The future isn’t always good when it comes to the world of the X-Men – as Battle of the Atom has yet again shown. I figured it’d be fun to look at the different ways Marvel have imagined the days of future mutants… And why not start with the classic?
Forget about the movie, that’s going to tell its own tale. The real Days of Future Past is a classic story, one that spun the first significant mutant dystopia. These were bleak days for the X-Men; Jean Grey had just died on the surface of the Moon, and Cyclops left the X-Men to wallow in his grief. Sure, Jean would come back, but you have to remember how raw those issues were back then. These were the days before “I got better” became an X-Men catchphrase.
In the midst of all this, Marvel Editor Jim Shooter asked the celebrated X-scribe Chris Claremont to bring back the ‘school’ concept. Claremont’s reaction was to create one of the most enduring X-Men, Kitty Pryde, who proved an instant hit. And even though Claremont launched into a humour-filled storyline featuring Alpha Flight, the darkness was always just around the corner, as occasional flashes of grief reminded us. It really was superb writing.
And then, in Uncanny X-Men #140, Blob broke out of prison and kicked off a Brotherhood plot that would transform history. Readers were taken into a breathtaking dystopian future, one in which open war had broken out between man and mutant. Claremont is often criticised for his wordy style, but it enabled him to build a rich sense of history.
Note the ‘M’ reference, one that would be referenced in the 1990s with the design of Bishop. And, again, this future world was wonderfully twisted; although Xavier was dead, Magneto was a cripple. Piotr and Kate had married and even had children – children slaughtered by the Sentinels. And so Kate Pryde resolved to change the past, and her mind was transferred into the present-day!
And, as the bewildered X-Men listened, we heard the trigger event for this whole future:
Nowadays, time-travel is second nature for the X-Men (pick up any issue of All-New X-Men for a concept that proves my point). But this was the very first time anyone ever heard the name ‘Rachel’…
Claremont avoided morally simplistic writing. Kelly, the assassination target, was a decent man with legitimate fears; the death of the moderate was what would cause this terrible future. This all led to the unleashing of the Sentinels, and the slaughter of heroes (with the Sentinels actually basing themselves at the Baxter Building, a nice nod). Kate had travelled to the past before the rest of the world unleashed a nuclear nightmare against the ruins of the USA.
Giving us another glimpse of the future, Claremont penned the odds increasing against the X-Men, and then returned us to the present for the Brotherhood’s assassination attempt. What followed was an absolutely brilliant issue, with the tension ratcheted up as we saw doom in the future, and the Brotherhood battling ever closer to their goal.
The battle that follows is filled with heat and power, with Mystique complicating the picture nicely. My favourite moment?
It was powerful stuff, culminating in a future going to Hell in a hand-basket (in some wonderfully-done scenes); but it all came to a head when Kate Pryde herself intervened before Destiny could assassinate Kelly. Storm took the moment to give Kelly a quick moral lesson – but the timeline was clearly averted, even though the future remained dark. This became all the clearer as Kelly met with Sebastian Shaw and the President himself, a month later. And so came our first mention of Project Wideawake. The future had changed, but it did not seem to have changed much… (Incidentally, if you want a bit of info on how timelines work in the Marvel Universe, we did a Hoo Ma Moos on that very subject…)
Days of Future Past is a classic story, one filled with angst and drama, setting up elements that have proved key to almost all X-Men futures (and more than a few alternate realities). It’s a must-read!