In a Nutshell
The X-Men defeat the Brotherhood, but aren't certain the future has been changed.
Writer/Co-Plotter: Chris Claremont
Artist/Co-Plotter: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
In Washington DC, the X-Men attack the Brotherhood, determined to keep Senator Kelly safe. Professor Xavier and Moira are unknowingly led away from the scene by Mystique, who knocks them out. In 2013, the X-Men reach the Baxter Building and take out the Sentinel guards. Leaving Rachel outside to guard Kate's unconscious body, Wolverine, Storm and Colossus enter the building. Back in the present, Kate worries that the X-Men are losing, and not knowing who is responsible for killing Kelly, determines to stay by his side. The army arrives on the scene and targets both teams. Slowly, the X-Men manage to turn the tide and send the Brotherhood running, but not before Nightcrawler notices the similarities between himself and Mystique, and Mystique tauntingly tells him to ask his adopted mother about it. As Storm whips up a fog to cover the X-Men's escape, they realize both Kitty and Destiny are missing.
In 2013, the X-Men penetrate the inner sanctum of the Sentinels, but when Wolverine attacks, a Sentinel blasts him, leaving nothing behind but his adamantium skeleton. Enraged, Storm destroys the Sentinel, but more enter the room. The remaining two X-Men attack, but are overwhelmed. Storm is impaled by a javelin launched by one of the Sentinels and Colossus, filled with fury, takes on the remaining Sentinels by himself. Outside, Rachel maintains telepathic connection with Colossus so that he won't die alone, and when he's gone, she realizes Kate is their last hope. In the present, Kate discovers Destiny has cornered Senator Kelly and is about to shoot him. Kate phases through the woman, throwing off Destiny's aim, and Kelly is saved. At that moment, Kate's and Kitty's consciousnesses return to their respective bodies. As Storm arrives and retrieves a disoriented Kitty, Mystique watches in disguise as Destiny is taken into custody, vowing the Brotherhood won't be incarcerated for long. Later, as the X-Men fly home, Angel wonders if anything they did that day made a difference, if Kate's future had truly been averted, and Professor X says that only time will tell. A month later, the President meets with Senator Kelly and Sebastian Shaw, reluctantly agreeing with Kelly's assessment that the mutant threat must be dealt with. He announces the creation of the covert Project: Wideawake to that end, under the control of Henry Gyrich. Its first order of business: the creation of a new series of Sentinels.
Firsts and Other Notables
Though the adjective has appeared on the cover since issue #114 (except on issue #137), with this issue the title of the comic officially changes to The Uncanny X-Men, appearing that way in the indicia for the first time. As a result, the title of the post has been changed accordingly (though I will still refer to the comic itself as X-Men most often within the posts themselves).
Though the present day X-Men are successful in preventing Senator Kelly's assassination, this issue is notable for depicting the deaths of the X-Men in the future, a shocking sight for the time, and a sequence superbly handled by Claremont and Byrne. It also gives us our first look at Wolverine's adamantium skeleton.
Wolverine's healing factor is overtly mentioned for the first time, though it isn't called that, and it's nowhere near the supercharged level it is these days.
Project: Wideawake, the first official government program meant to deal with mutants, appears for the first time. It will remain a presence in the book for years to come. Henry Peter Gyrich, former NSA liaison to the Avengers, is assigned to head up the program, making his first appearance in X-Men. He too will remain a presence in the book for some time.
This issue marks the return of the Black King, Sebastian Shaw, seen in the epilogue receiving a contract from the President to build new Sentinels. His company is also noted as creating the advanced weaponry used by the army in this issue.
Mystique alludes to a shared past with Nightcrawler in this issue. Thought it will be quite some time until we learn the truth, Claremont's original idea (the one he's hinting at in this issue) was for Mystique and Destiny to be Nightcrawler's biological parents, though he was never allowed to overtly reveal this, instead only continuing to occasionally tease the relationship between Mystique and Nightcrawler before leaving the book, letting it fall to other writers to determine their official relationship.
