Wednesday, January 18, 2012
X-amining X-Men #141
In a Nutshell
The X-Men of the future try to change the past.
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 the 21st century, Kate Pryde hurries through a Park Avenue slum to a rendezvous with Wolverine. After fighting off a gang of humans, Wolverine gives Kate the final component of a jammer, and says to be ready at midnight. Kate makes her way back to the mutant internment center in the Bronx run by the Sentinels. She meets with the surviving X-Men: her husband Colossus, Storm, Magneto, Franklin Richards and a young woman named Rachel. They all agree to go ahead with the plan. After Franklin uses the last component Wolverine sent with Kate to complete a jammer that will neutralize the collars inhibiting their powers, Rachel telepathically sends Kate's mind back through time. In the present, on Halloween, the X-Men are training in the Danger Room when Kitty suddenly collapses. Taken to the infirmary, when Kitty awakens she tells the X-Men that she is Kate Pryde, the older consciousness of Kitty inhabiting Kitty's younger body. She hurriedly tells the X-Men that on this day the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants will assassinate Presidential candidate Robert Kelly, Professor X and Moira MacTaggert, triggering a chain of events that, in the future, will lead to nuclear holocaust. Though dubious, Wolverine senses she's telling the truth, and the X-Men agree to go to Washington DC, where Professor X can mindscan her.
En route, Kate tells the X-Men about the future, in which Kelly's death leads to the passage of a Mutant Control Act and the reactivation of the Sentinels, who quickly decide the best way to protect humanity is to rule it and take control of the country, killing or imprisoning mutants and non-mutant superheroes alike. Now, with the Sentinels poised to spread their control to other countries, the world is on the brink of nuclear war, and the X-Men conspired to send Kate's mind back to the day of the assassination to try and prevent it. In 2013, the surviving X-Men have escaped the internment center with the help of Wolverine, but are attacked by a group of Sentinels. Franklin is killed, but the other X-Men fight them off, and proceed towards the Sentinels' headquarters, determined to shut them down in case Kate fails in the past. In present day Washington, Mystique and her newly-assembled Brotherhood of Evil Mutants prepare to attack Kelly. At the US Senate, Kelly is leading a hearing discussing the mutant problem, with Professor Xavier and Moira on hand to testify. As the X-Men enter the hearing and Professor X telepathically learns the situation, one of the building's walls collapses. The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants enters, but are stunned by a lightening bolt. The X-Men declare that if the Brotherhood wants Kelly, they'll have to go through them.
Firsts and Other Notables
This issue is the first part of "Days of Future Past", and as such, is the first appearance of the dystopian future ruled by Sentinels. Though "Days of Future Past" is only a two-part story which concludes next issue, this is not the last we'll see of its futuristic reality or some of its denizens, and it introduces the idea of bleak, dismal futures to the X-Men narrative (in addition to this future, we will, in time, see several different possible futures for the characters in the X-Men universe; few of those futures are very pleasant).
This the first appearance of Rachel Summers, who will eventually join the X-Men and play a significant role in the book. Here, she is only referred to as Rachel as, I believe, Claremont and Byrne intended to establish her as Scott and Jean's daughter but were forced to leave that out of this story following the change to the ending of "The Dark Phoenix Saga" (this story having been plotted before that change occurred), leaving it to Claremont to eventually develop a workaround to that problem and christen her a Summers in later stories.
Mystique's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, the most notable incarnation of the team since the initial group led by Magneto, makes its first appearance. This iteration, with various membership changes, will continue to play a role in the book throughout Claremont's tenure.
The team is comprised of Mystique, a shape shifting mutant who first appeared in Ms. Marvel #16, also written by Chris Claremont. She is joined by Blob, Destiny (a blind woman who can see the future), Avalanche (who can create vibrations and cause localized earthquakes) and Pyro (who can control fire), and this is the first appearance of the latter three (though this incarnation of the Brotherhood and all of those characters were slated by Claremont to appear in an issue of Ms. Marvel prior to this issue, before that title was abruptly cancelled; the aborted issue later saw print in Marvel Super-Heroes #11 in 1992).
