Forty years ago, the legendary creative team of Chris Claremont and John Byrne set a new standard for comic book stories with the Dark Phoenix Saga. Both heartbreaking and thrilling, the story found Jean Grey corrupted by the limitless power she yields as Phoenix. Beginning in UNCANNY X-MEN #128 and escalating until its dramatic conclusion in UNCANNY X-MEN #137, readers at the time were awestruck as Jean Grey went from heart of the X-Men to their most formidable villain. The saga was an instant classic and cemented the X-Men as one of Marvel Comics’ most successful franchises.
Since then, the Dark Phoenix Saga has been revisited in various stories, adapted to both television and film, and is considered a masterpiece of the comic book medium. Now, as Dawn of X launches and the X-Men venture into an exciting new era, the franchise will be honoring the past with Dark Phoenix 40th Anniversary Variant covers! From Jean Grey’s psychic battle with Emma Frost to the X-Men’s fateful clash with the Shi’ar Imperial Guard on the moon, each cover will see a pivotal moment in the event brought to new life by today’s top artists.
X-MEN #5 DARK PHOENIX SAGA 40TH ANNIVERSARY VARIANT by KRIS ANKA
EXCALIBUR #5 DARK PHOENIX SAGA 40TH ANNIVERSARY VARIANT by PHILIP TAN
NEW MUTANTS #5 DARK PHOENIX SAGA 40TH ANNIVERSARY VARIANT by JUAN JOSÉ RYP
X-FORCE #5 DARK PHOENIX SAGA 40TH ANNIVERSARY VARIANT by RUSSELL DAUTERMAN
FALLEN ANGELS #5 DARK PHOENIX SAGA 40th ANNIVERSARY VARIANT by SCOTT WILLIAMS
Keep an eye out for these other Dark Phoenix 40th Anniversary Variants to be revealed at a later date as well as other variant programs celebrating Chris Claremont’s 50th year of iconic Marvel storytelling!
MARAUDERS #5 DARK PHOENIX SAGA 40TH ANNIVERSARY VARIANT
X-MEN #6 DARK PHOENIX SAGA 40TH ANNIVERSARY VARIANT
EXCALIBUR #6 DARK PHOENIX SAGA 40TH ANNIVERSARY VARIANT
MARUADERS #6 DARK PHOENIX SAGA 40TH ANNIVERSARY VARIANT
FALLEN ANGELS #6 DARK PHOENIX SAGA 40TH ANNIVERSARY VARIANT
NEW MUTANTS #6 DARK PHOENIX SAGA 40TH ANNIVERSARY VARIANT
X-FORCE #6 DARK PHOENIX SAGA 40TH ANNIVERSARY VARIANT
(W) Chris Claremont (A/CA) Bill Sienkiewicz Rated T+ In Shops: Sep 25, 2019 SRP: $4.99
STRONG AND FREE!
Don’t miss this momentous event as legendary creators CHRIS CLAREMONT and BILL SIENKIEWICZ reunite with Magik, Wolfsbane, Cannonball, Cypher, Mirage, Karma, and Sunspot to share this never before told story of the New Mutants’ past! When Warlock experiences a nightmare, he begins going haywire, and it’s up to his friends to save him! But as Warlock grows more frenzied, they should be worrying about being able to save themselves…and doubly so when Magik’s inner demon, Darkchylde, threatens to break free! Also, a special guest appearance by none other than Kitty Pryde!
(W) Chris Claremont, John Byrne (A/CA) John Byrne Rated T In Shops: Jul 24, 2019 SRP: $4.99
Jean Grey makes the ultimate sacrifice in the heartbreaking climax of the unforgettable Dark Phoenix Saga! Summoned by the alien Shi’ar to answer for the cosmic crimes of the Phoenix, Jean Grey must stand trial – by combat! The X-Men and the Shi’ar Imperial Guard do battle on the moon to decide Jean’s fate! But can she keep her dark side under control? Or will the Dark Phoenix rise against her friends? One of the greatest love stories in all of comics – Jean Grey and Scott Summers – ends in tragedy in an issue that shocked X-Men fans and sent ripples through the entire comics industry! It’s one of the all-time great Marvel comic books, boldly re-presented in its original form, ads and all! Reprinting X-MEN (1963) #137.
Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, we’ll receive a percentage of the sale. Graphic Policy does purchase items from this site. Making purchases through these links helps support the site
(W) Chris Claremont, Larry Hama, Sam Keith (A) Salvador Larroca, Sam Keith, Scot Eaton (CA) Ryan Stegman Rated T In Shops: Jun 26, 2019 SRP: $4.99
WOLVERINE LEGENDS, Chris Claremont, Larry Hama & Sam Keith REUNITE!
He goes by many names… Patch…Weapon X…Logan…but most just call him THE WOLVERINE. Join Marvel’s greatest storytellers for three brand-new untold tales of the X-Men’s deadliest member. Blood, broads, and blades… you asked for it, bub!
After laying the groundwork for several issues, we’re finally ready to do a deep dive on Chris Claremont’s first unadulterated statement on the mutant metaphor, the legendaryDays of Future Past:
The story came at a key, interstitial moment for Chris Claremont and John Byrne: they’d just pulled off a three-year, reputation-making story with the Dark Phoenix Saga, and the big question was whether that epic had exhausted all dramatic potential in the series. They fired back with a two-part story so powerful that X-Men creators and fans alike have been obsessing about it ever since (which, as I’ll argue later, has become part of the problem with X-Men).
Days of Future Past is a good example of the peculiar (and volatile) alchemy that was the John Byrne /Chris Claremont partnership. According to Jason Powell, John Byrne was the driving force behind bringing the Sentinels back as the primary and existential antagonists and the central time-travel hook was his unwitting homage to the Doctor Who serial “Day of the Daleks.” However, as I’ll argue in this essay, a lot of the political and interpersonal story that the sci-fi stuff is wrapped around feels much more like Chris Claremont’s work, especially when it comes to the decision to center the story on Kitty Pryde.
