Tag Archives: days of future past

Preview: X-Men: Days of Future Past – Doomsday #4 (of 4)

X-Men: Days of Future Past – Doomsday #4 (of 4)

(W) Marc Guggenheim (A) Manuel Garcia (CA) Geoff Shaw
Rated T+
In Shops: Oct 25, 2023
SRP: $3.99

MAGNETO may be mutantkind’s last hope! As the fallout from the Doomsday scenario of the DAYS OF FUTURE PAST reaches its epic climax, witness the never-before-told story of the X-MEN’s last-ditch effort against the Sentinels! Can the mutants reclaim the future?

X-Men: Days of Future Past - Doomsday #4 (of 4)

Preview: X-Men: Days of Future Past – Doomsday #3 (of 4)

X-Men: Days of Future Past – Doomsday #3 (of 4)

(W) Marc Guggenheim (A) Manuel Garcia (CA) Geoff Shaw
Rated T+
In Shops: Sep 27, 2023
SRP: $3.99

MUTANTS HUNTING MUTANTS – RELEASE THE HOUNDS! AHAB unleashes his HOUNDS to hunt down mutantkind! Chief among them, the powerful RACHEL SUMMERS! As her unwilling betrayal stands poised to destroy the remnants of the X-MEN for good, MAGNETO hits rock bottom. But what fruit will an unexpected alliance led by WOLVERINE yield, and will it create an even darker future?

X-Men: Days of Future Past - Doomsday #3 (of 4)

People’s History of the Marvel Universe, Week 20: The (Mutant) Registration Act(s) Analyzed

In his sixteen-year tenure of the X-line, Chris Claremont put his own spin on the mutant metaphor any number of ways, but one of the longest-lasting and most influential has been the idea of a Mutant Registration Act. In the original Days of Future Past storyline, Claremont first mentions the Mutant Control Act passed by a “rabid anti-mutant candidate…elected president,” as a reaction to the assassination of Senator Robert Kelly.

In this issue, Claremont doesn’t mention what the provisions of the Mutant Control Act were, only that they were struck down by the relatively liberal Burger Court, presumably on 14th Amendment Equal Protection grounds. The Supreme Court’s thwarting of populist overreach unfortunately gives rise to the dark future of Earth-811, as the new president authorized Project Wideawake to send the Sentinels to hunt down mutant-kind, only to find that (once again) the Sentinels decide to accomplish this by conquering humanity and installing an apartheid state to root out carriers of the X-gene from the human population.

It’s worth taking a moment to parse the iconography of this populist anti-mutant movement, enshrined in the slogan “America! It’s 1984! Do you know what your children are?” Deliberately evoking the public service announcements that were introduced to back up youth curfews in Los Angeles in the 1960s that asked parents “it’s 10pm: do you know where your children are?,” this line turns the child-centric paranoia of the moral panics of the 1980s like the McMartin day care scandal or the Satanic Panic on their head; instead of children being the threatened object of outside threat, here the children are the subject of threat, the threatening outsider within. Moreover, this line clearly captured the imaginations of Claremont and Marvel editorial, because in X-Men #223 they took the unusual step of reproducing that line in an in-universe advertisement in the issue’s back matter:

This ad is worthy of some close analysis: by displaying an African-American child and an Asian boy alongside two fair-haired white children, the ad’s designers emphasize that mutant status exists on a parallel plane to race. While the mutant metaphor often is used to equate mutancy to real-world minority statuses, here it’s being demonstrated that that metaphor only goes so far. Next, by scrawling the racial slur of “mutie” across the face of an innocent child, the power of anti-mutant bigotry to stir up fear and hatred of even the most innocuous of targets is emphasized. Finally, and most importantly for the purposes of this essay, by having the in-universe commercial be “paid for by citizens in support of The Mutant Registration Act,” the ad’s creators tied together the Mutant Control Act from the dark future of Earth-811 and the Mutant Registration Act introduced by Senator Kelly in the present of the main 616 timeline in the wake of Days of Future Past.

Speaking of which, we see the “Mutant Control Affairs Act” introduced in the final pages of X-Men #181, which features a debate between Senator Kelly and an older, mustachioed Senator. This debate gives us one of the longest discussions of the Mutant Registration Act that Chris Claremont featured in the pages of X-Men.

As we can see from this dialogue, there’s not a lot of detail about concrete provisions of the Mutant Registration Act and, as we’ll see later, this vagueness is a deliberate choice by Claremont to suggest the broad strokes of discrimination while leaving the details up to the individual imagination. We know that Senator Kelly remains as concerned about human supremacy as he was back in Days of Future Past – although the national security angle is new (probably relating to his partnership with the new administration’s Project Wideawake) – and its atomic undertones are oddly reminiscent of Silver Age X-Men. The closest we get to specifics is Senator Phillip’s description of the MRA as not “far removed from legalized slavery.” As I’ll discuss in more detail later in the essay, this seems to be code for provisions relating to a special military draft– reminiscent of how the human supremacist state of Earth-811 used the Hounds to hunt down other mutants – which would have particular resonance only a decade after the end of the Vietnam War.

