Jonathan Dobres

x-men re-examined: days of future past 1 & 2

“Days of Future Past” was originally published as a two-issue story in early 1981. It’s another one of Chris Claremont’s seminal contributions to the X-Men franchise (1981 was a big year for impactful Claremont stories). In the original story, Kitty Pryde, coming from the future of 2013, travels back in time to then-contemporary 1980 to stop an assassination that will lead to the dystopia she’s currently suffering through.

This story was also adapted into a movie that I mostly did not like. It sends Wolverine back in time, because the movies don’t care about any other character. It also has a lot of stupid stuff in it, like Xavier becoming a drug addict. But it does the universe the incredible favor of retconning the entirety of X-Men 3: The Last Stand out of existence, so at least there’s that.

X-Men: The Animated Series swaps Kitty for a dude named Bishop. I think there a few reasons for this. Bishop was a very new character to the comics, having debuted just a year before the animated show started airing (similarly, Kitty Pryde debuted a year before the original “Days of Future Past” story). So it’s possible that Marvel wanted to spotlight one of their newest creations. Kitty also often served as the team’s little sister, a role already filled by Jubilee on this show.

But more than anything, Bishop owes his presence in these episodes to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I cannot overstate how huge T-2 was. A true sci-fi action masterpiece. The highest grossing movie of 1991. The peak of Schwarzenegger’s film career. A landmark in visual effects (which still hold up). A cultural phenomenon that had us all growling, “I’ll be back,” and “Hasta la vista, baby.” And it was tearing up movie theaters right around the time this season of X-Men was being written.

So instead of Kitty telepathically possessing her earlier self, we get the physically imposing Bishop stepping through a techno-time portal, carrying an enormous rifle. He’s a distinctly more Schwarzenegger-esque presence than the younger, smaller, and more defensively oriented Kitty Pryde. Bishop even gets his own version of the T-1000. He’ll be followed into 1993 by Nimrod, a futuristic super-Sentinel who in the comics has shape-shifting abilities (though not demonstrated here). None of these changes are bad, necessarily, but the influence is undeniable.

Part 1

Air date: March 13, 1993

Part 1 of this two-parter is a lot of setup. It’s entertaining, but heavy on exposition. We see the dystopia of 2055, and it’s one of the better-animated scenes this season. Sentinels soar fluidly around a destroyed Statue of Liberty. The heroes we know and love have been reduced to headstones. Wolverine is still raising hell, but gets taken down by Bishop and escorted to a mutant detention center. Wolverine warns Bishop that being one of “the good ones” won’t save him from the Sentinels, and because we’ve only got twenty-two minutes, the Sentinels prove Wolverine right seconds later. The two fight their way out and make it to Forge’s lab. Forge and the resistance have a theory that the nightmare they’re living in can be averted if they can go back in time and prevent a specific assassination. Wolverine was supposed to be the man for the job, but he’s a little too old and a little too injured, so Bishop steps up.

And that’s how the big guy with the rad “M” tattoo over his right eye lands in 1993. He’s got a temporal transceiver (a magic armband) that will keep him in 1993 as long as it’s functioning, a gigantic rifle, and severe amnesia. As he gets glimmers of his memory back, he decides to board a bus and visit the X-Men. The smash cut between Bishop boarding public transit, rifle and all, and an exterior shot of the normies screaming as they immediately flee the bus is one of the funniest moments in the show so far.

Bishop can’t remember who the assassin is, just that it’s one of the X-Men, so he immediately tries to fight them all. He loses, of course, but fighting against the younger version of Wolverine jogs his memory a little. Xavier decides he wants some answers from this inexplicably aggressive stranger. Cerebro reveals images of Bishop’s terrible timeline, which more or less gets everyone on board, except for Wolverine. He’s lived a long, violent life and he’s seen a lot of strange things, but time travel is where he draws the line. Though he is pleased to see that he still has all his hair in 2055.

At this point, Bishop’s wearable computer (how futuristic, you know?) alerts him that someone else has come through the time portal. “Oh yeah, I thought I felt a shift in the planet’s alignment there,” says Wolverine. The team rushes to the portal’s location and fights Nimrod. Like the T-1000, it can recover from everything the team throws at it, until Storm conjures up some cold weather and freezes it solid (again, like the T-1000). Which reminds me, why is OG X-Man Iceman not on this show? In any case, with Nimrod frozen, Bishop is able to destroy its temporal transceiver, whereupon it fades out of our reality. Good on this episode for reminding us how precarious Bishop’s visit is.

