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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #184

"The Past... of Future Days"
August 1984

In a Nutshell 
The first appearance of Forge. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: John Romita Jr. & Dan Green
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
In Dallas, Texas, Val Cooper and Raven Darkholme meet with Forge, a mutant inventor working for the government. He shows them a prototype weapon designed to remove mutants' powers as well as a scanner that can detect whether a person is a mutant or an alien. Meanwhile, in New York City, the time traveling Rachel watches a news report on the X-Men, confused by the differences she sees in the X-Men compared to the ones in her past. Selene, drawn to the girl's raw power, reaches out to her, intending to make Rachel her apprentice, but, telepathically sensing Selene's hunger, Rachel flees. She runs into a night club to hide, but is overwhelmed by the thoughts of all the people inside. Tossed out by the bouncer, the club owner, Nick, takes pity on her and brings her to his house.


As Nick prepares dinner, Rachel takes a bath, but when she finishes, she suddenly realizes she can't sense Nick. Returning to the living room, she discovers Nick's dessicated corpse, as well as Selene. Enraged, Rachel attacks Selene. With Rachel using telekinesis and Selene her control over inanimate objects, their struggle soon destroys the apartment and triggers a fire. Overwhelming Rachel, Selene begins to feed on her life essence just as the X-Men arrive, alerted to the battle by Cerebro, and attack Selene. Professor X is able to telepathically fight her off while the X-Men get Rachel out of the burning building. Outside, as Rachel comes to face to face with X-Men that vary significantly from the ones she knows, she realizes that she's made a terrible mistake. She's arrived in the wrong past, and as a result, the world is doomed. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue is the first appearance of Forge, a Native American with the mutant ability to intuitively invent things. He will become a recurring and significant supporting character in the book before eventually joining the team. He appears in the context of a weapons manufacturer Mystique knows via her secret identity of Raven Darkholme (which is notable given the way those two characters will become intertwined years down the road), and he is currently attempting to duplicate Rom's Neutralizer and Analyzer weapons for the government to use against the Dire Wraiths, in a story unfolding in the Bill Mantlo-penned Rom series (Claremont will further acknowledge his friend's story a few issues down the road by having the Wraiths spill into this series).


Naze, Forge's Native American mentor, also appears for the first time. He will, after a fashion, play a significant role in the lead-up to the "Fall of the Mutants" crossover and feature in a future X-Factor storyline in the 90s.


His dialogue to Forge in this issue is a reference to the events of "Fall of the Mutants", some forty issues away at this point, and also hints at Forge's past and magical acumen. 


Rachel, after appearing in the present in New Mutants #18, returns to the pages of X-Men following her appearances during "Days of Future Past". By the end of this issue, she's forced to accept that she's landed in a different past than her own. 

The X-Men come face to face with Selene, but she escapes, setting her up to be a recurring villain, here and in New Mutants, for the foreseeable future.


Colossus debuts his new costume in this issue; thankfully, it doesn't stick around for too long.


Chronologically speaking, the three issue "Demon Bear Saga" in New Mutants is considered to occur between last issue and this one, while New Mutants #21 and the first annual occur between this issue and next issue.

A Work in Progress
Similar to the Rom references, in a nice bit of cross-Marvel continuity, Forge notes that when Tony Stark stopped designing weapons for the government, he was able to step in and help fill the void.


Somewhere between New Mutants #18 and this issue, Rachel picked up some new clothes and a knapsack (though arguably she could have had them in New Mutants #18 and we just didn't see them).

Amongst the differences that convince Rachel that she's in a different past than her own are Illyana's age, Storm's punk look, the Mutant Affairs Control Act being passed by Senator Kelly instead of in response to his murder, and Professor X's ability to walk.


Rachel is savvy enough to read Nick's mind to make sure he has no ill intentions before going home with him.


When Rogue touches Selene, Selene begins to drain her energy instead of the other way around.