This decision was key to making the broader transition from Dark Phoenix Saga to the rest of the Claremont run, because it comes only two issues after she’d joined the X-Men. Firstly, because her newcomer status perfectly positions her as the audience surrogate for the new, post-Jean Grey status quo, and secondly, because as the lone teenager on the All-New team, she makes for the better contrast with her no-nonsense veteran future self than anyone else. (This is somewhere where the 2014 film falls short, giving us a not-particularly-emphatic transition of Hugh Jackman going from one gradient of grizzled Wolverine to another.)
We can see the
crucial clarity that Kitty provides in three panels, as she suddenly shifts from
her initial fear of Nightcrawler’s appearance to her later warm and fuzzy
feelings; similarly, the change from the uncertain, halting (“uh-huh”) speech
patterns of Teenage Kitty to the matter-of-fact mission-briefing style of her
adult self is immediately obvious.
How Is This Day Different All From Other Days
Another reason why Days of Future Past needs to be a Kitty Pryde is that (similarly to what he did with Magneto) Claremont made it into an inherently Jewish story. From the letters attached to clothing indicating which castes are allowed to “breed” in the Sentinels’ America, to the rows of identical graves near the gates of the “South Bronx Internment Center,” the visual and rhetorical signifiers of this particular post-apocalyptic scenario are uniformly that of the Holocaust:
In addition to the
captions drawing meaning from Byrne’s discreet Hs and Ms on people’s jackets,
we see Claremont’s sensibilities in Kate’s carefully-hidden thoughts – our
first window into the Anti-Sentinel Resistance’s ideology. The similarity
between Kate’s “we can try to ensure this nightmare never happens, never even
begins” and the mantra of “never again” that became the definitive response to
the Shoah is unmistakable.
We can also see Claremont’s influence in what he did with the time travel plot, allowing him to show how the X-Men’s characters could be wildly different in the far future of 2013. As I’ve talked about elsewhere, one of Chris Claremont’s enduring frustrations with the comics industry was the eternal status quo of serial IP:
But because the conceit of the story is that 33 years have passed, Claremont can show Colossus as a retired farmer (who can be married to Kitty Pryde without it being creepy) who’s given up the superhero life, can show us generational change with a grown-up Franklin Richards in an adult relationship with Rachel Summers (making her debut appearance) , and most of all can show us Magneto as Charles Xavier. Several issues before he was to do his major retcon on Erik Lensherr’s backstory, and fifty issues before he was to put Magneto on trial, Claremont shows us a Magneto who – transformed by pain – now fights to ensure that both “humanity” and “mutankind” can survive to see the “day after tomorrow.” (Incidentally, we know this to be Claremont’s contribution because Byrne hated what he called “noble Magneto.”)
The ultimate example of thumbing one’s nose at the eternal status quo is the permanent death of characters, and one of the things that gave Days of Future Past its impact in 1981 is that the What If? nature of Byrne’s time-travel dystopia allowed for the shocking deaths of X-Men mainstays like Wolverine and Storm without damaging the X-book’s long-term brand:
At the same time, I think there’s more to these shocking deaths than the car-crash voyeuristic appeal of a “bad future” timeline, again due to Claremont’s spin on the story that we discussed above. The specificity of the apocalypse lends a specificity to the resistance fighting against it, and thus the Anti-Sentinel Resistance can’t help but take on some of the aspects of WWII resistance movements, which means also being influenced by the tropes of the cinema de résistance – films like Casablanca, Cross of Lorraine, This Land is Mine, Is Paris Burning?, andArmy of Shadows. In this genre (influenced as it was by escape and heist films), the plucky Resistance fighters are generally outnumbered and outgunned, their best-laid plans are often undone by bad luck, and their ultimate victory is often the existential triumph of refusing to give in and collaborate.
Now that we’ve fully
explored the inspirations and implications of Byrne and Claremont’s dystopian
future, we need to dig into the “present day” events that are supposed to set
the apocalypse in motion and how Claremont wraps all of these events in an analysis
of 1980s politics.
Breaking with the conventions of Marvel’s sliding timeline, X-Men #141 starts with a very specific date: Kitty Pryde walks into the Danger Room on “Friday, October 31st 1980…the final Friday in one of the closest, hardest-fought presidential elections in recent memory.” For once, Claremont’s purple prose is not exaggerating: in the real-world presidential election of 1980, October opinion polls stood on a knife-edge with Reagan and Carter trading leads, often divided by as few as three or four points, with third-party candidate still holding onto a potentially decisive 8-9% of the vote. This choice of date isn’t a coincidence, because as Kate Pryde will outline to the stunned X-Men, presidential politics will play a central role in creating this apocalypse:
First, the revelation that the dystopia will be caused by a presidential assassination immediately placed in the world of 1970s “paranoid” conspiracy thrillers like The Parallax View andThree Days of the Condor, themselves a reaction to the world-shaking political assassinations of the mid-to-late 60s as well as the more general increase in distrust in government that accompanied the Watergate scandal. And given how often these thrillers combined fears of assassination and conspiracy with fears of nuclear devastation – think Day of the Dolphin, The Odessa File, Twilight’s Last Gleaming, and The China Syndrome – here the link between the mutant metaphor and nuclear threat is particularly appropriate.
Second, for the first time we have a partisan political edge for the often-amorphous “anti-mutant hysteria.” Here, Claremont directly criticizes the (often hard-left) political terrorism of the 1970s, arguing that it backfires, creating a groundswell of fear and hatred that sweeps reactionaries into office. By trying to eliminate the threat posed by Senator Kelly in 1980, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants only ensures that “a rabid anti-mutant candidate” is swept into office. This demagogue’s campaign slogan – “it’s 1984! Do you know what your children are?” – is a clever riff on the 1970s/1980s public service announcement campaign that sought to scare parents about the threat of juvenile delinquency with the question “It’s 10 PM. Do you know where your children are,” suggesting a parallel between moral panics.
