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Thursday, August 6, 2020

X-amining Excalibur #94

"Days of Future Tense"
February 1996

In a Nutshell
Captainb Britain experiences a grim vision of Excalibur's future.

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Casey Jones
Inker: Tom Simmons
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Adriane Lenshock with Malibu's Hues
Editor: Suzanne Gaffney
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

In the year 2013, Britain is ruled by Black Air, operating as agents of the Sentinels who have taken over North America and decimated the mutant population. The remaining members of Excalibur, including Wolfsbane, Betsy Braddock, Tangerine, Karma, Captain Britain & Meggan, are given a mission by their leader, Pete Wisdom: their missing teammate Douglock has been traced to Blackwall, Black Air's London base, which Excalibur is going to infiltrate in order to rescue their friend. Later, they fight their way into the base, only to discover Douglock isn't just a captive of Black Air, he has been thoroughly dissected and transformed into the operating system of Blackwall, fueling the rise of Black Air. Just then, Black Air agents surround the team, signaling the end of Excalibur, and England, just as Brian Braddock wakes up in the present day, shocked by the events he dreamt, which he now realizes were visions of the near-future he witnessed while lost in the timestream. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Obviously, this is a brief return to the world of "Days of Future Past" set roughly contemporaneous to the original story, suggesting Nightcrawler, Colossus & Kitty left Excalibur to return "home" where they were caught up in the events of the original story, thereby bridging the gap between their status in the original "Days" and their (later) role in Excalibur (all of which has since been rendered moot since this story was published since all the former X-Men went back to the team eventually anyway).

Presented as a memory of a timeline Brian experienced while lost in the timestream, the events of this issue will be obliquely referenced throughout the remainder of Warren Ellis' run on the book, as Excalibur works to protect Douglock and prevent the ascension to power of Black Air.

Tangerine, who is amongst the members of Excalibur here, debuted in the series' earlier "Days" sequel, "Days of Future Yet to Come", thereby setting this story before that one.

Psylocke is also on hand, and references an argument with Warren, suggesting she & Archangel remain an item well into the future.

Captain Britain & Meggan are married in this timeline, which will happen in the "main" timeline in the series' final issue (they are still technically engaged at this point, something which doesn't get brought up much).

Karma is on hand in the future, serving as a member of the team and as Pete Wisdom's Gal Friday, the closest we ever get to the letter page teases from earlier issues about the long-stuck-in-character-limbo Karma joining the cast.

The credits include a note stating the story was inspired by "Days of Future Past" by Chris Claremont & John Byrne and "Days of Future Yet to Come" by Alan Davis.

The cover is of course an homage to Uncanny X-Men #141 (though it gets the hair color wrong on a couple of the wanted posters).

A Work in Progress
As with the original "Days", the story is explicitly set is the far future of...2013.

There's a picture of the present day team in this issue that would frankly look good as a trading card shot of the group.

Presumably inspired by the gag in the previous issue, Future Wisdom is bald and in a wheelchair, making him resemble Professor X.

Austin's Analysis
Similar to how the original future-set "Days of Future Past" had an immediate impact on the subsequent present day X-Men stories by making explicit the price of failure for the X-Men, this issue effectively operates as a mission statement for the rest of Warren Ellis' run, with the majority of his overarching plotlines operating under the specter of events in this issue. Of course, "Days of Future Past" came to influence, however obliquely, years of stories (and, directly, at least two sequels/follow ups, to say nothing of former Excalibur member Rachel Summers), whereas this issue holds sway over a mere nine additional issues (and really, only one story arc which directly speaks to these events).

Even putting aside the relatively small shadow cast by the issue, it also doesn't help that it does very little unique or different with the now-standard future dystopia story beats, presenting the kind of darker, hardened versions of present day characters we've come to expect (the naive Rahne is now hard-edged, someone's been crippled in the intervening years, characters face mortal peril because they don't have to star in another issue next month, etc.). Casting the cynical (and still somewhat outsider-ish) Pete Wisdom in the Professor X role for the futuristic Excalibur is, maybe, a bit of a twist, but less of surprise given how obviously author-insert the character already is. Beyond that, this is mostly just standard dystopia style with very little substance, and while the focus, in terms of narrative & theme, it will lend to what has been a somewhat scattershot creative run thus far will eventually be appreciated, the attempts to piggyback off "Days of Future Past" just make it suffer by comparison more than anything.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Cable meets Sugar Man in Cable #28. Next week, past Cable fights in the far future in Askani'son #1-4!

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  1. "the story is explicitly set is the far future of...2013."

    2013 really did seem far into the future in early '96. As a kid, I thought we'd have flying cars by 2020 and be close to some BladeRunner type of life, yet we're not even close. Watching something like Neon Genesis Evangelion, set around the time of 2015, seemed so far off too. Obviously, all it took was sci-fi film/tv to convince me that we'd be living that life.

  2. While I do agree that this issue plants seeds for the rest of Ellis’s run, I’m also amazed every time I read it how short and inconsequential it feels in the moment. Like, it takes all of about five minutes to read (and that’s if you spend a long time looking at the pictures on every page!), then just when it seems like something is about to happen — it ends. It seriously feels like watching the cold open to a TV drama, and then the end credits suddenly roll where the opening credits (and subsequent 40 or so minutes) should’ve been.

    That said, I like Captain Britain’s “black costume” (every good super hero has one, after all). Mind you, I prefer his classic Alan Davis look more, but seeing him back in something that at least resembles it is nice. And it’ll be brought into the main timeline, fairly briefly, beginning in issue 100. The only thing I don’t like about it is that Casey Jones doesn’t draw Cap big enough. He’s supposed to be this huge, beefy mountain of a man, but Jones makes him practically anemic compared with how he’s normally drawn.


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