Taking a page from her predecessor's book, Storm is now angsting about her role as leader as she observes that Professor X is quite capable in the field.


Rachel notes that Professor X taught her to recognize the psychic keys in someone's mind that indicate they're a mutant; I believe this is the first mention of the fact that mutants can be detected psionically, which also suggests how Cerebro works to find mutants (and hints at Rachel's eventual backstory).  

I Love the 80s
This is one of the most hilariously 80s issues yet, just on the strength of Forge's look in his first on panel appearance: horizontal striped polo with the collar popped, short gym shorts, socks pulled as high as they'll go.


The club Rachel bursts into is described as being "members only", and both the owner and the bouncer are very much of the time. 


Artistic Achievements
There's a neat visual depiction of Rachel's telepathy being overwhelmed in the crowded club, as a series of random, incomplete thought bubbles crowd the panel.  


For Sale
There's a low-res ad for the Secret Wars action figures from Heroes World.


Before internet walk-throughs and FAQs, there was apparently pay-by-the-minute video game tip hotlines...  


Bullpen Bulletins
The Hype Box highlights the first issue of the Transformers comic, originally intended to be a four issue limited series before its popularity led to it becoming an ongoing series that lasted 80 issues. 

It's in the Mail
Cyclops answers the letters in this issue, referring to events in issue #175.

Teebore's Take
This issue is all about hindsight (or the lack thereof). With the X-Men relegated to the final pages as Claremont continues his more scattershot approach to narrative, it is largely intended to serve as an introduction to Forge, as well as a re-introduction to X-Men of Rachel (two characters who will have a significant impact on the title in the short, medium and long term). As a result, one's enjoyment of this issue largely depends on their tolerance for Forge and Rachel, two characters who have become negative shorthand for Claremont's tendency to give his characters excessively-complicated backstories. When I first started reading comics regularly, I became obsessed with first appearances, and as a result, I eagerly anticipated the X-Men Classic reprinting of this issue, knowing it featured the first appearance of Forge. Like readers at the time of the original publication, however, I didn't yet know Forge was a mutant cybernetic Native American Vietnam vet with magical abilities, nor had I (or the readers of the time) yet been subjected to issue after issue of Rachel's insipid crying or complicated backstory of her own (though hints at the future complications of both characters are present).

Divorced from the benefit/burden of hindsight, this issue is far more intriguing, with both Forge and Rachel furthering and deepening the mounting sense of dread surrounding the government's handling of mutants, in this, the critical year of the "Days of Future Past" dystopia. Forge's actions here pave the way for the government's most overt and significant attack on mutants yet, while Rachel's introduction to the X-Men brings to the forefront Claremont's ongoing references to "Days of Future Past" (once again, a lack of hindsight also benefits the such references, as, at the time of publication, that well hadn't been returned to quite as often as it has today). Selene, meanwhile, functions as a more overt and visceral antagonist for Rachel, with the scenes of her stalking the young girl appropriately tense and moody (let down somewhat by Romita's horribly dated fashions; but again, they only look dated in hindsight). Thus, this is an issue which has not aged well, thanks in part to the development of its two focal characters in the years ahead (it also admittedly suffers by following in the wake of the spectacular preceding issue). Separated from that history, however, and taken on its own merits, this is a suitably dark and foreboding chapter in the book's ongoing narrative.      

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the "Demon Bear Saga" continues in New Mutants #19, and next week Rogue is targeted by the government in Uncanny X-Men #185.

17 comments:

  1. I do not like this title. It's clunky, and while I guess it makes sense, I at least had to give it more thought than "Days of Future Past" to figure out what it meant.

    On the other hand, I love this cover. The "translucent" effect on Xavier, created in the days before Photoshop and computer coloring, is really impressive! And everyone is posed very dynamically. Plus, when was the last time Professor X got an action cover all to himself??

    "This issue is the first appearance of Forge..."