Though Byrne fully intended, as noted below, for the "Days of Future Past" future to be entirely self-contained and wiped from existence in the course of this story, the brief panel in which Claremont has Kate acknowledge her younger self as the two consciousnesses pass one another (what has become known as the infamous "lesbian incest" scene) suggests the future reality still exists despite the X-Men saving Kelly. Indeed, it will eventually be revealed, as Rachel fears in this issue, that Kate's actions merely created an alternate reality in which the events of her timeline are different than those in the present day X-Men's timeline, and that her reality continues to exist despite the success of the present day X-Men, opening the door to a myriad of alternate future/time travel stories, both involving this specific reality as well as others, in the years to come.
The "Days of Future Past" reality will eventually be classified as Earth-811 (in the Marvel Universe, alternate realities are numbered, with the "main" reality, the one featured in the vast majority of Marvel comics, designated Earth-616 and sometimes called the "616 universe").
A Work in Progress
Whilst facing Pyro, Colossus wonders about melting, a question that will come up again.
Mystique uses an "electronic damper field" to prevent Professor X from reading her mind. He notices the field, but not before Mystique knocks him out.
During the battle with the Brotherhood, Storm worries that she's failing as a leader, believing Cyclops would be doing a better job.
There's an odd scene in which, mid-battle, Storm admonishes Wolverine for using his claws against his enemies and the two get into a philosophical debate. It continues the recent trend of portraying Wolverine as dangerous, but seems ridiculously ill-timed.
Colossus uses Wolverine as the fulcrum of a lever to move Blob; it's a bit I've always enjoyed, though I'm not sure it would work, given the nature of Blob's power.
Wolverine notes that since Angel's identity is public knowledge now, the government is likely to come after him for the Brotherhood's attack.
For the first time, the Brotherhood are equated with terrorists.
We get a neat bit of foreshadowing as Kate is said to use Kitty's powers in a manner Kitty as yet to do, phasing through Destiny but solidfying just her elbow in order to throw off Destiny's aim.
I Love the 80s
Mystique has Professor X at her mercy, but, in true super-villain fashion, declines to kill him, believing he'll be more useful as a hostage.
In one of those devices common to super-hero comics of the time (but for which Claremont in particular gets a lot of flak nowadays), Storm thinks back on her origin while infiltrating the Sentinel's base. You know, just in case someone was...observing her for the first time and wasn't quite sure what her deal was...
For whatever reason, Destiny tries to assassinate Kelly with a crossbow, rather than, say, a pistol.
Daredevil vs. Johnny Punk!
Though subtler, this is another instance of the X-Men "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory", as despite saving Kelly the epilogue suggests things aren't going to get a whole lot better for mutants. This specific instance of this particular tic has sometimes been credited as a contributing factor to Byrne's departure from the book, so fed up was he with Claremont's insistence on denying the X-Men a clean win. But we'll get into that more next week.
Wolverine and Angel refer to one another as "Short-Stuff" and "Wings", continuing Claremont's penchant for using nicknames as well as code names and real names.
The cover of this issue is another iconic one, albeit somewhat less so than last issue's. And, the cover blurb which declares "This issue: everybody dies" is perhaps the most accurate such a blurb (which we'll see many variations of in the future) will ever be.
When the army arrives on the scene, they target both the Brotherhood and the X-Men.
A turning point in human/mutant relations is reached, as the US government, at the order of the President, takes a stance against mutants. No longer will the X-Men only have to deal only with random bigots and crackpot inventors who hate mutants. Now, the government itself is working against them.
"Captain Universe: the hero who could be YOU!", but is never quite as cool as that sounds.
For the pleasure of the good Dr. Bitz:
Claremont on Storm and Wolverine's mid-fight argument
"The way it was structured in the plot is that the X-Men are in the hearing room, the fight begins, Wolverine lunges for Pyro with his claws extended, Storm whirls him away, grabs him in mid-air and says, "No killing. Not here. You're on national television. Put those claws away." She reads him the riot act right off the bat, and then they go into the fight. John felt, I suppose, that that would not work, so he waited until they were two-thirds of the way through the fight on the Mall, and then had everything stop dead, and staged the confrontation between Storm and Wolverine, which a number of readers found to be very awkward. Why stop in the middle of a fight, they wondered, when the bad guys are standing right over there, to have an argument? Obviously, it made sense to John; otherwise, he wouldn't have drawn it that way. I honestly don't remember the rationale behind it."
Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion II. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p27-28
John Byrne on Wolverine's skeleton
"The 'Admantium-laced' skeleton was something forced on the book after I left. As originally presented, as I drew him in Uncanny X-Men #142, Wolverine had a completely Adamantium skeleton (When I say 'originally presented', I mean once he became installed in Uncanny X-Men. As Len Wein conceived the character, he was 17 years old and the claws were in the gloves.)"
Nickerson, Al. "Claremont and Byrne: The Team that Made the X-Men Uncanny." Back Issue August 2008: p10.
Byrne on the nature of "Days of Future Past"
"I conceived 'Days of Future Past' as a completely self-contained story. When the X-Men changed the events which had led to that dark future, Kate was supposed to vanish out of Kitty, never having existed. I had even convinced 'Captain Omniverse,' Mark Guenwald [longtime Marvel writer/editor tasked with overseeing the continuity of Marvel's various timelines, realities and rules of time travel across the various books], that this worked within the established framework of the Marvel Universe and would not, as he originally insisted, create an alternate timeline. Because Kate had traveled back through her own 'mindstream', there was no point at which a divergence could occur. Unfortunately, in scripting the issue, Chris tossed in what came to be known as the 'lesbian incest' moment, wherein Kate remains conscious as she leaves Kitty, and 'impulsively gives herself a kiss.' That opened the door for countless sequels I never, ever, intended."
Nickerson, Al. "Claremont and Byrne: The Team that Made the X-Men Uncanny." Back Issue August 2008: p11.
While it may seem trite, repetitious or even quaint nowadays, both because this particular story has been revisited, expanded and homaged countless times, both within and without X-Men comics, and because the notion of changing the past to prevent a dystopian future is much more imbedded in the DNA of genre fiction now than it was in 1980, make no mistake: both issues of "Days of Future Past" feature heady, groundbreaking stuff. The bleak sensibility on display in this story was new to the X-Men, and was still being explored in mainstream super-hero comics. Much like having the X-Men lose at the end of the seminal "Dark Phoenix Saga", here we are presented for the first time a striking depiction of the complete and utter failure of the X-Men: humans and mutants can't live together in peaceful coexistence, most of the X-Men (and other heroes) are dead, the few remaining are imprisoned, and their last ditch efforts to pull out a win are, as far as they know, wasted, as the future X-Men go to their graves never knowing if Kate succeeded. Professor Xavier's dream is dead.
What this does, not just for this two party story but for all X-Men stories to come, is raise the stakes considerably. Yes, the present day X-Men have won the day and (hopefully) prevented this grim future from coming to pass (though they may have inspired an equally bleak one), but we now have a very clear picture of exactly what failure means for Professor Xavier and the X-Men. For the first time, the struggle for peaceful coexistence is framed not just as a philosophical one, or one in which the outcome will either feature mutants living alongside or in dominance of humans (a relatively good ending for mutants either way), but as a struggle with terrible consequences for the characters, one where the cost of failure means the hunting down, incarceration, and eventual extinction of mutants and the grisly and unceremonious deaths of the characters we've come to know and love. Up to this point, the X-Men had been fighting for an idea, for a principal. Just as last issue positioned humanity itself as an active force working against the X-Men, this issue re-contextualizes that ideological fight into a fight for the survival of a species. Failure for the X-Men no longer means a world where humans suffer under the subjugation of Magneto and his ilk, failure means all the mutants are dead.
From this point forward, even to this day, every X-Men story will be colored by the intimate knowledge of the cost of failure depicted in this story. That, even moreso than the bevy of characters they created and the acclaim and popularity they brought to the title, even moreso, dare I say it, than the impact of "The Dark Phoenix Saga", is the lasting legacy of Claremont and Byrne on X-Men.
We say goodbye to John Byrne as Kitty tangles with a