X-Men #141 (Jan. 1981)
"Days of Future Past"
Chris Claremont/John Byrne/Terry Austin
Karen: I feel like this is a big day for us here at BAB. This has got to be one of the biggest issues of the Bronze Age, and personally, it marks the beginning of the end of my love of the X-Men. After issue #143, Byrne and Austin would leave the book, and a lot of what I enjoyed about the title seemed to disappear. But for over five years, this was not only my favorite comic, it was an obsession. The X-Men were the perfect fantasy escape for this pre-teen/teen -the ultimate outsiders, yet they were also incredibly cool and though they fought each other (hello Cyclops and Wolverine) they were also a family too. One could imagine belonging to the X-Men in a way you could never imagine joining the Avengers or the Justice League. Each issue of X-Men was approached eagerly, and it rarely disappointed (well maybe the Murderworld stuff did a little). The creative team was going strong and readers felt like they were a part of something special. So along came X-Men #141, and it just blew everyone away. From the incredible covers -with #141 becoming legendary - to the amazing time-travel premise, this two-part story is a tour-de-force. It's no wonder that -for good or ill -it became the basis of so much to come in later X-Men stories. So let's get to it, shall we?
Doug: Well... just a second. True confession time. Maybe "true reminder" time would be a better way to put it. Our longtime readers may recall that I've said in the past how I left comics when I entered high school. The year was 1980, and the last X-Men I saw over a five year period (no, silly -- it didn't take me that long to graduate; I picked the hobby back up in the spring of my freshman year of college) was #130 -- I was ushered out by the Disco Dazzler! That's right -- left just as the "Dark Phoenix Saga" was ramping up! So for me, a recent purchase of the DoFP tpb gave me the opportunity to finally read this story.
Karen: You're right -I'd forgotten in the heat of my excitement over this review that you dropped out at the absolute worst time in X-Men history! You missed out on the whole Dark Phoenix saga and Days of Future Past -oh man, Doug, talk about bad timing! So yes, I can see you won't have the same connection to this material that I do. But maybe that's a good thing -you'll be more objective.
Karen: Our splash page opens in a decimated-looking New York City. We see a woman in a dull green jumpsuit with the letter 'M' over the left side of the chest. She's carrying a box of what appears to be medical supplies. We are told this is Kate Pryde -not Kitty. For it is the twenty-first century -the future, and the state of NYC is typical of most of the U.S. Kate is on her way to rendezvous with Logan -and she's worried about the safety of her surroundings. And with good cause. She soon falls through a trap door and is ambushed by a group of toughs that look like they stepped out of Mad Max. Kate warns them that she's on official Sentinel business, but they scoff -the leader says they hate the robots almost as much as they hate 'muties.' He threatens Kate and she gives him a swift kick in the gut -it's about all she can do, as a collar prevents her powers from working. Things don't look too good, but then her friend Logan shows up. It is, of course, Wolverine, a little gray at the temples, but none the worse for wear. He quickly takes down the thugs, without using his claws, as his signature attack would alert the Sentinels of his presence. Logan is now a colonel in the Canadian Resistance Army, and he's working to take down the Sentinels. It turns out that the other super-powers are planning to launch nuclear missiles the moment the robots head out of North America. So he and Kate and the remaining X-Men are going to try to stop it from happening. He gives Kate a small component, part of a larger device called the 'jammer.' He tells her phase two begins at midnight and wishes her luck.
Doug: Kate is very serious-looking. This sure isn't the little Sprite that had recently entered the X-verse. But Wolverine's certainly recognizable immediately. There's a lot going on in these first few pages, both visually and through the text. I felt it was a lot to digest, and it raised a ton of questions for me. One thing I was struck with early here was that the X-Men actually are wary of the Sentinels. My impression of the Sentinels through time had been that they looked great, but rarely succeeded in accomplishing what they'd set out to do. So that they were in some fashion of control in this era seemed off. Claremont and Byrne were spinning a mystery.
Karen: Kate certainly looks haggard, and in the context of the story, it makes sense. My impression of the Sentinels was different from yours though; while the X-Men had always found a way to stop them, I never considered them pushovers. And of course, this is yet another iteration, a 'new and improved' version if you will.
Karen: Kate's trip back to the Bronx is a depressing one. The buses are pulled by horses, indicating perhaps oil has been cut off to America. We are now told the year -2013! - and that there are three classes of people: H for baseline human -allowed to breed; A, for anomalous humans, people carrying mutant genes, forbidden to breed; and M, mutants, who were relegated to outcasts by the Mutant Control Act of 1988. Most of mutantkind was exterminated -we are told millions have died since the Act was passed (could these all have been mutants in North America? That number seems awfully large. Would it include mainline homo sapiens as well?). Kate enters the interment camp where she lives and walks past row after row of tombstones, and we see the names of many characters we know, some who were mutants (Charles Xavier, Scott Summers, Kurt Wagner) and some who were not (Ben Grimm, Reed Richards). It does seem that more than mutants were killed in this terrible reality. Kate thinks to herself that they will try to ensure that this nightmare never even happens!
