'X-Men: Days of Future Past' lifts from X-traordinary 1981 X-Men story

By Andrew A. Smith
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

May 13, 2014 -- If you’ve seen the trailers for X-Men: Days of Future Past, the Twentieth Century Fox movie that premieres May 23, your reaction has probably been “What the heck is going on here?”

That’s understandable. The previews show a number of inherent contradictions. Like, how can Professor Charles Xavier, as played by Patrick Stewart, be involved, when we saw him die in “X-Men: The Last Stand”? Why isn’t The Beast (Nicholas Hoult) furry? And why does there seem to be two versions of the major characters?

The answer to these questions is one phrase: time travel.

For more information we have to travel in time ourselves, back to 1981. That’s when the story this movie is based on first appeared, in the Uncanny X-Men comic book.

At the time, Jean “Phoenix” Grey was recently dead (for the second time -- don’t ask) and Scott “Cyclops” Summers had taken a leave of absence to work through his grief. Kitty “Shadowcat” Pryde was such a new X-Man she was still using her first code name “Sprite.” The only other members of the team at the time were founding X-Man Angel, and relative newcomers Colossus, Storm and Wolverine (who all joined in 1975).

The story “Days of Future Past” opened with an adult Kitty Pryde (now called Kate) moving through the ruins of Manhattan decades in the future, in the (cough) 21st century. Very quickly we learn that North America had been taken over by Sentinels – large, mutant-killing robots that the X-Men have fought more than a few times – and the United States is a ruin. Most superheroes are dead, the government has been dissolved and what few mutants remain – like Kate – are kept in concentration camps. Sentinels patrol the skies while gangs rule the streets. We’re told Kate has managed to get a day pass for medical supplies, but instead keeps a surreptitious rendezvous with Wolverine, one of the few mutants still roaming free.

Yikes!

What Kate gets from Wolverine is the final component she and her fellow imprisoned mutants need for a last-ditch plan to fix everything. Those mutants – Storm, Kate’s now-husband Colossus, Franklin Richards (the son of Reed and Sue Richards of the Fantastic Four), Rachel Summers (the daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey) and a crippled Magneto – plan to send Kate’s mind back in time to warn the X-Men of the 20th century to avoid the major mistake that led to this dystopian future.

That mistake was failing to prevent the assassination of U.S. Sen. Robert Kelly – a presidential aspirant – by Mystique and a bunch of mutant super-villains, just as he is pushing a “Mutant Registration Act” to authorize draconian measures against mutants. After the assassination, we learn, an outraged nation passes the act, sending the country down the slippery slope to concentration camps.

Kate’s mind does in fact make the time jump, landing in her teenaged 1981 body. After convincing the X-Men that she’s from the future – hey, the X-Men have seen weirder – Storm leads her team in an attempt to prevent the senator’s assassination. Meanwhile, the story also follows the X-Men of the future as they make a suicidal attempt to disable the Sentinels.

What follows next is the stuff of comic-book legend, and I won’t spoil it for you here. I will say that Uncanny X-Men was at its height in the early ‘80s, with writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne co-plotting a run of issues so imaginative and ground-breaking that X-Men became the most popular franchise in comics for the next 20 years.

Amazingly, this famous story was presented in exactly two issues. In today’s world of “decompressed” storytelling – often a euphemism for “stretching a story to six issues so it will fill a trade paperback” – it would doubtless have run the whole summer of 1981, crossing over into six or seven other titles and a clutch of miniseries and one-shots. But, no: Claremont and Byrne told the whole story – two stories, really, in two different time periods – with a beginning, a middle and a very serious end in exactly two issues. And they did it so well that no X-Men reader of 1981 ever forgot it.

Marvel Comics didn’t forget it either -- unfortunately. Various writers re-visited the concepts and the dystopian future of “Days of Future Past” in the 1990s with a four-part story that ran in four annuals of different series, three issues of Excalibur and a three-issue Wolverine miniseries. Oh, there was also a Hulk story in 2009. Frankly, many of those stories weren’t very good, as “Days of Future Past” suffered from the law of diminishing returns.

There are no flies on Marvel, so of course all of these “DoFP” stories have been collected in a new hardback with the same name as the movie. Given the almost painful awfulness of the later stories, I’d recommend that you find one of the other reprint books that contain the original two-parter, like Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men Vol. 6, X-Men Essentials Vol. 2 or Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Vol. 2. Those will contain not only the two-parter, but some of the issues on either side of “Days of Future Past,” which are pretty good. (Oh, there’s a new prose version of the story as well.)

