X-Men ’97’s big villain reveal gives mutants their second-greatest enemy

With only its three-part finale blitz left to go, X-Men ’97 has revealed its big villain, and it’s the same as their old one.

This isn’t a criticism! It’s precisely in line with the biggest theme of X-Men history that most adaptations have refused to touch — that mutants only represent one option for the future of humanity. There are other children of humanity’s hubris, they want their day in the sun, and they’re willing to kill mutants and humans to get it.

[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for X-Men ’97 episode 7, “Bright Eyes.”]

A wireframe image of Nimrod’s face from X-Men ’97. Image: Marvel Studios Animation

In “Bright Eyes,” the X-Men search for the mastermind behind the kaiju-Sentinel slaughter at Genosha, tracking leads to Mutant Enemies No. 1 and No. 2: Henry Peter Gyrich, a human-supremacist government agent in prison for (seemingly) murdering Professor X; and Bolivar Trask, the creator of the Sentinel robots.

We see a shadowy figure smother Gyrich so he won’t be able to reveal any more secrets. And when the X-Men meet up with Trask, it’s in a secret facility housing advanced cybernetics, staffed by guards bearing an “OZT” insignia. Trask undergoes a strange transformation and seems about to beat all the X-Men singlehandedly until Cable shows up to help, and to deliver a warning: Gyrich, Trask, and even Mister Sinister are working for someone even more terrifying.

The final moments of the episode reveal that person to be that shadowy figure, and even give him a name: Bastion.

Who is Bastion?

Bastion has been around the X-Men villain block a few times, but he’s best known as the villain of the 1997 story arc Operation: Zero Tolerance — hence that acronym seen in “Bright Eyes,” and the title of X-Men ’97’s three-part finale arc, “Tolerance Is Extinction.”

In a period when anti-mutant sentiment was at an all-time high (the X-Men had to kill the Avengers and Fantastic Four in order to save the world; they actually survived, don’t worry about it), a mysterious guy named Sebastian Gilberti convinced the U.S. government to back his plan for mutant eradication.

That plan was to create the Prime Sentinels, which are like if Sentinels were human sleeper agents. “Bastion” developed nanotechnology that could be implanted in unknowing humans, transforming them at his will into powerful, tricked-out cyborgs and putting their actions under his control — exactly what seems to have happened to Bolivar Trask in “Bright Eyes.”

But Bastion wasn’t the normal (if hateful) human dude that he seemed, and “Bright Eyes” has some hints about this as well. He refers to Mister Sinister as a “villain of old” who had failed to kill the X-Men for years, and Sinister fires right back that Bastion was “one of those villains once.”

“Yet unlike the rest of you, I evolved,” Bastion responds.

In the comics, it was eventually revealed that Bastion had his own cyborg secret, unbeknownst even to him — he had, and had always been, an offshoot of the most powerful Sentinel to ever exist, Nimrod.

Who the hell is Nimrod?

Nimrod and Omega Sentinel, two advanced Sentinel versions, in the potential future Human-Machine-Mutant War 100 years after our present, in Powers of X #1, Marvel Comics (2019).
Nimrod (left), in Powers of X #1.
Jonathan Hickman, R.B. Silva/Marvel Comics

Nimrod is the the Skynet of X-Men stories, a mutant-hunting artificial intelligence from the future. In Marvel Comics canon, all Sentinel production eventually leads to the creation of a Nimrod, in every timeline. And in every timeline, Nimrod and his cohort of mutant-hunting machines eventually decide that mutants aren’t their only enemies, and turn on the rest of the human species as well.

(Also, in defense of Nimrod’s creators, Chris Claremont and John Romita Jr., he was invented in 1984, when “nimrod” was only just about starting to become better known as an all-purpose American slang insult than as a reference to the biblical hunter.)

Nimrod did appear in X-Men: The Animated Series, largely as a threat in a possible future, or one who’d time-traveled to the present. Back in the 1992-1997 era, there simply weren’t a lot of Nimrod stories to choose from.

The idea that the X-Men fight to protect mutants and humans from the threat of rogue artificial intelligence might seem like a strange one — but that’s largely because most modern X-Men adaptations have, in the name of “realism,” discarded big purple robots as a consistent X-Men threat. No Sentinels, no Nimrod, no three-way human-mutant-AI war.

Sentinels have become a lot more than lumbering purple robots

It’s illustrative to point out that Bolivar Trask, the Sentinels, and the sentient Sentinel factory Master Mold were introduced in 1965, squarely in the B-movie era of the Atomic Age.

By contrast, Nimrod was created the year that The Terminator came out. As technology, and our concerns about technology, have evolved, the way X-Men creators conceive of Sentinels has evolved with it. In the late 1990s, personal computers and casual access to the internet were ferociously integrating more and more tech into everyday life. The real potential computer apocalypse, Y2K, was becoming widely known! It’s no wonder that Nimrod, and the idea of rogue technology, would be worked back into the fundament of the X-Men.

X-Men stories are, as always, about the conflict between humanity and the idea that our mutant children are the natural future of the species. But looming quietly in the background is a steady drumbeat, warning that if humanity isn’t careful in how it creates its technological children — if it doesn’t just teach children to hate, but expressly creates beings for that purpose — it will bring about its own destruction.

It’s the kind of story that X-Men: The Animated Series couldn’t have told in 1997, which exactly why it’s so exciting that X-Men ’97 is picking up the torch.