X-Men #142 (February 1981)
"Mind Out of Time!"
Chris Claremont-John Byrne/Terry Austin
Doug: Karen remarked last week how much material has been mined, lifted, and influenced by this two-part story. Of course the feature film named for this story opens in American theaters in less than two weeks. Of course, being the hangers-on that we are around here, we wanted to milk that publicity... oh, stop it. Of course you know we don't do that. Let's just say that it's a coincidence that we're running our reviews of X-Men #s 141-142 in May 2014. Really...!
Karen: After having read both issues again, which I have read many times before, although not for a few years, it's easy to see why they have become so highly regarded. Unfortunately, the story in these two issues, and the death and resurrection of Jean Grey, became two themes that were repeated endlessly in the X-books and have come to dominate X-Men mythology ever since. It's very much like the way Miller's The Dark Knight Returns came to dominate how Batman was portrayed for years (even still, to be honest). Something that should have been an exciting, one-off story gained far too much weight. But for now, let's just enjoy that story.
Doug: Your Dark Knight analogy seems apt. When you compare this story to that, I get it.
Doug: When we left off we had two bands of mutants, neither very merry. The team in our "present" (1980) had just been engaged by the all-new, all-different Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in the United States Capitol while trying to defend Senator Robert Kelly from murder. In the future (2013 to be precise), what was left of the X-Men were trying to stay a step ahead of the Sentinels. Those robots had evolved to the point where they could plan and execute far more successfully than they ever had in the past. They had taken over the United States and had slain almost all super-powered beings save a ragtag band of mutants. Led by Wolverine and Storm, Colossus, Kate Pryde, and Rachel (girlfriend of the recently-deceased Franklin Richards) were all that remained. Rachel, an extremely powerful telepath, had launched Kate's consciousness back to the past to inhabit the mind of Kate's younger self in a bid to get that era's X-Men to halt the assassination of Kelly. They believed that preserving his life would interrupt a chain of events that would eventually lead to the apocalyptic future they now inhabited.
Karen: I was about to remark here that this reminded me a little of James Cameron's The Terminator -except that film came out in 1984! But then, time travel has been around as long as stories. Certainly Cameron was accused of riffing off of two of Harlan Ellison's Outer Limits episodes, "Soldier" and the excellent "Demon with a Glass Hand," both time travel tales. And I read the other day Cameron was a consultant to the film-makers on X-Men: Days of Future Past! I don't know what it all means, but there you go!
Doug: In the Capitol, the X-Men are at a disadvantage. First, they were still trying to come to grips with the fact that their Kitty was literally out of her mind, and also dealing with this plot that would send reality into a long state of decline. So when the Brotherhood attacked, and with so many new members, the X-Men were on their heels. Avalanche led the assault, ripping the marble floor from under the good guys. Nightcrawler engaged, using his power of teleportation to pepper Avalanche from all sides. But the precog Destiny could tell Avalanche where to strike before Kurt rematerialized. Nightcrawler down. Pyro warmed up Colossus' metal hide, and as Wolverine sought to intervene, new team leader Storm swept him from the fray. Mad, claws drawn -- not gonna fight that way, said Ororo. Angel grabbed Kitty by the arm and lifted her outside and above the mess. On the sidelines, a security guard offered to get the Professor and Moira MacTaggert to safety. Little did they know that it was Mystique in disguise. She hit them with a knockout gas, removing the most powerful X-Man from the battle. And in one of those tropes we love to hate around here, Mystique says to Destiny, "I should kill you (Xavier) while I have the chance, but for the moment, I think you're of more use as a potential hostage." Will they never learn?
Karen: Yes, a puzzling move by Mystique. I thought it odd that Avalanche wore armor too, but maybe he was just a careful guy. Just as you mused in our previous review that you'd never considered the Sentinels to be that much of a threat, I have to admit I'd never considered the Blob to be very formidable, but here, he seems to come across as a hefty Juggernaut.
Doug: Sometimes I think the Blob is one of those characters with the nebulous powersets. Does he have super strength? In this story he's shown lifting some pretty heavy stuff, as well as propelling himself out of a window in a leap that looks like it could have been borrowed from the Hulk. It's always been my understanding that he is a) invulnerable to penetration from bullets, etc. and b) immovable.