The team reconvenes at the X-Mansion and debates what Bishop is telling them. One of the X-Men is the assassin. Each of them has a dark side and could be driven to such an act under the right circumstances, which is a pretty wild thing for a Saturday morning cartoon to acknowledge about its good guys. Jean says, “Even I’ve had my dark days,” which is the first hint we’ve gotten that she has any personality at all, and is also foreshadowing the Phoenix Saga stuff to come. Midway through this chat, Gambit returns from visiting Beast in prison. Bishop recognizes him as the assassin and raises his rifle.

Stray observations:

  • There’s only one departure from Bishop’s perspective in the whole episode, and it’s when Gambit and Rogue are visiting Beast. Much is made of how uncomfortable Gambit is, which is certainly meant to add another chip to the pile of “Gambit could be the assassin” (though really, who is comfortable in a cell?). Beast helpfully bends the bars of his own prison cell to let Gambit end the visit early. In case you were wondering if Beast is still sitting there voluntarily.

  • Just once, Wolverine refers to Bishop as “Mr. Terminator”. At least they’re admitting it! Cal Dodd is great throughout this episode, especially when he’s carrying the exposition-heavy first act.

  • Now That’s What I Call ’90s: The first thing to jog Bishop’s memory is a couple of passersby talking about a new video game called “Assassin”, which has cover art of what is undeniably The Punisher.

Part 2

Air date: March 20, 1993

Part 1 walked so that Part 2 could run. It’s so chock full of fun moments that I had to watch it twice. The episode opens by rolling back a few minutes, to where Gambit and Rogue are driving back from their visit with Beast. Rogue’s driving is appropriately reckless for someone who cannot possibly die in a car accident.

Gambit: Maybe time you had another lesson, eh?

Rogue: Who’s gonna teach me, you?

Gambit: Sure, I’ll teach you plenty of things. If you ask me nice.

Rogue: Don’t you ever get tired of listening to yourself?

Gambit: Not when I’m talkin’ about you, cher.

Rogue stops the car and flies off, befuddled and exasperated.

Gambit: Don’t worry, Rogue! …I’ll park the car.

This scene serves no greater purpose in the episode. It’s there entirely for the Gambit/Rogue shippers in the audience, which at this point has to be everyone. Chris Potter has been a little uneven as Gambit, but his read of that final line is laugh-out-loud funny. The show is getting more confident, finding that balance between superheroics and soap opera that will make it worth a revival thirty years later.

The X-Men stop Bishop from shooting Gambit. Jean even does some actual telekinesis to take his gun away. Bishop lays out what will happen after the assassination. The event leads to widespread fear and anti-mutant sentiment. The US passes the Mutant Control Law, legitimizing and greatly expanding the Sentinel program. Then come the mutant death camps. “But those who control the Sentinels don’t stop with mutants,” Bishop warns, as we see Sentinels tearing the roof off the White House and enslaving most of the human race. In 1993 this seemed far-fetched. Having lived through 9/11, its associated anti-Muslim backlash, the Patriot Act, and a couple of disastrous wars, Bishop’s description of future events hits more like a prophecy than speculative fiction.

But enough about our own dystopian future. Bishop can’t remember who’s supposed to be assassinated, but he knows that it’s going to happen soon and that Gambit pulls the trigger. Bishop holds Gambit responsible for the entirety of his awful life and Gambit takes that very personally. The X-Men have a hunch that the assassination will probably happen at or around the imminent mutant relations hearings in Washington. Most of the team hops in the Blackbird to D.C., while Gambit and Bishop agree to stay behind (thus no assassin, no anti-assassin), with Wolverine playing babysitter (and yes, that’s pretty funny). This doesn’t last long. While killing time playing poker, Gambit surreptitiously places a few charged cards around the room and escapes during the ensuing chaos. Bishop also briefly shows off his mutant power: energy absorption and redirection.

