AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
4.3 out of 5
The Uncanny X-Men: Days Of Future Past
(Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin)
Dating from 1980, this book collects the two issues which made up the now-iconic 'Days of Future Past', in which Kate Pryde psychically travels back in time into her younger self from an apocalyptic future in an attempt to prevent the horrors to come. The X-Men of the 1980s 'present day' must then save anti-mutant presidential candidate Robert Kelly from being assassinated by the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
The 1980s was a period when comics were rapidly growing up and, it has to be said, growing bleaker in their outlook. When you add this tonal shift to the race-relations angst of the X-Men it produces one of Marvel Comics' most influencial and enduring storylines (so much so that it became the basis for one of the best films of the movie franchise - my favourite, in fact - in 2014; a year after the setting of the dark future within it). And do not doubt that this story earns its place in the history of comics, because what we get here is a powerful story of a future where xenophobic rhetoric has led to the breakdown of the US as a nation and resulted in a holocaust which, in a haunting scene, sees Kate Pryde walking through an endless graveyard past the headstones of the X-Men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four and more.
It has to be said that the 'present day' sections of the book aren't as compelling, but that's mostly because they don't have the awful novelty of the 'future' scenes. Despite that, they still have the wonderful element which makes the X-Men unique of Marvel's super-teams; the fact that they have to spend their efforts trying to prove themselves as the good guys in the face of prejudice in a way that the likes of the FF or the Avengers never really have.
I should point out that artist John Byrne co-plotted this story with Claremont (and, I think, came up with the concept), but since it's the latter credited as 'Writer', that's why I've not put it under Collaborations. Don't hate me; I am very aware of just how vital comic book artists are to the nature of the stories that the writers create and that their creative input shouldn't be overlooked (see Steve Ditko/Stan Lee/Spider-Man).
5 out of 5
The Uncanny X-Men: Love And Madness
(Art by John Romita, Dan Green, Bob Wiacek, Sal Buscema, Tom Mandrake and Kim DeMulder)
A Marvel Pocket Book collecting issues of Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants from the early 80s. Kitty Pryde AKA Shadowcat is kidnapped by the White Queen Emma Frost just as the rest of the X-Men, as well as the rest of Earth's major superheroes, are transported offworld by the Beyonder. It then falls to the untested New Mutants to take on Frost and her own team of mutants; the Hellions. Later, Rogue assaults the SHIELD Helicarrier, Colossus battles the Juggernaut and the X-Men have to rescue a disoriented timetraveller.
At first it took me a while to get my head around the X-Men presented here, since their 1980s incarnations were very different from both their origins and also from how the characters are better known now. Storm is going through her punk phase, Professor X is up and walking, Rogue is still barely rehabilitated from being a supervillain and the likes of Shadowcat, Cannonball and Magma are more-or-less children. However, when I did manage to settle back into the era I started to really enjoy the book. In fact, for me, it really hits its stride when the X-Men are taken out of the picture and the so-called New Mutants have to take centre stage. It was interesting to see these characters as untested youths, since many of them later become familiar as fully-fledged members of the likes of X-Force, Excalibur and the X-Men themselves. It was also interesting for them to be pitted against Emma Frost's Hellions who are, in many ways, a dark reflection of themselves.
Oddly, once the X-Men themselves return from the events of Secret Wars, the book isn't quite as good. It takes on a much more 'threat-of-the-month' feel and loses some of its story cohesion. However, its still worth reading just to see things like Colossus and Juggernaut slug it out, Nick Fury placing a kill order on Rogue and the X-Men encountering Rachel Summers, the alternate-future daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey, for the first time. Also, there's a hilarious moment when a giant dragon from Battleworld is terrorising Tokyo and a Japanese official says "It can't be, this is the off-season!'.
One thing that did bother me a little was that one of the main themes in the book is the love affair between Shadowcat and Colossus and yet we're explicitly told that he's 20 and she's 14. That's just not right.
4 out of 5
(Art by Frank Miller and Josef Rubinstein)
The inspiration for James Mangold's movie 'The Wolverine', Logan's first solo story in a starring role sees him travel to Japan in search of the love of his life Mariko. However, he soon discovers that she has been forced into a marriage with an abusive husband by her father, Lord Shingen. Shingen disgraces Wolverine, who then finds himself caught between the ninjas of the Hand and the fiery assassin Yukio.
It's strange to think now that before this story Wolverine was a largely undeveloped B-list Marvel superhero, with little or no exploration of who he was as a person. Here, however, Claremont takes him away from the heroes and villains of America and instead plunges him into the honour and tradition-bound culture of Japan. It turns out the perfect way to explore Logan's inner conflict of man versus animal and, honestly, I can't think of a single Wolverine story I've read so far that does anything better with this character than what Claremont does here.
It's a good thing that the writer also chooses not to have him face off against any super-powered enemies too and what we get instead is an interesting array of compelling human characters, something rare now, let alone in the 1980s. Foremost among them is Mariko, caught between love and duty, but I also really enjoyed the femme fatale Yukio, with the two women acting as reflections of the two sides of Logan's own personality.
To begin with I was a little disappointed with Miller's artwork, but later on in the book his depiction of Wolverines battles with both ninja and samurai are brilliantly put together pieces of comic book art.
Honestly, I was tempted to give this book a perfect score, but I chose to knock it down a peg due to Logan's inner monologue so often being repeated expositions of who he is and what his powers are; an annoying trope of comics of the 60s, 70s and 80s.
4 out of 5
Collaborations & Anthologies:
Decimation: X-Men - The Day After (here)
Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Guardians Of The Galaxy (here)
Star Wars: A Long Time Ago... - Dark Encounters (here)
Star Wars: A Long Time Ago... - Doomworld (here)
Star Wars: A Long Time Ago... - Resurrection Of Evil (here)
Star Wars: A Long Time Ago... - Screams In The Void (here)
Star Wars Omnibus: Wild Space Volume 1 (here)