Doug: Ah, stories told in some future epoch. Talk about partying like it's 1999! I've always thought the best thing about the original Planet of the Apes series was that it was set around 2000 years in the future -- no need to worry about catching up to that! Anyway, you're right about the apocalyptic scene Kate travels through. In a way, Chris Claremont was setting up later storylines -- or at least feeling them out -- with his caste system. The Morlocks, the island of Genosha... I can see how those ideas could flow from this storyline. From the cover we know this is going to be dark, but there was something about seeing the non-mutant heroes deceased that struck a nerve as to the seriousness of this situation. The long path back into the concentration camp was eerie marked with all the headstones; Claremont and Byrne had done some homework in regard to memorials of this sort left over from our own stupidity in this history.
Karen: Kate joins with fellow X-Men Storm and Colossus, now Kate's husband, and Franklin Richards, last survivor of the Fantastic Four, and his girlfriend, a red-headed telepath/telekinetic named Rachel. They begin to discuss their plan when a man in a wheelchair comes up. No, it's not Professor X, but Magneto! Circumstances have caused the former foes to become allies. While Colossus questions whether their plan will work, Magneto says it must, if the world is to survive. Kate and Peter (Colossus) take a moment alone. He feels concern over what they plan to do - he says if they succeed, their love might cease to exist along with the Sentinels. Kate says if it is to be, it will be. But more than that, if they are successful, they will create a world where their children can grow up free and unafraid. The Sentinels killed their children -if she can change that, it is worth the risk.
Doug: Did you wonder at all about the X-Men who would survive and form the backbone of this future team? I think it's a cinch that if Dave Cockrum had been on the creative staff, Nightcrawler would have been a survivor. You know, I was going to wonder why they didn't take the opportunity to introduce a new character here, but they did in Rachel... not Summers yet, though. She'd certainly become a major player in another 50 issues or so. Wait -- the idea of Magneto as a good guy started here, too. Man, I guess I didn't know how much Claremont would mine from this story over the succeeding years!
Doug: The inclusion of Franklin Richards surprised me, but it was actually nice to see him finally grown up. Speaking of, did you ever think Peter was too old for Kitty? Wouldn't he have been in his early 20s when she joined up -- and wasn't she only like 14 at the time?
Karen: I would have liked to have seen more of Franklin -he looked a bit like his uncle Johnny, but talked like his dad! I wonder if he still had his reality-altering abilities? As for Peter and Kitty, I think I've read that Peter was in his later teens -perhaps 18, and Kitty was about 14. So yes, perhaps a bit awkward -not to mention illegal! - but then she was a little more mature and he was somewhat naive. As far as chemistry goes, it always seemed like a nice match.
Doug: Of all the X-Men issues through the Bronze Age, what percentage of them contain a Danger Room scene? We mentioned this in our review of X-Men #4 a couple of weeks ago. But you know -- it never gets tired, because anything can happen in that space. I always felt it gave artists a chance to cut loose. I felt bad for Kurt, but thought Kitty's reaction was very natural. I think it represented the fact that even as outsiders, there could be some more outside than others. Each X-Man had incredible powers, but no one looked as Kurt looked. Kitty's wariness seemed to be innocently offensive, if you know what I mean. And wasn't it great that Wolverine counseled Kurt? These folks had really grown through the years -- way different from the group that always seemed ready to fight each other back in the early "All-New, All-Different" years.
Karen: Looking back, it seems like Wolverine matured a lot during the Dark Phoenix saga, or right after it. He was far less of a jerk after Jean passed away, and wound up becoming a responsible team member. In some ways, his growth is similar to Hawkeye's. I can't help but think that this was all purposeful on Claremont's part.
Doug: I really liked Storm's ascension to leadership. She seemed a natural to take the reins after Cyclops left. She always had such a great relationship with Kurt and Peter, and Wolverine was just going to be Wolverine no matter who was "in charge". I really loved it that Kurt, even after Kitty had somewhat shied from him, was the one who got to her first after she collapsed. He has such a big heart, and was always a team-first guy. I thought Claremont sold Kitty's transformation to Kate quite well with the more mature speech patterns. John Byrne and Terry Austin did a top-notch job of conveying the confusion on the faces of Nightcrawler and Wolverine. Did you find Angel to be a fifth wheel on this team? He's so appealing visually, but really has no power set beyond flight, and to be honest he seems incomplete without Bobby Drake along for the ride.
Karen: On the plane to the capital, Kate expands upon her story: Kelly is not a bad man, but is concerned about the ever-increasing number of super-powered people in the world. The Brotherhood killed him to put humanity in their place, but instead, it escalated tensions and caused anti-mutant sentiment to grow, leading to the Mutant Control Act and the reactivation of the Sentinels. The robots decided the best way they could achieve their programming was to take over the country. They also decided to begin exterminating all super-powered beings, mutant and non-mutant, hero and villain. By the year 2000, all of North America was under Sentinel rule. And most of the X-Men were dead. Now the Sentinels are about to expand their jurisdiction to the rest of the globe, which will set off a nuclear war that will destroy the planet. The surviving X-Men of the future came up with this plan, and Kitty was chosen to be sent back, because at this age, she had not been trained to protect herself from psychic assaults.
