X-51: The Machine Man #5

Issue Date: 
December 1999
Story Title: 
Circuits Maximus

Mike Higgins & Karl Bollers (writers), Joe Bennett (penciler), Bob Wiacek (inker), Benchmark (letters & colors), Ralph Macchio (editor), Bob Harras (editor in chief)

Brief Description: 

X-51 and the Vision come to blows in Central Park, forcing Justice and Firestar to protect innocent bystanders from a falling Cleopatra’s Needle, which crumbles under their powerful blows. X-51 appears not to recognize his old friend and seems intent on continuing his assault on the two junior Avengers. He manages to retrieve data about the Vision and finds a moment of clarity, but the close proximity of the two mutants overrides his functions and he continues his rage against them. The Vision defends them with his diamond-hard body before telling them to ensure that any innocent civilians are protected while he counters the robot’s attack. He is surprised by X-51’s power and, in trying to absorb the energy of his attack, endures an energy surge, which fuses the circuits within his neural net, causing him pain. An incomplete but worried message from Jarvis, meanwhile, convinces Avengers liaison Duane Freeman to contact Henry Gyrich. The Vision struggles against X-51’s new abilities and commands Justice and Firestar to return to the mansion and go straight to the central computer mainframe. He manages to override the robot’s programming temporarily but X-51 reboots and takes off after the two mutants, arriving at the mansion shortly after the swifter Vision. There, the Vision cleverly manages to engage in conversation with him in cyberspace and realizes that Sentinel programming is to blame for his behavior. Unable to fight the insidious programming, X-51 teleports into space, rather than let the Vision be infected, and forms himself into a satellite, which harmlessly orbits the Earth. Meanwhile, Sebastian Shaw engages the services of a Japanese warrior to help rid him of X-51 once and for all.

Full Summary: 

The Vision has arrived in Central Park after witnessing X-51 attacking his two teammates, Firestar and Justice. He immediately begins trading blows with the Machine Man. As he does so, he thinks about how whether you are man or mutant, immortal god or synthetic lifeform, our very existence seems to be inescapably fraught with conflict. As their fists land shattering blows on each others bodies, X-51’s is a strong metallic alloy and Vision’s is a diamond-hard, almost invulnerable synthetic form, the Vision thinks that, despite the numerous occasions upon which he has found himself in battle with one of his own allies, he believes he will never truly become accustomed to it.

As they trade blows, Firestar and Justice begin to recover and realize that Cleopatra’s Needle is beginning to topple from the impact of their punches. As innocent bystanders flee the falling stone, the two youngsters manage to stop the needle hitting the ground and Justice telekinetically restores it to its original position. Vision notices them and admires their valor, ever ready to protect innocents. Yet, despite their mutant abilities, he doesn’t believe they could have stood up to X-51 for much longer. The robot is out of control and no longer appears to recognize those he once considered friends. The task to stop him now belongs to him.

When the Vision asks Aaron if he realizes whom he is fighting, X-51’s database retrieves information about his foe. The Vision continues that surely there is a reason for this madness; a logic that escapes him. Suddenly, Aaron has his temporary insanity broken by the knowledge that he is fighting an ally and suddenly asks Vision what’s going on, saying that he remembers arriving at Avengers mansion. Vision notices that his words imply no recollection of any event since but before he can continue his enquiries, Justice and Firestar fly over to him and ask if he needs an assist. Before he can reply, X-51 suddenly takes off and heads straight for them, his robotic voice saying, “Effecting termination of entities ident-codifaxed: Justice and Firestar.”

Vision cannot allow that to happen and positions himself between his teammates and the robot, taking a plasma bolt meant for his friends against his diamond-hard skin, which he changes by altering every molecule in his body. While Vision can withstand X-51’s assault, both Central Park and the surrounding city cannot. He turns to Justice and tells him that he requires no assistance in effecting X-51’s neutralization but Vance replies by asking him if that’s such a good idea; how does he expect to defeat him single-handedly? Firestar is aware enough to add that maybe Vision is right and, as the senior Avenger tells them that he is prepared to counter any and all of X-51’s offensive strategies, they tend to civilians nearby who appear traumatized by the battle. As he thinks about the panic that humans feel due to the disruption of their normal routines by the never-ending battles waged against the backdrop of their fragile realities, he is blasted again by X-51 as Firestar and Justice fly the civilians to safety.

Meanwhile, in the District of Columbia, Duane Freeman, the Avengers special liaison to the government, sips a particularly distasteful cup of coffee in his office as he reads information on his computer. Suddenly, the vid-link to Avengers mansion activates and the voice of Edwin Jarvis can be heard. Duane tells Jarvis he can hear him and asks if the situation has changed since he last spoke and if there has been any contact with X-51. He replies yes, and he’s afraid their worst fears have indeed been realized. Oddly, before he can inform Freeman what’s happened, the vid-link connection is broken and the screen goes blank. Freeman knows that Jarvis, as the long-serving butler to the Avengers, is not a man who panics easily but the sound of his voice convinces him to make a phone call to Henry Gyrich and the Commission on Superhuman Activities.

