2.20.2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Hard to believe, but it was 33 years ago that "Days of Future Past" was first published. Raise your glasses, old timers! We have survived the Mayan Apocalypse of 2012, the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s, countless World War 3s, and the Sentinel Apocalypse of the early 21st century.


Phoenix's death was only a few months old when this came out, which is a little like premiering Temple of Doom only a couple of months after Raiders of the Lost Ark: a one-two knockout punch that catapulted X-Men to the top of the sales heap and kept it there (selling an average of half a million copies a month in an era when most Marvels "only" sold 100,000) more or less without interruption for decades. According to Grant Morrison in Supergods, it was only during his run on New X-Men that sales finally slacked off. (Something he relays with disappointment. Understandable! I quite enjoy Morrison's run on the title, but it was divisive, apparently.)

THE PLOT: Kate "Kitty" Pryde's astral self is projected back through time from the future dystopia of 2013 to possess her younger physical self. Her mission: prevent the assassination of Senator Kelly, whose death touches off a series of... unfortunate events.




You know this plot from dozens of other sci-fi franchises and authors, of course, but I sure didn't in 1981. I read this before I saw "City on the Edge of Forever" or anything from The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone (or elsewhere) that covered similar ground, and Terminator was still a few years down the road.  

Terminator would indeed end up having an influence on how the story developed in the sequels. Which I do intend to cover, at some point.
I wasn't reading X-Men when this came out, unfortunately. Had I started reading X-Men (and Daredevil) only twelve months before I did, I'd have picked up some of Marvel's most valuable back issues at spinner rack prices.

I did manage to find a copy of X-Men #142 (which fetches an average of $80 or so on eBay and elsewhere; note, I did not actually average out any figures. Just a quick look at auctions) at a collectibles shop for only a buck a couple of years back. I believe I've told this story somewhere on this blog before, but here it is again. I discovered this collectibles shop near my apartment that had these long boxes filled with comics for a dollar. Most of it was dreck, but I made it a habit to drop in on Saturdays and painstakingly go through them. Took me a total of 7 or 8 Saturdays. They were completely disorganized, and the place reeked of cat piss and mold. (I almost abandoned this project many times on account of the cat piss. It was summer, too, with no air conditioning and cramped corners.) But I persevered and among the last ten comics I looked at from the last box, lo and behold:

Huzzah!
I also found every issue of Spawn I ever wanted to get (i.e. the ones written by Dave Sim, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison) and more than a few old X-Factors. Including #1, which goes for less than some of the other big issues (like the first appearance of Archangel, as I discovered this morning when I was trying unsuccessfully to find a cheap copy of it on eBay.) Out of curiosity, I stopped at my local comics shop (which is conveniently located halfway between said collectibles shop and my apartment) to price-compare my finds. Had I purchased them there, in more or less the same condition, I'd have paid over $200 instead of less than $20. I'd have fared slightly better on eBay but not substantially.

Here's the cover for the first part:

You've likely seen it parodied or paid-tribute-to more than once.
Up to an including the promotional materials for the new movie. (That's supposed to be Ellen Page as Kitty Pride, but it looks more like Wiley Wiggins from Dazed and Confused to me.)
Let's talk about the upcoming movie for a second. What do you guys think? Will it be good? I enjoyed aspects of the first Singer film. It was probably the very first time a comic book appeared on the screen and was recognizable to me as the same characters and of the same spirit of the book. But I didn't like the outfits and still don't. 

X2 was for me a big step down from the first one but still not what I'd call a bad movie. X3 was awful. Everyone loved First Class, and I thought it was well made, but (Fassbender aside) the casting was so freaking weird and the continuity so scrambled that I just couldn't get into it. At least once a month - seriously! Don't tell my wife, she thinks I'm nerdy enough as it is - I grumble to myself about some aspect of First Class.


This cameo was great fun, though.
Haven't seen either of the Wolverine movies, but I've heard good things about the one that came out last summer. Maybe I'll get a chance to watch it and review it here, we shall see.

