Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Future: Awesome or Awful?

Karen: Regular BAB reader and commentator Sean Strange suggested the idea for this post -thanks Sean! Today we look at the future -actually, a whole bunch of futures. Comics have always presented a variety of outlooks on the future: some positive, but most pretty negative. The time in which these possible future are conceived seems to have a strong influence on whether the future depicted is utopian or dystopian in nature.

For example, one of the best known comic book futures is that of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Created in 1958, the Legion originally depicted a glowing future of triumphant technology and prosperity. This reflected the attitude of the post-World War II years in America, where the middle class grew and life was good. D
espite having to fight world-threatening menaces like Mordru and the Fatal Five, in general, the early Legion's universe was an orderly one.

If we move forward more than a decade to the 1970s, the era of Vietnam, Watergate, and the energy crisis, the future no longer seems so bright. Marvel had at least three different possible futures represented at this time, all of them unpleasant. There was the run-down world of Deathlok, the conquered Earth of Killraven, and a thousand years in the future, the war-torn reality of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Deathlok had the military-industrial complex in charge,
experimenting on people and generally showing no morals whatsoever. Things were so bad that cannibals were running free in the streets of New York! In Killraven's future, the martians of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds returned to Earth in the 20th century and wiped out most of humanity, and enslaved the rest. The Guardians of the Galaxy saw their worlds conquered by the Badoon, a reptilian race. One added attraction to the Guardians was that their leader, Vance Astro, was born in the 1960s, so he provided a viewpoint character for readers.

Over at DC again, Jack Kirby came up with Kamandi in 1972. Inspired by Planet of the Apes, Kamandi was "the last boy on Earth," stuck on a world controlled by intelligent animals. It might not have seemed as grim as Marvel's dystopias, but it wasn't the sweet future of the Legion either.

Of course, in 1989, the Legion (and its readers) were in for a rude awakening with the 'Five Years Later' Legion, in which th
e Dominators had conquered Earth. Not even the Legion it seems was safe from the "grim and gritty" fad.

Back at Marvel, one of the most fam
ous alternative futures in comics was born in X-Men 141-142 with the "Days of Future Past" storyline. In this future, Sentinels had subjugated mutants and humans alike. Although this was a very creative and memorable story, it unfortunately had a huge influence on the X-Men comics for years, seemingly dominating the books for years.

Of course there have been many other possible futures presented in comics -and most of them of the darker variety. I've left out quite a few, such as Hercules Unbound, Omac, Atomic Knights, Mighty Samson, Judge Dredd, Jonah Hex, and all the Marvel 'The End' series. Which ones are your favorites? Do you prefer a more positive future, or do you like the post-apocalyptic ones?


Dougie said...

I like the LSH's future best: Klordny, Moopsball, the Brain-Globes of Rambat.No 5YL for me please. I don't like "hurt/comfort" fanfic in my Legion.

I thought the satire in Kamandi's world was far more effective than Marvel's attempts (Pstun-Rage?!)because it was married to adventure and whacky visuals. I haven't re-read Killraven in a while but I think I might find it's overwrought, pretentious gibberish.
Hercules Unbound was feeble. post-apocalyptic dreck, even with Simonson's pencils.

Terence Stewart said...

My favourite dystopian future is Days of Future Past...because Wolverine dies. :)

But seriously, my favourite future is the one from the TMK Legion. I've always been a Legion fan, but that series from the late 80s/early 90s was probably one of the best, at a time when good comics were hard to find.

J.A. Morris said...

I'd have to say that 'Days Of Future Past' is the best. I'll never forget, I was at a friend's house, he had a subscription to X-men. He took it out of the mailing sleeve and we were shocked to see that almost all the X-men were dead! I bet the younger set is shocked when they learn it was told in only two issues. I'm sure it would've been at least 6 if it ran today.

But I'm with Karen, as great as this two-parter was, it's sad that Marvel keeps going back to it for inspiration. One reason I stopped reading X-men 16 years ago was because I was sick of people "from the future" showing up & joining the team. Rachel,Cable,Bishop,etc.