Doug: Mystique had asked Destiny about their possibilities for success, but Destiny said that there was some random factor present that was prohibiting her from a clear vision. That factor was the adult mind of Kate Pryde inhabiting the teenaged body of Kitty Pryde. Kate thinks back to how she got to this point, and we get the obligatory flashback. But we scene shift to Kate's future, where the X-Men are moving on their target: the Baxter Building, nerve center of the Sentinels. Logan, Storm, Colossus, Rachel, and the unconscious Kate have moved to a point several blocks from the HQ they'll attack. Storm takes the lead, with time of the essence. She takes out a sentry at the main doors; John Byrne and Terry Austin draw a neat image of the Sentinel slumping against the wall and sinking. It reminded me of a panel Byrne had drawn in Fantastic Four #243 of Galactus in a similar posture. And with that big purple goon out of the picture, our heroes walk right in the front door. Logan has appropriated the tech to activate the FF's personal elevator. I thought it was strange that he said he got it from "intelligence reports" rather than from Franklin. But, I suppose the Sentinels would have rigged a different frequency once they'd moved in. Chris Claremont does a nice job in this scene of getting those potential new readers up to speed, with mentions of the fate of Ororo's parents, her criminal past as a child thief, and of her claustrophobia. It's done very organically, though -- I thought it was useful information but not forced on the reader.
Karen: It's interesting in this future sequence that Rachel says she's not certain that what Kate does in the past will definitely change their own time stream -it might just create a different timeline. Isn't this always the problem with time travel stories? Can you really change things? But the X-Men have nothing left to try. I did think Storm's mental monologue went on a bit too long -it actually covered about 50% of the panel she was in -but I guess it didn't do any actual damage. But why the heck would they take the elevator to the FF's floors? Convenient? Sure. But it's like ringing the doorbell.
Doug: I'd almost have to think that Claremont instructed Byrne to give him that specific panel. My point is, if it's not filled up with text, it's a pretty large, bland part of the page. Back in our nation's capital, all hell is still breaking loose. Kate Pryde circles the fracas, staying in close proximity to Senator Kelly. She knows he will be killed, but not the identity of the killer. Storm is feeling self-conscious, as this is her first dance as team leader after the leave of absence taken by Cyclops. Feeling that the team is confined, and at the mercy of the not-yet-fully-understood powers of the new Brotherhood, Storm decides to "take it outside". Using a hurricane force wind, she blows all the combatants right onto the Capitol lawn. And I have to say, given that I frequent Washington, DC at least annually, that the Byrne/Austin team didn't do too much homework on the vistas from the Capitol, the skyline, etc. There are no skyscrapers in DC, as nothing can be taller than the Washington Monument; in fact, there are only a handful of buildings taller than 200 feet. Anyway, to make matters worse, the Blob is thriving no matter his location. And then the army arrives. Now I'm all for our service men and women, and am in debt to their sacrifices for our rights and freedoms. But in a Marvel comic, when they arrive it's usually not a good thing. And not here, for sure. Colossus gets whacked by a concussion cannon developed by Shaw Industries, and a GI with a flamethrower plays right into Pyro's hands. Angel tries to draw one of Pyro's fire monsters toward him, but Pyro notices that Wolverine has finally gotten close to the Blob and without Storm's interference. But before he can do any serious hack/slash, the fire monster literally lifts him up -- and that's real fire, kids! Storm sees it and elevates, only to come flashing through the heart of the creature, dispersing it. Wolverine is burned badly.
Karen: Storm's self-doubts were well handled -heck, I wondered as a reader if she was ready to lead the team. She'd always been one of the gentler X-Men -could she possibly make the hard decisions required of leadership? This was an intriguing challenge for this character. The fire monsters were fun visually, although I'm not sure how they could physically lift anything. But it was refreshing to revisit a time when Wolverine could actually get hurt.