Third, we see from these panels why the X-Men are such a crucial part of the Marvel Universe, and why arguments that they should be kept separate always fall flat for me. I’ve discussed elsewhere why the disparate treatment of mutants and other super-powered beings is actually a rich vein of storytelling ideas about model minorities vs. threatening Others, and why origin stories that emphasize random chance or super-tech produce very different social-psychological responses than those that emphasize powers acquired at birth. But here we see a new angle: Days of Future Past reminds us that as waves of hatred against one minority are allowed to grow ever higher, eventually the surge will swamp over conceptual boundaries to include all who are not in the in-group. Here, we see anti-mutant hatred expanding to encompass first outcasts and marginal types like Spider-Man, the Hulk (although how much more the Federal government could pursue the Hulk is unclear), and Ghost Rider (I’m genuinely quite puzzled how the government would even go about eliminating such a blatantly supernatural entity), but then to include “model minorities” like the Fantastic Four and the Avengers who are initially loved by the public and treated as auxiliaries of the state, and then finally national sovereigns like Doctor Doom of Latveria and Black Panther of Wakanda. (The cynical part of my mind suggests that it was only after the Sentinels went after these last two that the nuclear powers of Earth-811 stopped and took notice.)
Fourth and finally,
given when these comics were written and published, we really can’t separate
out the fear of a demagogue president who could start a crisis that ends with
nuclear war from the fear of Ronald Reagan as someone whose aggressive policies
towards the USSR might end in the missiles flying that existed in liberal circles
that lasted up until the Reykjavik Summit in 1986. Hence why Days of Future
Past is so concerned with the character of presidential candidates whether
we’re talking about the or the unnamed firebrand from 1984 or Senator Robert
Is Senator Kelly a Good Man?
Speaking of which, let’s
talk about the character of Senator Robert Kelly. In what might be something
of a surprise for those of you who are primarily familiar with Senator Kelly
from Bruce Davidson’s oleaginous performance in the 2000 film, much of the plot
of Days of Future Past turns on the question as to whether or not Senator Kelly
– clearly taking on the role of Ser Reginald Styles from “Day of the Daleks” –
is a good person.
two-issues, we get testimony to the affirmative: despite having every reason to
hate the registration system that he inspired, Kate Pryde describes him as “a decent man” with “legitimate concerns about
the increasing numbers of super-powered mutants;” Charles Xavier describes him
as “scared” rather than bigoted; even the Blob, who’s literally there to
assassinate him, calls Kelly “either the bravest man I ever seen or the
However, the broader context makes me question this informed attribute. After all, this isn’t the first time that X-Men readers have met the honorable gentlemen from the Acela Corridor – the first time we meet Senator Kelly is at the Hellfire Club, where he was a special guest of Sebastian Shaw. Given that Kelly was running for president at the time, it strikes me as very familiarly reckless to spend all of his time hanging out at an upscale sex club:
Kelly’s association with the Hellfire isn’t a one-off, but part of a longer pattern of behavior: not only does he return to the club in X-Men #246-7, but it turns out that Kelly’s wife Sharon is an ex-Hellfire Club waitress, which fact somehow completely escaped the national press corps during a presidential election and suggests a truly baffling campaign of Shaw’s to influence every aspect of his life. (And no, Kelly isn’t any more liberated about his wife being a former sex-worker than the IRL news media was about a certain Coloradan Senator’s open marriage.)
professional ethics are similarly questionable. Despite the fact that the
ending of #142 establishes that Kelly serves on a committee with a national
security portfolio, Kelly is the frequent guest of Sebastian Shaw, noted arms
manufacturer with extensive contracts with the Pentagon. And while Kelly might
not consider Shaw’s invites to be either an undeclared in-kind donation or some
unauthorized lobbying, it’s pretty clear from the text that Sebastian Shaw
Ethics aside, Kelly’s political ideology is way more troubling:
Kelly’s opening statement starts out as standard boilerplate establishment language – “we are gathered here to address an issue of critical national and international importance” – but then in the second panel veers straight into the insecurity-laden rhetoric of Bolivar Trask, which raises some questions about his objectivity. On a political side note, I’m utterly astonished that any campaign manager worth his salt would allow a presidential candidate to spend the last Friday before an election holding Congressional hearings, no matter how well-televised they may be. No wonder Kelly doesn’t win the election.
At least the witness list hasn’t been stacked with partisans of Kelly’s position, because the ludicrously well-educated duo of Charles Xavier and Moira McTaggart are the main experts due to give testimony – which makes me curious as to which senators invited them. I particularly like this scene because it lets us see real political differences between members of the X-family: showing that he’s learned absolutely nothing from the last time he was kidnapped on live tv, Charles puts an inordinate faith in the power of reason and persuasion. By contrast, Moira channels both Claremont’s Holocaust-inspired opposition to state-sponsored classification and monitoring of minority groups and one of the most famous of (first openly gay elected official) Harvey Milk’s speeches.
Kelly gives the game away when he busts out his favorite Cro-Magnon/Neanderthal analogy, complete with an elaboration that situates his fear that there is no “place for ordinary men and women” in a world of superheroes – otherwise not that different from J. Jonah Jameson’s more targeted ressentiment – with a Madison Grant-esque fear of racial replacement, similarly founded on bad anthropology. Even his consistency that non-mutants like “Doctor Doom…the Fantastic Four [and] the Avengers” are also threats to the hegemony of baseline humans seems far less admirable, because we see the same list of names on the headstones at the South Bronx Mutant Internment Camp and in Kate’s description of the Sentinels’ future genocide.
Given the implications of Kelly’s beliefs, it becomes a little hard to buy his whole “just asking questions,” “this totally isn’t a witch hunt” schtick. I would argue eagle-eyed X-Men readers have good reason to question Kelly’s good faith, because this hearing is not the first time that Kelly has thought about “the mutant question.” As I mentioned above, Kelly just so happened to be hanging out at the Hellfire Club when the X-Men raided the place, and thus bought the party line:
Thus, well before
any mutant hearings or attacks by radical mutant terrorists (more on this in a
second), Kelly had already decided on the Sentinels as a solution to what he
saw as the rampant criminality of “super-powered mutants” that conventional and
Constitution-bound police forces “aren’t equipped to fight.” Note that the
nameless NYPD captain’s mention of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers in this
context suggests that Kelly’s inclusion of them in his testimony is perhaps due
to the fact that these groups are neither “completely” nor “unquestionably
under Federal government control.”
