Thursday, February 5, 2015

'X-Men: Days of Future Past' collection review

The covers of UNCANNY X-MEN Nos. 141-142 stick with you.

Maybe you can picture artist John Byrne and Terry Austin's iconic covers to Chris Claremont's story in your mind as soon as you read those issue numbers. Or possibly you can't recall the numbers but you recognize those covers as soon as you see them. Either way, there's one truth that's hard to deny — Byrne's work makes a lasting impression.

Have you noticed artist John Byrne put his name
and inker Terry Austin's
on the wall behind Wolverine and Kitty Pryde?
Who can forget the image of a graying Wolverine, with his claws popped, protecting the adult Kitty Pryde on the cover of UNCANNY X-MEN No. 141?

Their backs are against a brick wall, which is plastered with mug shots of their fallen or apprehended comrades. Artists have paid homage or done their own twist on this cover for years. No less than 12 Marvel Comics covers have used Byrne's idea and poses — and that just includes the ones in the back of the X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST hardcover collection I read recently.

And those homages continue. I attended a comic book convention last year in which an artist did his take on issue 141 since Claremont was one of the featured celebrities.

The cover for No. 142 is even more startling — Wolverine being destroyed by a Sentinel's hand blast.

As horrific and unforgettable that image is, it's much more "PG" as the original, gruesome one on the bottom of page 17.

Terry Austin, best known as an inker, did this cover
for UNCANNY X-MEN No. 142.
There, Wolverine's skin is peeking off his red-hot skeleton. So while the cover isn't completely accurate to the story, I appreciate the discretion of Marvel's editors in making Austin deliver a less horrific version of Byrne's interior art in 1981.

Before I get to my reviews of the individual issues in this collection, here's something else I noticed about the two-part "Days of Future Past" storyline.

At the end of issue 141, Marvel advertises the next story will be titled "Time Out of Mind!," but the splash page of No. 142 is "Mind Out of Time!" Apparently, Claremont or editor Louise Jones weren't paying attention to the continuity from the previous issue.

Either way, the subtle and barely noticeable difference in the title doesn't make any difference. Either version is appropriate since Pryde is in the present time (1980) and the apocalyptic future dominated by the merciless Sentinel robots (2013).

… OK, on second thought, I've changed my mind about reviewing every issue in this collection. I couldn't possibly do to justice to each story in a short review without doing too much recapping. (For you completists, the issues are: X-MEN Nos. 141-142 [1981], FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL No. 23, THE NEW MUTANTS ANNUAL No. 6, X FACTOR ANNUAL No. 5 and X-MEN ANNUAL No. 14 [all 1990], EXCALIBUR Nos. 52, 66 and 67 [1992 and 1993], the three-part WOLVERINE: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST limited series [1998] and finally, the completely unnecessary HULK: BROKEN WORLDS No. 2 [2014].)
This EXCALIBUR issue is included
in the 2014 hardcover collection called
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST.

To be honest, I didn't read every part of every single issue, but I have no doubt I've got the gist of this time-jumping storyline.

While it's not surprising Marvel Comics has come back to Claremont and Byrne's story time and time again (Talk about "Days of Future Past"!! Teehee!). However, I was slightly surprised the focus changed, especially in the early 1990s stories.

The 1981 two-parter could be seen as a way of making Pryde a more important part of the X-Men roster and certainly a great excuse for the good guys to face off against the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. "Days of Future Past" is the first time the X-Men went on a time-hopping adventure, especially one in which the mutants' actions have significant ramifications. This in turn has set a tremendous precedent for future writers who have contributed to the X-Men universe and with all the time traveling, the mutants' continuity is perplexing and confusing.

Captain America and Sharon Carter get in on
the homages to UNCANNY X-MEN No. 141.
A cynical Bronze Age comics fan like me might say there's nothing like the original material, which is why writers and artists have paid so much homage to X-MEN Nos. 141-142. Movie fans can see this collection as a way to acquaint themselves with the original comics (cough! cough!) that inspired the film, "X-Men: Days of Future Past."

But here's what I took the most from these stories: In addition to the precedence of making time travel and its ramifications an important element of X-MEN adventures, Marvel writers have used Claremont and Byrne's two-part saga as a way to expand/explain the importance of Rachel Summers and most importantly, the way the Phoenix Force influenced Summers and her mother from an alternate reality, Jean Grey.

Let's face it: The X-Men and Phoenix Force's history is nothing short of mind-boggling and is like trying to grasp a moving target. Even the most avid X-Men fan would have a hard time keeping everything straight. As a huge assist to readers, the editors of this collection have included some narration between some of the stories which is immensely helpful in connecting the continuity dots.

The bonus material is especially fascinating, unlike some much other crap that's included to do nothing more than fill space in other trade paperbacks. I especially enjoyed seeing the "lighthearted house ad" for X-MEN No. 142 by artist Jim Salicrup and Austin and the unused cover of the same issue by Byrne and Austin.

By far, the most beautiful piece of art is Byrne's two-page spread for the cover of MARVEL COLLECTIBLE COMICS: X-MEN No. 2. The 1988 cover is simply gorgeous and worth framing. This oversized collection really shows Byrne's brilliance on this cover alone.

Claremont's introduction and editor Bob Harras' afterword in MARVEL COLLECTIBLE… perfectly encapsulate the importance of the original story.

Who knew the annuals in this collection set up the "Mutant Wars" storyline? I didn't until I read the article from MARVEL AGE PREVIEW No. 1. Equally fascinating are pages of the "Days"-inspired trading cards and covers. Grades — Original story: A; Other stories: B-; Bonus material: A

Want more of Cary's Comics Craze's coverage of Chris Claremont and John Byrne?!? Sure you do.


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