Saturday, July 10, 2010

VINTAGE - X-Men, Days of Future Past

Taking advantage of my local library's Interlibrary Loan service, I was able to get my hands on a copy of the long out-of-print Days of Future Past trade paperback. While, as a teenager, I read a novelization of the story- which even quotes the comic, I remember some of the banter back and forth word for word- I still hadn't seen John Byrne's art in all it's glory. The collection features some odd surrounding material; while Cyclops's departure from the X-Men due to Jean Grey's recent death does indeed go with the story, the X-Men Annual storyline of Nightcrawler's mother trapping him in a magical version of Dante's Inferno, and the final story of Kitty Pryde home alone with an alien trying to kill her... these don't really go with the rest of the story. This collection was bound and printed long before Marvel started printing their 'epic' black and white collections of ALL issues of Uncanny X-Men. Even though the stories don't go together, I'm glad I got to read the X-Men Annual story. I doubt I would have gotten a chance to read it otherwise.

"Days of Future Past" actually only last for two issues in the Uncanny X-Men comic, despite being one of the most pivotal (and interesting) stories in the X-Men's history. The story begins 30 years in the future. In the "present" the year is 1980, and Kitty Pryde has just recently joined the X-Men. While in the "future" Kate Pryde is a middle-aged women running for her life, trying to meet up with an elderly Wolverine in a now-destroyed New York City. The future is bleak; an assassination of a presidential hopeful senator in 1980 led to a series of events that allowed the robotic Sentinels into taking over North America. The Sentinels are ready to move overseas to spread their control world-wide, but the rest of the world is ready to launch nuclear weapons to prevent that from happening. The surviving X-Men, who are very few, are Storm, Colossus, Wolverine, newcomer Rachel, and Kate herself. They are assisted by Rachel's lover, Franklin Richards the only surviving member of the Fantastic Four, and Magnus- Magneto, who ironically has been confined to a wheelchair.

The future X-Men, facing what they accurately predict to be the end of the world, hatch a two-fold plot. They escape from the south Bronx internment camp that they have been confined two and plan to destroy the Sentinels' Manhattan HQ located in the Baxter Building. Meanwhile, Rachel and Kate have an even more implausible plan; Rachel is going to telepathically send Kate's consciousness back in time to inhabit her younger self. This is kind of genuis because it gets away from the normal conventions involved in your typical time travel story. If people really do have crazy telepathic powers, why couldn't they shoot someone mind back 30 years? Kate is chosen to inhabit Kitty because, having just joined the X-Men, the youngest member of them won't be ready for a psychic assault. It's also worth noting that when Kate inhabits Kitty, it's not a switcheroo; the young Kitty's consciousness just becomes displaced for the rest of the story.

Fred Dukes, the criminal tub of goo known as the Blob, escapes from prison in the issue before "Days" begins. It's revealed that he's been recruited for a new "Brotherhood of Evil Mutants" - this lineup, led by Mystique, include the earth-shattering Avalanche, the flame-controlling Pyro, and the future-telling Destiny. I believe it's the first appearence for probably all of the new Brotherhood. The fight between the Brotherhood and X-Men is pretty evenly matched, even with the X-Men's superior numbers- the team consisted of Storm, Colossus, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Angel, and Sprite (Kitty Pryde's then-codename, not the lemon/lime delicious beverage as many assume). As a kid, I was confused as to why Angel was a part of this lineup; it's explained in the issue before that he's filling in for Cyclops, who left the team shortly after Jean's death. This is also Storm's first leadership gig post-Cyclops, so Mystique kind of banks on the fact that Ororo will be inexperienced to deal with her and her evil team. It's a good bet. While Storm douses Pyro's flames more than once, Blob is shown to be the bruiser of the team. Colossus, at first, really can't move the immovable. He eventually, with Wolverine's help, figures out that you can move the ground beneath Blob. Nightcrawler is initially doing well against Avalanche with a punch-teleport combo, but Destiny's prediction power allows her to tell Avalanche where he will appear next. While Nightcralwer recovers, Mystique morphs half her body into his form, taunting him with how similar they appear. She also knows his real name and the name of his gypsy adopted mother, which somewhat horrifies Nightcrawler. Her biological connection, though assumed for many many years after this, isn't actually confirmed until an X-Men annual story well over a decade later. Chris Claremont, who of course wrote Days, had an initial plan for Mystique's biological connection to Kurt... which would have been far, far cooler.

The dire situation for the future X-Men turns to be just as grim as they expected. Rachel stays behind to guard the unconscious Kate while Storm, Colossus, and Wolverine all storm the Baxter Building. Surprisingly, Wolverine is the first to die after trying to "fastball special" a Sentinel with a sneak attack. Turns out, the robot knew he was there. Storm fights valiantly, but is soon impaled. Colossus manages to toss a Sentinel from the building in a fit of rage, but Rachel later hears his death telepathically as she sadly reflects on the loss of her friends. In the past, Kate (still in young Kitty's body) stops Destiny from killing Senator Robert Kelly. Kate disappears, presumably to the future (later stories confirm this) and Kitty is back to her old self. The X-Men wonder if they've really averted the disaster. While it looks like maybe the have, Kelly later appoints Henry Peter Gyrich and Sebastian Shaw to head up Project Wideawake. The Project's goal? To build Sentinels. Hopefully this collection, or a similar one, will find it's way back in print. If not, you can always try to interlibrary loan it at your local library! I did, and I'm glad I did :-)

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