YEARS OF FUTURE PAST #5 Review: “Cage-Free Metaphors!”

Earth-811 is never really a “healthy” source of nostalgia- unless you’re fond of no-win dystopias. The conclusion of writer Marguerite Bennett and company’s “inspired by” riff on the Claremont/Byrne touchstone isn’t so much about course-correcting and bringing about a much-needed ray of sunshine as it is full-bore allegorically presaging the shape of things to come.

"All-New Lockheed: Agent of Skreeee", anyone?
“All-New Lockheed: Agent of Skreeee”, anyone?

While some of Marvel’s other summer-long minis are taking the opportunity to test-pilot new characters factoring into the post-Secret Wars landscape, things aren’t as apparent here. Although potential news of giant-sized Lockheed joining the monster squad Howling Commandos would be far from the worst thing in the world (hint), there isn’t an easily identifiable “break-out star”, per se. If anything, it’s more the philosophical tenor of this story winning out as the hold-over beyond any individual. Suffice to say, mutantdom’s “endangered species” winds currently a-blowin’ on the interwebs profoundly resonate here with additional stop-and-think real world underpinnings.

"Welcome to the X-Men, Chrissie. Hope you ah, skip it..."
“Welcome to the X-Men, Chrissie. Hope you ah, skip it…”

The legendary Art Adams and color artist Peter Steigerwald supply a cover homaging the iconic Uncanny X-Men source material that, in itself, is grounds to pick the installment off the racks. Interior artist Mike Norton swings for fences as well with lots of double-page spreads and impressive sequential layouts but some of his actual mechanics are in need of slight ratcheting-up. Given that his resume is laden with youthful, teenage types (Runaways, Young Avengers), Chrissie Pryde is firmly dialed-in as Norton’s focus. However other characters are somewhat lacking in refined definition and, ironically, adult female figures are consistently rendered brutish.

"Super-Villain Loses Helmet, Life"
“Super-Villain Loses Helmet, Life”

In fairness, the inherent ugliness of survival and its place in the human condition are the piercing heart of the matter. Pathos wringes off nearly every page, whether it’s the brutal yet “tasteful” mauling of Magneto’s corpse by tigers in the concrete jungle (no fooling- literal tigers!) or the heart-breaking drama of the Pryde/Rasputin familial crisis. Indeed, the creative team’s greatest strength is developing the supporting cast of this oft-visited reality and relegating default protagonist, Rachel Summers, to a much more marginalized role.

"Y'know, business as usual..."
“Y’know, business as usual…”

Arguably one of the most notable alt-timelines in all of comicdom, Future Past is both familiar and hallowed ground. Matter-of-fact in its “everybody dies” ethos, the concept also makes for easy clean-up and reset; not all that unlike running a Danger Room scenario with little left to prove. This run-through just happens to inject a poignant message while staying truthfully within the ascribed parameters. The commentary may be heavy but the net result is something of an unexpected “Kobayashi Maru” on the tried-and-true paradigm. For that alone, it will be difficult not to retool. Well played, indeed!

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