Tales from the Longbox – Uncanny X-Men #141-142 (1981)

Every other week, Jason Shayer will highlight an issue or a run of issues pulled from the horde of comic book long boxes that occupy more room in his house than his wife can tolerate. Each of these reviews will delve into what made that issue or run significant as well as discuss the creative personalities behind the work. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.

Uncanny X-Men #141-142
January- February 1981
“Days of Future Past”
Writing: Chris Claremont (plot and script) and John Byrne (plot)
Penciler: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin

While many fans may classify the Dark Phoenix Saga as the ultimate X-Men storyline, I’d argue for a two-issue, cross-time story called “Days of Future Past”. Both Claremont and Byrne are at the top of their game, coming off the Dark Phoenix Saga storyline and still telling outstanding stories.

This story introduced an apocalyptic, dystopian future set in 2013 where mutants are confined to concentration camps and marked with the letter M to indicate their mutant status. The post-nuclear holocaust devastation wasn’t limited to mutants as a number of non-mutant super heroes had been killed by Sentinels enforcing Project Wideawake.

Recognizing their dire situation, a ragtag group of mutants (Wolverine, Kate Pryde, Magneto, Colossus, Storm, Franklin Richards, and Rachel Summers) put into motion a desperate plot to prevent this nightmarish future from ever occurring. Claremont and Byrne in those future sequences, really capture that hopelessness and their defeated feeling.

The use this nightmarish future to up the stakes of this story’s initial problem which is to stop Senator Kelly’s assassination at the hands of the new Brotherhood of Mutants under the leadership of Mystique. Kate Pryde’s essence is sent back through to time to temporarily inhabit her past self, long enough to tell the X-Men how it all came about. “We fought. We lost. We d-died. And now… seeing you all alive — oh God, I didn’t think it would hurt so much.”

In the present time sequences, the character interactions are well done, especially capturing the leaderless X-Men (with Cyclops still on leave) and Storm taking the leadership reins.

They also manage to have a bit of levity in a rather dark themed comic book as Kitty Pryde takes on the Danger Room on her own and beats it!

At this point in their relationship, there was a lot of strife between Claremont and Byrne, but that also forced them to be at their best as they challenged each other. Byrne’s last issue would be Uncanny X-Men #143 (which I covered in the early days of this column) and they would part on difficult terms. So looking back, it’s an amazing story to view the collaborative talent they had and also to realize that while they may have gone their separate way, they were never quite as good as this run.

And with the early buzz that Bryan Singer is considering this story as source material for the latest X-Men movie, there’s no better time to check out this truly revolutionary 1980s story.

Some other notes:

  • The story’s title was apparently inspired by the Moody Blue’s Days of Future Passed
  • Uncanny X-Men #141 was the first appearance of the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and of Rachel Summers
  • Interesting to see Mystique teasing at a shared past with Nightcralwer, but that would be an unresolved plot point that would be left dangling forever.

Jason Shayer has been trying his best not to grow up for that last 30 years and comics books are one of the best ways to keep him young at heart. He’s also known as the Marvel 1980s guy and has probably forgotten more than you’d ever want to know about that wonderfully creative era. Check out his blog at: marvel1980s.blogspot.com.

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