[I make a comment below in italics -- GK]
[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]
“The Past of Future Days”
It’s probably no coincidence that, during the John Byrne tour de force of “Days of Future Past,” the year 1984 is a key date in the dystopian chronology laid out by Kate Pryde. It is and will probably always be the emblematic year for dystopian futures thanks to George Orwell. (Claremont even acknowledges Orwell explicitly in issue 183.) So Claremont choosing to do a sequel to “Days” when the actual year 1984 came about is surely no surprise. What’s more fortuitous is that James Cameron (to whom Claremont already owes a huge debt for the influence of “Aliens” upon the Brood) made a movie in 1984 all about a future where robots take over and both humans and robots head back in time to change destiny.
This confluence of serendipitous chronologies leads to “The Past of Future Days,” a scattered, schizophrenic X-Men story that falls rather shockingly below par given the tight cohesiveness of the previous issue. This is an era for X-Men that sees Claremont very much abandoning traditionally structured storytelling. Perhaps still intimidated by the shadow of his great accomplishments on the series, Claremont is deliberately pre-empting any weight of expectation to live up to something like “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” or even the more recent masterpiece with Paul Smith eventually to be christened “From the Ashes.” By eschewing any semblance of classical structure for a much messier narrative style, he forces readers to abandon any preconceived expectations and to simply surrender to the bizarre flow. The tight, laser-beam plotting of the Byrne era had been slowly diffusing anyway in the years since Byrne departed. It’s right at around Uncanny #184 that the light scatters completely, reflected disco-ball style in several directions at once (appropriate then, that part of this issue is actually set in a disco).
Hence, last issue featured Kitty Pryde packing up and heading to Chicago to visit her dad (a segue into the six-part Kitty Pryde & Wolverine miniseries, which in turn is the reason why neither of those characters appear in Uncanny for the next eight months). It also ended with a cliffhanger involving the return to the X-universe of Selene (who’d first appeared in New Mutants #s 9-11). Meanwhile, New Mutants #18 (contemporaneous with “The Past of Future Days”) opens with Rachel from the “Days of Future Past” arc having just arrived, Terminator-style, in the present. After a long introduction in New Mutants, she disappears only to turn up here, in Uncanny #184, and (apropos of nothing) battle Selene. Meanwhile, a new character called Forge is also introduced -- in one of the most embarrassing debut panels any superhero has had to endure. Honestly, I know it’s almost 25 years old, but a horizontally striped shirt, short shorts and a cane – not to mention the effeminate posture? Surely even in ’84 this looked awful.
Forge, a Native American, is lectured by Naze when we first meet him. “The ancient patterns are being broken, the proper order of things overturned!” says Naze. “The fabric of life itself is unraveling!” This may be an oblique reference to the “Demon Bear” arc in New Mutants 18-20, which focused on Danielle Moonstar, a character that – like Forge and Naze – is a Cheyenne Indian. It’s an oblique reference to something, at any rate, and the Naze thread will not find a proper resolution for over 3 years.
Claremont also makes this issue tie in to the “Dire Wraith war,” the premise of his friend Bill Mantlo’s action-figure-based comic book Rom. As if it all wasn’t overdetermined enough...?
With all this material crammed into the issue, how do the X-Men fit in? Well, four issues from the end as it turns out: That’s when they finally show up. And while it’s great to see them, it certainly raises the question of where Claremont’s mind is at. Up to this point during his tenure, Claremont has always seemed more excited about the X-Men characters he inherited than the ones he created himself. But that focus seems to have shifted now – Uncanny #184 sees Claremont more at home with Forge, Mystique, Valerie Cooper, Rachel and Selene (all original Claremont creations or co-creations) than with the staple Cockrum/Wein characters -- Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, etc. – all of whom are shunted aside here, relegated to the role of guest stars in their own comic.
[This idea of an anxiety of influence relationship not with a precursor but with the creators younger self has a big hold on my imagination this week, as I have been thinking a lot about Miller's Batman. I mentioned this in the Spirit post this week -- it is just a coincidence to see it come up here. Something very much worth thinking about.
Also: I like the scattered stuff in this period. It is another aspect of what you can do with a title before it becomes a total commodity: you pick the thing up and you don't know what the hell you are going to get. The overdetermination you are talking about here is genuinely absurd, and kind of awesome in a way only long running comics at big corporations can be.
And as my friend Brady said (I think, and I think I may have mentioned this before) -- how totally CLASSY to have Kitty and Wolverine out of the book for eight months while they go on their own adventure. For all of his outlandish science fiction, Claremont is unwilling to break a fundamental rule of continuity -- a rule that guides far too much at the big comics companies while paradoxically being ignored all the time -- that a person SHOULD NOT BE IN TWO PLACES AT ONCE.]