That’s how the entire cast ends up in Washington. Mystique, Pyro,1 Blob, and Avalanche are also there. Looks like Mystique has gotten the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants together at Apocalypse’s behest. Xavier is testifying before the committee (including the hostile Senator Robert Kelly), when Pyro and Avalanche bust in with the subtlety of the Kool Aid Man. Senator Kelly escapes with help from his personal aide (Mystique in disguise), while there ensues one of the biggest, craziest fights in the show yet.

I won’t bother with a blow-by-blow, but it’s wild fun. Pyro conjures a couple of literal firebirds to chase Storm and Rogue around, Bishop shows off those energy reabsorption powers against Avalanche, and Jubilee is understandably grossed out by Blob’s threat to sit on her until she dies. The fight climaxes with Bishop redirecting Avalanche’s energy toward a large tower, which then starts falling toward some civilians. Jean slows the descent with telekinesis and Rogue holds it above ground just long enough for Wolverine to dash in and rescue a straggling child. It’s a delightful three minutes that ends in the funniest way possible. Wolverine hands off the little girl to Jubilee with the words, “This kid’s cryin’. Do somethin’.”

This would be the climax of a three-hour Avengers movie. For the X-Men it’s just another week. Man.

All of this spectacle is, of course, a distraction from Mystique’s planned assassination of Senator Kelly. But the X-Men are on top of things:

Cyclops: Rogue, can you see Bishop?

Rogue is hovering in midair and spots Bishop entering the Capitol Building.

Rogue: I could spit on him, if I wasn’t a lady. Looks like he’s running for Congress.

Running for Congress. This episode is having almost too much fun.

Mystique leads Senator Kelly to a private room, where his real aide has been bound and gagged (a necessary witness to the assassination). Mystique transforms into Gambit and declares that Kelly should have known better than to mess with mutants and the X-Men. This is the only part of the plan that doesn’t exactly make sense. The aide sees Mystique transform, and would probably know that there’s some kind of subterfuge happening. Kelly’s death will foment anti-mutant sentiment either way, so maybe implicating the X-Men is just a cherry on top (for reasons we’ll understand shortly)?

Gambit rushes in, foiling his doppelgänger (“Maybe you’re not as tough as I look!”). Bishop arrives and decides that the easiest way to prevent the assassination is to kill both Gambits. Before he can, however, Rogue catches up to him and destroys his temporal transceiver, sending him back to 2055. Rogue is delighted to have an opportunity to pay Mystique back for all the trouble she caused on Muir Island, but Mystique is coolly confident that her butt will remain unkicked. It’s at this point that Mystique reveals that she is—oh, the soap opera of it all!—Rogue’s mother!

We don’t see exactly how it happens (giving the episode a reason to check in with Cyclops and Wolverine), but Rogue knocks out Gambit and does indeed help Mystique escape. It was Apocalypse’s plan to assassinate Senator Kelly and give the humans “the future they deserve,” but that’s all over now. Mystique tells Rogue that enslaving her to Apocalypse, “seemed like the only way to get you back,” which is an amazingly screwed up thing to say to your adopted daughter. Mystique walks off, resigned to whatever fate Apocalypse has in store for her, and Rogue in tears.

Bishop lands back in 2055 with nothing changed. Either the resistance’s assassination theory was wrong, or something new intervened in the timeline to bring this about anyway. “You’ll have plenty of opportunity to try again,” Forge tells Bishop. Meanwhile, back in 1993, Cyclops, Jean, and Xavier are about to meet with a newly receptive Senator Kelly. But they arrive too late. There are sounds of a struggle, and Cyclops blasts the office door open to find a hole blown in the wall. Xavier believes this is the work of a different gang of mutants, because his watch has been—pause for effect—magnetized.

Stray observations:

  • Upon arriving back in 2055, Bishop exclaims, “I’m back in the future!” That’s a very strange thing for someone to say about their own present!

  • Storm says, “Gambit, I know you better than anyone,” while giving Rogue some rather pointed side eye.

  1. Pyro is even swishier here than he was in “The Cure,” referring to Avalanche as, “My darling.” In the comics, Pyro was in fact intended to come out as gay, but Claremont killed that idea, and gave himself some plausible deniability about Pyro’s mannerisms by making him English instead. We wouldn’t get a gay Pyro until 2018, when he hooks up with Iceman.