Doug: How about the kid dressed up like a member of the Newsboy Legion? Someone please tell me -- was this the first time in Marvel's history that some sort of registration of super-powered types was proposed? Of course in the Avengers a few years earlier the feds had dispatched Henry Peter Gyrich to serve as a security liaison to the team and clean up some of their lackluster policies (of course he brought other irritations into the mix). Marvel would seem to touch on some of these themes over and over, culminating in Civil War.
Doug: It seems odd that the Sentinels could accomplish all of that without any of their former masters involved -- the Trasks and Stephen Lang (of course there's a reason they weren't involved, and it has to do with pushing up daisies -- but I think you know what I mean).
Karen: I assumed these were a more advanced version -so their AI had progressed to the point where they could think for themselves and create plans and strategies. Which is pretty scary.
Karen: It's hard for me to tell how much time has passed since they first brought Kitty on board -not too much I think, since this is her first Danger Room session.
Karen: Flash forward thirty years. The X-Men have escaped the Sentinel compound with Wolverine and are traveling through the old subway tunnels. We are told that Magneto (called Magnus here, not Eric) stayed behind, sacrificing his life to give them time to get away. They are moving along when suddenly the roof of the tunnel is blasted away -and so is Franklin! He is disintegrated by a beam from the Sentinels. The mutants are warned to surrender. Rachel is stunned, but Storm tells her to fight back, and she does -with a telekinetic blast that looks suspiciously Phoenix-like. Hmm. Storm blasts a robot with lightning but it is too insulated. That problem is solved by a Septuagenarian fastball special. Another patrol of three Sentinels appears and Colossus handles them by knocking a building over on them. The X-Men are determined to make it to the Baxter Building -the Sentinels' base.
Karen: Back in 1980, we go inside the Pentagon, where we see a woman named Raven Darkholme. She works in the Department of Defense, but is in reality the mutant shapechanger Mystique. She enters a room and inside we see the members of the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants: Destiny, Avalanche, Pyro, and Blob. Blob's old fashioned -he doesn't like taking orders from a woman and this sets off a squabble with his team-mates, but Mystique soon settles him down. Then she tells them all to get ready -it's time to strike!
Doug: I thought Destiny, in regular clothes, sure looked a lot older than she'll appear once in costume. Threw me off a bit. Pyro's no looker, is he? The Blob fills that comic relief roll, doesn't he?
Karen: In the Senate, Robert Kelly is speaking at a hearing about mutants. This scene was recreated in the first X-Men film. Xavier and Moira MacTaggert are there as well. The X-Men show up in civilian attire and the Professor reads their minds to find out what's going on.However, as Kelly goes on, wondering if there will be any place in the world for 'ordinary people' as more and more super-powered people appear, the wall of the hearing room begins to crumble and collapse. As the audience flees, the dust settles and the Brotherhood appears. Mystique threatens the Senator, but then a lightning bolt slashes down in front of her. The X-Men face the Brotherhood, telling them that if they want to harm anyone here, they'll have to go through them. With that challenge, Mystique then orders her team to kill the X-Men. It's game on -in two different times!
Doug: I was surprised at how public the altercation was between the Brotherhood and the X-Men. Granted it had to be given the circumstances, but it seems that throughout their history the very existence of the X-Men was always a secret. Here, they identify themselves and dive right into the scrap with the bad mutants. But then the reporters assembled recognize Warren Worthington III as the Angel -- so that cover had been blown years ago when he bankrolled the Champions. Avalanche looks like a dude that might be at home in the Wrecking Crew! And I love Wolverine's bravado when the Blob says they don't look like any X-Men he knows. "That's right, Fatso. We're better." No exclamation point, just matter-of-fact.
Karen: It's hard to believe all this story was packed into one issue. So much goes on here, and there are so many small character moments throughout. The level of detail and thought in the story is fantastic. The Baxter Building as the Sentinels' base? Outstanding. Kitty and Peter together? That was amazing at the time -remember, she hadn't been around very long at this point. The art is also terrific. As usual, it is dynamic and packed with detail. Byrne's characters are emotive and distinct. There's so much emotion in this story -seeing the graveyard with the names of so many of our favorite characters in it, it brings a lump to the throat. It's easy to feel the pain that Kate and the other future X-Men feel. Even all these years later, after this story has been built on and copied and redone to death, it has power to it. No wonder they have made a movie out of it!
Doug: I agree with everything you just said. If they knew at the time that this was the swansong of Byrne and Austin, then they were going to end their run on the very top of the mountain. And before we leave, just a quick comment on that art team. Look through this entire issue if you have it -- there's no short-cutting. I'd say 90% of the panels have a detailed background. Although I think Byrne's earlier 1970s art on this title was better, this is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Great, great creative talent on display in this issue, from all the stakeholders.