Days of Future Past: comics and history

Comic books are deceivingly complex cultural artifacts. The artform combines narrative and visual art to construct vivid – though often fantastical – realms. At worst, they offer readers a whimsical escape from reality; at best, they reflect that reality. This essay contextualizes the publication of one comic in particular, to demonstrate the utility of comics as historical sources and as vehicles to broaden social justice discourse. Days of Future Past, published in 1981 as a double issue in Marvel Comic’s Uncanny X-Men, attempts to make sense of the American social landscape at the dawn of the Reagan era. This dystopian narrative uses historical analysis (in the form of time travel) to explore the roots of oppressive structures that mirror concurrent real-world developments, such as the rise of the carceral state. In historical context, the comic reads as an allegory of social transformation in New York City under the Reagan Administration as well as a commentary on the role of radicalism in the pursuit of justice.