William said...

I dislike most stories about "possible" futures. They are usually overwhelmingly bleak and depressing. The best example being the extremely dark "Day of the Daleks"... I mean "Days of Future Past".

I've never been one of those people who likes to see the horrible fate that awaits my heroes in the "not too distant future". So I was never really a fan of stories like "Days of Future Past".

In fact I thought DOFP was especially annoying. The thing that struck me first about the story, was the very unlikely scenario that a bunch of robots would be able to take out the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, etc. Come on! Galactus couldn't do it. Loki couldn't do it. Thanos wielding the Cosmic Cube couldn't do it. But a bunch of robots (built by government contractors no less) managed to wipe out Thor, Iron Man, Wonder Man, The Thing, Spider-Man, Captain America, The Vision, The Scarlet Witch, Dr. Strange, etc. etc. Yeah, that doesn't seem unlikely at all.

Other future timelines have similar problems. I recently read Marvel Team-Up #46 from around 1975 or so where Spider-Man teams up with Deathlok in the post-apocalyptic future of 1990!!! Seeing as I was reading this comic in 2011 I found myself thinking - "Gee, I don't remember those zombie cannibals roaming the streets in 1990."

Stories about far distant future timelines (like the Legion) can be entertaining and fun, but ones that take place in the near future of current characters (like "Days of Future Past") for the most part feel forced, are usually full of plot holes and are basically just annoying.

Sean Strange said...

Nice post, and nice topic :) As you say, science fiction futures reflect the times they're written in, and something must have happened during the 1960's that really made people pessimistic, because the Bronze Age was the golden age of dystopian futures, in both comics and movies (Planet of the Apes, Omega Man, Soylent Green, Westworld, Logan's Run, etc.), and these are some of my earliest childhood memories.

I even like Hercules Unbound -- a post-nuclear holocaust world where the Greek Gods have returned is totally ridiculous, but it's also the reason I love comics! The same goes for Hex: a gunfighter from the Old West transported to the Mad Max/Blade Runner world of 2050 to battle high tech soldiers and robots -- what's not to like about this scenario? But Deathlok is probably my favorite Bronze Age dystopia -- it was cyberpunk way ahead of its time, and hardly seems dated at all (except for the dates, but give it a few more years and I'm sure the street cannibals will be here :).

Edo Bosnar said...

If you're asking me which future I would hope eventually transpires, I would say something like the optimistic future of Star Trek; in comics, I guess the (normal) Legion's future would be closest, or perhaps the nearer future presented in Davis' "The End" story for the Fantastic Four.
However, dystopian futures make such great grist for good and/or fun storytelling, e.g. Deathlok, Killraven, or Kamandi in the comics, and countless examples in the wider world of science fiction.
That said, I have to generally agree with the criticisms of "Days of Future Past" - like I said in earlier comment threads, that story itself was quite good, but the fact that Claremont (and others) kept mining that dystopian future for story ideas and characters became annoying almost immediately.

Doug said...

In regard to two of DC's most famous future stories that should have remained in their "Elseworlds" realm, The Dark Knight Returns certainly sealed the fate of the Jason Todd Robin, and Kingdom Come should never have been allowed to creep into the DCU.


dbutler16 said...

I totally agree with Dougie. While dystopian futures are a great verhicle for warning us about the present, I love the non-5YL Legion's bright, shiny, optimistic future best, reminiscent of Star Trek (but with super-heroes!).
I agree with the other Doug, that DC should not less Elseworld futures creep into the mainstream comics.

vancouver mark said...

Doug, I happen to be re-reading Killraven right now, for the first time in years. I had similar reservations to what you've expressed, but find it to be quite excellent. The content is pretty graphic and almost visceral for the time, and I especially appreciate the efforts Don McGregor made to have the different characters speak in distinctive voices, with unique personalities, even the villians.
Sure, some the text goes over the top, but I could say the same about Steve Gerber and others at the time (Roy Thomas, anyone?)
And the art was wonderful.

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