    When I first encountered Forge, he had a ponytail, red headband, and always wore some variation of the yellow & blue Jim Lee style X-Men uniform. Imagine my surprise to learn he hadn't always looked like that!

    I like the visual of ponytail Forge better, but Native American characters with long hair is quite the cliche in comics, so I think I prefer him with short hair even if I don't like the look as much -- if that makes any sense.

    "His dialogue to Forge in this issue is a reference to the events of 'Fall of the Mutants', some forty issues away at this point, and also hints at Forge's past and magical acumen."

    We all know Claremont liked to plot things well in advance, but this is extreme even for him. I wonder if he originally intended "Fall of the Mutants" to take place sooner, but kept getting sidetracked by other stories? This is the kind of long-term storytelling you just never see anymore in comics. Heck, something this long-term was not even common in Claremont's time! We haven't even hit "Mutant Massacre" yet, and he's already laying groundwork for the subsequent crossover!

    I know we've discussed Forge previously as a poster child for Claremont's "extra layers of specialness" type characters. Native American Vietnam vet cyborg mutant shaman millionaire is quite a mouthful (and as I write my comments while I read the post, I see you already made this joke in "Teebore's Take"), but just the same, it doesn't irk me as much in Forge as it does in Kitty. Possibly because I know that Byrne intended Kitty to be a normal girl, while Claremont pretty clearly intended Forge to be a big deal. There's something about the character I just like. And he has the most awesome house ever.

    "This is one of the most hilariously 80s issues yet, just on the strength of Forge's look in his first on panel appearance..."

    Forge's bio image in OHOTMU and the Marvel RPG of the time also used a picture of him wearing super short cutoff jean shorts. Good times.

    "The Hype Box highlights the first issue of the Transformers comic, originally intended to be a four issue limited series before its popularity led to it becoming an ongoing series that lasted 80 issues."

    I love the cover of the final issue, which has a banner at the top saying, "#80 in a four-issue limited series".

    I liked the Transformers comics, but I was a much bigger fan of the cartoon. Pretty much the exact opposite of G.I. Joe, where I like the comics more than the cartoon (but I enjoyed the Joe cartoon more than the TF comic).

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  2. What the heck is Xavier doing on the cover? He looks like he's jumping between Selene and the reader gesturing for us to stop fighting.

    Similar to Matt's experience encountering Forge in the late '80s/ early '90s, I didn't read any comics with Rachel in them (other than Days of Future Past) from before her tenure in Excalibur. Claremont & Davis portrayed her as strong and confident, a million miles away from the annoying character of the Claremont/ JR Jr. era.

    I've never gotten Selene. She seems out of place in an X-Men story. Emma Frost might have worked better as an antagonist/ aspiring mentor for Rachel. I feel like Selene was built up to be a big deal before disapearing altogether until showing up as a victim in the Upstarts story (another big start/ big fizzle villain concept).


    - Mike Loughlin

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  3. It is a "members only" club in that you have to be wearing a Members Only jacket to get inside.

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  4. @Matt: I do not like this title. It's clunky, and while I guess it makes sense, I at least had to give it more thought than "Days of Future Past" to figure out what it meant.

    I kinda like it, though I do have an odd affinity for titles that are plays on temporal indicators.

    On the other hand, I love this cover.

    Ditto. I've also always liked the depictions of psychic power as a pile of circles.

    I like the visual of ponytail Forge better, but Native American characters with long hair is quite the cliche in comics, so I think I prefer him with short hair even if I don't like the look as much -- if that makes any sense.

    I don't know what it says about me, but that does make sense, and I agree as well. I like "Jim Lee Forge" even though I don't like the ponytail.

    I wonder if he originally intended "Fall of the Mutants" to take place sooner, but kept getting sidetracked by other stories?

    I think that's the case - and I don't think it's so much that he had "Fall of the Mutants" specifically in mind at this time, but rather that, when Shooter came to the X-office and said "do a 'Mutant Massacre' crossover again!" Claremont dusted off his unused idea for Forge/the Adversary and wrote the post-"Mutant Massacre" crossover around it. If that makes any sense.