One piece of specific evidence about the bill that we do get is a half-page panel where John Romita Jr. gives us the title page of the actual legislation:

It’s a particularly ominous sign that the “Mutant Affairs Control Act” is titled as S.1; in both the House and Senate, early numbers in each legislative session are reserved for marquee bills that majority leadership want to highlight as a major priority for that session as a standard bit of legislative public relations. This is an early signal that the Mutant Registration Act will become law despite the best efforts of Senator Phillips and others like him. Another nice little touch is the effort to maintain verisimilitude: the second session of the 98th Congress really did begin on the 23rd of January, 1984, giving the impression that this is all happening in the present – X-Men #181 hit newsstands in early February 1984 – something that Claremont did quite a bit in the days in which Marvel Comics was a bit more “the world outside your window” than sliding timescales.

However, that’s really all we get on the specifics of the Mutant Registration Act. Rather than spend page space laying out the details of fictional legislation, Claremont instead used the Act as a recurring background element that could highlight aspects of characterization and plot development as needed. For example, Claremont used the MRA to emphasize Rachel Summers’ role as a time-traveler from a different future:

As we can see, Claremont is primarily interested in using the Mutant Registration Act as a synecdoche for the dystopian future of Earth-811: in the first panel, Claremont has the news broadcast end the moment as it’s about to describe the “draconian provisions” of the bill, partly because he wants to leave those details up to the reader’s imagination, but mostly because the important thing about this story beat is that the newly-arrived-in-616 Rachel recognizes the proper name of the legislation from her own past, raising the specter that the X-Men’s sacrifice in Days of Future Past failed to avert the Terminator scenario which is inevitably going to come to pass. In the second panel, the psychic impression of Scott Summers merely refers obliquely to “grim bills” without describing what those bills are, because what’s important in this scene is how Rachel associates those bills with a moment of fragile (and ultimately, futile) hope for her childhood, emphasizing the way she feels torn between the hope that the Sentinel takeover has been prevented and the somber realization that this may mean that her birth, and thus her identity as a “real” person, may have been forestalled by the rewriting of the timeline.

More commonly, Claremont used the Mutant Registration Act as a motivating force for plot, animating events across multiple issues, as part of his trademark style of gradually developing stories across years of continuity. In X-Men #158, the pending MRA prompts the X-Men to repent of their days providing information on mutants to the FBI by raiding the Pentagon to purge that data from government computers, thematically drawing a bright line between the more assimilationist politics of the Silver Age X-Men and the more radical direction that Claremont would be taking the book in the 1980s.

While the X-Men are successful in purging their data from Pentagon servers, impeding the efforts of the Federal government to surveil mutant citizens, the resulting melee between the team, Rogue and Mystique, and the U.S military begins the process that sees the X-Men labelled as outlaws by the U.S government – an important transition that Claremont will use to guide the book through the next several years. For example, in #182, Rogue attempts to rescue Colonel Mike Rossi from Hellfire Club double agents on a SHIELD Helicarrier, which gets misinterpreted as an unprovoked assault that prompts an APB[1] from Nick Fury for Rogue’s detention or execution. This then leads to issue #185, where Valerie Cooper and Henry Peter Gyrich – the chief Federal enforcers of the Mutant Registration Act – use the opportunity afforded by the APB to go after Rogue with an experimental weapon designed by Forge that removes mutant powers (inadvertently depowering Storm in the process). In #193, the Hellions provoke an incident at Cheyenne Mountain that leads to a “nation-wide manhunt for the mutants known as the Uncanny X-Men.” In this fashion, the X-Men gradually slide from a standard superhero team (albeit one devoted to protecting a world that hates and fears them) to becoming a group of outlaws, on the run from Federal authorities that is both driven by and acts as further justification for official anti-mutant prejudice.

To the extent that Chris Claremont devoted an entire arc to the Mutant Registration Act, it would come in the 1988 crossover event “Fall of the Mutants.” While the climax of the event is focused on the supernatural – the scheming and intrigue of demons and goddesses, interdimensional portals opening in the skies above Dallas, death and resurrection – one of the major throughlines is the Mutant Registration Act and the Federal government’s efforts to enforce it against the X-Men. It begins with X-Men #206, where the X-Men find themselves the unlikely heroes of San Francisco after having defended the city from Omega Sentinels and the Beyonder. While recuperating from those fights, the X-Men find themselves coming under attack from Freedom Force, a super-powered Federal task force created by Special Assistant to the National Security Advisor Val Cooper[2] to enforce the Mutant Registration Act.