It is established here that that Mystique and Destiny are friends, and later stories will reveal that friendship to be deep and lasting, with some implications that they are lovers (something Claremont always intended to reveal, but which he was never allowed to do beyond vague implications).
In the future, in a moment clearly meant to shock readers, a wheelchair-bound Magneto is the leader of the X-Men, referred to as "old friend" by Colossus. Though Byrne has always been opposed to the idea, this is the first inkling we get of the possibility of a less-villainous Magneto mentoring the X-Men in a Professor X-like role, and seeing Magneto in a mutant concentration camp will retroactively have added resonance once its revealed that he is a survivor of the Holocaust.
The year given for the events of the future story is 2013, setting it roughly thirty-two years before the events in the "present" storyline, and though, thanks to Marvel's sliding timeline, the "present" is no longer considered 1981, the depicted future is still considered to be occurring thirty-two years in the future (and in the case of stories that occur after this one, some ever-sliding value less than thirty-two years). Still, just to be safe, we may all want to prepare for domination by a group of sophisticated robots next year.
The scenes at the Sentate hearings, prior to the Brotherhood's arrival, were clearly an inspiration to the opening of the first X-Men film, and the X-Men animated series adapted this story (fairly faithfully, aside from a few trappings of the 90s) in its first season.
A Work in Progress
This is another example of Claremont and Byrne putting the X-Men in more fundamentally sci-fi stories, as opposed to traditional super-hero stories.
Kitty's continued issues with Nightcrawler's appearance pays off nicely, as in one scene Kurt expresses his sorrow at the situation, only to later be immediately hugged by Kitty when Kate Pryde awakens in the past.
Kitty is shown to be able to levitate slightly while phasing.
In the future, Wolverine escaped imprisonment and is a colonel in the Canadian Resistance Army.
Magneto refers to Colossus in the future as Piotr Alexandreivitch, though his full name is actually Piotr Nikolaievitch. Also, he's going gray Reed Richards-style (from the bottom up).
Franklin Richards, the son of the Fantastic Four's Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Girl, is shown to be a member of the X-Men in the future; he is vaporized by a Sentinel as the X-Men are escaping their concentration camp.
Similarly, the headquarters of the Sentinels in the future is said to be the Baxter Building, which is the current location of the Fantastic Four's headquarters.
The X-Men take Angel's private plane to Washington.
Senator Kelly returns, leading a Senate hearing on the mutant problem. Moira MacTaggert is on hand along with Professor Xavier as an accredited expert on mutants.
Blob refers to Pyro as a Limey, though later stories will reveal he's actually Australian.
I Love the 80s
Franklin Richards pulls that classic comic book exposition trick, starting off an explanation of what something does by saying to another character, "as you know..."
A pair of reporters spot Angel at the Senate hearings and recognize him, and one of them tells the other to tell Lois to try to get an interview; the Lois in question is considered to be Lois Lane, of Superman fame.
During the senate hearing, Senator Kelly explains to Moira why mutants scare him: if, in a world of super-powered beings, he wonder if there's any place for ordinary humans, and if that's the same question asked by the last Neanderthal about the first Cro-Magnon. The whole "last Neanderthal/first Cro-Magnon" didactic will be repeated in one form or another throughout Claremont's run.
The cover of this issue is one of the series' best, most-referenced, and oft-homaged covers. I remember poring over it as a kid, long before I read the issue, in the Photojournal Guide to Marvel Comics, fascinated by the wanted poster and the various character shown as slain or apprehended. Like all great covers, it definitely grabs your attention and sparks your imagination.
In a neat little background detail, in the future, horses are shown to be pulling cars and buses.