Needless to say, the movie will not follow the original story perfectly. For one thing, it’s clear that the future X-Men send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time, not Kitty Pryde. Sen. Robert Kelly already appeared, and died, in the first X-Men movie, so he’s kinda unavailable. And somehow or other, the older Xavier (Patrick Stewart) will exist in the future, despite having died in the, uh, past.

Actually, that latter isn’t all that hard to understand. If the X-Men are dinking with time, isn’t it possible they could change the events that killed Xavier back in Last Stand? Plus, time travel provides the excuse to have two Xaviers and two Magnetos, meaning we get the thrill of seeing Stewart, Ian McKellan, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender all in one movie! Not to mention the many other famed actors who are reprising their original roles, like Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique), Halle Berry (Storm), Anna Paquin (Rogue), Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde) and Shawn Ashmore (Iceman).
Plus – plus! – Peter Dinklage, who has found fame in Game of Thrones, will play Bolivar Trask, the creator of the Sentinels.

What is less clear are all the new X-people who are appearing in “Days of Future Past” that have no connection to the original story, or to the various X-movies to date.

For example, we’ll meet the energy-absorber Bishop (Omar Sy), a refugee from a different dystopic future. And the teleporter Blink (Bingbing Fan), yet another refugee from yet another dystopic future. And the solar-powered Sunspot (Adan Canto), the super-speedster Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and the Native American warrior Warpath (Booboo Stewart), who aren’t refugees from anywhere, thank goodness.

All of this time-hopping leads one to believe that his movie will revoke a lot of Last Stand, not only conflating the various X-movies into a single cohesive timeline, but restoring a number of formerly dead X-Men – Ex-Men? – to viability.

Which is going to make for a movie with an X-traordinary number of X-Men. That’s one way it will be just like the comics!

Contact Captain Comics at capncomics@aol.com.

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In my column I mention that some of the later stories weren't very good. Honestly, they were awful. Virtually unreadable.

I haven't seen DoFP yet (as of this posting), but I have to agree with you on Halle Berry's 'portrayal' of Storm in the X-Men movies. She came off not only wooden, but too Americanized. I have always said that I would have liked to see Iman (David Bowie's wife & supermodel) as Storm. She has the accent & the bearing that I have always connected to Ororo Monroe's personality, seeing as before she joined the X-Men, she was worshopped as a goddess in an African village for several years.

  I would have liked Gina Tores, the woman who played in Serenity to play Storm. 

I always thought Iman should have gotten the part as well--she's tall, regal, and actually from Kenya (or at least she went to school there, I forget).  She may not have Oscar-worthy acting chops (altho who knows?), but it's not like movie-Storm has ever gotten anything Oscar-worthy to do on screen.  If Storm's just going to be used as a secondary (tertiary?) character, she may as well be the most Ororo-like background player she can be!

It's impossible to know now, but my guess is that if Berry had made Storm memorable in the first movie, she'd have been given bigger parts in later movies. As it is, it's probably for the best that she was sidelined, and more charismatic actors like Jackman and Stewart (and then McAvoy and Fassbender) moved to the front.

Well, it's not like there are a lot of amazing Storm arcs from the comics for the movies to draw from...

At least they didn't put her in a mohawk.

I dunno. That might have helped.

The best casting option that I heard was Angela Bassett.  Berry's Storm just didn't have any presence.

Mark S. Ogilvie said:

At least they didn't put her in a mohawk.

I still don't understand the mohawk.

I stopped reading X-men shortly after she got that and Rogue joined them.

IIRC, the X-Men under Storm's leadership first encountered the Morlocks to rescue the Angel from becoming Callisto's sex toy. Despite her claustrophobia (being underground), she battles Callisto one-on-one in a knife fight with no powers.  Ororo nearly stabs Callisto to death and assumes leadership of the Morlocks as well. This made her harsher. When she encountered Yukio in Japan, she admired her attitude and look and duplicated both of them.

Thanks! That helps quite a bit!

Philip Portelli said:

IIRC, the X-Men under Storm's leadership first encountered the Morlocks to rescue the Angel from becoming Callisto's sex toy. Despite her claustrophobia (being underground), she battles Callisto one-on-one in a knife fight with no powers.  Ororo nearly stabs Callisto to death and assumes leadership of the Morlocks as well. This made her harsher. When she encountered Yukio in Japan, she admired her attitude and look and duplicated both of them.

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