The Xavier Institute: Inferno, Part One

by Tony Thornley

As long as there’s been an “X-Men line” at Marvel, crossovers have been a big part of the line. The first was the Mutant Massacre, a story that fundamentally changed the line and it’s characters. Then came Fall of the Mutants, which was more of a theme than an actual crossover. And then came the story that’s going to be today’s topic (and my first multi-part column)- INFERNO.

At the time it was launched, Inferno was a big deal. Taking place over a whopping 17 series, it was momentous for many reasons. Up to this point, the closest Marvel had come to a crossover of this type was Secret Wars II, which was a limited series plus a loose assembly of appearances and moments with the Beyonder across the line. Crossovers before then were either relatively self contained miniseries with later ramifications (Secret Wars), contained to annuals (Evolutionary War) or merely thematic (Fall of the Mutants).

Inferno blew that up. This was huge. It included practically every major Marvel series. It was the culmination of YEARS of X-Men stories. The after effects were felt for decades afterwards. It was, simply put, a game changer. You could draw a direct line from the event culture of today’s superhero comics to this storyline.

Like I said, this is going to be a multipart column. I’m going to take a look at the main X-Men portions of the story this week and next (starting with X-Terminators and New Mutants, then X-Men and X-Factor), then two of the sequels- X-Infernus and Secret Wars: Inferno. So buckle in and let’s talk Inferno.

The X-Factor kids (Artie, Leech, Rusty, Skids, Rictor and Boom Boom) are beginning to go their separate ways. Rusty is surrendering to the military to serve his time for going AWOL and the damage done by his powers. The rest are headed to boarding schools.

Meanwhile, N’astirh and his demons are coming to Earth to kick off the demon’s invasion of Earth. To enable this, he needs to kidnap twelve human babies to perform the ritual. When his minions mistake Artie and Leech for babies, their schoolmate Wiz Kid recruits their friends to help rescue them.

Things escalate as Wiz Kid is also captured by N’astirh when his minions realize the boy could create a computer to help him in his spell. The other four kids stage a rescue operation, but they’re too late- the portal opens as the New Mutants return home from Limbo. The two groups combine to stop the demons and close the portal.

While this is happening, Colossus arrives to aid Magik in her final battle against N’astirh and Sym. The story ends with the portal getting sealed, Magik reverting to a more innocent time before she became the Darkchylde and the two groups deciding to stick together.

X-Terminators was a funny miniseries. The series was written my Louise Simonson, with pencils by Jon Bogdanove, inks by Al Milgrom and Al Williamson, color art by John Wellington and letters by Joe Rosen. It started by taking the kids taken in by X-Factor, paying off many of their plot threads left from that series, then spiraling into New Mutants, with the final issue literally taking place at the same time as the New Mutants Inferno tie-ins. Literally, the issues could be edited together.

The miniseries actually does a lot of heavy lifting for all the other core stories of the event. It sets up N’astirh’s plans. It contains the payoff. The demon invasion explodes in these pages. It’s a brisk and exciting story.

Where this story falls flats is its characters. The characters who get the most screentime are the least interesting or most unbearable. Introduced in these pages, Wiz Kid in particular is a difficult character. Even at his best, he’s unlikable, but through much of his pagetime, he’s insufferable- angry, arrogant, rude, and just a slog to read.

Meanwhile, the more interesting characters- Rictor and Boom Boom in particular- are somewhat pushed to the side. After issue #1, the four core characters basically operate as a unit in the entirety of the rest of the run. It’s a bit of wasted potential after the glimpses we see in issue #1.

As far as the art goes, Bogdanove does not get his due enough in the history of superhero comics. He has an excellent line, and is able to convey the action throughout wonderfully. He creates such an unsettling air over everything. His action scenes are great, his monsters are great, and the character moments are really well done.

The New Mutants chapters meanwhile are much more solid. Simonson writes these issues as well, with Bret Blevins and Williamson on line art, Glynis Oliver on color art and Rosen doing letters.

The biggest downside to these issues is that jumping in with the first New Mutants issue with Inferno on the cover is not a great starting point. The story starts en media res, but Simonson catches the reader up quickly and efficiently. The first Inferno tie-in issue is also a great action-oriented issue, while the rest of the storyline is able to filter a character study of Magik through a city-wide brawl between Illyana, Colossus, and S’ym.

Blevins’ art is the perfect companion. It’s cartoony enough to take the edge off the darkness present in this story. He takes the stakes and emotion though and just sells the hell out of it. The New Mutants are clearly overwhelmed, but determined throughout.

This is such a great showcase for Illyana Rasputin. I was honestly relatively unfamiliar with ‘Yana until recently but this story has rocketed her to the top of my favorites list. She’s such a fascinating, multi-faceted character, and this story shows why she should be be considered the X-Men’s A-list.

One big thing about this story (because even though it’s in two series, it’s really one story) that you need to expect- it is DARK. Lots of bystanders die, and the city itself is possessed by the evil of Limbo. Some of the writing is somewhat light, but don’t take the fun tone as being a light story. It has a happy ending but it is also dark as hell.

Overall, with all the bumps, this is still a must-read story for any X-Men fan. It’s not just a crucial part of continuity. It’s a good story, and I highly recommend it.

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