This week, I made an overnight trip to Glasgow’s Hillhead Library for a Graphic Novel training day. It is always astonishing to me that I live (and teach) in an era where super-heroes are a major part of mainstream pop culture. I think that’s in no small part due to the potency of Chris Claremont’s operatic X-Men stories.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is yet another cinema blockbuster in a year that’s already yielded Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Winter Soldier. In case you didn’t know, this movie is loosely based on a legendary Claremont/Byrne story – although it was largely Byrne’s idea ( and based on Dr. Who’s Day of the Daleks from 1972).
While cover dated January 1981, I suspect I read it in November of the previous year. My brother bought it in Strathaven one Saturday and it quickly became one of my favourite comics. Not only because of the grim fascination with the X-terminated X-men; nor for the adult appearance of Franklin (FF) Richards- which I’d been waiting for since about 1970-; but for the revitalisation of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
Although Avalanche and the spectral Destiny had little or no development, there was a Lee-Kirby vibe about the swishy, aristocratic Pyro. I had been a fan of the gross and vulgar Blob since the late 60s and Mystique aka Raven Darkholme had been an enigma in Ms. Marvel’s 70s series. In this storyline there would be hints, in Claremont’s maddening, compelling style, of her relationship with Nightcrawler.
Also, Kitty Pryde, the 13-year-old Jewish girl- dancer and genius- had just been inducted as Jean Grey’s thematic replacement in the series. Abruptly we met a middle-aged version of that kid, who’d experienced horror and tragedy in the terrible dystopian world of the Sentinels. Brilliantly, this was an epic sci-fi story with powerful emotional themes and tips of the hat to the Bronze Age of Marvel.
Of course, in those days, distribution was hopelessly spotty. Only shops like John Menzies or some department stores sold any comics. In fact the issues either side of this one weren’t even available in my area. I didn’t read the second part of this storyline until around 82/83.
The movie, as we’ve come to expect, diverged from the comics storyline in many ways. Let’s get my criticisms out of the way first.
No recap of how Xavier survived his destruction in X3; no introductions for Warpath, an unrecognisable Sunspot or 90s fan-favourite Blink; off-stage killings of Angel Salvatore, Havok and Banshee ( that ginger kid was one of my favourites in First Class!). Most heinously, Kitty Pryde’s pivotal role was sidelined for the over-exposed Wolverine: over-exposed in more senses than one, given a gratuitous beefcake scene. Granted that 45-year-old body is in amazing condition- but I probably would be too on a Hollywood budget.
On the other hand, the best part of the movie for me was the coda where all the toys were returned in one piece to the box. The events of X3 were retconned and all the inhabitatnts of the X-Mansion were present and correct-except for my favourite, Nightcrawler. The downside is that the deaths of all the characters- on and off-stage -had no impact, just like a computer game.
The Seventies sequences were more engaging than the dystopian future. ironically, 70s Wolverine looked exactly like Dave Cockrum’s drawings of the character. I especially enjoyed the introduction of Quicksilver, although he seemed more like a modern goth teen than a 70s bad boy.Of course, a completely different Pietro is cast in the Avengers sequel so it might have made more sense to go with another Bronze Age Marvel mutant, like Sunfire perhaps.
Fassbender’s Magneto reminded me more of Claremont’s steely, regal Magnus than SirIan ever did and it was a joy to see a bouncing blue Beast – although his hipster monologues were lost to (ahem) bestial roaring.
The post-credits scene which is now an expectation -and an annoying tradition – was on a grand scale: featuring the slender figure of En Sabah Nur, telekinetically building a pyramid. While I admire Simonson’s art, I’ve always found Apocalypse a silly and uninspired villain- a one-dimensional mash-up of Darkseid, the Metal Men and Rama-Tut. I also feel that, as a “stinger”, it would be incomprehensible to the majority of the audience.
Maybe it’s just fatigue but this sprawling but two-dimensional adventure made me feel the tone of future super-hero movies needs to move away from the portentous and dystopian- but the promise of X-Men:Apocalypse doesn’t make that sound likely.
Coming soon: He’s more evil than anyone here ever thought
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