[Guest blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]
“Mind Out of Time”
The most memorable aspect of the “Days of Future Past” two-parter is obviously the apocalyptic-future aspect, but Byrne and Claremont also display casual innovation in the present-day sequence, when they introduce the quietly radical idea that there can be a “Brotherhood of Evil Mutants” that is NOT led by Magneto. Instead, they’ve been gathered together by a new character, Mystique (who had appeared ever-so-briefly in Ms. Marvel, another Chris Claremont series). Putting a female in charge was surely Claremont’s idea – his philosophy when introducing new characters was, by all acounts, to ask rhetorically, “Is there any reason this character can’t be a woman?”
Claremont hints in this issue that she and Nightcrawler – both possessing blue skin and yellow eyes – might be related somehow. Unfortunately, just like the material about Nightcrawler’s origin in X-Men Annual #4, the Kurt-Mystique connection is something Claremont won’t explain, in the rare instances over the next 11 years that he chooses to bring it up at all.
As villain teams go, the new Brotherhood are a fairly strong and well-conceived group. Their powers are clear yet imaginative (Avalanche’s being particularly fun); the battle between them and the X-Men is once again beautifully choreographed by Byrne; and it’s cute that the lineup contains only one mutant from Magneto’s Brotherhood, specifically the Blob (whom Magneto recruited in 1964’s X-Men #7) – mirroring the fact that there is only one Silver Age X-Man, specifically Angel, currently among the good guys.
Byrne and Austin recycle an artistic trick they used in Uncanny #124’s Murderworld story, wherein all the panels set in Arcade’s control booth had a thick black border around them. In this issue, that same device is used much more dramatically, with the black borders applied to all the 2013 scenes. The effect is arresting, a subtle visual symbol that the future-versions of the X-Men are locked inside their world, unable to escape an awful fate. (The garish cover copy, “This Issue: Everybody Dies!” is significantly less subtle, and editor Louise Simonson admits to having slapped it on as a blatant attempt to increase sales.)
The on-panel deaths of the future versions of Storm and Wolverine, along with Colossus’ murder off panel, are not without a certain power, but it is the more quiet aspects of the story’s apocalyptic scenario that are the most striking. The image of Rachel and an unconscious Kate huddled and hidden in the street, the last survivors of the X-Men, creates a striking resonance. Uncanny X-Men #138 had already cast Kitty as the symbolic “daughter” of Jean Grey, reprising Jean’s arrival-by-taxi in X-Men #1 at the exact moment she was being laid to rest at the funeral. Kitty ending up the last X-Man, protected by Rachel – Jean’s actual daughter – is thus fitting and even redemptive, as is Kate’s successfully preventing Kelly’s assassination in the present. Kate, as the adult version of Kitty, is also a symbolic recreation of the adult Jean Grey, delivered unto the X-Men via the psychic powers of Jean’s daughter. The entire set-up, with Kate in Kitty’s body, is Claremont’s literalization of Kitty’s symbolic role. Kitty is a vessel through which Jean is still able to function as a member of the X-Men, and even to redeem herself, by stopping Kelly’s murder. The bit in which Kate kisses Kitty as they pass each other in the time stream can be looked on as Kate/Jean giving her blessing to Kitty – or perhaps as an expression of gratitude. (None of this would have been intended by John Byrne, who hated what he later called the “lesbian kiss” between Kate and Kitty – note that the kiss is only in the narration, not in the art.)
There is, by the way, symbolism of a more obvious sort being employed in the character of Destiny, the Brotherhood member who actually attempts to pull the trigger on Kelly. In a classically Greek way, she is physically blind yet able to psychically “see” the future. However, for all her literal foresight, Destiny and her group are all very much “blind” to the political repercussions of their planned assassination.
Rounding things out is an epilogue providing another strong example of the X-Men’s link with what Neil Shyminski terms “the Other.” In this case, it is the Sentinels who represent that Other, with the X-Men having attempted to prevent their rise by saving Robert Kelly’s. They succeeded, but their efforts have instead led to Kelly being the very man who recommends the creation of a new wave of anti-mutant Sentinels. Even more ironically, thanks to Kelly’s friendship with Sebastian Shaw, the leader of the Hellfire Club and a mutant himself, the contract to build them is given to Shaw Industries. In appropriate sci-fi style, the X-Men may have only brought closer the Armageddon they’d fought to prevent.