In the context of
the dystopian scenario posited by Byrne and Claremont, it turns out that the supposed
moderate option was the same agenda as that of the demagogue, just dressed up
in fancier language. (This is not the first or last time that no-win scenarios
will show up in Days of Future Past.)
So why don’t we see
“Moira Was Right” T-shirts in the X-fandom?
The Revolutionary Mystique
But enough like the victim, let’s talk about the assassin, Mystique. Her inclusion in this story – indeed, Days of Future Past is Raven Darkholme’s first appearance as an X-villain – is clearly Claremont’s influence. Despite being a mutant from the jump, Mystique was originally a Ms. Marvel villain co-created by Claremont and Dave Cockrum. Mystique is a perfect fit for the paranoid thriller style, both because her mutant abilities mean that she could be anyone and anywhere, and because she’s already infiltrated the highest reaches of the military-industrial complex:
One of the confusing elements of Days of Future Past is that Mystique recreates the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, complete with its initial peculiar name, despite not having any connection to Magneto or any discussion of what her inspiration for the group’s name was. It feels as if Claremont missed a trick here by not having Mystique’s group be the first Mutant Liberation Front, which would be more evocative of similar groups from the 1970s, create some distinction between this and the first Brotherhood (which it has no overlap with). On the other hand, the fact that she kept the original name, and the self-marginalizing perspective it implies, does suggest that Mystique may be more of a fan of Magneto’s early work than his more sophisticated later years.
This becomes especially clear when Mystique and the Brotherhood arrive at the Capitol: in a scene that demonstrates that, often, hardliners on opposite sides are de facto allies because their mutual provocations lead to complementary radicalization, Mystique and the Brotherhood are in total agreement with Kelly’s eugenic philosophy, just with a different emphasis. Because they see themselves as the “first Cro-Magnon” to his “last Neanderthal,” they see it as less an existential threat as a prophecy of historical dialectic:
Costumes and super-powers aside, Mystique’s approach here isn’t that different from the Red Brigades of the 1970s, whose kidnappings (and occasional assassinations) of political figures were carried out with a keen eye towards mass media through the granting of interviews with journalists and the issuing of manifestos and other communiques to be published in the world press. Here, Mystique’s plan is quite simple:
Unusually for the Claremont era, the climax of Days of Future Past is a straight-up superhero fight between a team of “good mutants” and a team of “bad mutants,” with the X-Men in the position of having to once again fight for “a world that hates and fears them,” which is much more of a Silver Age paradigm. Where we see more of a Claremontian influence is around the margins of the wrasslin:
To begin with, we
see Claremont’s fascination with fully-lived-in minor characters and the power
of the news-media in the fact that he drops in a reporter to react to the
In addition, the broader themes of post-Watergate political paranoia continues
in the fact that the first reaction of bystanders to the bombing of the U.S
Capitol – which was bombed by the Weather Underground in 1971 – is a false-flag
operation by the White House.
But the biggest influence of all is that while Wolverine and Colossus team up to see-saw the Blob into Avalanche, Nightcrawler has a doppleganger fight with his mother, and Storm rains on Pyro’s parade, it’s Kitty Pryde who actually saves the day:
It wouldn’t be a Claremont issue if the climactic showdown of Days of Future
Past wasn’t 90% political debate about whether political terrorism is
ultimately self-defeating and only 10% action. (Another sign that this part of
the story was Claremont’s rather than Byrne’s is that the latter hated what he
called the “semi-incestuous lesbian kiss.”)
The Dystopian Trap
Unfortunately for Kate Pryde, it turns out that however personally brave (and/or bloodthirsty) he might be, it turns out Senator Kelly is both a committed ideologue (as we discussed above) and wildly ungrateful for her saving his life:
While I’ll get to
the broader implications in a second, I did want to note some important
elements of the content of this epilogue:
Firstly, Senator Kelly’s politics remain as baffling as ever: one month after an election he presumably lost despite the rallying effect you’d think would come from surviving an assassination attempt related to your number one issue four days before the election, Senator Kelly is working hand-in-glove with someone who would have been his presumable rival.
Secondly, President Silhouette’s politics aren’t much better: despite arguing that Kelly’s proposal is “dangerous…unconstitutional, even criminal,” the President nevertheless decides to continue the same approach as a “covert” initiative outside of Congressional and judicial oversight, which seems substantially more unconstitutional and criminal than Kelly’s proposal, which presumably called for some form of authorizing legislation. (This is a topic I’ll get into in more detail when the People’s History of the Marvel Universe covers the various Registration Acts…)
Thirdly, we are introduced to Henry Peter Gyrich, future antagonist to both the X-Men and the Avengers. I find Gyrich endlessly fascinating, because I can’t think of that many real-life figures who spawned not one, but two, stand-ins. It’s almost like H.R Haldeman did something to really inspire antipathy in people of a certain generation.
Finally, it’s important to note that the main reason why Kate’s intervention “didn’t work” (more on this in a second) is because the Anti-Sentinel Resistance was so focused on the role of the Brotherhood and Senator Kelly that they didn’t see the more insidious threat of the quisling Hellfire Club.
So let’s talk about the Twilight Zone-style stinger ending – that, contrary to the previous page’s narration that Kate’s actions collapsed the Earth-811 timeline, and thus “reality twists inside out,” Kate’s intervention and the 2013 X-Men’s sacrifices have not halted the threat of the Sentinels. It is unarguable that the impact of this ending was a major reason why Days of Future Past was such an enduring success.
And that’s the
problem: over the last almost-forty years, X-creators and fans alike have been
so profoundly influenced by this story that we’ve become incapable of imagining
a future for the X-Men that isn’t a dystopia. Part of this has to do with
comics’ unfortunate tendency to repetition: since the original, we’ve had Days
of Future Present, Days of Future Yet to Come, Wolverine: Days of
Future Past, and Secret Wars: Years of Future Past, all of which
explicitly continue, elaborate on, or reboot the Earth-811 continuity. (I would
also argue that Age of Apocalypse and its successors are profoundly
influenced by DOFP as well, since they also involve time travel,
assassinations, dystopian futures, Sentinels, and nuclear threat.)
