Friday, August 15, 2014

Review # 130: "X-Men - Days of Future Past"

"Days of Future Past" is one of the greatest X-Men stories ever. The concept of a time-traveler from a bleak future venturing to the past was a fresh idea at the time, as beaten into the ground as it's become now. Still, there's a reason why pop culture keeps going back to it: when done correctly, it works. Look no further than the X-Men film based on this very title.

The movie is faithful to the basic plot of the Chris Claremont/John Byrne/Terry Austin original, though it's wildly different in many ways. There's no young Magneto in the comics, Mystique is a cut-and-dry villain and an older Kitty Pryde - going by "Kate" and married to Colossus - has her consciousness sent back in time by the debuting Rachel Summers instead of projecting Wolverine's herself.

Mystique is leading an all-new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants lineup of Blob, Destiny, Pyro and Avalanche - the first X-Men appearance for all but Blob. She means to assassinate pro-mutant registration Senator Robert Kelly in Washington, an event which Kate Pryde says sparks a future where the robot Sentinels have assumed control and slaughtered a healthy segment of the North American population. Much like the film, the story switches back-and-forth between the present and future.

It's the latter which makes this series so memorable. While the tension surrounding the assassination attempt is well-depicted and the fight between the X-Men and the new Brotherhood is quite creative, the selling point of "Days of Future Past" is watching the future X-Men - made up of several of the current X-Men - die. Logan's death is particularly nasty and stands to this day as one of the most iconic panels in Marvel history.

Outstanding work for only two issues. But, there's a catch.

As always, when something proves to be popular in comics there is immense pressure for the subject to be revisited. Marvel did this many times, ranging from the very good, to the very bad. Examples of both are included in the "Days of Future Past" oversized hardcover with the X-Universe/Fantastic Four crossover "Days of Future Present," Excalibur's "Days of Future Yet to Come," the miniseries "Days of Future Past: Wolverine" and an issue of "Hulk: Broken Worlds."

Let's get the crap out of the way first: "Days of Future Past: Wolverine" is a prequel and a pretty terrible one at that, heavily using characters that debuted long after the original story. The central villain is Shinobi Shaw, who has never been as interesting as his father Sebastien, with an evil Psylocke at his side. Betsy's motivations are never adequately explained. Wolverine is hunting for his daughter, whose mysterious identity you can spot a mile away. In a bit of synergy, Magneto joins in and ALSO finds his daughter, the Scarlet Witch. She's being manipulated by Shaw to help destroy the Sentinels and hand power to him. Wolverine and Magneto don't want that, never really coming up with a good enough reason to back up that opinion. By the time it's over you're wondering what the point of all this was, which is never a positive.

Then there's the actual reason I bought this book: "Days of Future Present." Shamefully, it's for completion. Part of it is written by Claremont and it was a chance to replace black-and-white prints with colour. But this arc is memorably bad.

In the original story, Franklin Richards is among the X-Men killed during an attack on a Sentinel base. What happens is at the moment of his death, adult Franklin projects his "dream self" back in time and begins wreaking havoc on reality. Franklin has a much harder time than the also time-displaced Rachel with accepting that the past has already changed and that he won't exist as is in this world. (Rachel just cried a lot and ran out of the room when her dad Scott would show up.)

As a character, he's infuriating. He sees X-Factor's towering ship, says "that's not right," then wipes it out of the skyline for no reason sending Cyclops, Beast, Archangel, Jean Grey, Iceman and baby Cable tumbling. He also visits the X-Mansion, pulling imaginary versions of his own team into the Danger Room where they fight adult Cable and the New Mutants. (I suppose I should explain that this was before it was decided that Cable was actually Nathan Summers.)

The New Mutants issue in particular is terrible. When a book has two pencillers (Terry Shoemaker and Chris Wozniak in this case,) it's a foreboding sign. The art starts off mediocre, then quickly descends into terrible. Jackson Guice and Jon Bogdanove on the "Fantastic Four" and "X-Factor" annuals aren't much better.

If there's a saving grace, it's the final chapter in "X-Men Annual # 14" written by Claremont and drawn by Art Adams. It's well-plotted, well-placed and Adams' art is outstanding. It's vivid, detailed and the action sequences are top notch. I feel I must point out one malady, though: there's a scene where the villain Ahab has kidnapped Cyclops and the Invisible Woman and converts them into slaves. One of Adams' artistic touches is drawing a notch through the "4" in Sue's costume like a "No Smoking" sign. The redesigns of Scott and Sue as "hounds" were ridiculous enough, but that's the kicker.

The story is wrapped up in an extra bonus chapter where Wolverine tells Franklin how stupid this all is. I couldn't agree more.

Sandwiched between these two is the best story of the lot: "Days of Future Yet to Come." As a bonus, there's a helpful recap of Rachel Summers' history before we're thrust back into the future where Alan Davis shows Kate Pryde in Ahab's clutches. Through Kate sacrificing herself and the aid of another Excalibur character - Widget - Rachel learns of Ahab's activity and goes to the future, taking volunteer teammates in tow. It's a simple little action number with some good character work and some neat visuals from the always-up-to-the-task Davis. It may be aided someone by the crap that precedes ("Present") and follows it ("DOFP: Wolverine") sequentially.

Finally, there's a short story about what Bruce Banner of all characters is up to in the nightmare future. As a favour to a dying friend who wants to send a letter to his wife, the semi-incarcerated Bruce busts out of confinement, Hulks out, rampages and returns. It's pretty damn awesome.

So I'm left with the difficult task of giving this a score. The content here is certainly unbalanced. There are already much better ways to read "Days of Future Past," the best of which is the second "Uncanny X-Men" omnibus which I cannot recommend enough. I'm holding out hope for reprints of Excaliber collections which would ideally be the best way to appreciate that story. But unless you're a Claremont completionist or just want EVERY story Wolverine has been a part of (that would take a LOT of money,) take a pass on this OHC.

Rating: 4.5/10

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