In another sign of how mutant politics were shifting under Claremont’s pen as he moved towards the end of his first decade on the book, Freedom Force was formed out of Mystique’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, so that we have a group of former mutant radicals who once staged terrorist attacks on the U.S Capitol turning quisling to protect themselves from human authorities while the X-Men make the transition from former collaborators with the national security state to fugitives living underground. In the ensuing brawl, the X-Men find themselves firmly on the back foot, thanks in no small part to Freedom Force’s cavalier willingness to inflict collateral damage on residential neighborhoods of San Francisco. Ultimately, our heroes are rescued by the unlikely intervention of the San Francisco Police Department, who act to stop the fighting and the property destruction:

Especially in the contemporary context of the late Eighties, this confrontation between agents of the Federal government – visually if not textually identified as the Reagan Administration in X-Men #201 – and officers of the city of San Francisco had real-world political resonance. At this time, the public perception of pre-tech boom San Francisco was that of a center of left-wing politics and especially a center of the gay rights movement and very much diametrically opposed to Reagan’s conservative politics and his administration’s vocal hostility to the LGBT movement during the AIDS epidemic. Notably, here we see Lieutenant Morrel of the SFPD acting as the voice of civil libertarianism, emphasizing the need for warrants, documentation of presidential pardons, and other accoutrements of due process against Freedom Force’s paramilitary flaunting of constitutional rights.

The thread is picked up again in X-Men #223, where once again the X-Men find themselves in San Francisco, where “people here don’t seem to mind the X-Men’s presence – they consider us heroes.” In this issue, we see Freedom Force expanding by drafting the heroes-turned-murderous-vigilantes Super Sabre, Crimson Commando, and Stonewall. During the ceremony where these three receive their presidential pardon, Destiny receives a vision that Rogue and the “X-Men are going to die!” This prompts Mystique to choose further confrontation with the X-Men on the grounds that if Rogue is arrested under the Mutant Registration Act, she won’t go to her prophesied death in Dallas.

In the next issue, we see Val Cooper and Freedom Force return to San Francisco “hunting for X-Men’s scalps,” posing both a physical and political threat to the countercultural heroes of the City by the Golden Gate. We see this most clearly as Valerie Cooper mounts a press conference in front of a damaged San Francisco hospital to announce the formation of Freedom Force and the passage into law of the “Mutant Special Powers Registration Act.”

This sequence is particularly significant because it introduces the parallel between superpowers and handgun licensing – a real-world political analogy that will be alluring for Marvel creators for decades, as we’ll discuss later. Here, though, the handgun issue is treated as a relatively minor element compared to the broader question of civil liberties, and the extended discussion of whether the “good of society, the defense of the many” takes precedence over the rights of the minority. This is a good example of how the mutability of the mutant metaphor continued during the Claremont years; rather than making a more concrete analogy to a real-world minority as he does in other places (such as in “God Loves, Man Kills”), here the “few” whose rights are being curtailed by the Mutant Registration Act could be any minority facing official discrimination from the “many.”

On the following page, we see the impact of Cooper’s speech on the body politic, as a number of patrons of a San Francisco gym where Rogue is exercising debate the issue:

One of the lesser talked about aspects of Chris Claremont’s writing is the skill with which he can quickly sketch background characters to give a picture of the internal life of the “man on the street.” Here, we see a public divided on their attitudes toward the Mutant Registration Act: one man raises the historical parallel of the Holocaust (a frequent thematic angle in Claremont’s writing) to frame the MRA as a potential genocidal threat. His interlocutor denies the threat, distinguishing between racist threats to “normal folks” and the legitimate oppression of “muties,” again showing how Claremont can turn on a dime between leaning on the parallels to real-world bigotry that the mutant metaphor was based on and pointing out the ways in which in-universe minority politics might fail to intersect.[3]

On the next page, we see a disguised Mystique arrive to clandestinely warn Rogue – a sign that Mystique’s participation in Freedom Force is very much an act of personal survival rather than a sign of an ideological shift, as Mystique is very much using the government to further her own interest – that the X-Men are going to die in Dallas, telling her to leave them so that “you won’t share their fate.” As in any proper tragedy, this warning falls on deaf ears as Rogue refuses to abandon her comrades in arms, choosing instead to go with them to Dallas to confront the threat posed by the Adversary. Before they can make it into Forge’s Eagle Plaza tower and their eventual confrontation with the embodiment of cosmic chaos, the X-Men once again find themselves by Freedom Force and the threat of imprisonment under the Mutant Registration Act:

In addition to providing an excuse for super-heroic fisticuffs, the confrontation gives a rare instance where Claremont provides some insight into what the Mutant Registration Act specifically does – clarifying that the MRA criminalizes using mutant powers rather than “simply being born a mutant.” At the same time, Claremont has Havok immediately question the “credibility” of this statement. After all, the Registration Act already criminalizes mutant citizens by forcing even children[4] to register with the government when their human peers don’t have to. Moreover, many mutants have “always on” powers that they don’t have a choice whether to consciously activate or keep hidden, making Mystique’s distinction between the two as one without a difference.

Through their trademark collaborative use of mutant powers, the X-Men manage to fight their way past Freedom Force and into Eagle Plaza, activating the Adversary’s trap which opens an inter-dimensional portal in the skies above Dallas that begins summoning threats from the prehistoric time of dinosaurs all the way to the Wild West of Texas’ past. Witnessed by real-life NPR reporters Neal Conan and Manoli Weatherell, the X-Men answer the call to defend the world from the supernatural threat pouring through this rip in the night sky above Dallas:

This scene shows the continuation of the X-Men franchise’s fascination with the role played by mass media in the propagation of – or challenge to – popular prejudice and mob panics. Here, Conan and Weatherell act as ideal journalists, challenging the statements of Federal authorities and raising uncomfortable questions about Freedom Force’s role in enforcing the Mutant Registration Act against superheroes presently engaged in self-sacrificing defense of civilian communities. More importantly for the purposes of this essay, they amplify the voices of “outlaw mutants” who are otherwise excluded from the mainstream, allowing them to spread an anti-MRI message directly to a mass audience.

And that’s really where the Mutant Registration Act plot line ends in Claremont’s run, with the X-Men dying to save a world that hates and fears them, only to be reborn by the grace of a goddess figure who grants them invisibility from the technological eyes of the surveillance state and transports them to the Australian Outback where they can continue their lives as outlaw heroes free from the efforts of the U.S government to arrest them. It’s a momentous change of status quo for the X-Men themselves, but as regards the MRA itself, there’s not the kind of climax where the reader sees this vile legislation struck down by the Supreme Court (as happened in the Days of Future Past storyline) or repealed by Congress in light of the X-Men’s actions in Dallas (or X-Factor saving New York City from Apocalypse over in their book).

It’s possible that this is intended to be some kind of statement about the possibilities (or lack thereof) of achieving progress for visible minorities in American society. If that’s the case it’s very much a statement that exists in the absence of the text rather than in its presence, because Claremont will move on to new plots that will explore other angles of the mutant metaphor – as we’ll discuss in future installments of the People’s History of the Marvel Universe.

But just because Chris Claremont had tired of the Mutant Registration Act as a theme doesn’t mean that the Marvel Universe was done with the idea. A year after Claremont concluded the “Fall of the Mutants,” his close friend, colleague, and sometimes collaborator Walt Simonson would take up the concept in Fantastic Four #335-6, a two-issue arc devoted to exploring the political implications of Registration Acts in the Marvel Universe:

In these issues, the Fantastic Four travel to Washington D.C to testify in front of a House committee that is holding hearings on a proposal to enact a Superhuman Registration Act. The bulk of the first issue sees the First Family largely sitting in the audience as a series of witnesses testify in front of the committee for and against the legislation. The first to testify before the committee is a “General Neddington,” who’s there to provide the views of the Pentagon:

Here, Walter Simonson makes explicit what we’ve previously seen only alluded to in Claremont’s and  Louise Simonson’s[5] writing – the purpose of the Superhuman Registration Act is to draft superpowered people into the U.S military, not only to defend the country “in times of crisis” but also to ensure U.S dominance in “the balance of military power in the world.” In another example of how Simonson brings political subtext into text, Simonson also has an unnamed black Congressman bring up the real-world racial disparities in military service in the Vietnam War. This history was very much in living memory in 1989 – after all, the military draft had been ended in 1973 and then re-instated quite recently in 1980, when Jimmy Carter had re-instated the requirement to register with the Selective Service Act as a response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As we’ll see later, the politics of the draft were very much on Simonson’s mind here.

From Cold War politics and the legacy of the Vietnam War, Simonson takes up another of Claremont’s themes – namely, the parallel between Registration and the licensing of firearms:

Building off what was a passing reference in Claremont’s work, Simonson puts the analogy of gun control front-and-center by having an NRA spokesman testify before the committee. (Simonson shows his research by paraphrasing the National Rifle Association’s catchphrase that “if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”) Here, the NRA are an interested party because they believe that the 2nd Amendment’s right to bear arms applies to superpowers as well as firearms. By extension, the NRA sees a Federal attempt to register superpowered Americans as the “first step on the road to an eventual ban on superpowers” – and logically fears that the same thing might happen to gun owners – just as the real-world NRA catastrophizes modest efforts at gun control as mass confiscation.

Having a notably partisan conservative organization like the NRA testify on behalf of the Fantastic Four must have produced a certain amount of tension for both Simonson himself and Marvel as a whole, given the historic tendency of its creative workforce towards somewhere between the center-left and the left (depending on which generation of creators one is talking about). A good deal of – as the People’s History of the Marvel Universe has demonstrated, inaccurate – ink has been spilled about the supposedly inherently fascistic politics of superhero comics, but the more accurate label is that vigilantism has been part of superhero comics’ DNA from the beginning. If a superhero is anything else, they are ultimately a costumed adventurer who steps outside of their everyday life that’s sanctioned by society in order to exercise powers that are normally monopolized by governments. To an extent, there remains something of an uncomfortable parallelism between the NRA’s “good guy with a gun” mythologizing around crime and the tradition of costumed crimefighters.  Simonson vocalizes the tension he’s feeling through Ben Grimm, the Lower East Side-born Jewish superhero who more than any other character symbolizes the cultural and political wellspring from which Jack Kirby’s decidedly left-wing approach to superheroism always drew inspiration. For the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing, having to be on the same side as the NRA is a “revoltin’ development” – which gives a certain amount of consolation to liberal readers.

After these two witnesses have set out the real-world political implications of the Superhuman Registration Act, Simonson dives into the in-universe politics, and in the process establishes a vital link between his SRA and Claremont’s Mutant Registration Act by using a character who just so happens to straddle the divide between the X-line and the broader Marvel Universe:

Contrary to what many writers in both fandom and academic circles have argued, Gyrich’s testimony demonstrates how the mutant metaphor works best in the broader context of the Marvel Universe. Henry Peter Gyrich opposing the registration of super-humans while supporting the registration of mutants (presumably a sign that he’s adopted the party line after the events of X-Men #176) is not only a perfect example of the hypocrisy and irrational double-standards inherent to bigotry, but also a straightforward statement of that prejudice. To Gyrich, it is unacceptable for the Federal government to register super-powered humans because they are “entitled to the equal protection of the law,” but acceptable for the Federal government to do the exact same thing to super-powered mutants, because they’re not human in his eyes and therefore aren’t entitled to constitutional rights under the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment.

In discussing the concept of a law “restricting a limited section of the nation’s population,” Simonson shows an impressive level of research for a superhero comic. When Gyrich responds to questioning the constitutionality of the Superhuman Registration Act by bringing up the example of women not having to register with the Selective Service System, he’s actually referring to what was then very recent developments in constitutional law. While the draft was ended in 1973 due to its deep unpopularity in the midst of the Vietnam War – which we’ve already seen very much on Simonson’s mind – this state of affairs would only continue for a few years. In a response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Carter re-established the draft in 1980. During the Congressional debates over the re-authorization of the draft, the issue of whether women would be subject to registration was raised, in light of the ongoing national debate over the Equal Rights Amendment and the broader acceptance of the principle that gender discrimination was unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. A year later, in Rostker v. Goldberg, the Supreme Court was asked to rule on this point when a group of draft resisters challenged the draft on the grounds of gender discrimination, ruling 6-3 that the Selective Service System’s male-only registration could stand because of the armed service’s bans on women serving in combat roles.[6]

Finally, Henry Peter Gyrich’s testimony makes it very clear that both the Mutant and Superhuman Registration Acts’ purpose is to put superpowered beings under government control, so that they can be used as agents of oppression. While he speaks of “super-human individuals or groups of an altruistic nature” being merely “persuaded to aid the government in tracking down and registering any individuals or groups who refused to comply,” Simonson throws doubt on the voluntary nature of this assistance, implying that superheroes would be forced into service under the Superhuman Registration Act’s conscription clause. More troubling, Gyrich demonstrates a consistent inconsistency as a supposed conservative who’s concerned about the rights of the individual opposed to the interests of the state when he opposes the extension of “the same constitutional guarantees that the police must follow” to these new federal agents. In a display that again echoes the real-world stance of “law and order” conservatives on police brutality, Gyrich sees any limitations on both superpowered federal agents or human police officers as “tying the hands of law enforcement” and “aid[ing] the criminal element.” By implication then, the Superhuman Registration Act would lead to a lawless paramilitary force completely unanswerable to any authority other than a “human czar” of “a bureau of superhuman affairs” – much in the same way that Freedom Force demonstrated a complete disregard for civil liberties while enforcing the Mutant Registration Act.

In between fist-fighting supervillains who’ve showed up in trench coats and fedoras to infiltrate the Congressional hearing, the Fantastic Four get their chance to testify against the Superhuman Registration Act. Their arguments come from a number of different political angles – Sue Storm talks about wanting to ensure that her son grows up in a free country, Johnny Storm points to the practical impossibilities of registering “Dr. Doom or Annihilus,” and good liberal Ben Grimm decries the contrast between the ease with which “crooks can go out and buy assault rifles” and the proposed restrictions on the superheroes who try to stop them. As we might expect from the FF, though, the majority of page space is given to Reed Richards, who delivers a filibuster-worthy speech that spans issue #335 and #336. Mister Fantastic presents many arguments against the Superhuman Registration Act – one of the more troubling one being that non-superheroes lack the ability to second guess split-second decision making by experienced superheroes, which echoes uncomfortably with defenses of police shootings – but the one that ultimately convinces the Congressional committee to shelve the SRA is a perfect blend of politics and superhero science-fantasy:

Ultimately, what gets the Congressional committee to shelve the Superhuman Registration Act is an argument centered on the impossibility of defining who is a super-human and who isn’t – because people’s abilities and genetic heritage vary so much from individual to individual, an arbitrary cutoff like a “variation of greater than, say, 15% from the norm” would sweep up many false positives, such that the discriminatory impact of the SRA would be felt by Congressmen themselves. Taken together, Claremont and Simonson’s work is a classic case of a slippery slope argument applied to civil liberties – the denial of the rights of any minority becoming a precedent that creates a precedent for further authoritarian encroachment onto the rights of increasingly larger segments of the population, eventually ending in a general tyranny.

This all must sound eerily familiar to people who were reading Marvel comics circa 2006, when Mike Millar was handed the reins to a line-wide crossover in Marvel’s Civil War, which likewise centered on the Federal government passing a Superhuman Registration Act. Despite the several decades between the work of Claremont and Simonson and that of Millar, there’s more than a little bit of thematic and rhetorical overlap between them: we see similar analogies to gun control and the draft, similar debates about individual agency and vigilantism versus collective security and democratic legitimacy, and even similar mentions of the Mutant Registration Act as a model for official discrimination that’s still floating around out there in the Marvel Universe, still on the statute books ready to be picked up by forces in power.

When it comes to the political stance taken by the creators, however, we see a clear difference. Both Claremont and Simonson make it quite clear that registration is an unjust act of oppression that exists for the protagonists to struggle against. By contrast, putative leftist Mark Millar was so convinced of the correctness of the Pro-Registration side of the debate that, in the development process, he swapped the position of Captain America and Iron Man as leaders of the opposing camps. Millar’s logic was that Marvel couldn’t maintain the “choose a side” fan engagement that would be key to the crossover’s success, because it would be self-evidently obvious to everyone that the Pro-Registration side was right if it was led by a pillar of moral authority like Steve Rogers. (Full disclosure: I’m basing my claim for this on my memory of having read that the swap happened during development, but I can’t find the article that I originally read. Feel free to disregard this point.)

Here is where I think we can see the broader cultural impact of 9/11 on the politics of the Marvel Universe: on paper, a story in which a horrific tragedy is turned into a rhetorical bludgeon in order to justify the radical transformation of the status quo, and in which the Superhuman Registration Act, like the Patriot Act, becomes a mechanism for the destruction of civil liberties all the way up to indefinite detention without trial in black site prisons, would seem to be a powerful critique of the War on Terror. But while the creators who were brought in to write the tie-in issues did advance that kind of criticism, Millar’s main event book continued to present the actions of Tony Stark and Reed Richards as the wise decisions of enlightened futurists that was making the United States a safer, happier place – culminating in the thuddingly obvious visual symbolism of Captain America getting tackled by a group of NYC first responders at the height of his duel with Iron Man.

So after all of that, what is a Registration Act? Beyond the specific details of fictional legislation that obsess a public policy nerd like me, I think we can think of it as a kind of narrative mirror that comic book writers can hold up to see the world around them and the place that their genre has in it. At the same time, it’s not a device that should be used cavalierly as an excuse to bang action figures together; the way that it conjures allusions to real-world politics make it far too charged for that.   

[1] All-points bulletin.

[2] Valerie Cooper is introduced in X-Men #176, where she leads a White House briefing on the national security threat posed by mutants like Magneto. While Cooper touches on the biological metaphor of the Cro-Magnon and the Neanderthal, she pivots from there to discuss the mutant threat from the perspective of international relations. As Valerie sees it, the existence of mutants means that “the virtual monopoly of super-beings…once enjoyed by the United States no longer exists.” Because of the willingness of the Soviet Union to recruit mutants into the Soviet Super-Soldiers, she argues that “mutants pose a clear and present danger to our country.”

Surprisingly, Henry Peter Gyrich (last seen heading up Project Wideawake, the Federal initiative to recreate the Sentinel program) challenges Cooper’s proposal to “fight fire with fire, counter[ing] foreign mutants with some of their own” on the grounds that Federal recruitment of mutants into the armed services would convince Magneto that his fears that “out of greed, humanity will use mutants – enslave them – and then, out of fear, destroy them” are coming to pass, risking an escalating confrontation with the Master of Magnetism.

While this scene predates the Mutant Registration Act, it’s nonetheless an important bit of context for understanding the goals and mechanisms of the MRA. While the main X-Men book itself doesn’t make mention of the Mutant Registration Act involving the forced conscription of mutants outside of Senator Phillip’s vague analogy to slavery, we do get an important clue in X-Factor #33. In that issue, the group of mutant supervillains known as the Alliance of Evil go on a rampage in front of Trish Tilby’s television cameras in order to protest their arrest and imprisonment under the Mutant Registration Act. Specifically, the Alliance of Evil mentions that they refuse to join “Uncle Sam’s mutant army” – implying that one of the major aspects of the MRA is to use forced registration, surveillance, and the threat of imprisonment to draft mutants into becoming unwilling soldiers in the national security state.

[3] Similarly, in X-Men #223, Claremont breaks away from the main action of the book to show an interlude in a Queens bar where a white working-class character defends himself against charges of anti-mutant racism by pointing to his close friendship with a black working-class character, arguing that “we ain’t the same color, but we’re still people.” By contrast (he explains), mutants are inhuman freaks who should be euthanized at birth by their own parents to prevent an “abomination” from walking the streets. In this instance, Claremont is arguing that anti-mutant prejudice exists at right angles to anti-black racial prejudice – something of a departure from his stance in “God Loves, Man Kills.”

[4] See X-Factor #33.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Interestingly, this constitutional position has continued to this day, despite the U.S military having eliminated gender restrictions on combat duty in 2015. In 2019, a District Court judge ruled against the Selective Service System under the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, only to be overruled by the Fifth Circuit, which held that only the Supreme Court could overturn its own ruling in Rostker. Only last year, the Supreme Court declined to review the ruling, although three justices wrote that the draft likely was now unconstitutional.

A People’s History of the Marvel Universe, Week 16: Days of Future Past and the Dystopian Dilemma

After laying the groundwork for several issues, we’re finally ready to do a deep dive on Chris Claremont’s first[1] unadulterated statement on the mutant metaphor, the legendary Days of Future Past:

The Uncanny X-Men #141

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.”[2] 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.”[3])

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?, and Army 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.

The Terminator Scenario[4]

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 and Three 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 Kelly.

Is Senator Kelly a Good Man?

Speaking of which, let’s talk about the character of Senator Robert Kelly.[5] 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.

Throughout the 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 dumbest.”

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.)

The Senator’s 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 absolutely does.[6]

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.[7] 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[8]:

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 burgeoning story.[9] 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.”[10])

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.[11]
  • 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?   

[1] 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.

[2] Jason Powell, Best There Is At What He Does, loc. 1242.

[3] Powell, loc. 1272.

[4] 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.

[5] 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. 

[6] 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.

[7] 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.

[8] 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.

[9] 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.

[10] Powell, loc 1311.

[11] 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).

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Review: Years of Future Past #2

years002The Secret Wars crossover has perhaps been the unkindest to the X-Men.  Part of the underlying concept behind the huge crossover is to take story arcs and other crossovers from the past and to rework them into the Secret Wars framework.  While this has worked well for some series, for others it has not, and the X-Men versions are perhaps among the most distorted.  This is because the mutants often serve as analogies for what is wrong in society, and with that as a theme, it tends to make a lot of the best X-Men stories into the best of the genre.  In this case Secret Wars hgas grabbed what is one of the best comic book story arcs ever written, so popular in fact that it was chosen as the story line to revive the movie franchise.

This story follows along some basic plot elements from the original series while leaving other important parts behind.  This has been the case with other X-Men tie-ins to Secret Wars where a lot of the characters remain, if not for the baseline being altered in minor, though fundamental ways.  The changes here are thus similar and different as a similar group of characters struggle against the sentinels of the future who have eliminated most mutants already and the few remaining mutants who struggle to maintain their lives and their kind against this threat.  One of the highlights of this issue is a monologue by Colossus which evokes the famous quote by Martin Niemöller about the Holocaust.

That is the case with this issue though.  Although it works well enough as a story, it also is a story which has a few defining moments with other material in between which almost feels like filler.  It is an unconventional format for a story as it moves between moments which are either strong for character development or artistically impressive, but such is the lot of the X-Men tie-ins to Secret Wars.  It is good, but not much else, and more than anything makes the reader want to re-read the original as opposed to continuing with this.

Story: Marguerite Bennett Art: Mike Norton
Story: 8.3 Art: 8.3 Overall: 8.3 Recommendation: Read

X-Men: Days of Future Past Now Available from GraphicAudio

days of future past graphicaudioIt’s the most iconic X-Men story of all time – like you’ve never heard it before! A true Movie in Your Mind, experience this groundbreaking tale brought to life as only GraphicAudio could.

In the far future, mutants have all but been exterminated. Crushed by the mutant-hunting Sentinels. Only a small group remain alive, powerless, locked away in concentration camps. The key to saving their future may lie in the past. Now, Kate Pryde leads a desperate mission to the past to warn the present-day X-Men of coming danger. But is she too late?

GraphicAudio transforms the Marvel prose novel X-Men: Days of Future Past into an unprecedented audial experience as the story should be told.  You’ve never heard mutants time-travel quite like this before!

Available from www.GraphicAudio.net and via the FREE GraphicAudio Access Mobile App which allows customers to directly download titles on their Android or iOS smartphones and tablets.

You can check out a trailer below.

Diamond Select Toys on Sale this Week: X-Men Movie (and Comic) Minimates!

Marvel’s mightiest mutants have been shrunk to only 2 inches tall! Can they escape the comic shop and find their way into the collections of X-Men Fans everywhere? It’s an episode we could only call “New Toy Day!” With two full assortments of Marvel Minimates hitting comic shops and specialty stores this week – the first toys based on the movie X-Men: Days of Future Past and the comic book All-New X-Men – it’s a great week to swing by your local comic shop and pick up some mini-mutants! Read on for more details, then re-enact your favorite scenes from the movie and the comic in a very, very small area!

