Sunday, February 19, 2012
GN Review -- X-Men: Days of Future Past / Chris Claremont & John Byrne
I've read about this story all my life, or at least all of my life that I've been acquainted with the X-Men. Any fan can't have gone long without hearing about this iconic narrative about an apocalyptic future in which our favorite mutants--and the rest of the world, it seems--are either dead or enslaved by Sentinels. There have been stories spun off from this story. The cartoons have tackled it in various interpretations. So I'm very familiar with this story, and have been for years, but I had never had a chance to read the original, source material.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is actually a collection of the run of Uncanny X-Men #138-143 from the early 1980s, so it encompasses more plots than just the two-issue "Days of Future Past" storyline. But let's be honest: it's that particular story that's going to make comics readers buy, rent, check out or otherwise act to read this volume. Still, there are other noteworthy events happening during this phase, from Kitty Pryde's recent arrival to the X-Men fold to Jean Grey's recent death, necessitating Cyclops's presumably brief departure from the team and Storm's replacement as team leader. We also see appearances by Alpha Flight, Doctor Strange, and a vicious foe from Wolverine's past, the Wendigo.
Reading the stories from this era, it's easy to imagine reading comic books as an exercise for the brain that's very nearly as demanding as reading a prose novel. Seriously, these stories are packed with text, to an extent that I virtually never see in today's comics. The first story, in which Cyclops basically narrates the team's history up until Jean Grey's most recent death up to this point, is so text-heavy that it took me the better part of an hour to read (compared with Millar's The Ultimates, where I read the majority of six issues in about an hour). In addition to viewing and analyzing the accompanying illustrations, it's arguable that reading these comics is a comparable--if not greater--exercise in reading comprehension than purely prose pieces of comparable length and subject matter.
Chris Claremont is a legendary name when it comes to the X-Men, and his stories are always memorable and remarkable. With that said, "Days of Future Past" itself seemed a bit of a let-down when I finally got around to reading it. I attribute this to no fault of Claremont, but to any possible number of factors, from the passage of time, the building up of expectations for this story over the years, and the fact that many interpretations and re-tellings of it have taken some of the most iconic moments and images and amplified them to a degree that the genesis story in its initial form simply wouldn't be designed to match.
It seemed tamer in tone and content than I'd been expecting, possibly due to the manner in which the narrative was conveyed over the two issues. I mean, I understand that the future is dark, and that heroes have been killed, and that Kitty is going back to the X-Men on a desperate mission to change the future. But then the narrative jumps to focus on the X-Men versus the Brotherhood, and it's hard to see it as much more than another superhuman slugfest, with presumably higher stakes. Of course, I've also only read it once, and plan to read it again at a more leisurely pace, so I can soak in more of the overall story.
The artwork, of course, is amazing. John Byrne is nearly as legendary as Claremont, and his pencils show you why during this run of issues. The man's eye for detail, expression, and characterization shines in his line work, and he handles dramatic poses and pulse-pounding action scenes with equal aplomb. In particular, his action shots of Colossus and Wolverine stand out as remarkably iconic representations of these men during a crucial time in the X-Men's history.
Overall, this was a delightful treat to the X-Men's sterling past. If you're wanting to see some of the X-Men's classic storylines by a masterful dream team of creators, you should definitely check this volume out. Highly recommended.