Everything you need to know about Days of Future Past

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Jul 4, 2015, 11:57 AM EDT (Updated)

How up are you on your mutant history? Days of Future Past is one of the classic stories from the X-Men comics, and hugely influential for comics in general ... but if you're coming into the upcoming film version cold, its dual realities and time-travel hijinks may leave you more confounded. Thankfully, we're here to help.

Here's everything you need to know to get up to speed. Beware: If you want to go into the movie completely clean, here be some SPOILERS.

Who Are The X-Men?

No, it's OK; I'll allow it. The X-Men are a group of superheroes created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in 1963. Their common factor is that all of the members are mutants, born with a genetic trait that allows them to develop superhuman abilities. The original series wasn't a big hit, but in 1975 writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum relaunched the book with a new cast of protagonists drawn from around the world. In May of 1975, a young writer named Chris Claremont took over the book and made it into one of Marvel's best-selling titles, and now they're the linchpin of a media juggernaut.

No, I Mean Who Are The X-Men Actually, Like What Are Their Names?

In the original comic storyline, the team was Storm (controls the weather), Colossus (able to turn into living steel), Nightcrawler (teleportation, agility, looks weird), Kitty Pryde (teenager, passes through objects), Angel (can fly, is rich), Professor X (powerful psychic, bald) and Wolverine (metal bones and claws, healing ability). The movie mixes things up a bit by adding Bishop (kinetic energy absorption), Blink (teleporter), Iceman (ice ... man), Warpath (very strong) and Sunspot (very hot), along with Quicksilver (very fast, bad haircut).

What's The Storyline Of Days Of Future Past?

The original comic saw Kitty Pryde, the teenage X-recruit with the power to phase through objects, possessed by the consciousness of her future self to stop the assassination of a U.S. senator by the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, which killing would bring about a nightmarish future in which mutants were slaughtered or put in concentration camps. The film version makes things a little more complicated -- Bishop and Kitty go back from 2023 to 2014, and then Wolverine goes back to 1973. The assassination target is Bolivar Trask, the inventor of the mutant-hunting Sentinels, but the outcome is the same -- the good guys win and the dystopian future is averted. Sorry for the spoiler, but you didn't really think they'd lose, right?

Who Are The Brotherhood Of Evil Mutants?

Quite a name, huh? Originally the Brotherhood was put together by the X-Men's archnemesis Magneto, and, as you'd guess from the "Evil" right there in the title, they were focused on world domination. Early members included Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch (who became heroes), Unus the Untouchable, Toad and the Blob. After Magneto became a more layered character, a new Brotherhood (without the "evil") was formed. Led by shape-shifter Mystique, the group consisted of Destiny (a blind precognitive), Avalanche (made earthquakes), Pyro (controlled fire), the Blob and Rogue, who soon defected to the X-Men. They were more overt terrorists targeting anti-mutant bigots, but soon got a job working with the U.S. government under the name "Freedom Force."

What Were The Repercussions?

A lot of X-Men storylines spun out of Days Of Future Past. The team to that point had been focused on Xavier's mission of bringing humans and mutants together to live in harmony – as opposed to archrival Magneto's vision of a world ruled by mutants. After getting a glimpse of a future that showed Professor X's dream dying, a slow schism started to creep into the group, culminating with Magneto actually replacing Xavier as leader. The argument about whether the X-Men should be proactive or reactive in protecting mutant rights has continued for three decades. Also, psychic Rachel Summers, super-sentinel Nimrod and mutant hunter Ahab all traveled back into the main timeline from what was soon dubbed Earth-811.

Why Was The Original Comic So Important?

Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne had just wrapped up the Dark Phoenix Saga, an epic adventure that took the team to outer space and killed off Jean Grey, one of the founding X-Men who was the host for a cosmic force of unimaginable power that liked to snuff out suns for fun. It upped the ante for the series like nothing ever done to that point. The team returned to Earth and things seemed normal (the next issues involved battling the superhumanly strong Wendigo), but two issues later, bam! We were suddenly in a dystopian future -- the first ever seen in Marvel Comics. Many, many different takes on this concept would follow. Claremont remarked that he was always trying to raise the stakes for the team, and Days of Future Past is a great illustration of how far he would go.

What Was Happening Behind The Scenes?

Although the Claremont and Byrne run is widely regarded as the high point of the series -- and one of the greatest runs in superhero comics as a whole -- it wasn't a happy collaboration. The pair did not get along and frequently argued on characterization and plot. The series was created in the "Marvel method," which entailed the writer giving a rough plot outline to the artist, who would then draw all of the pages. The writer would go back in and add captions, dialogue and sound effects. Byrne hated what Claremont did to his work -- overlaying his drawings with overstuffed word balloons and giving characters different motivations. The last straw was when Byrne drew Colossus ripping a stump out of the ground effortlessly (in issue #140) and Claremont added verbiage about the difficulty of the task. It seems like nothing, but it was enough to make Byrne quit the book.

Why'd They Make This Movie?

Well, to make money, obviously -- but also to help build a cinematic universe. Fox is intent on having the X-Men serve as the cornerstone of a franchise as big as Disney's made the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Days Of Future Past works as a link between the current-era X-films (most recently, The Wolverine) and the early days as seen in X-Men: First Class. By unifying everything into a cohesive timeline, they're able to lay the groundwork for upcoming spinoffs like X-Men: Apocalypse (which is being billed as a First Class sequel), Wolverine 3, the Gambit solo film and X-Force. Expect these films to have lots of nods and winks for continuity buffs and teasers for upcoming movies after the credits.

Where does Days of Future Past rank in your favorite X-Men story arcs? Do you think the film will do it justice? Let us know in the comments!

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