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Marvel Comics presents the X-Men classic 'Days of Future Past'

Little did John Byrne and Chris Claremont know that when they co-created the X-Men storyline “Days of Future Past” in 1980 that the two-part story would go on to not only shape the future of the X-Men but would lead to the development of the latest movie in the X-Men franchise from 20th Century Fox, “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” The “Days of Future Past” storyline originally published in the January and February 1981 issues of “Uncanny X-Men” answered the question of why must there be X-Men.

A story so intriguing it has been revisited many times over the years.
John Byrne & Terry Austin
A collection of the "Days of Future Past" saga from Marvel Comics
John Byrne & Terry Austin

“Uncanny X-Men” #141 (January 1981) introduced the dystopian future where mutants, humans born with a special power, have been interred into concentration camps by giant-mutant hunting robots, the Sentinels. The segregation and capture of mutants is the culmination of decades of hatred and bigotry built up against the mutants. The downward spiral for mutants began with the assassination of a prominent United States Senator by mutant terrorists. When the story begins only four X-Men remain and to save the future of the Earth they must first save the past.

Through time manipulation the consciousness of one of the X-Men is transported back to alter the one event that destroyed the future. The time travel by Kitty Pryde shows the X-Men of 1981 what the consequences of failure means to the world. Even though the world hates and fears mutants, the X-Men must stand up to protect the world from all threats.

While the past is being fixed by the time displaced Kitty Pryde a concurrent running story shows the bitter end of the X-Men. The caption on the cover of “Uncanny X-Men” #142 (February 1981) reads “This issue everybody dies!” and they weren’t kidding.

Whether it was the grim end of the X-Men, or the glimpse of a future the X-Men must forever fight to prevent, the storyline resonated with fans. While the story was one of the last collaborations between Byrne and Claremont the themes and ideas of “Days of Future Past” would be mined for future stories to constantly remind the X-Men of how important their fight is.

With the “X-Men: Days of Future Past” movie being released, Marvel Comics has collected some of the most prominent stories built from the “Days of Future Past” story in the “X-Men: Days of Future Past” hardcover collection available now. Below the Hollywood Comic Books Examiner takes a look at the stories in this collection.

Days of Future Past

Co-plotted by John Byrne and Chris Claremont with art by Byrne and inker Terry Austin, “Uncanny X-Men” 141 and 142 was the culmination of a 36 issue run by the creative collaborators. The plot came about when Claremont told Byrne the Sentinels were lame and not true threats to the X-Men. Byrne professed they were only that way because that was how Claremont wrote them.

“Days of Future Past” turned the Sentinels into the all-time threats they should be to the X-Men. The Sentinels not only slaughtered all but four of the X-Men but every other hero and villain with a super power. Byrne in one panel drew a seemingly endless series of grave markers for heroes of the Marvel Universe. Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers all caught in the destructive path of the Sentinels because how could the Sentinels protect humanity if any powers existed.

The story carries a tremendous impact considering its short duration of only two issues; by today’s standards two issues would only give you a taste of the story. But Byrne and Claremont packed a major punch to the gut. The story showed the ultimate failure of the heroes and with that failure forever looming it makes their perseverance that much more heroic.

The artwork of Byrne and Austin is phenomenal rich in detail that conveys much of the story from the aged looks of the heroes of the future that flips back to colorful days of costumes. It is a beautifully rendered storyline where the visuals tell you all you need to know about the depressing outcome.

Days of Future Present

Chris Claremont would return to the themes of the original “Days of Future Past” as he continued to write the adventures of the X-Men in “Uncanny X-Men” for years. He had pulled a character introduced to fill a need in the original story, Rachel, back into the past and fleshed out her character. This time traveler with scrambled memories of the “Days of Future Past” would become key to many stories including “Days of Future Present.”

