Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

[Doug Glassman's got a month's worth of Kitty Pryde spotlight reviews for you, starting now!]

Chris Claremont wrote Uncanny X-Men for seventeen years straight. In retrospect, it’s surprising that the two most important stories from that run are only separated by four issues. With the death of Jean Grey at the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga, the X-Men: Days of Future Past trade opens rather appropriately with her funeral. This is actually a framing device for an intense retrospective of the X-Men’s history up to that point.

Claremont and Byrne pack a lot of details into such a small space, from Magneto turning into a baby to the “All-New, All-Different” X-Men attacking Krakoa. It also inadvertently serves as a checklist of Professor Xavier’s questionable decisions. At points, Byrne imitates Jack Kirby and Dave Cockrum to enforce the sense of the series’ artistic changes. The original Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe wouldn’t come out for another two years, so this was a brilliant way to bring new readers up to speed after the Dark Phoenix Saga.

Cyclops leaves the team after the funeral. Because the rosters have changed and expanded so often since the early 1980s, this may not seem so important, but Cyclops had appeared in every issue since the title’s inception. This makes Storm the new leader of the team, and while Cyclops would return later, it was a role she would keep for years. The first trial of this new roster comes in “Nightcrawler’s Inferno,” in which the team must rescue Nightcrawler’s soul from Hell with the help of Doctor Strange. It’s actually an alternate dimension created by Nightcrawler’s stepmother, Margali Szardos, as revenge for his killing her son. The dimension is an accurate interpretation of Dante’s Inferno, complete with the City of Dis and a three-headed Satan. Nightcrawler has been put at the very bottom in the level of traitors. It's all eventually cleared up and Nightcrawler finally gets to celebrate a birthday with both of his families.

Kitty Pryde officially joins the team in issue #139. The cover of this issue memorably reads “Welcome to the X-Men, Kitty Pryde . . . Hope You Survive the Experience!” This quickly became the standard welcoming phrase for new X-Men, and she does have some trouble adjusting to her new life at the Xavier School. She’s terrified of Nightcrawler despite his genial nature, and Wolverine puts her on edge. Conversely, Storm becomes a caring elder sister and the seeds of the Kitty/Colossus relationship are sown. Kitty is an audience surrogate character who doesn’t get on the reader’s nerves -- something rare with that kind of character. Despite being naive and scared, she holds her own and grows as the story progresses.

The three male X-Men have a fascinating camaraderie, as demonstrated when Wolverine and Nightcrawler head up to Canada to help Alpha Flight with the Wendigo. Having served together since the start of the “All-New, All-Different” roster, they have become a coordinated unit, but it’s comprised of two different friendships. Nightcrawler and Colossus have more lighthearted adventures together, while Nightcrawler and Wolverine are closer to drinking buddies. Colossus and Wolverine work well together in battle -- they invented the Fastball Special, after all -- but they don’t hang out a lot in their downtime. It reminds me of the friendships of Hal Jordan, Barry Allen and Oliver Queen. Hal and Barry are friends, and Hal and Ollie are friends, but Barry and Ollie never quite gelled on their own [gosh, but I wish Geoff Johns had written a Barry/Ollie team-up in the old continuity. Say what you will about Johns, Barry, or Ollie, but that would have been awesome.]

After Wolverine and Nightcrawler’s Canadian adventure, we head into the title story and encounter a dark future. The Sentinels are in control and superheroes are nearly extinct in the far-off future of ... 2013. A future X-Man, Rachel, sends the mind of the future Kitty Pryde into her younger incarnation to prevent the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants from assassinating anti-mutant politician Senator Robert Kelly. In a nice touch, the X-Men realize that something is wrong when Kitty isn’t afraid of Nightcrawler. Meanwhile, Rachel would later be revealed to be Rachel Summers, daughter of that universe’s Cyclops and Jean Grey, who would later cross universes and become Phoenix and then Marvel Girl. It took Claremont a long time to expand on this initial appearance of Rachel, notably withholding her last name in the story.

