Saturday, 29 September 2012

X-Men #141-#142: "It's 2013. Do you know what your children are?"

It's the distant future. The year 2013.1 Yes, time has nearly caught up with Days of Future Past, the story that occupies X-Men #141 and Uncanny X-Men #142 (the series changed its formal title between issues, although we've had "Uncanny" on the covers for a good long while now).

2013 is a horrible dystopia in which Sentinels - giant robots with funny hats - have overthrown the U.S. government, and killed or put in camps all mutants and other superhumans, and spread through the rest of North America. In doing so, they've wrecked the place, - I love here the "express train" that Pryde takes, being a bus pulled by animals. Other nations aren't looking too kindly on the proposed sentinel invasion of the rest of the world, and a nuclear apocalypse is about to start.

Many of the heroes are dead or captured (as we see on the now-iconic cover: expect to see that as a movie poster in 2014), and only a few holdouts remain: Wolverine, Kate Pryde (who would be 46 by now), her husband Peter Rasputin (well, they moved quickly on hinting at that, didn't they, although this is the future and so no, I'm not putting it in the chart), Ororo (who is surely in her 60s, if we're still supposed to think she was orphaned by Suez), Franklin Richards, Rachel (surname carefully left unspecified), and Magneto (called Magnus - the first time we've got a "real" name for him). Together they have decided to do something about it, by sending Kate Pryde's consciousness back in time to 1980, to avert the assassination of Senator Kelly. The only problem is, they're not quite sure how time travel works in the Marvel universe (which is fair enough, neither do the writers). Will it change their timeline and they vanish, or just create a new one and they get to experience a fiery nuclear death anyhow? That giant robots are in charge and are treating even baseline humans badly undermines the "It Can't Happen Here" undertones a bit, but nonetheless the future it presents is quite stark.

Kelly was is going to be assassinated by Mystique, and her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Mystique makes her first full appearance in X-Men here, having debuted as a character in Claremont's Ms. Marvel #17, 4 years ago. She's put together a team that consists of herself, her um-friend the blind precog Destiny, Pyro (described as a "Limey", which has got to hurt, considering we'll eventually learn he's supposed to be Australian) and Avalanche, all being introduced here for the first time. The Blob - who was given the name Fred J. Dukes in his prison-break scene in #140 - joins them.

Kate-as-Kitty quickly gets believed, and is sent to Washington to talk with Professor X. Now, this suffers from the a common problem with time travel stories, that Ryan North identifies in Back to the Future, in that why on Earth have they sent her back with so little time to spare? It's almost as if she's arrived close to the events in question as an artificial thing to induce drama... Oh.

So, there is a FIGHT and the X-MEN save SENATOR KELLY'S LIFE and they ALL LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER. Apart from the future-X-Men who die. Oh, and Kitty becomes herself again...

This, along with the Dark Phoenix Sage, is often pointed at as one of the highpoints of the Claremont/Byrne run, in a "you, go read that" sense. In this case, I agree. It's quick and mostly self-contained, and it has a point to it that still resonates today - this trope is by now well-worn but is usually used as disaster porn rather than politically. But apart from that, it's also a major turning point in Claremont's run of X-Men, and marks a decisive shift to a world where the X-Men are actively feared and hated.

Non-American readers may not know that the title (used as a campaign slogan by whoever won the '84 election here) is a play on the quite creepy It's 10pm. Do you know where your children are? public service announcements to be found on U.S. television. American readers may not know that the rest of world does not have such televised messages, and find them rather bizarre and unsettling. So I thought I'd mention that here.

So, this scenario, of people going back in time to stop a post-apocalyptic future where robots are hunting down and killing people? Remind you of anything? It anticipates the later Terminator films, without really appearing to be inspired by Ellison's work "Soldier [from Tomorrow]". Is it basically just "Day of the Daleks"? Well, I've not seen that, but from reading summaries, not really as similar as it is made out to be. Claremont Byrne does plenty of outright lifting from film and television, but they repay the favour from time to time, it seems. Of course, now that they're adapting this into a film (see my earlier post about is - shooting right now!), then they're going to have to be very careful to avoid comparisons to Terminator and for that matter to Transformers.

1. When I originally wrote this post I had dropped to a weekly schedule and this was going to post in 2013. But now I've boosted it to daily for September as well, so you'll just have to imagine it's 2013 and laugh.

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