I would argue that this kind of enforced nihilism is creatively deadening in any case, but it becomes especially problematic for a comic book which doubles as a metaphor about oppressed minorities. The implicit argument is that there is no hope for the future, no possibility of either eliminating dismantling either cultural bigotry or systematic discrimination, no potential for progress either in reformist or revolutionary fashion, and given how often these dystopias involve worlds in which mutant hegemony is the oppressive force, that trying to change things only makes them worse.
If D.C can give us the Legion of Super-Heroes or the New Gods, it is not beyond the capacity of Marvel to imagine a future that doesn’t fall into the dystopic trap. While I understand that as action-oriented dramas, the superhero genre requires conflict, but there is a middle ground between utopia and dystopia. Here, the protean nature of the metaphor can be our guide: when in the history of the world has the success of a social movement or the liberation of a people from oppression not seen backlash, the rise of new issues, or the formation of new group identities?
 Yes, I know I said during
an earlier PHOMU that the Hellfire Club was his first statement on the
mutant metaphor, but to be fair the Hellfire Club was introduced as part of a
story that’s really more about space opera and cosmic weirdness, so I feel Days
of Future Past qualifies as the first story that is about the
metaphor above all else.
 Jason Powell, Best There Is At
What He Does, loc. 1242.
 While I didn’t want to let it overshadow the overall argument of the essay, I can’t let it pass without note that Days of Future Past eerily predicts many of the core plot elements of Terminator – genocidal robots, time-travel, apocalyptic scenarios, nuclear war, and so on – although unlike the celebrated legal case between Harlan Ellison and James Cameron, this is likely a case of parallel evolution.
 It’s really unclear in the main X-Men
continuity what Senator Kelly’s party affiliation and state are. Only in X-Men:
Noir is he described as a Republican, but the political context of
2009-2010 was very different from that of 1980-1981 and there’s really no signs
of that in the original text. As for what state he represents, all I can say is
that he seems to spend an awful lot of time in New York City (which is fairly
standard for the Marvel Universe), which suggests he’s a Senator from somewhere
on the Eastern Seaboard.
 As a public service to my readers,
I reached out to my friend and colleague Dante Atkins to ask him whether Kelly’s
relationship with Shaw would violate Senate
ethics rules. On the face of it, having Shaw guest Kelly at his incredibly
exclusive club would generally be considered a gift worth more than $50, which
could trigger all kinds of problems (not just with Senate Ethics, but
potentially the FEC and the Public Integrity Section of the Department of
Justice) if Kelly didn’t declare it on his forms, especially since Shaw
definitely lobbies him on Project Wideawake. (More on that later.)
Unfortunately, the fact that Shaw and Kelly are longstanding friends probably
means that this would fall under the “personal friendship exemption,” unless
someone could “prove that Shaw is offering this to Kelly not out of personal
friendship, but because he is a sitting Senator, and would not do so if he
weren’t.” Just goes to show that whether in Earth-616 or our world, Congressional
ethics rules are in dire need of reform.
 By contrast, John McCain
suspending his campaign in late September 2008 was way more reasonable, both in
terms of distance from the election and the importance of the issue.
 One of the ironies of Mystique’s
radical positioning in Days of Future Past is that she’s going to spend
far, far more of her career as an agent both willing and unwilling of the human
state than she ever did as a mutant revolutionary.
 Granted in this case, the reporter
is a fictional
one from Doonesbury, but you get the sense that this scene was
something of an inspiration for his inclusion of the very real journalists Neal
Conan and Manoli Wetherell of NPR in Fall of the Mutants.
 It is possible that President Silhouette is termed out and thus a political ally of Kelly’s, but that seems somewhat unlikely since Project Wideawake is clearly a personal initiative of his, and the clandestine scheme continues into the next administration (i.e, for at least 40 more issues).
I’d like to thank my Patrons: Beth Becker, Anonymous, Steven Xue, Gabriel Nichols, Casso King of Seals, Stephan Priddy, Sister Winter, Alistair, Aweseeds, Quinn Albaugh, James Tuttle, Hedrigal, Jeremy Alexander, Clint Woods, Dan Kohn, Donald Newell, joannalannister, Abel Savard, Quinn Radich, Emmett Booth, Leonard Wise, Kelly, Andrea Krehbiel, Courtney Simpson, Will Pepperman, Angus Niven, Lauren Combs, Amanda Marie Ford, Danil Koryabkin, John Pharo, Darby Veeck, History of Westeros, Joshua Imboden, Imriel, Adam Blackwood, Greg Sanders, Alex Chiang, William Griese, NotAPodcast, Chris Reid, tomsevenstrings, Timothy Upton, Patrick Donohoe, Willie Frolik, Micah Bouchard, Lucas Fyten, Gabriel Mallows, Paul Connolly, Brett, Michael Aaronson, Nina Friel, Christine Higgins, Jason Reilly Arends, Jim Tripp, Eric Benjamin, Sara Michener, Dave, James Keene, and Martina Consalvi.
If you’d like to become a Patron and support Race for the Iron Throne, see here.
(W) Charles Soule, Chris Claremont, More (A) Paulo Siqueira, Luke Ross, More (CA) Arthur Adams Rated T+ In Shops: May 22, 2019 SRP: $4.99
Welcome to the 1980s, Marvel style! First, Wolverine’s Vigil goes into its fifth decade but doesn’t go the way he planned. Then, join Nightcrawler mid-Cross-Time Caper at the fall of the Berlin Wall! Finally, a pivotal Venom tale by fan-favorite creators Leah Williams and Guillermo Sanna!
As someone who has served, I know someone and have been someone who has lost something of themselves. I remember the first time I came home after I joined, my family and friends saw a change and after a few times even more changes. It was not until I saw loss while serving. I saw loss growing up but it was not the same.