Anyway, will Days of Future Past be any good? The preview looked cool. I remain skeptical, mainly because as it's building on First Class, which is incompatible with the X-continuity I personally prefer, it's not going to be the same story. That might be fine - I am of course rooting for it not just to be good but to be awesome - or it might further strain and compromise the plot and characters. We'll see.

Back to our alternate near-past. As will increasingly be the case for the X-Men over the course of the 80s, the stakes here are incredibly high. Few teams are as perpetually on the precipice of total annihilation as Prof. Xavier and the gang.


Actually, that's not quite true the way I put that. Superhero teams are routinely on the brink of destruction. What I mean to say is that few team's brushes with death were as anxiety-inducing and accessible as the X-Men's were in the 80s. 


Franklin Richards never fares too well in these visions of Marvel's future, does he? At least that used to be the case. I have no idea what they did with the character after 1990 or so.
 

The series introduced Rachel Summers, the daughter of Jean and Scott in the future, who returns to X-continuity a little further down the line. We'll be seeing a lot more of her in these blogs.


Byrne rarely looks better than when he's paired with Terry Austin, and the art for these 2 issues is on par with the rest of their run on the book: just gorgeous.



He usually has good things to say about working with Terry. But I guess this storyline was the straw that broke the camel's back for the Claremont/ Byrne / Austin creative team (arguably the most celebrated creative team in X-history.) Here's how Byrne remembers it (from his forum:)

"There were two things I wanted to do when I plotted what became "Days of Future Past". First and foremost, of course, I wanted to do a kick-ass Sentinels story. But there was something else almost equally important: I wanted the X-Men to have a clean win. A story in which, when the dust settled, there was no doubt that they had accomplished what they set out to do. They had WON.

"The story I came up with seemed pretty bulletproof. Marc Gruenwald, Captain Omniverse himself, insisted that what would happen was actually the "creation" of an alternate timeline, but I pointed out to him that Kate having been sent back thru her own "mindstream" meant there was no way that could happen. The link between Kate and Kitty was continuous, contiguous, and uncorruptable. When the past -- Kate's past -- was changed, it would be CHANGED, and the future from which Kate sprang would simply vanish.

"That's what I plotted, that's what I drew, that's what I sent in. But when Chris scripted it, he included what immediately became known around the Office as "the lesbian incest scene", where Kate "leaves" Kitty's body, and "impulsively gives herself a kiss." In other words, she survives the alteration of the timeline. 

"I nearly exploded. I did not see this until it was published, and I had never been so furious in my life. Roger Stern had to talk me out of quitting the book right then and there. He was no longer editor, but he was my friend, and he could see thru my anger to what was best for me and, he hoped, the book.

"But the damage was done, both to my storyline and my attitude toward the book and the characters. That was when I really started to understand that, in the end, it didn't matter who I thought the X-Men were, or how I thought they should think and act, because it was what Chris scripted that was seeing print, and that was what the fans were accepting as "fact". (I did not know it at the time, but this was very much the same scenario that ultimately drove the wedge between Stan and Jack, and Stan and Steve.)

"So the whole adventure did create an alternate timeline, which Chris (et al) have mined ad nauseum ever since. And the X-Men lost their clean win -- again."

Byrne has strong opinions and while I understand where he's coming from (and more power to him) sometimes I think he gets a little militant about imaginary things like what happens when you travel back through time. It's cool that he has passionate ideas, but sometimes... yeah. He can be irrationally dismissive. Oh well, who can't be? Beyond that, though, I can certainly see where he was coming from.


(I searched for a Claremont rebuttal or his side of things, but no luck. If I find one, I'll put it up here.)

Mystique, like Psylocke, is one of those characters whose transformation into a slinky, movable cypher for adolescent fanboy lust was truly disappointing. 

As with Marvel's other female characters, it's not like they never emphasized certain attributes, but google-image search Mystique now and the devolution of the character into generic vamp pin-up is self-evident.
I like adolescent fanboy lust as much as the next guy, but fans of what Claremont was developing with the character would have to wait until he returned to the fold with the (out-of-continuity) book X-Men Forever.


What more is there to say? This is iconic Marvel. If you haven't read it, what are you waiting for? Two issues - you can knock 'em out in no time, even with Claremont's need to cram as many words into every panel as humanly possible. Everyone should read it before the movie comes out just because. So says me.

I've already covered the storyline's two covers, so I leave you with this gallery of other Sentinels-cover appearances. (Not a comprehensive list, just some ones I like.)

5 comments:

  1. Wading through the stench of cat piss for the love of comics . . . yep, sounds about right to me. (Sadly, the headquarters of The Truth Inside The Lie has its own occasional battles against the stench of cat piss. We like to think we mostly emerge victorious, but we are not really all that sure...)

    I had not seen that promo image for the new movie, but you're right: that really does look like Wiley Wiggins. Nice reference! Maybe Wooderson will show up in his salmon-colored jeans at some point in the movie, too.

    As for the movies, I liked the first two, was indifferent to the third, mostly liked the reboot, and then hated the first Wolverine. The second one was mostly great, but the final act brought it down big-time. I'm not expecting much out of the new one. I'd love to be wrong about it, though.

    I was amused -- that's not precisely the right word, but it'll do -- by that rant of Byrne's. I have to say, I sympathize with him. It must be beyond frustrating to have your work altered in that manner. Sure, it's all make-believe, but if you invest enough time in it, it takes on its own sort of importance, and somebody monkeying with it would undoubtedly feel quite galling.

    I had no idea this story was a mere two issues! I assumed it was six or seven. Not sure why I assumed that; I just did. I am tempted to read it before the movie, but I suspect it will make me dislike the movie even more than I already expect to; so maybe I'll save it for some future date. ("Future past" date?!? No?)

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    1. I sympathize with Byrne, too, for the same reasons. I never quarrel with his logic for things, just sometimes I wish he'd shrug some things off and see the bigger picture. Not on the monkeying around with one's work or agreed-upon story front, of course. To me, that is a perfectly legitimate thing to decry, loudly and often. But on things like the finer points of time travel in Trek or comics or elsewhere, sometimes I wonder where he gets his absolute certainty.

      It might be a good plan to wait until after the movie, but then you run the risk of never knowing the joy of the original before the movie's version gets in your mind first. (Assuming you didn't see the old X-men: the Animated Series adaptation, of course.) Still, that might be a minimal risk and well worth taking.

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  2. X-Men 141 was the very first issue of the title I ever bought. I loved it immediately and set about tracking down the previous 140 issues. It took me about 21 years but I managed to get every last one of them.

    This is the last great Claremont/Byrne story. Byrne left the book with 143. So Roger Stern, for all his persuasiveness, managed to talk Byrne into staying on for one more issue. I'd be more broken up about that if the awesomeness that was Dave Cockrum hadn't returned to the title.

    This is still my favorite X-story, fond remembrances of this being my first X-story notwithstanding. I'm crossing my fingers for the movie.

    Did Marvel drop that ball last year by not at least attempting a Sentinels storyline to match the events from 141-142? With all their event crossovers would it have killed them to try something like this, with the Sentinels declaring war on all superhumans?

    As great as this story was it spawned a lot of sequels, all of which sucked. I never gave a rat's ass about Rachel Summers or Nimrod or Bishop or Cable or whoever else Marvel tried to shoehorn into this story. Just awful. So bad it almost ruins my affection for the original. But not quite.

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    1. X-Men 141 was your first X-men book? THAT is cool.

      Dave Cockrum really was great. I've been looking through all these old issues, and that guy awaits a major revival. All the pros and his contemporaries love him and bring him up often enough, and he seems to be well-respected. But not on the level he should be.

      I wondered if Marvel did anything with the 2013/ Sentinels angle but didn't see anything come across my radar.

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