    Incidentally, he does some more setup for the Adversary during the Wraith attack in #187 and #188, so he's clearly still building towards something at that point. I just think he lost the thread after that.

    as I write my comments while I read the post, I see you already made this joke in "Teebore's Take"

    Though I forgot the millionaire part. He's also a really good cook, according to this issue. :)

    There's something about the character I just like. And he has the most awesome house ever.

    He does have a pretty awesome house. And I don't wildly dislike Forge, at least not compared to some fans, who absolutely HATE him. But I can't deny that he's a prime specimen for Claremont's "extra specialness" tic, and I think the reason it doesn't bother me as much with, say, Kitty, is that more of her special traits developed a bit more organically, over time (at first, she was just a normal kid. Then it turned out she was smart, especially with computers. Then she got ninja training, etc.).

    Whereas in two pages we already know Forge is a cybernetic Native American mutant, and his mystical side is hinted at pretty heavily in his conversation with Naze.

    Which is my long-winded way of saying it's the opposite for me: long running characters are naturally going to accumulate "extra layers of specialness" just by virtue of being around for a long time, so that doesn't bother me as much as someone like Forge, who is created with several special layers right from the get-go.

    But like I said, I don't HATE Forge, and he was around when I first started reading the books, so I have a nostalgic fondness for him. I especially like the idea of the X-Men having someone around who can whip up gadgets and stuff for them (though I also think his power needs some kind of limitation).

    I liked the Transformers comics, but I was a much bigger fan of the cartoon.

    I was definitely a fan of both cartoons first - heck, I think both shows were probably off the air before I even discovered the comics (I was reading other comics, I just think I missed out on the Joe/Transformers books), so I was never able to enjoy them in tandem.

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  5. @Mike: He looks like he's jumping between Selene and the reader gesturing for us to stop fighting.

    There definitely is an almost-fourth wall breaking sense that Xavier is intervening on our behalf.

    Claremont & Davis portrayed her as strong and confident, a million miles away from the annoying character of the Claremont/ JR Jr. era.

    I had the great misfortune to not read Excalibur regularly until issue #71 (the "Fatal Attractions" crossover issue), which, of course, wrote Rachel out of the book, so my first experience with the character was via the X-Men Classic reprints of these issues.

    As a kid, she didn't bother me too much, in part because I was still reading them spaced out. But nowadays, yeesh. I just want to tell her to shut up already.

    I feel like Selene was built up to be a big deal before disapearing altogether until showing up as a victim in the Upstarts story (another big start/ big fizzle villain concept).

    Yeah, she really does end up getting lost in the shuffle - Claremont clearly has plans for her, even beyond joining the Hellfire Club, but then it seems like he gets distracted in X-Men and ends up leaving New Mutants and never gets back around to her. Simonson did a little with her, but it was mainly just hints that never went anywhere after Liefeld came aboard, and by then, it was, as you say, Upstarts time (and man, was I totally into that Upstarts storyline when it was first being published. I'm still bummed it fizzled out like it did. I blame the Image Exodus).

    @Anonymous: It is a "members only" club in that you have to be wearing a Members Only jacket to get inside.

    That was my assumption, though I am bummed by the lack of such jackets on the patrons at the club.

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  6. I'm of two minds about this issue.

    On the one hand, I love the Forge stuff. I actually like the character, and the arc over the next few issues is the last story of the JRJr era I like before the title becomes an unreadable directionless mess.

    On the other hand, urgh Rachel. It doesn't help that Nick's horrible (and utterly undeserved) fate is a striking image that made me loathe Selene to the point that any of her further appearances is just painful, especially as she keeps getting away unpunished.

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  7. Speaking of Forge's "fashion" sense: I've been enjoying these posts for some time, and as I started reading X-Men just before the Dark Phoenix storyline, they have been a trip down memory lane.