Doug: Nightcrawler had rushed to Logan's aid, but the healing factor had already kicked in. But Wolverine was, this time, definitely worse for the wear. He took a time-out. When's the last time you saw that? But as Kurt tended to his friend he was shocked to be attacked by... himself?!? Another Nightcrawler (of course we know who it is) leapt from the side and began to pummel Kurt. Wolverine was no use, as his senses were all messed up from his burning. He popped his claws, figuring the real Kurt would be able to bamf! out of the way. But Storm stopped him, and then a defining moment in the lives and careers of both characters happened: Storm told Logan to stand down, and he threatened her, saying he wouldn't take it from Cyclops. She, in no uncertain terms, informed him that she was now the leader, that his other powers should be sufficient enough in almost all situations, and that his claws henceforth were to be used only in emergencies. And you know what? He sheathes them.
Karen: This sequence with Storm ordering Wolverine to sheathe his claws is rather interesting. It seems odd that it comes right here, at this point in the fight. I had recalled reading somethng about it, and dug out my copy of Peter Sanderson's excellent X-Men Companion Volume II (Fantagraphics Books, 1982). On page 27, in Sanderson's interview with Claremont, they're discussing how Claremont and Byrne would co-plot the title, Claremont brings up this issue, 142, and the scene with Storm ordering Wolverine to sheathe his claws. It was supposed to come at the very beginning of the fight, when Wolverine attacks Pyro. Storm was supposed to tell him, no killing, not here, not with the TV cameras on us. But (according to Claremont), Byrne drew this scene in the middle of the fight instead. You can see in the published material, Storm's objection is about Wolverine using lethal force, not about bad publicity. Which works better? For the story, I think it would have been better to have the sequence be at the beginning; but for Ororo's character, it should be about the killing, not the TV cameras.
Doug: Not having known that before, moving that dialogue to the beginning of the story seems odd. If Cyclops had said it, I have no trouble believing it and yes -- it would have worked better in that context. But since Storm is assigned that line, it seems to be appropriately placed.
Doug: Just then Avalanche struck again, rippling the asphalt and knocking everyone off-kilter. Somehow Peter gets his mitts on a long I-beam and sets it on Wolverine's adamantium-laced spine, using the shrimp as a fulcrum. With Blob's back turned, Colossus runs that girder right center-groin, and then punches his end, launching the Blob into the air. Well, what goes up comes down, and when the Blob is about to land he gets a face full of organic steel! Krom! indeed! Blob lands on Avalanche -- two down. Storm then creates a deluge to put Pyro out of the action, and at the same time Kurt lands a haymaker on his doppelganger. Yup -- it was Mystique, as she reverts to form. But then Claremont drops us a bombshell. Kurt gets a look at Mystique in her true form and immediately fixates on her eyes and her skin color. "Mein Gott, we are so alike!" Mystique tells him that perhaps he is not so unique, and that he should go ask his mother. Kurt is left with his mouth agape.
Karen: So...did Colossus hammer that I-beam into Blob's, uhm, private parts? It sort of looked that way. Then again, there's so much flesh down there...OK, Yuck. It was a fun bit though. The reveal of Mystique and suggestions of a link to Nightcrawler seemed innocent enough back in the day, but of course, spun out of control and became another convoluted X-Men backstory that is just painful to think about.
Doug: Well, as I said above -- Blob is supposed to be invulnerable, so I'm assuming he wasn't wearing a cup... So the team collects themselves mentally and counts Sprite and Destiny as among the unaccounted. They rush off to find them. Meanwhile, if you can say that when your storylines are separated by 33 years, the X-Men of 2013 have arrived to the floors of the Baxter Building formerly occupied by the FF. Here's an architectural question for you: if the FF inhabited the top six floors of the building, given that Sentinels are generally 30 feet tall can we assume that the new-and-improved Baxter Building only has two usable floors up top? Wolverine orders up a fastball special on the Sentinel in front of them. Peter obliges, but as Logan's claws are about to cut deep into the robot, it wheels and obliterates him with a beam of light and force. Takes him down to the skeleton. Storm attacks next, and is impaled on a spike shot from the wrist of one of the Sentinels. Colossus then uses his rage to punch a Sentinel through an exterior wall and across the street. Rachel huddles in the shadows with the limp Kate Pryde; Rachel has been telepathically connected to her teammates. She feels each of them die, yet stays linked to them to the end. She knows now that if they are to win their day, Kate must win hers in the past.
Karen: So. These three pages are the ones I remember the most from this issue. I suspect this is true for many readers. Back in 1980, we weren't used to seeing heroes killed yet, let alone reduced to a smoking skeleton. It really was shocking and the visual of Wolverine being disintegrated is one I doubt I'll forget (Regenerate from that, runt!). The X-Men fought valiantly here, but -but -they lost. They did that a lot, too. And the two big stories that they are remembered for -"Dark Phoenix" and "Days of Future Past" -are essentially stories of their failure as a team. They couldn't save Jean -yes, she sacrificed herself and there is some nobility in that, but come on, they failed; and here, in the future, they couldn't stop the Sentinels. It's all rather discouraging when you think about it.
Doug: Back inside the Capitol, Destiny has closed on Senator Kelly, a small crossbow aimed at his heart. But Kate had crept behind an overturned table, just feet from the precog. She wonders why Destiny cannot sense her, but then figures that it's the anomaly of being from the future. As Destiny readies to fire, Kate leaps and phases through her foe, making her miss. At that moment, the assassination thwarted, Kate is called home. She gets a split second to see her teen self, and "gives herself a kiss". Kitty, now back in control of her own body, goes to a knee as her friends arrive. At about the same time, the Professor and Moira re-enter. Kelly wants to know what is going on; Storm tells him that he'd do well to know that like all people, mutants come in good and bad. She connects with Xavier's thoughts, and tells him that the team will meet at Warren's aircraft. Mystique watches from the shadows, and swears vengeance.
Karen: Just like you wondered why Mystique would hang on to Professor X and not kill him, I wondered why Destiny would use a tiny crossbow and not a semi-automatic weapon or a shotgun, anything more potent! She might as well have had a slingshot. But in any case -this scene here is would seem to indicate that the dread future has been averted. But has it been?
Doug: On the plane back to Westchester, Kitty and the rest of the team want to know if they did indeed alter the future. Xavier says only time will tell. Although his mindscan of Kitty probably revealed more than he let on. The story ends with a one-page epilogue. In the White House, the President receives two visitors: Senator Robert Kelly and his friend, industrialist Sebastian Shaw. The president says that the mutant threat is still real; indeed, all super-powered beings should be watched, adds Shaw. And then the president drops a bombshell that would have made long-time Avenges fans perk up -- the man who will be in charge of the new "Project Wideawake", which will finally resolve (a "Final Solution"?) the mutant problem -- is one Henry Peter Gyrich. His first task -- to work with Sebastian Shaw to create a new and improved line of Sentinels. As Xavier said, "only time will tell".
Karen: So after all this, we still get a downer ending. Yup, it's an X-Men book.
Doug: Initially, after my first read and as I was readying to begin framing this review, I was going to express a bit of disappointment in the resolution of this story. My feelings at first went to the future X-Men and how everyone ended up dead (hey, for once a comic book cover's hyperbole rang true!), rather than succeeding in their mission in some last-minute, last-ditch effort to triumph over evil. But... on the re-read as I was writing I think I like this just fine. To have glimpsed the future and not had it end as it did, then that would have necessitated more trips to the future and now you're just feeling like you need to have a Crisis or some such thing. Instead, focusing on the least likely X-Man, Kitty, and this cypher or channel, worked just great and gave her instant credibility on the team. And along the way, the creative team gave us some great teeny-tiny vignettes that would establish characterizations moving forward. Nope -- this was a pretty satisfying 2-parter!
Karen: Despite my joking around about the downer ending, I too enjoyed reading this story all over again. Despite some minor flaws, it's well crafted. There's a true sense of desperation and even when the X-Men are at their worst in the Sentinel camps in the future, they are still trying to save everything, showing their great sense of hope. Maybe that's what drew me to these characters way back when I was a kid: they were outcasts, but they still fought hard for each other, and for a better world.