Environment and people around you make a difference on how you experience loss. Some of the men and women I served with were not the same. After they suffered a traumatic injury, they felt they lost a part of themselves. This is why I was surprised that within comics this issue had not been really explored until one of comics’ greatest auteurs Chris Claremont sought to do this with one of Marvel’s greatest characters, Storm. In X-Men: LifeDeath, Claremont, along with Barry Windsor-Smith, explores how it is for a superhero once they have lost the powers, which in her case made her godlike.
We find Storm and Forge living together, sometime after she
lost her powers by the mistake of Forge, who has become her caretaker, as her
loss of powers has sent her on a downward spiral of depression. Meanwhile, we
find Rogue living off the grid while still stopping evil mutants before they
can do harm. We also find Professor Xavier and Nightcrawler looking for both
women, via Cerebro, with no such luck. As Storm returns to Africa, where she
goes home to her village, to not only connect with her people, she finds more
about herself without her powers than she ever did, with them. We also catch up
with Wolverine, as Lady Deathstrike looks to lop off his head during a
blizzard. In the final story, we find out exactly how Dazzler became an X-Men
in a battle with Malice.
Overall, an excellent set of stories which proves why Claremont is the one true voice when it comes to writing the X-Men. The story by Claremont, is smart, introspective, and action packed. The art by Windsor-Smith feels like a painting. Altogether, a story you soon won’t forget.
Story: Chris Claremont Art: Barry Windsor-Smith Story: 10 Art: 9.9 Overall: 9.8 Recommendation: Buy
When Chris Claremont was handed the reins in Uncanny X-Men #94, he took the opportunity to put his stamp on almost every facet of their world – and the mutant metaphor was no exception. Given his xtra-ordinarily long tenure on the X-books, it would be impossible to cover his contributions in one essay, so this will be the first in a series of essays exploring how Claremont mutated the metaphor.
As I mentioned way back in Week 4, it took a while for Claremont to bring in the metaphor, and even then the issue is more of an homage to Uncanny X-Men #57 (which he had helped with as an intern) rather than a fully-fledged creation of his own. His “voice” begins to really sing with “the Phoenix Saga” (#97-108), but as I’ve talked about elsewhere, the Phoenix Saga really sings more as a space opera and personal drama rather than a story about what it means to be a mutant.
However, I will argue that Uncanny X-Men #129 is where Claremont really starts to say something about the mutant metaphor with the introduction of his first new mutant antagonists, the Hellfire Club.
So what is the Hellfire Club and what does it stand for?
Filthy Rich, Emphasis on the Filthy
First, and most importantly, they are the 1%. Indeed, the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club are a diverse array of different kinds of wealth: Sebastian Shaw is a 19th-century robber baron brought into the 20th century, a “self-made man” who thinks only in terms of dominating other people yet hides his feelings of cultural inferiority behind the façade of an emphasis-on-the-rugged individualist; Emma Frost is New England old money, although to be fair her inheritance of Frost Industries from her emotionally-abusive WASP father was in addition to her own fortune earned through her own business savvy (supplemented with telepathic insider trading); Harry Leland is a corrupt corporate lawyer who used murder to move up the ladder; and Donald Pierce is a mutant-hating cyborg industrialist (presumably one of the left-overs of Edward Buckman’s human-only Council of the Chosen).
This is, incidentally, why I’ve previously referred to the Hellfire Club as “neoliberal” as opposed to your classic country-club type: they have both human and mutant members (despite the fact that a lot of their human members are violent eliminationist anti-mutant bigots), they’re racially integrated (Emmanuel da Costa, Sunspot’s father, an Afro-Brazilian businessman, becomes the White Rook; Sebastian’s half-Japanese illegitimate son, becomes Black King for a time), half of their Inner Circle are women (although I’ll get to their issues with gender later). Indeed, the Hellfire Club is almost a classic Marxist’s view of the bourgeoisie; that all other considerations – race, religion, nationality, gender – have been subordinated to capital:
But for all that the Club is open to self-made “powerful industrialists,” the Hellfire Club is distinctly not Silicon Valley “disrupter” types or Sunset Belt ultra-conservatives: they are the Establishment. As Neil Shyminsky describes them, the Hellfire Club “isn’t planning to take over the world. One gets the impression that they don’t need to because they *already* control it.” This is why their headquarters isn’t a secret volcano base on Skull Island but rather a mansion on Fifth Avenue with a view of Central Park, and why the Club’s organizational manifestation is not an evil corporation (a la Roxxon or Alchemax) but rather a social club which hosts the most exclusive parties in New York:
The insidious, all-encompassing influence of the Hellfire Club – the fact that their membership includes not only the “economic elite” but also the “social [and] political” elite of both the first and second worlds (as Colossus’ comment indicates) – is what makes them truly dangerous to the X-Men, who for all their power have almost no cultural capital in human society. Thus, in the wake of their climactic showdown in #134, the Hellfire Club uses public relations and insider influence as one of their main weapons against the X-Men:
Hellfire Club’s establishment status is also linked to their motivations as
antagonists. Unlike the Sentinels, the Purifiers/Stryker’s Crusade, the Friends
of Humanity, or the Genoshan Magistrates, the Hellfire Club isn’t motivated by
anti-mutant prejudice, but rather by the single-minded pursuit of power in all
aspects of life.
than being existential opponents, therefore, the Hellfire Club view the X-Men
as merely instrumental. As Cyclops puts it in #132, they’re “a group of
industrialists out to rule the world. They view mutant-kind – and the X-Men –
as a means to achieving that goal.”
The Hellfire Club’s commitment to capitalist ideology shows itself in their internal organization, which closely follows the precepts of social Darwinism. For all that the Inner Circle might cooperate for mutual profit, they ultimately view one another as competitors in a winner-take-all struggle for power:
The looming conflict between Sebastian Shaw and Jason Wyngarde is hardly an exception to the rule: Shaw achieved his position by killing Edward Buckman and Emma Frost by killing Paris Seville; Emma Frost and Shaw will conspire to try to assassinate Selene; Sebastian Shaw will later be ousted by Magneto, Shaw, and Selene; Shinobi Shaw will challenge both his father and Selene for leadership; and most recently, Emma Frost manipulated the X-Men into helping her overthrow Shaw and become the Black King. Indeed, one could think of the history of the leadership of the Hellfire Club as so many hostile takeovers and corporate mergers (in the case of the X-Men’s later alliance and temporary membership as White Kings).