Back in Central Park, the Vision thinks that, despite X-51 undergoing a moment of clarity, during which he seemed capable of reasonable discourse, the cold expression of menace that now contorts his face belies that erroneous assumption. X-51 again attacks, blasting from his hands as the Vision attempts to absorb the brunt of his attack using the solar gem in his brow. The energy surge is greater than he anticipated and too much energy is absorbed too quickly. The Vision’s circuits fuse within his neural net, causing pain and disorientation.

Several blocks away in the Hellfire Club’s salubrious interior, Sebastian Shaw broods, his hand holding his chin in a contemplative manner. One day he intends to rule the world but he can feel his plans slowly beginning to unravel. He wonders if X-51 has come in search of him as Tessa appears, wearing little more than the minimum of kinky leather, with her hair tied up in a style reminiscent of ages past. Shaw thinks about the recent attack he faced at the hands of the robot and is concerned that the hate and fear other mutants have been subject to in the past has never touched him. He won’t allow anything to jeopardize that. Tessa leans over him and gently touches his chin, telling Shaw that she has made contact with the ‘specialist’ he requested, adding that she hope he has brushed up on his Japanese.

Over in Japan in a high rise building, the man on the other end of the line speaks. He is currently in a training session and is holding himself upside down, balancing himself with one arm with which he does push-ups. The stranger tells Shaw that he can do this thing he asks of him in less than forty-eight hours. He also reminds Shaw that, when this is carried out, the debt that has bound him to him and his clan can be considered repaid in full. With the talking at an end, he tosses the phone away and continues his training.

The Vision, meanwhile, has recovered from the attack and apologizes to X-51, telling him what he does next is only because he is a threat to the safety of the general public. With that, he reduces the molecules within his arm to their minimal density and plunges it inside the chest of his opponent. The Vision then allows it to become partially tangible, which shocks Aaron’s systems. Energy explodes in all directions as onlookers flee the scene. Unfortunately for Vision, X-51 adapts to this shock much quicker than he anticipated, a power he wasn’t aware X-51 possessed. The robot teleports for the space of a human heartbeat, nearly taking the Vision’s arm with him. The Vision is surprised and hurt and unready for the solid right hand of X-51 which sends him flying.

Justice and Firestar drop down beside Aaron and Justice tells him, “We’re only trying to help! But if you’re not willing to let them us it peacefully then….” Before he stops talking, X-51’s computer kicks in again, and he says that he has scanned their primary attack modes and is initiating an appropriate countermeasure. As the robot vanishes in a cloud of energy, Justice says he doesn’t like the sound of that and doesn’t like the looks of this. With that, the couple are thrown backwards, as X-51 unleashes another powerful blast which fortunately for them hits a statue instead, melting it to slag. The Vision recovers from his attack and emerges through the ground to attack X-51 from behind, double-punching him in the back. Despite the significant transformation he has undergone, he thinks, X-51 remains nonetheless unable to detect his presence when he is intangible, which momentarily gives him the advantage, and an instant to ponder the situation at hand.

With the robot lying face down in the grass, Vision tells the two young mutants to stay away from their assailant. They are to travel directly to Avengers mansion and, more precisely, the central computer mainframe. Justice begins to question this but the Vision orders them to go immediately. Justice makes a sarcastic comment about who made him team leader but Angelica persuades him to leave. The Vision turns to try and reason with Aaron. He tells him that if any vestige remains within him of the entity he once was, he must hear him. Unfortunately, the robot’s Sentinel technology overrides any emotional response he may have and he takes off, flying straight past the Vision in pursuit of the two mutants.

The Vision pursues him and he remembers how he himself had once to rebel against his original directive, which was forcing him to destroy those who are now his trusted peers. He knows X-51 must overcome the mysterious force that has him in its odious grip, or be forced into submission. Using one of his own newfound abilities, he fires a debilitating wave of data at the robot, which takes command over his functions and shuts him down. X-51 lands in a kneeling position on the grass and the Vision settles himself beside him. Continuing to remember his own early days, he contrasts Aaron’s upbringing under the kind and loving Dr. Abel Stack with his own ‘childhood’ as a pawn of Ultron. Despite this, they are both heroes, and kindred spirits.

