THE COMIC COMPENDIUM: X-Men: Days of Future Past (1981)

You’ve seen the film, now read the comic! Ed revisits the inspiration for the latest X-blockbuster.

Who made it?: Chris Claremont (Co-Writer), John Byrne (Co-Writer/Artist), Marvel Comics.

Who’s in it?: Kitty Pryde, Professor Xavier, Magneto, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus.

Original run: Uncanny X-Men #141-142.

Released: January-February 1981.

Co-written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by John Byrne (with inking by Terry Austin), the story arc for Days of Future Past has somehow managed to become one of the most popular stories ever in comics; one that has inspired so many other X-Men storylines that its basically revered as an untouchable milestone. Apart from Death of Superman or perhaps Knightfall, I can’t think of another series that has influenced as many scribes as this. The amount of comic covers, including Captain America, that give tribute to the story by imitating it are innumerable. But while Death of… and Knightfall spanned multiple issues and epilogues, Days of… was a mere two-issue arc that spawned several prologues and epilogues, some appearing over twenty years later.

Though set in a dystopian future 2013 that is now slightly comical, I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that super-powerful robot “Sentinels” haven’t actually taken over North America and imprisoned an entire species of humanity. Or, indeed, conquered the rest of the planet in their clinical attempt to save us. Oh, just me? We begin our tale even further back in the past in the present day of 1980 where we join a team of X-Men comprising of Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Angel, Nightcrawler, and Kitty Pryde in training. Meanwhile, their mentor Charles Xavier has flown to Washington with Moira McTaggert to be a part of talks with the American government about their stance on mutants, with the prominent anti-mutant Senator Robert Kelly taking a large role in the proceedings.

Not only was this a team fresh from losing Jean Grey and Cyclops, the latter to clear his head over Jean’s apparent “death,” the team also consisted of a Kitty before she’d taken up the mantle of Shadowcat, Ariel or even Sprite. In fact, this is one of Kitty’s first adventures with the X-Men, and only her second as an actual member of the team. It’s partly this that makes the tale intriguing as Kitty becomes our main protagonist; a separate Kitty, or “Kate” as she’s now known, from the future. She’s been sent back in a desperate attempt to warn the past X-Men about events that will lead their future down a path filled with death, suffering and massive mutant-hunting robots. The two timelines run concurrently, with the future X-Men beginning their tale before the time-travel shenanigans begin, with Kate and Wolverine both risking their lives to help supply the parts needed to create a “jammer” which revives their technologically-blocked powers.

Through Kate’s journey, we’re shown a world where mutants and anyone carrying the “X-gene” are shunned and feared, as well as prevented from breeding and banished to concentration camps away from the general populace. We also see that the world is a mess, with rubbish strewn anywhere, gangs being a prominent part of daily life, and buildings either falling apart or left in a damaged state. After seeing a mass graveyard filled with the countless bodies of mutants, with past members of the X-Men being the most prominent, we get another chilling reminder of the real plight at the heart of this universe. It’s a world where the X-Men lost, and in doing so they lost absolutely everything, with only a few remaining.

The future team consists of mainstays Colossus, Kate Rasputin (yup), Storm, and Wolverine, but also includes newer members like the son of Reed and Sue, Franklin Richards, and his partner Rachel Summers, which marks the very first appearance of the future Phoenix and child of Scott Summers and Jean Grey. The final member of the team was rather more unexpected at the time, a mister Eric Lensherr, also known as Magneto. While the future may have been bleak, it inspired those who had once been enemies to join forces to defend themselves. Shame it failed. It’s this team that comes up with a plan to erase their future by changing the past, and it’s Rachel who plays arguably the most important part, sending Kitty’s consciousness back into her past self’s body to warn the X-Men that the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants is about to embark on a foolish venture that will have terrible consequences. This leads to a battle between the X-Men and the Brotherhood on which the fate of the future lies. It’s a credit to Claremont’s past genius that, during these two issues, you actually feel that the X-Men may indeed fail. It may be that, with the death of Jean, it made the team appear fallible and that success is no longer assured. Whatever the reason, Claremont managed to create one of the most atmospheric X-tales you’re likely to read, making it twice as disappointing that, since the 90s, his output has been of the lowest quality.

The art of Byrne is also noteworthy, but the difference between the work for the past and the present is absurdly noticeable, with Byrne adding incredibly detailed backgrounds of 2013 to help create an atmosphere of a crumbling society and death with extraordinary success. However, when we return to the present, we have either blank white backings or plain walls, with exterior scenes suffering much more than those indoors. While it’s wonderful that he tried so hard to make the future appear different, it’s a shame that the 80s is noticeably worse off for it. That said, his character models are stunning whatever era the X-Men are in, with each mutant appearing to have his or her own unique design instead of suffering from “cut’n’paste” syndrome.

Although only two issues long, it’s actually quite hard to overstate how important Days of Future Past is to both the X-Men and Marvel in general, as this exploration of the future is a warning against losing our freedoms and is still relevant to this day. It also really opened-up the idea of alternate timelines and universes to a mainstream audience. Storylines like the Age of Apocalypse, upon which the next X-film looks set to be based, owe everything to Days of Future Past, being set in a dystopic future where the bad guys have won, leaving the X-Men to strive against them as best they can. Sound familiar? Well, it should, seeing as its basically just an extended version of Days… with a few tweaks thrown in. This is hailed as a comic book classic and rightly so, with some of the best and, for the time, most original storytelling you can find. Give it a look.

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe: Alternate Universes 2005 gave the numerical designation for the original “Days of Future Past” timeline as Earth-811 in the Marvel Multiverse.
  • In 2001, fans voted the first issue of this storyline the 25th greatest Marvel comic.
  • A prelude to Days was produced in a three-part miniseries entitled Wolverine: Days of Future Past. This mini dealt with ramifications between the catalyst for the creation of the alternative future up until the main storyline in Uncanny X-Men 141-142. The prelude explains why Logan leaves for Canada and why Magneto is in a wheelchair in the main two-issue story.
  • Another view of this reality was presented in the second issue of Hulk: Broken Worlds. A short story, “Out of Time,” examines the life of Bruce Banner (the Hulk) in a Sentinel prison camp.

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