Marvel Minimates Series 58 X-Men: Days of Future Past Asst.

A Diamond Select Release! The most epic X-Men movie ever made is getting the Minimates treatment from DST! Four different two-packs depict the past and future worlds of X-Men: Days of Future Past, featuring Mystique with Young Magneto, Bone Claw Wolverine with Charles Xavier, Future Wolverine with Future Storm and Professor X with Future Magneto! Each Minimates mini-figure stands 2 inches tall with 14 points of articulation and features a variety of interchangeable parts and accessories, including an alternate head for Storm, alternate hair for Magneto and an alternate torso for Wolverine. Designed and Sculpted by Art Asylum! (Item #MAY142223, SRP: $9.99/ea.)


Marvel Minimates Series 59 All-New X-Men Asst.

A Diamond Select Toys Release! The five original X-Men have been brought to the present day, and a new decade calls for new costumes! This assortment based on the Marvel Now! comic title All-New X-Men features four two-packs, including Cyclops with Marvel Girl, Beast with Angel, Iceman with a Sentinel and a rare, short-packed Bobby Drake with Sentinel! Each Minimate mini-figure stands approximately 2 inches tall and features a variety of interchangeable parts and accessories, incluing multile alternate heads and hair pieces, energy blasts and flight stands! Designed by Art Asylum! (Item #MAY142224, SRP: $9.99/ea.)


Fox Launches More Alternate History Websites to Promote X-Men: Days of Future Past Blu-Ray

This would have flown under my radar if I didn’t catch a Comic Vine article about two mysterious websites that hint at people with extraordinary abilities, aka mutants.

The first site, is for Tandem, an organization that’s looking for people with abilities. The second recently launched, and is called M-Underground. Its focus is whether Senator Ted Kennedy was a mutant.

In the lead up to this summer’s release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, 20th Century Fox launched numerous sites to promote the film, including one for character Bolivar Trask’s company Trask Industries, and another looking into the conspiracy theory of who killed President Kennedy and whether it was Magneto that was involved.

The latter of the two new sites with its Kennedy reference is clearly connected to the film, as it’s discussed in the movie that Magneto was trying to protect President Kennedy because Kennedy was a mutant. That bending of history is now extended to his brother Ted (As a side note, I used to work for Senator Kerry and met Sen. Kennedy many times. He was such a nice guy).

But, if you go into the source code, we get more proof this is more site launched by Fox to promote the upcoming Blu-Ray of the film which comes out in October. The first site has 20th Century Fox in the source code. The second has “X-Men” and “X-Men Days of Future Past” in the meta data.

m_underground_source_code tandem_source_code

No conspiracy here, just Fox doing more cool things to promote the X-Men franchise.

SDCC 2014: X-Men: Days of Future Past Minimates Box Set Gets New Photos!

At this week’s San Diego Comic-Con, Diamond Select Toys and Art Asylum will release their Marvel Minimates box set based on the classic X-Men comic storyline, Days of Future Past. Published in Uncanny X-Men #141 and 142, the story showed a grim future where mutants were second-class citizens that had been largely exterminated by giant Sentinels, and it became one of the touchstones of the X-Men mythos.

The 4-pack of Minimates captures some of the storyline’s most important characters – Future Wolverine, Future Kitty Pryde, Mystique and a Future Sentinel. Each stands approximately 2 inches tall with a variety of interchangeable parts and accessories, and we’ve taken some photos to show off all those parts! Check out the photos in the gallery, then come to booth 2607 on the show floor to pick up a set for $20, or check with your local retailer to see if they can order it in for you!


Apes Rule the Box Office Again. Transformers Rule Globally.

dawn of the planet of the apesDawn of the Planet of the Apes remained in the top spot at the box office. The film earned an additional $36 million, only a 50 percent drop from the previous week’s debut, which isn’t bad since other sequels this summer have seen a much sharper decline.

In other geek movie news… Transformers: Age of Extinction was fifth this past weekend, and to date, the film has earned $227.2 million. The film has a chance to challenge for the top spot as far as domestic grosses.

Domestically, the top comic related films of the summer are Captain America: The Winter Soldier, still holding strong with $258.4 million, X-Men: Days of Future Past is in third at $230.5 million. Transformers is fourth. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, is at $201.6 million for sixth. 300: Rise of An Empire is at 17 with $106.6 million, and Edge of Tomorrow has earned $96.6 million. Snowpiercer is at $3.5 million.

Globally, thinks are a bit different. Transformers: Age of Extinction tops things globally with $886.3 million earned. X-Men is second at $736.3 million. Cap is third at $712.7 million. Edge of Tomorrow has earned $357.9 million. 300: Rise of An Empire has earned $331.1 million. Snowpiercer has earned $83.7 million.


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