He thinks that, now that the struggle is over, perhaps Hank Pym can maybe determine the cause of X-51’s malfunction. Unfortunately, the struggle isn’t yet over, and energy streams from the robot, arcing wildly around the Vision. The Vision wonders what it is; a disembodied consciousness, or a ghost about to renter the machine. The robot says, “Initiating reboot of X-51 database,” before immediately taking off once again. The Vision fires his optic blasts but they are deflected by X-51’s force field. This reboot is yet another capability that he hadn’t demonstrated in the past and wonders if this is indeed, the real Machine Man. Even the force field is a heretofore unknown trait.

Justice and Firestar, meanwhile, reach Avengers mansion and do as the Vision asked of them. The Vision uses his speed to overtake X-51 and phases through the mansion’s walls with the robot hot on his trail. He wants to lure X-51 exactly where he wants him, which is why he sent the others ahead. He phases through another inner wall into the room housing the central computer mainframe and the two mutants see that X-51 is right behind him. As he crashes through the wall, the Vision keys in the computer system’s appropriate security response. Firestar asks what he’s doing and he replies that when X-51 took control of the mansion’s defense grid shortly before he arrived. He inadvertently linked himself to the Avengers central computer, which he ultimately commands. He uses a cannon mounted on the wall to stop X-51 in his tracks and then manages to achieve a cybernetic interface with his CPU.

Now in cyber-space, X-51 becomes naked in his human form of Aaron Stack. He floats amongst electronic circuitry, which the Vision, who joins him, also explains is cyber-space; not really a place at all but an environ nonetheless where artificial minds such as theirs may interact freely. He sees that he is obviously the son of Abel Stack, but the core personality within his robotic system appears to be in a state of complete flux. This results in wildly erratic behaviour on his part which makes him a danger to all he comes into contact with.

He explains that Aaron must trust him; trust in the Avengers as they yet find a way to help X-51 overcome the conflicting directives that compel him. They are his allies and he asks that he allows them to help. “Of course I will Vision,” Aaron replies as they shake hands, “You’ve got my word, friend.” Suddenly, out of nowhere, Aaron turns and, with an anxious look, sees a looming icon representing the Master Mold: the precursor to a series of government-sanctioned mutant-hunting robots. The Vision realizes that this is the reason behind X-51’s erratic behaviour and his unceasing determination to eliminate Justice and Firestar. The Master Mold icon reaches out and grabs Aaron, enveloping him within its huge fingers. He calls to the Vision for help as he is fed into the Master Mold’s mouth, finding himself trapped behind the mouth’s inner workings. He screams but, despite the struggle he continually endures, the man within is once again losing the battle.

Back in the real world, X-51 once again is now poised to attack the junior Avengers and the Vision quickly tells them to get behind him. Surprisingly, in a flash of teleportational energy, X-51 vanishes from Avengers mansion, leaving a swirl of smoke and three relieved Avengers behind. When Firestar asks the Vision where he went, the Vision replies that he uncertain, but he has discovered that Sentinel technologies of an advanced nature now reside deep within his system. That, he tells her, is what repeatedly caused him to perceive them as threats. He tells her that he was briefly able to reach him but the evil which possesses him was far too strong. Had X-51 not chosen to sever their ‘technopathic’ link, this corruption might even now be infecting his own system. As he strolls away, leaving Jarvis scratching his head, he adds that he thinks that X-51 was well aware of that. The Vision explains to his fellow Avengers that, rather than allow that to happen, he chose instead to flee somewhere they wouldn’t be able to follow.

X-51 reappears in space, high above the planet Earth. He begins to dismantle himself and bend his own body parts into the shape of a satellite. Each pliable sheet of metal is morphed into another sheet and everything locks together, leaving X-51 orbiting the Earth. The Vision tells his team-mates that, wherever he is, he’ll be alone, secluded and somewhere where he will pose no threat to any of his teammates, or to the rest of humanity, and where no one poses any threat to him. The satellite’s ‘face’ is one of perpetual turmoil.

Characters Involved: 


Firestar, Justice, Vision (all Avengers)

Duane Freeman (Avengers government liaison)

Jarvis (Avengers butler)

Sebastian Shaw



Central Park bystanders


(on vid-link)


(in cyber-space)



Master Mold

Story Notes: 

Though the Vision doesn’t have a ‘real’ name, he does sometimes go by the name Victor Shade.

The Vision was created by Ultron-5 and, when sent to defeat the Avengers in his debut issue [Avengers (1st series) #57] he managed to rebel against him and assist the Avengers in defeating his creator. He was given Avengers membership in the following issue.

X-51’s database information


Real name: Not applicable

Ht: 6’2” Wt: 300 lbs (normal density)

Classification: Artificial lifeform

Status: Not applicable

DNAnalysis: Absorption of ambient solar energy/auto-density manipulation

Group Affiliation: Avengers

Issue Information: 
Written By: