Saturday, August 31, 2013

Welcome To The 21st Century--X-Men: Days of Future Past

In my post a couple of months ago on Superman #300, I wrote:
"It's amusing to read speculative stories like this one from a vantage point several years beyond the 'futuristic' setting of the tale."
For this post, I'm going to examine one possible future posited in a very famous comics story line from the vantage point of the very year that said future is meant to be taking place.
Now, as I look around and compare my real world surroundings to the world shown in this story, I can't help but think, "Where are the mutant death camps?  By God, we were promised mutant death camps by now! And what about the giant killer robots who are supposed to have the whole world on the brink of nuclear armageddon?  Where are they?"
As you may have surmised, the vision of the future of which I speak is the post apocalyptic horror posited by Chris Claremont and John Byrne as the future of the Marvel Universe in the classic tale "Days of Future, Past" from Uncanny X-Men #'s 141 and 142.  As I realized when I was re-reading my Essential  X-Men collections earlier this year, the futuristic portions of this story take place in 2013, the very year that we find ourselves in the midst of at this very moment. The fact that the next X-Men movie is apparently based on this storyline provides yet another reason to give these two issues another look.
Of course, "Days" was in no way ever meant to be a vision of our future here in what is somewhat cynically, at times, referred to as "the real world", unlike other works of futuristic speculation such as, for example, 2001: A Space Odyssey.  It has long been my contention that, at the time that film was made, the not too distant future posited in the movie was well within our grasp.  If the American space program had continued at the pace that put men on the moon less than a decade from the time that President John F. Kennedy made such a feat a priority, we no doubt could have had commercial space flight and a lunar colony by 1999, as seen in the film, and a manned vessel approaching the outskirts of the Jovian system just two short years later.  "Days of Future Past", on the other hand, is Claremont and Byrne's vision of the fantasy world known as the Marvel Universe, based not on "real world" trends, but on the stories they themselves had been telling in Uncanny for the previous three years.
Its a good bet that even if you've not read Uncanny X-Men #'s 141 and 142, or any of the many reprintings thereof, you nonetheless know at least the bare bones outline of the story.  This is, after all, one of the most well known, well regarded and influential tales ever published in the super-hero genre.  Still, I'll pause here for a brief recap for the benefit of those suffering the early stages of Alzheimer's or experiencing a momentary brain fart, or maybe even an actual non-comics reader who stumbled upon this post while searching for something else that they were actually interested in.
Uncanny #141begins by thrusting the reader without explanation at first into the world of 2013 and the ruins of New York City where we meet older versions of several of the X-Men plotting what is obviously a desperate and last ditch effort to avert a threatened nuclear war. We eventually learn that in 1980, the "present" as of the time of this story's initial publication, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants had assassinated anti-mutant presidential candidate Senator Robert Kelly, leading to a backlash against mutants that gave rise to anti-mutant legislation and  the creation by the U.S. government of an army of Sentinels charged with the elimination of the "mutant menace."
Eventually the Sentinels took over the country, wiping out mutants and non-mutant super-powered humans alike, and confining the few survivors to detention camps.  By the time we join this scenario, the Sentinels are ready to spread their anti-mutant reign of terror beyond the borders of the United States and the other nations of the world are likewise prepared to prevent this by any means necessary, including the use of nuclear weapons.   In order to prevent Armageddon, the remaining X-Men; Kate (a.k.a. Kitty) Pryde, Colossus, Storm and Wolverine, joined by Johnny Storm Franklin Richards and a young mutant telepath named Rachel; come up with one of those plans that only make sense to comic book characters and readers.  With Rachel's help, they send the mind of the adult Kate Pryde into the body of her teenaged self, Kitty Pride, a.k.a. Sprite, in order to stop the Brotherhood from killing Kelly and starting the whole mess in the first place.
Besides providing the launching point for many future X-Men plotlines, "Days of Future Past" introduced, in a cameo, Rachel Summers, and laid the groundwork for Claremont's future attempts to rehabiliate Magneto, as he joins the surviving X-Men in hatching their ridiculous scheme.
Essentially, "Days of Future Past" is the swan song of the Claremont-Byrne collaboration on Uncanny X-Men.  The issue after "Days" conclusion, #143, a Christmas story further spotlighting Kitty Pryde, was Byrne's last.  Unlike other creative teams that I'm sure we could all think of, Claremont-Byrne went out on a high note.  The whole of 1980 was a banner year for them.  That 12 month period saw the publication of not just "Days of Future Past", but another of the most famous, best loved and most influential super-hero epics ever, "The Dark Phoenix Saga." 
Of the two, Byrne faired better following the dissolution of his partnership with Claremont.  He would go on to an acclaimed run on Fantastic Four, a brief but influential run on The Incredible Hulk, and a move to DC to revamp the Superman line of comics before the decade was over.  Claremont would continue to write Uncanny X-Men for another decade, and while those stories were good, the book's glory days were behind it.


  1. Just a slight correction: it was Franklin Richards in the future, not Johnny Storm. Though I'm sure that's what you meant. this is the best time-travel comic story ever, I'd say!

    1. Thanks, Steven. Don't know what I was thinking. I even had Essential X-Men Volume 2 right in front of me as I was writing this. Not only is Franklin with the remaining X-Men, but you can see Johnny's grave in the panel just before Franklin is first shown. Anyway, the post has been corrected. Thanks again.

  2. Franklin's appearance, and quick death before we get to see his adult powers, is one of my favorite little bits in this story!