In the future, Kitty is married to Colossus (and once, they had children, who were killed by the Sentinels). The adult Kate Pryde mentions she's loved Peter since the moment they met, adding a bit of substance to the crush present-day Kitty has already been established as having on Colossus.
The Best There Is at What He Does
Wolverine can somehow smell that the mind in Kitty's body is older. It's No-Prizeable, but still a pretty dubious idea.
Anti-mutant prejudice is given it's most dramatic depiction to date, as we're told that in the wake of Senator Kelly's death at the hands of mutants, the government passes a Mutant Control Act which leads to the Sentinels taking control of America, hunting down, imprisoning and executing the vast majority of mutants and super heroes in the country.
John Byrne on Kitty's levitation
"That's an unconscious levitation thing that prevents her sinking through the floor. When she manifests her power, why doesn't she just go straight down? Because she floats slightly. She is learning to use that consciously to "fly", although it's very limited. It's like running up the air; it's the best she'd be able to do.
Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion II. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p78
John Byrne on plotting "Days of Future Past"
"Also from the day I came aboard, I wanted to do a Sentinels story. I thought (and think) Sentinels are so cool! But Chris kept saying 'no.' 'Sentinels are lame!' he said. 'No,' I said, 'You write them lame! So I 'plotted' what became 'Days of Future Past.' (I say 'plotted' in quotes, because years later, I realized I had lifted the spine of my story almost whole from the Doctor Who serial 'Day of the Daleks' [Season 9, Jan. 1972]. From this I learned to always be suspricious of storylines that pop into my head fully formed!)"
Nickerson, Al. "Claremont and Byrne: The Team that Made the X-Men Uncanny." Back Issue August 2008: p10.
"Days of Future Past" represents Claremont and Byrne's second (and final) great epic. Whereas "The Dark Phoenix Saga" was, as the name suggests, a sprawling story consisting of multiple issues and multiple acts, "Days of Future Past" is almost the exact opposite. It is a brief burst of story, telling its tale and leaving its mark in but two issues. While "Dark Phoenix" was the culmination of subplots and developing characterization left simmering for months, and in some cases years, at a time, this story manages to setup and payoff its plot with virtually no prior build-up. Yet despite its brevity, "Days of Future Past" will, like "The Dark Phoenix Saga" before it, have a lasting impact on the narrative of the X-Men, with reverberations still being felt to this day.
"Days of Future Past" also serves as Claremont and Byrne's definitive statement on one of the X-Men's central themes: anti-mutant prejudice. Curiously enough, given both the theme's significance to the X-Men mythology and Claremont and Byrne's place in the history of the title, thus far their run has steered clear of the idea that the X-Men are, as the logline that opens each issue declares, "sworn to protect a world which fears and hates them". Up to this point, Claremont and Byrne have mostly paid lip service to this notion, occasionally mentioning it in passing. Here, the idea takes center stage and again, though this story is brief, the impact is lasting. For the first time, the US government is shown to be seriously worried about mutants. Senator Kelly is running on an anti-mutant platform, the Senate is holding hearings about the mutant problem, the world is, as Professor X says, increasingly scared of mutants. Previously, the Sentinels had always been at the whim of a lone, private citizen, specifically cutoff from the government; through Claremont and Byrne's depictions of the world in 2013, we are shown what the Sentinels are capable of with the full force of the government behind them, to the point where the government itself loses control over them.
What this does is transform humanity from something the X-Men fight for, to something they must fight against, and in doing so, begins to position the X-Men as anti-establishment revolutionaries. Before, the X-Men fought to prevent humanity from being dominated by the likes of Magneto (and to, more or less, maintain an existing status quo); now they must fight that battle while also fighting to prevent humanity from rising up against them. It may have gone largely ignored up to now, but in one fell swoop, Claremont and Byrne raise the stakes on anti-mutant prejudice, and show not just how much the world fears and hates mutants, but that protecting humanity from evil mutants may not be enough to prevent that fear and hatred from leading to extinction.
The X-Men vs. the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants for the fate of the future!