Welcome to the X-Roulette! Shelfdust’s Patreon backers are asked to pick a number at random – and now I’m going to write about whichever corresponding issue of “X-Men/Uncanny X-Men” they chose! This issue was picked by Patreon backer David LaRoss, who chose number 142 for the roulette – so let’s go back to the future.
Nobody apart from Chris Claremont could have predicted that his time writing the X-Men would go on for decades, but his soap opera proved to be a winning formula for comic book readers, taking an interesting concept and building it up into something far more grandiose and complicated. By the time he reached issue #142 of Uncanny X-Men he’d already done huge amounts of work to expand out the X-Men’s world, bringing in multiple nuanced characters and switching around the existing relationships in thrilling ways. But #142 – the final part of “Days of Future Past” gave us something we hadn’t seen before: a timeline.
Days of Future Past is set partly in the near future and partly in the present day, as the current X-Men fight to stop an assassination attempt by the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants against a senator, Robert Kelly. Little do they know, the death of Kelly will lead them into a dystopian future where all mutants are rounded up into camps and exterminated. If they don’t stop the attempt, they’ll be doomed, with almost all mutants being wiped off the face of the earth. As readers we get to actually see what this future looks like – and in the process we’re shown two connected moments in time, which expands out the scope of the X-Men in a way we’d never seen before. The real-time adventures of the characters were exciting and unpredictable, but by introducing a vision of the future Claremont is able in turn to give each of his characters a short-term and long-term character arc.
This is shown at every possible opportunity for readers, as the future X-Men (Storm, Colossus, Wolverine, Rachel and Kate Pryde) keep saying or thinking things which relate back to their current-day personas. Storm, for example, is the leader of the X-Men both in the present day and in the future, and we can see how she’s grown into the role because we see both timelines at once. But we don’t just see that assumption of leadership: in this issue she also mentions her past as a thief, which comes in handy when she needs to break into a building. Her claustrophobia is also mentioned, tying this adult version of Storm to the more inexperienced Ororo readers have been used to following since Claremont came onboard. The comic gets to both tell and show us what’s going on, which is a really convenient and crafty approach. Claremont can show us that Storm has become the leader of the X-Men through her sheer ability… but he also gets to tell us that she’s still the same person we know and love.
As the stakes tighten through the scenes set in the future, we can see how traumatic and horrifying circumstances truly have become. The remaining mutants send Kate Pryde’s mind back into the past, where she takes over her teenage body in an attempt to make sure that Robert Kelly doesn’t die and his death doesn’t spark the dystopian future her friends are trapped in. Whilst they try and buy her time to change their current circumstances, they go off on a suicide mission which results in the death of almost all their team. We see Wolverine, Storm and Colossus all killed by the sentinel robots designed by the Government to keep mutants in line, a shocking sequence which gives an increased importance to this future – which at this point in time, remember, is not an “alternate” future. We’ve seen three mutants all die because of what’s happening with their younger selves.
The stakes are important for the future, then – but they’re also important in the present day. This is one of Storm’s first missions since assuming leadership of the X-Men, and she has a lot to prove both to them and to herself. In turn, characters like Wolverine and Colossus are trying to prove themselves an important part of the team, adapting themselves to better fit in with Xavier’s mission. Meanwhile, the appearance of Mystique within the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants means that Nightcrawler learns there are some dark secrets about his childhood even he doesn’t know. Claremont ensures that the present-day battle is important in and of itself, even ignoring the greater repercussions that this may have for the future.
Although this all circles round Kitty/Kate Pryde (a distinction between the child and adult versions of the character which are still being used today – she only just changed her name to Kate in the current Marauders run) – Destiny might be even more important for the goals of the story. A character with precognition, Destiny can see into the future, which again reinforces that Claremont has a decades-long narrative in mind for his merry mutants. Her arrival into the storytelling shows us that not only are we going to have to deal with the past and the present, but that the future is an ongoing concern as well. It again helps to set out a massive timeframe for the characters, which expands out everything we thought we knew and makes this a far grander tapestry than the typical superhero comic book series might have ever had in mind.
By the end of the issue, Robert Kelly’s life has been saved. But, crucially, we do not see what happens to the future. Has it been saved? Cemented? Has anything changed for the two remaining characters? Claremont doesn’t reveal anything for the readers. Because doing so would limit his opportunities moving forward – and the last thing he wants to do is limit his storytelling potential.
Uncanny X-Men #142: Mind Out Of Time!
Writer/Co-Plotter: Chris Claremont
Artist/Co-Plotter: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin
Colourist: Glynis Wein
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
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