Fais Ce Que Tu Voudras
Not everything about the Hellfire Club can be explained by capitalism, if only because something has to explain why their uniform trends less toward business casual than the bondage section of Fredericks of Hollywood. So if the first thing about the Hellfire Club is that they’re neoliberals, the second thing is that they’re hedonists:
is this attitude confined to the guests whose privilege the Inner Circle seeks
to exploit: to the extent that we get inside the heads of the Hellfire Club’s
leadership, we learn that Jason Wyngarde believes that “in all our souls lurk a
devil, a yang counterpart to the surface yin” which he seeks to free “from its
moral cage”; similarly, Emma Frost thinks to herself that “in this, as in all
things, my pleasure will not be denied.”
belief that the rich and powerful should be free to throw off the bonds of
morality and taboo, but safely behind closed doors so that their position in
society won’t suffer from public disapproval, makes Marvel’s Hellfire Club very
much the intellectual heir to its real-world counterparts. There were, in fact,
two 18th century British social clubs that operated under the name
of the Hellfire Club. The Duke of Wharton’s Hellfire Club was noted for its
satirizing of Christianity – members claimed to be devils, conducted mock
religious ceremonies, and dined off a menu that satirized transubstantiation –
and the fact that it included men and women as equal members. Sir Francis
Dashwood’s Hellfire Club (which included the notorious gambling addict and
culinary inventor the Earl of Sandwich, the artist William Hogarth, and the
radical journalist and politician John Wilkes) had its anti-clerical elements –
Dashwood rented out a former abbey and brought in sex workers dressed as nuns
for entertainment – but leaned heavily in the direction of paganism,
worshipping Bacchus and Venus and Priapus through the usual methods of
fermentation and fornication. Crucially for this point, Dashwood’s club took as
its motto “fais ce que tu voudras” (do what thou wilt), which they borrowed
from Rabelais and which would in turn inspire Aleister Crowley.
all that these groups were more about over-intellectualizing wanting to drink
and have sex more than the church would approve of, they struck something of a
chord in the public imagination and so the Hellfire Club stuck around in
sensational literature and media throughout the 19th century,
eventually leading to the “A Touch of Brimstone” episode of the U.K Avengers
show which inspired Claremont and Byrne to create the first half of the Dark
At the same time, there’s something very safely heteronormative about the Hellfire Club’s particular brand of hedonism: only the women are dressed up as fetish maids or dommes (and its noticeable that the putative female leaders of the Inner Circle differ from the help only in that they get to wear capes over their corsets), whereas the men remain fully covered-up in their faux-regency knee britches and tailcoats. (One wonders whether Emma will change the dress code to something more authentically BDSM now that she’s the Black King.) It’s very reminiscent of the way that Hugh Hefner tried to cash in on the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s without incorporating women’s liberation or the gay rights movement into his worldview. No wonder then, that even Warren Worthington III who’s hardly the wokest of X-Men even on his best day, sees the Hellfire Club as not much of a radical challenge to conventional morality:
Indeed, Claremont even addresses the blatant sexual imbalance in the Hellfire Club’s presentation and practice in Classic X-Men #34 , when Emma Frost has a changing room heart-to-heart with an unnamed Hellfire Club waitress about systemic sexism:
While her argument isn’t exactly persuasive – the waitress has much less of a choice in her choice of “weaponry” – it’s almost over-determined that this era of Emma Frost would lean much more in the direction of Camille Paglia than Gloria Steinem, or that her particular line would focus so heavily on the uses of “weaponized sexuality” and her own personal rise to power as both a survivor of sexist institutions and a superior being (both because of her appearance and her mutant power), rather than a systemic critique or collective attack on said institutions. One can only imagine what Emma Frost’s Lean In circle meetings are like.
In addition to the issue of gendered self-presentation, there’s something else problematic in the way that the Hellfire Club practices kink. Even taking into account that the fictional scenarios of BDSM aren’t the same thing as the praxis of the community and that the Hellfire Club are fictional antagonists, it’s interesting that the members of the Hellfire Club don’t practice kink among themselves; it’s only their employees and their prisoners who get stripped down and tied up. In other words, Hellfire Club kink is done entirely without negotiation, consent, or trust. While Jean Grey’s extended gaslighting/mind-control is the more famous case, one of the creepiest examples comes in Uncanny X-Men #152, where it’s implied that Sebastian Shaw and Emma Frost have sex using Storm’s body:
this does prompt the normally-pacifist Ororo Monroe to try to kill both of them
immediately after she reverses the mind-swap, I’m surprised that we don’t see
more callbacks to this profound violation. However, the fact that Emma and
Sebastian choose Storm specifically speaks to a broader attitude of privilege
and entitlement to the bodies of people they view as “lesser.” In turn, I think
this explains a lot about the particular Mills and Boon scenario that Jason
Wyngarde puts in Jean Grey’s head:
A Better Sort of X
The third key ingredient that goes into making the Hellfire Club is that they are (mostly) mutants, and yet are largely unaffected by their X-gene status. Unlike pretty much every other mutant group (regardless of their ideology), from the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to the X-Men or even the Morlocks (another subject I’ll get to in the future), the Hellfire Club elite not only don’t experience anti-mutant prejudice, but they neither live openly as mutants nor go to particular lengths to hide their mutant identity, and don’t think of themselves as mutants who are part of a broader community.