What follows is some rather fancy storytelling, showing the action in both the present and the hellish future. This was the first sign of the coming massive rise of anti-mutant bigotry, with the Sentinels returning in a huge way. By averting Kelly’s assassination, the X-Men only make things worse, leading him to ally with the Hellfire Club and sending the main timeline hurtling closer towards the dark future. Meanwhile, the rest of the future X-Men start to fall, including Wolverine getting incinerated by a Sentinel. Days of Future Past indulges in the theory that “it’s an alternate universe, so we get to kill everyone,” which happens a lot in What If?” stories.

The final story is Kitty’s first solo adventure, as well as the first issue to be called Uncanny X-Men. She’s been left behind by the other X-Men as they go to a Christmas party. Unfortunately for her, the mansion has been attacked by an N’Garai demon, menaces that appeared back in Uncanny X-Men #96. Kitty uses her powers, agility and basic knowledge of how the Blackbird flies to defeat the demon and earn her keep as a member of the X-Men. A few years later, in Uncanny X-Men: From The Ashes, Professor Xavier wanted to demote her to the New Mutants; Kitty had a point in calling him a jerk.

In the X-Men universe, Uncanny X-Men: Days of Future Past was extremely influential, with other bad futures like Age of Apocalypse and Age of X taking their cues from it. The next X-Men film will also use it as its basis. Moreover, it serves as proof that even after such a major event as the Dark Phoenix Saga, the title could hold its own and even improve as time went on.

Next time ... Kitty Pryde goes to Japan and gets a major revamp.
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8 comments:

  1. I was thinking about buying this book so I can finally own the entire Claremont/Byrne run, but there's quite an overlap with Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men volume 5 content-wise.

    Given how Marvel is slowing down their Masterworks release schedule, I think it will take at least two years for them to finally release the TPB version of volume 6. I wish there was an option other than the Masterworks to collect Claremont's X-Men with no missing issues between volumes.

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  2. Question, do you know if this book is also included in the Claremont X-Men omnibuses? I'm a bit confused about this.

    -Jordan

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  3. No, but it would be included in a hypothetical Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Vol. 2, which should feature the same content as Masterworks volumes 5 to 7. Some theorize Marvel is delaying it because they want its release to coincide with the next X-Men movie's premiere.

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  4. Oh, interesting. Well volume 1 seems to be intensely out of print and priced incredibly high...I want that thing. Damn! I have never read any of this presumably legendary run (and honestly not a ton of Marvel in general), even though I offhand know so many story points in them, so I really just want the giant collections to go deep with it. -J

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  5. Is the 2nd run Claremont did with Jim Lee good? That seems to be all available in 2 big expensive omnibuses.

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  6. It's like I predicted you would be reviewing this one soon!
    -> http://fav.me/d5n4xei

    Anyways, I still need to actually give a read to this big epic storyline finally.
    These recent editions are the perfect excuse to catch-up!

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  7. I think the main reason why there aren't more omnibuses for Claremont is that many of the issues are collected in the crossover trades (Mutant Massacre, Fall of the Mutants, Inferno, etc.). Marvel knows that omnibuses are out of the price range of a lot of fans, so they've started breaking them down into smaller trades. For instance, the "Fall of the Mutants" hardcover is getting republished as two softcovers early next year. I can see this happening a lot over the next two years as the X-Men publishing juggernaut rolls on.

    (This shouldn't be confused with the Juggernaut publishing X-Men, which is Cain Marko's new day job.)

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  8. The problem with the crossover OHCs/trades is that they leave some gaps, such as the 5 uncollected issues between Mutant Massacre and Fall of the Mutants, or the 7 issues between Fall of the Mutants and X-Tinction Agenda.

    What's interesting is that some recent OHCs like Fatal Attractions and Bishop's Crossing ended up including more issues than they were supposed to, in other to fill some of those gaps between collections. If only they were that thorough about the Claremont/Romita era, which remains largely uncollected.

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