but the story had no real impact on the main storyline, and his interactions with Bastion weren’t particularly exceptional. And it’s obvious Machine Man’s here because Marvel doesn’t want that trademark to lapse…and, oh yeah, he’ s a robot too, so that’s a perfect fit. The story’s filled with holes (how did Machine Man come to the Prospero Clinc in the first place…why didn’t SHIELD discover the human test subjects months earlier during the initial raid…where did Master Mold come from…?), and since large sections of it are narrated by Bastion, the reader’s forced to endure a hideous “robot” font that’s hard to read for much of the issue. The dialogue is stilted, and the only idea that’s close to being a compelling conflict is quickly dismissed. Cable wants to destroy the clinic with Bastion inside…without rescuing the human test subjects. Machine Man objects, but Cable assures him that they’re brain dead. Machine Man politely agrees, killing any debate on the nature of “life” -- which is a subject Machine Man might have an interesting take on. The building blows up, the heroes escape, no one mourns the dead SHIELD agents or test subjects, the end. Oh, well. At least no one can steal the name “Machine Man” from Marvel for a few more years.