    But my memory of individual issues from the Claremont/Romita era has been hazy. This issue was no exception, until I scrolled down to the panel of Forge in his shorts and polo shirt. That, apparently, has been seared into my memory...

    So, thanks--I think!
    Jack

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  8. @Mike: What the heck is Xavier doing on the cover?

    He's making an X, man.

    @Matt: I do not like this title. It's clunky, and while I guess it makes sense, I at least had to give it more thought than "Days of Future Past" to figure out what it meant.

    "Past of Future Days" actually makes more sense than "Days of Future Past" to me. You could apply the phrase to any given moment, of course — as Craig Ferguson says, "tomorrow's just your future yesterday" — but given all the setup in this issue's story of stuff that pays off later it's particularly apt to frame it as such.



    @Matt: On the other hand, I love this cover.

    Let's agree to disagree there. 8^)

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  9. I had zero memory of the story title until rereading it. The number of riffs on "Days of Future Past" — and the Moody Blues album title, Days of Future Passed, on which it was presumably itself a riff — is well known to me, at least in the abstract, but I was surprised to see one here and this early.

    Rachel showing up is I suppose the start of the strip-mining/cheapening/going-back-to-the-well-too-often of "DOFP". I dislike Rachel in the context of the part she plays in what X-Men soon becomes, however, not so much in concept or even in certain aspects of execution. Frankly I tend to think of stuff that postdates my regular reading of the X-titles, stuff that I couldn't even cite specifically, as being what drove the concept into the ground.

    Val's instant reaction is "A hologram?!!" I think a far more likely one would be "What the f---?!?!?"

    I don't get it. Forge doesn't seem to know that Raven is a mutant. So his scanner either doesn't work or can't tell if more than one person in a group of three people is a mutant, despite what he says.

    Forge's outfit is indeed ridiculous and I well recall thinking so at the time. I admit that I was not above wearing a jacket over an uncollared shirt and rolling the sleeves up, per Miami Vice, but short-shorts were never my thing and I hated flipped-up collars with a passion. To me this is Forge's look, however; I didn't even remember that he wore an X-Men uniform proper until Matt brought it up because I pretty much avoided that era like the plague.

    The change of clothes and backpack made me stop and decide that Rachel went to a storage locker or something between issues.

    I let my subscription to Guns and Scanners lapse, dang it.

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  10. The other comments about our own defining look for Forge made me think about the first time I saw him in UXM 301. I decided to dig it out of its box for a quick look and was surprised at the strange parallels to this issue: JRjr as the artist with Selene and Mystique both making an appearance. There's even a home turned into a flaming wreck during a fight.

    I've really like this initial JRjr run. Perhaps it's because a lot of my early exposure to this title was during his second stint as artist during his blockier days in the early 300s, but either way I love the look of his work in this issue. Even though his designs are definitely the style of the time, I actually like that. I'm not sure why but I like being able to tell in what era a story was written based on the styles and the things the characters use.

    I wonder if he originally intended "Fall of the Mutants" to take place sooner, but kept getting sidetracked by other stories?

    I seem to recall reading (likely in the comments of Jason Powell's Claremont posts) that Claremont's original intent was to involve James Jaspers (who eventually shows up as prosecutor at Magneto's trial in issue 200) and would have contained elements that later became split into the Mutant Massacre and Fall of the Mutants. I think he intended to further that overall plot a lot sooner but likely got derailed by the return of Jean Grey and the troubles with using Jaspers in his story as originally intended.

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  11. @JD: It doesn't help that Nick's horrible (and utterly undeserved) fate is a striking image that made me loathe Selene to the point that any of her further appearances is just painful, especially as she keeps getting away unpunished.

    Yeah, Selene never really does get much in the way of comeuppance, unless you count what happens to her in issue #301, years down the road.

    @Jack: This issue was no exception, until I scrolled down to the panel of Forge in his shorts and polo shirt. That, apparently, has been seared into my memory...