If we try to describe Hellfire Club ideology on the mutant question from their actions, we see a perverse equality. Rather than showing any kind of solidarity or fellowship, the Inner Circle treat mutants like any other member of the 99% who they are happy to exploit, rule over, and abuse. For me, the key imagery here is that, before we see any of them as individuals, Anglo-American Chris Claremont depicts them as Tory fox-hunters pursuing the most dangerous game:
social commentary goes, a bunch of rich Tories literally hunting the poor is
pretty blunt. However, almost 50 issues later, Claremont returns to the same
imagery, but the victim changes from an otherwise-naked man in pseudo-pagan
headgear to Mystique in her true form:
this point in the comics, Mystique’s blue skin hadn’t quite been the synecdoche
for mutant pride that it became in the movies, but the implication is clear: to
the Hellfire Club, humans and mutants are both inferior kinds of animal, and
the Inner Circle are the gentry who use them for sport. It’s as about as strong
a denial of solidarity and group identity as one can imagine.
the captured X-Men actually ask the Hellfire Club why they’ve gone to the
effort of tracking down and capturing the X-Men, we get a peek at their
super-villainous business plan, and it turns out that they don’t see our merry
mutants as an existential or even incidental threat to the Hellfire Club.
Rather, they see the X-Men as a valuable source of intellectual property:
You can’t really get more neoliberal than isolating, synthesizing, and patenting the X-gene while turning mutant bodies into unwilling test subjects: what the Hellfire Club really want is to turn mutantcy from a random accident of evolution that can empower the poor as well as the rich into a private market commodity that they can monopolize. As Emma Frost puts it inClassic X-Men #7, all of this is a mere “means of enhancing the Hellfire Club’s wealth and power,” since “whoever controls mutantkind will also control the world.” The Inner Circle’s plan may have inspired the master plan of Dr. Zander Rice of the Transigen Corporation from the film Logan, where the existential threat to mutants came not from personal bigotry but an industrial strategy of turning mutants into a product that can be manufactured on demand in the maquiladoras of northern Mexico for the U.S military-industrial complex.
one might expect, this plan relies upon the Inner Circle having a great deal of
confidence that as mutants, they won’t personally become fodder for the mutant
exploitation industry. As with everything else – the confidence that they can
get away with kidnapping mutants off the street, assassinating U.S military
intelligence officers, or various forms of sexual exploitation of staff and
prisoners alike – the Inner Circle are so convinced that their wealth and power
completely insulate them from the effects of anti-mutant prejudice that they
not only work with bigots like Donald Pierce or Stephen Lang, but go to the ultimate
length of bringing the Sentinels back:
usually think of quislings as being
motivated by fear, cowardice, and an attempt to placate a new ruling power;
it’s pretty rare to see quislings who are confident enough to believe that they
are powerful enough to turn the government and the military-industrial complex
into their pawns. This over-confidence doesn’t so much stumble into hubris as
leap into it with both feet, because Sebastian Shaw, Emma Frost, and Harry
Leland should know better from bitter experience. As we learn in Classic X-Men #7, Sebastian and Emma’s
coup against Edward Buckman was sparked when they learned that “Project
Armageddon[‘s] true purpose [was] to bring about the total eradication of homo
sapiens superior.” In this coup – which happened before the Hellfire Club first tangled with the X-Men – Emma was attacked
by Sentinels and Shaw’s lover Lourdes Chantel was killed by a Sentinel.
this foreknowledge, the Inner Circle believe themselves to be literally
shielded from the threat of genocide-robots:
Unfortunately for the Inner Circle, they are no more immune from ultracrepidarianism than any other billionaire, and thus didn’t really think through the fact that the Sentinels have turned against 66% of their creators. In this case, the fatal flaw was not thinking through the long-term consequences of their actions, that while current-day Sentinels might be under their loose control, they can’t guarantee that Sentinels will remain under their control in the future. Thus, when Rachel Grey travels from the alternate future of Earth-811 (the “Days of Future Past” timeline) to the present-day of Earth-616, the ruling Sentinels send back their most advanced unit Nimrod after her. When the Hellfire Club runs into Nimrod while hunting for Rachel themselves, they are hoist by their own petard:
To an extent, the Hellfire Club’s story ended there, with being forced into solidarity with their fellow mutants out of enlightened self-interest. While the X-Men would be in alliance with the Hellfire Club for some time, there wasn’t really much done with that story hook beyond being background noise during events like the “Mutant Massacre,” “Fall of the Mutants,” and “Inferno.” Since then, it’s not that the Hellfire Club hasn’t been around, it’s just that it’s been used more as a villain-of-the-month than having a starring role in a story which had something new to say about them.
On the other hand, this is the comics industry, where making something new out of an old idea that hasn’t been used much in a while has been the wellspring of critical and commercial success since the 80s. And with Emma Frost as the new Black King, there might well be an opportunity for her (and the reader) to look back at the institution she now rules and think more critically about what it’s all about.
that would be a topic for another People’s History of the Marvel Universe…
 Neil isn’t far wrong. For example,
in issue #182, we learn that the Hellfire Club has double agents working within
SHIELD whom they can order to assassinate U.S military intelligence operatives
without any fear of retaliation from the U.S government.
 Although given Sebastian Shaw’s
penchant for taking off his shirt and getting punched by well-muscled men, it’s
not entirely straight.
 Since Classic X-Men were reprints with edits, interpolated panels, and new back-up stories written by Chris Claremont about a decade after the originals came out, this moment can’t help but have the air of a correction issued by a creator with a track record of listening to and responding to feminist critics of his work.
 For those unfamiliar with British politics, this form of hunting – pursuing foxes from horseback with hounds – and the uniform of red coats and black top-hats is associated with a particularly aristocratic tradition in the U.K that become popular in the 18th century and increasingly controversial up to the present. Both out of animal cruelty concerns and because of the quasi-feudal nature of the hunt, where upper-class horseman run literally roughshod across other people’s lands, there have been a number of attempts to ban fox-hunting, eventually leading to the Hunting Act of 2004 under New Labour. Notably, the Tory governments of David Cameron and Teresa May have proposed repealing the ban due to pressure from rural Tory voters, although no legislation has yet been brought forward.
The third season will be the final one for FX‘s Legion based on the Marvel characters by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz. But, it’s going out with a bang as we’ll meet David’s parents, Professor X and Gabrielle Haller.
The two actors who will bring the characters to the small screen are Harry Lloyd as Professor X and Stephanie Corneliussen as Gabrielle.
The third and final 8 episode season will debut in June on FX.