A quick bit of business to get out of the way – first, those of you here for the Fantastic Four, come back in two weeks, at which time we’ll return to the Fantastic Four for issue 11 of Stan and Jack’s fine run. For FF fans also be sure to watch my self-crossover (is that a basketball move?) as I did a video breaking down The Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four Vol. 1 covering the first 10 issues found in my previous Retro Reviews.
Now, on with the show. The show to end all shows. Well, not a show, a comic, and yeah, kind of literally the comic to end all comics in a way. John Byrne and Chris Claremont had worked together on Uncanny X-Men since 1977, flash forward to 1981. That run, which you could argue rivaled the greatness of Stan Lee & Jack Kirby on Fantastic Four, is about to come to an end. Coincidentally, Byrne left to do a fine run on Fantastic Four (Byrne’s artistic take on The Thing is the definitive one for me). With that end, two desperate men pulled all the stops and killed lots of X-Men. Byrne and Claremont were as different as people and artists as you can get, despite and perhaps because of that tension came utter greatness again – imagine mind-blowing Retro Reviews covering the Dark Phoenix Saga.
This is my all-time favorite comic book story (that doesn’t mean it’s the best, although it is quite good), however, it is very significant to me. It was the first “game-changing” comic book story in my world as a kid. The cover is as shocking as it is beautiful, this is John Byrne at his best. The true glory in the cover is that it tells a story – first, everything is different and second, most everybody is freaking dead! What happened!? They were all alive last issue! Imagine a Retro Review for 140 and you’d have a fully intact X-Men roster, then blam, this cover kills most of them!
The opening panel is as powerful as the cover and very Will Eisner-eque. We find ourselves walking through dystopian New York before it was a common everyday thing. Kitty, in fact, isn’t Kitty anymore, she’s a woman now, she’s Kate. Also, keeping things cat, she is wearing a collar, only this collar doesn’t help with fleas, it suppresses her mutant powers.
A gang shows up to hassle our power-suppressed heroine. The gang is very 1970s/early 80s. They are the one aspect of the book (at least in the future section) that dates the book, the “present” stuff, 1981 makes it look like 1978. The time of the future, the far-off distant time of 2013 (I feel old). The original Old Man Logan shows up with his Reed Richards/Hal Jordan grey temples and pummels the guys from The Warriors. He doesn’t pop his claws and kill the humans, so as to remain hidden.
Wolvie is back from the Canadian resistance. North America is now controlled by the Sentinels, Europe is still under human control, but with that conflict Nuclear holocaust looms. Claremont and Byrne create a beautiful and tense future, the clock is ticking. In 1988, the Mutant Control act passed, M – a mutant, you’re placed in camps. H – a human, you’re cool. A – carrying genetics that could result in mutant offspring, you’re not allowed to breed. Kitty passes seemingly endless tombstones, the dead are the fortunate in this world.
The desperation builds as the clock continues to tick, it’s doomsday baby! Kitty returns to camp with the few remaining X-Men. Here we learn that Franklin Richards is alive (see, more Fantastic Four related stuff) and Magneto is inexplicably in a wheelchair. I personally think he’s in a wheelchair because it makes for a great reveal. Again, comics are a visual medium and it grabs you and it holds you. I want to know why, but I don’t need to know why, I’m firmly along for the ride on this one.
Colossus and Kitty, KATE! Not Kitty, Kate! Colossus and Kate are married and in the saddest moment in the story, they subtly talk of dead babies. I can honestly say I’ve read this issue dozens of times and never before noticed that maybe it’s being a father now myself, but damn, that stings.
Rachel Summers, our Phoenix of the future and daughter of Jean Grey and Scott Summers, sends Kate back in time sending her consciousness to October 31, 1980. I wasn’t even born yet! And if the Sentinels win, I’ll NEVER BE BORN!
Okay, I’m still here. We’re good. I’m good.
In 1980, Kitty stumbles into a Danger Room training session. The team does their best to protect her from the perilous method of training (method-training? The actors out there, you’re with me, right?). Kitty has her first training session. Conveniently, Kitty passes out as her consciousness is overtaken with that of Kate. Wolverine goes all scientist and notes that her brain scans are more complex.
In the most bittersweet moment in the comic, Kate is happy to see her dear sweet friend Nightcrawler alive. Wolverine believes her in what is just a wonderful panel. Byrne at his best as a visual storyteller.
On a flight to Washington, DC we get our exposition to share the fate of the world. The team must save Senator Robert Kelly from assassination at the hands of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. The Brotherhood, by the way, perhaps the most 70s thing about this comic.
In the future, Wolverine shows up to help free the remaining X-Men. In a series of glorious panels, the team fights their way out. They suffer losses but escape. They are on their way to the Baxter Building (hear that Fantastic Four fans, more references to the FF) which has become the Sentinel core.
Colossus has always been among my favorite X-Men. He’s the big tough guy, made of metal, but in reality, he’s soft and gentle, he’s a poet, an artist. The Colossus of the future is not that Colossus, a hard world has made him ten times harder than his own steel exterior.
Mystique used her shapeshifting power to steal a non-specific deadly weapon from the Pentagon. The future predicting Destiny senses trouble, but it’s unclear. Kate is an undetectable wildcard. We also have great bad guy art of great bad guy infighting. Also, I just noticed that Pyro is referred to as an “Englishman.” He’s not. At least not after this, he’s Australian.
Another of my favorite moments, we see the great compassion of Charles Xavier. I’ll let John and Chris’s work do the talking. Prof. X, by the way, is already at the hearings.
There’s also a nice little throwaway panel where you have a news crew suggesting “Lois try for an interview.” The dramatic conclusion, at least until next issue, the Brotherhood breaks in!
Before you go, I covered the fancy fat Marvel edition on my YouTube channel. That review goes well beyond these two issues and covers Days of Future Present from the early 90s (meh) and more loosely related issues.
Also, once again thanks to Sean Howe’s comprehensive history of Marvel, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story for the research found here-in. Come back on Friday for the second part in my Special Cinematic Edition Retro Reviews, featuring J.D. Salinger as Captain America (sort of) and of course, come back next week for the Uncanny X-Men 142, where EVERYBODY DIES!
Josiah Golojuh is a writer, who is thankful for X-Men Classics as a kid, they were cheap! (find his collection of short stories here) He’s also a YouTube commentator (where among other things he talks about Days of Future Past).