    Your welcome - I think. :)

    And thanks for reading - glad you've been enjoying them.

    @Blam: I think a far more likely one would be "What the f---?!?!?"

    Clearly, Val Cooper was made for the superhero game.

    So his scanner either doesn't work or can't tell if more than one person in a group of three people is a mutant, despite what he says.

    I meant to comment on that, as it is odd. I suppose the other implication is that Mystique is somehow able to hide the fact that she's a mutant as a result of her power, but that would seem especially difficult considering the genesis of Forge's device is Rom's Analyzer, which was specifically designed to detect shape-shifting Wraiths.

    Or, I suppose, that Forge knows Raven is a mutant but doesn't call her on it for some reason (we never actually see the readout of his scanner), but that's equally odd/never resolved.

    The change of clothes and backpack made me stop and decide that Rachel went to a storage locker or something between issues.

    That makes sense, though we'll have to see it how it gels with what we're shown of her own travel back in time (as to whether she's able to take stuff back in time with her) in future issues. I know there's a flashback/forward to her time in the future at one point, but I forget the specific circumstances that lead up to her time jump offhand.

    @Jay:Perhaps it's because a lot of my early exposure to this title was during his second stint as artist during his blockier days in the early 300s, but either way I love the look of his work in this issue.

    I'm right there with you. In addition to reading these issues as reprints in X-Men Classic I was also reading the contemporaneous issues of Uncanny with the more modern, blockier JRjr art, and my appreciation for each bolstered my appreciation of the other.

    Perhaps it's because a lot of my early exposure to this title was during his second stint as artist during his blockier days in the early 300s, but either way I love the look of his work in this issue.

    That could be the case. I'm familiar with the aborted Jaspers storyline, but forget offhand exactly how much of the Adversary/"Fall of the Mutants" stuff, at least as it pertains to what he's setting up here, was wrapped up in that.

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  12. What theme are you using on your site ? I like the design. Many thanks for this posting.

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  13. @Club X: What theme are you using on your site ?

    I honestly don't know offhand. It's just one of the more basic template with a black background. Glad you like it.

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  14. How is Xavier projecting an "astral" form of himself?

    Those toys don't look like they justify the existence of Secret Wars :/

    So, what does, "Days of Future Past" really mean? literally

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  15. @Reese: How is Xavier projecting an "astral" form of himself?

    The subject of whether or not people can "see" astral projections has always been wonky throughout the Marvel Universe, but in a pinch, I just assume he's telepathically making people see that image of himself.

    So, what does, "Days of Future Past" really mean? literally

    I'd say they are the days which occur after a specific time in the future has passed.

    So, for example, 2014 is currently the future, but in 2015, 2014 would be the days of a future that have passed by us.

    Or something like that...

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  16. The funny thing is, some of Romita's designs aren't too dated. Considering how much the 80s is being recycled, some of those looks are or have been trendy a few years ago (striped polos with pop-up collars being one example, though short-shorts have only thankfully come back for women ;)

    It's hard for me to hate Rachel, since I did read her when she was much more likeable during Excaliber, and even does something to change the status quo of her future. But I can see how people only reading her during this run would dislike her. The problem is, CC doesn't seem to want her to grow. There are little flashes where he does seem to give some growth (ie, when asked to track mutants in #200, she sucks it up and does it even though she detests it, as opposed to her crumbling into a fetal position when asked to do it # 193), but those moments are few and forgotten as we go on.

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  17. On Forge: I'm pretty neutral towards him. I don't think I've ever read any stories where he was that prominent, and his power is a bit vague for me to enjoy. I probably know him better from X-Men Legends II than comics, come to think of it.

    On Selene: Urgh, never liked the character, never will. Here (and in a few following issues) she comes across as being a bit of a Villain Sue, and the combination of her being a sorceress and a mutant is just uninteresting. And don't get me started on that crap with the Externals... I will say that she worked well as the villain of Necrosha, however.

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