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WTF Comics Club Reads: X-Men – Days of Future Past

Everything's better with a baby wolverine.

The WTF Comics Club is a monthly reading group for Women, Trans, and Femme-identified fans in Minneapolis. In its second year, the club is taking a look at some of the major comic book “must reads” and asking: Must we really read this?

Chris Claremont’s stories defined the X-Men, and the impact of Days of Future Past continues to echo throughout Marvel continuity to this day. So how did so much cool stuff come out of something so nonsensical?

Set simultaneously in 1981 and 2013, Days of Future Past jumps back and forth between the “present” and a dystopian future in which giant, mutant-hunting robots called Sentinels have taken over and ruined everything. Using the telepathic powers of someone named Rachel, whose identity and origin are presumably explained elsewhere (spoiler alert: She’s Jean Grey’s daughter), Kitty Pryde sends her consciousness back in time to inhabit her own teenage body and warn the X-Men about the impending apocalypse (not Apocalypse; that’s a different book). According to the future X-Men, everything goes wrong when The New Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (TM) decides that assassinating an anti-mutant senator on national television is the best way to make their point. What that point is remains unclear, but clearly this is a solid plan that can’t possibly backfire at all. With the present X-Men, Kitty succeeds in foiling the assassination and saving the senator. Meanwhile, the future X-Men launch an assault on the Sentinels’ headquarters at – I kid you not – the Baxter Building, and they all die. In 1981, the X-men are apparently victorious, the Evil Mutants – sans Mystique – have been arrested, and a tag scene at the end of the arc informs us that absolutely nothing has changed; the Sentinels are still imminent, and everything is still awful.

If you think that sounds confusing and a little weird, you’re absolutely right. I’m getting confused all over again just writing this synopsis. So why is Days of Future Past lauded as the seminal X-Men story and a hallmark of classic Marvel comics? That is a good damn question, and the answer is buried deep in the X-Men’s mutated DNA.

On the surface, Days of Future Past is most notable for the stories that have since followed it. The Sentinels’ bleak future has been the setting for numerous X and X-related adventures throughout the subsequent decades, and it has provided origins for multiple fan-favorite characters, including Rachel Grey and the apocalyptically badass Bishop, who now occupy the comic book present.

The WTF readers speculate that another reason for the book’s notoriety is that, in many ways, it is the quintessential X-Men story, featuring every element for which the mutant misfits are famous: X-Men saving the day and getting blamed for causing the danger? Check. Self-righteous meta-commentary about oppression? Check. Non-sensical time-travel? Check. Fastball Special? Double check.

Of course, since Days of Future Past does deal directly with mutant oppression, this raises questions about how the narrative – and X-Men stories in general – represent marginalized groups and the politics of real-world oppression. The major theme throughout the X-Men’s history has been the noble mission of defending those who fear and hate them, the assumption being that, according to the wise Professor X, the ordinary humans will eventually realize that those mutant kids are kind of alright actually. On the opposing side is the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, led by Magneto, whose aim is to destroy all humans so that mutants can take their rightful place as world leaders. A typical X-Men story consists of the heroes discovering their enemies’ latest evil plot, a big fight with lots of extraneous dialogue and property damage, the X-Men saving lots of people, and the general public still unable to distinguish between the good mutants and the bad mutants.

So basically, the “good” oppressed people are the ones who patiently suffer ignorance and injustice while toiling thanklessly to undo the work of the “bad” oppressed people, who have chosen to fight back against their oppressors and demand restitution for past wrongs.

If Days of Future Past contributes anything worthwhile to the larger narrative of the X-Men, it is to highlight the futility of their philosophy. They spend two issues fighting tooth and nail to prevent catastrophe, and even though, by all accounts, they win, nothing changes; the present is still terrible, and the future is still going to hell in a handbasket. Meanwhile, out here in the real world, the self-less mutant heroes are held up as an Everyman analogy for the ongoing struggle against oppression, because all marginalized people experience oppression in the same way, and passive resistance is always totally effective. Right.

T-Shirt Wisdom

Of course, the WTF discussion also gave rise to the genius that is X-Men Minus Wolverine Plus a Wolverine, so there’s that.

It’s possible that, not having read this comic in 1981 or read all of the myriad tie-in stories, we’re missing some crucial piece of context that makes this convoluted mess of a comic worthwhile, but somehow I doubt it. I think I’ll just watch the movie and swap out Wolverine for Kitty Pryde. It’s better that way.

Title: X-Men: Days of Future Past
Creators: Writer: Chris Claremont; Art: John Byrne
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Popular Rating: ✩✩✩✩
WTF Rating: 🐒🐒
Must read? Nope.

The books for WTF Reads were determined by cross-referencing recommendation lists from four online publications: Forbidden Planet, Empire, BuzzFeed, and Complex . Titles were then selected based on a number of criteria, including popularity, importance, accessibility, and thematic continuity. Popular Ratings are on a five-star scale, averaged from ratings across Comixology, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. WTF Ratings are on a five-monkey scale, based on responses from club and community members. Only books that receive five monkeys will be preserved after the gender apocalypse.

(via WTF Comics Club, image via Marvel Comics, image via Teepublic)

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