The “Days of Future Present” storyline published in the summer of 1990 in “Fantastic Four Annual” #23, “New Mutants Annual” #6, “X-Factor Annual” #5, culminated in “X-Men Annual” #14. Again Claremont co-collaborated on the story this time with writers Walter Simonson and Louise Simonson who wrote the first three parts of the story.

“Days of Future Present” introduced the cyborg mutant hunter known as Ahab and his hounds to the continuity. He was tasked with finding the time-tossed Rachel who had become the hero known as the Phoenix. This story also saw the return of the future version of Franklin Richards the son of Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four. A mutant himself his powers were such that he could alter reality.

Through Franklin the story shows aspects of the various incarnations of the X-Men that led up to the “Days of Future Past” story. It also gave a sense that no matter what the X-Men did this horrible future would come at some point.

The story itself comes across somewhat disjointed as the focus is a little all over the place and the writers don’t transition well between each issue in the four part story. This is also due to art that is less than stellar in the first three parts. Terry Shoemaker, Jackson Guice, and Jon Bogdanove were not at the peaks of their careers. When Arthur Adams comes in to do the art for Claremont’s script in the final part the story really takes shape even though it discards some of the threads built over the previous chapters.

This was a story steeped in continuity that introduced many layers to the overall mythology of the X-Men.

Days of Future Yet to Come

Rachel as the Phoenix had moved on from the X-Men and joined the British superhero team known as Excalibur. There her story as a time-travelling mutant from a dystopian future was fleshed out. This came to a head in the “Days of Future Yet to Come” story by writer and artist Alan Davis.

“Excalibur” #52 (July 1992) the story titled "All You Ever Wanted to Know About Phoenix, But Were Afraid to Ask!" reveals the history of Rachel and how she was able to escape the future and come to the past with little to no memory of what happens.

“Days of Future Yet to Come” is a two part story that kicks off in “Excalibur” #66 (July 1993). Here the story runs concurrent with the original “Days of Future Past” but from a different perspective. This time the time travel takes the heroes forward in time to combat the destruction of the Earth. Excalibur joins Phoenix on her quest to restore order to the world by defeating the Sentinel army.

Davis’s artwork is so clean and clear that the future does not look as bleak as Byrne’s original story. But the story is also depicting a world outside of the concentration camps. The story is set up with an attack on the central base for the Sentinels. The artwork is beautifully rendered and definitely at the pinnacle of Davis’s career.

Wolverine: Days of Future Past

A three part storyline that was to be a prequel to the original “Days of Future Past” storyline appeared in the mini-series “Wolverine: Days of Future Past” (December 1997 – February 1998). Written by John Francis Moore with script by Joe Casey the series featured art by Joe Bennett and Jon Holdrege.

Not a terrible story, this series firmly fits into the over produced vibe of the 1990s Marvel Comics. The story was set up to lead into the original story providing a backdrop of where Wolverine was leading into the events of “Uncanny X-Men” #141. Instead the story introduces X-Men who had not been created at the time of the 1981 original members of the then hot series “Generation X” took their place next to others in the X-Men cannon. Their introduction does not fit with where the characters had been previously established.

While the original story showed the X-Men had made amends with enemies like Magneto this story shows attitudes still contentious between all despite the Sentinels already in power. It does not work well as a lead in and would have been better served to stand on its own.

“Wolverine: Days of Future Past” is set firmly in the future with no attempts to change the past taking place.

Hulk Broken Worlds

A short story by Jason Henderson and Juan Santacruz in “Hulk Broken Worlds” #2 (July 2009), slips seamlessly into the world of “Days of Future Past” where none others have really been able to go.

Santacruz draws the story of Bruce Banner a human confined to the concentration camps in much the same styling and look of Byrne’s original story. It looks as if the story was set just a few hundred yards from the first.

Henderson tells the story of what others were doing and how a hero like the Hulk could fall under the control of the Sentinels. There is plenty of smashing in the Hulk’s style but it is a somber story showing the hopelessness of the dystopia.

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