The Xavier Institute: Inferno, Part Two

by Tony Thornley

There’s a running joke in the X-Men fandom that Inferno went on forever. I think it started on Jay and Miles Xplain the X-Men, and really it’s the truth. This was a crossover that had seeds laid for it months, if not years, beforehand, and we are still seeing effects of it from time to time today. It’s one of those “it’s funny because it’s true” fandom in-jokes that I really didn’t get until recently.

Last time we talked about X-Terminators and New Mutants, the one-two punch that addressed the threat of N’Astirh and resolving Illyana Rasputin’s time as the Darkchylde. This time we’re going to cover the MASSIVE X-Factor and X-Men side of the crossover. I don’t just mean massive in page count (because it is) but the ramifications are huge.

So today I’m going to be talking about X-Factor #33-40 and Uncanny X-Men #239-243. We could also include Uncanny #233-238, as there’s a little bit of a prelude there as well… but… well, let’s get that out of the way.

Uncanny #233-238 introduces the concept of Genosha. I’m going to save the main part of the story for another column. For a story that’s an apartheid satire, it’s surprisingly fun while keeping the commentary sharp and relevant. The portion of the story that’s relevant is that those issues are where Maddie Pryor breaks. She’s kidnapped by the Genoshan government, tortured, then escapes and we see our first full vision of the Goblyn Queen (though she’s nude at the time, so the full view is tastefully censored).

That carries into the Uncanny portion of the story, but first, we have the X-Factor prelude (#33-35) to look at. X-Factor at the time was written by Louise Simonson, with art by Walter Simonson and Bob Wiacek, color art by Petra Scotese and letters by Joe Rosen. There are also guest pencils and inks by Terry Shoemaker & Joe Rubenstein midway through the prelude.

X-Factor’s prelude is mostly a wrap up of previous plots, some down time, and some set-up for the X-Terminators mini series. The team gets to continue being heroes, while the kids spin off into their own adventures.

The big plot in the prelude has to do with Nanny and the Orphan Maker, the duo who keeps kidnapping mutant children. They turn their focus to several children close to X-Factor, and the team has to stop them. Meanwhile, there’s a subplot featuring weird stuff happening in New York City.

Inanimate objects are coming to life. A sweater tries to eat Boom Boom. Fire hydrants are yelling at people. Monstrous construction equipment tries to eat Beast and Iceman. It starts kind of funny, but it gets darker and darker throughout.

This is such a fun arc. Nanny and Orphan Maker might have been a bit of a joke in the past but they’re a legit threat here. In between the issues of that story is an Archangel spotlight (continuity buffs will note that Warren still hasn’t picked a new codename at this point, so technically he’s not Archangel). This is a fantastic depiction of what’s happened to Warren, and how he’s changed in the wake of his terrible trials in the course of the first couple years of the series.

In Uncanny X-Men #239, written by Chris Claremont, art by Marc Silvestri & Dan Green, color art by Glynis Oliver, and letters by Tom Orzechowski, the team spends some time recovering from their previous mission. Dazzler dazzles Longshot (sorry, couldn’t resist). Storm confronts Wolverine about Jean Grey’s return. Rogue, Colossus and Psylocke train. And most importantly, Havok has angst and finds himself in his sister-in-law’s arms. After their tryst, Maddie embraces the evil growing with her, and takes command of the forces of Limbo.

I love the downtime X-Men issues throughout the franchise’s history. This is a very different version of that trope considering the team’s new headquarters, but Claremont has a lot of fun with that. He takes advantage of the setting, and the relatively new line-up to keep it feeling like “same old, same old.”

Silvestri and Green here hit their stride. In the previous arc their work was a lot more sketchy and loose. Here we start to see the penciller that Silvestri turns into. The credit page is fantastic, a full page splash of Dazzler striding into an Outback dive bar. Alison looks gorgeous, and it’s jaw dropping.

From here, the crossover kicks into full swing starting with X-Factor #39. As Scott and Jean return to New York from saving babies from Nanny, they’re attacked and find themselves in an altered, demonic New York. Hank and Bobby find themselves on the street level, stopping the demonic things and saving lives. Lastly, Warren finds himself drawn back to New York to stop the demons who aided Cameron Hodge in the kidnap and murder of his longtime paramour, Candy Southern.

It erupts into a full-blown brawl through the demonically possessed city, with each party fighting their own battles until they finally come together. The portal seen in X-Terminators and New Mutants bursts open, and they team springs to action.

Meanwhile in Uncanny #240 and 241, Alex and Maddie’s romance continues as Gateway drops them in New York for a date. Alex ignores the signs that something strange is going on after they return home, but Maddie quickly returns to New York and begins her invasion. The X-Men meanwhile track the Mauraders to New York and attack their foes. They quickly are pulled into the demonic thrall of the invasion of the city and fall into darkness.

This finally leads into the teams coming face to face. X-Factor is battling through the demons to save Baby Nathan, in Maddie’s possession, while the corrupted X-Men defend her. X-Factor is able to somewhat break their hold on all but Havok, leading to a great fight between the teams and demons, and even better between Jean and Maddie. Finally, with the demons and Maddie defeated the teams have one final confrontation… with one of the masterminds of the events we’ve just read, Mister Sinister…

So there’s a lot of unpack there. There is so much story happening across this event. My only gripe, I think, is that fall of Madelyne Prior. Maddie, in my opinion, deserved better than this. Goblyn Queen is a great villain though, if you mentally acknowledge that Maddie and Goblyn Queen are basically two completely different characters.

Creatively-wise, this story had some highs and lows. Really, it’s a good story for most of its length. At some points though, it’s less good.

The Simonsons are at their best here. X-Factor is probably the first time the concept of a purely superhero X-Men team had been executed since Giant Sized X-Men #1. I think using the original five as those heroes works. These are pure superhero comics, with the team defending innocents and putting their individual wants behind everything else.

Louise’s script just sings. I was mostly familiar with her thanks to her extended Superman run before getting into classic X-Men more and more recently. This story shows a lot of the same strengths of those stories I loved as a kid. There’s great character work here, but the pendulum doesn’t swing too far away from what kind of book this is – the character work happens in the midst of the action.

This is especially true of Angel’s arc. Warren Worthington is clearly a lost soul here, and he battles those demons along with the literal ones. He sees his former best friend murder his girlfriend and it breaks him. This isn’t murder as motivation, but as an act of cruelty. It’s heartbreaking, and you cheer for Warren to recover from it.

As the Uncanny side of the equation, generally speaking the issues are very good. The art is great throughout, like I pointed out with the prelude issue. Silvestri was still young and finding his style, but this story arc is really where he finds himself. It simply looks consistently great.

As for the script… while we don’t get Claremont fully indulging his excesses, it comes close. The exposition can get heavy handed, and clunky. Generally though, this is good X-Men comics.

It’s not the best comics you can find in the X-Men catalog, but these are a highly enjoyable batch of issues. It’s also a capital “I” important story in the catalog. It’s not a struggle for mutant rights, but a pretty straight superhero story. Sometimes the line needs that, and it works so well in that regards.

X-Men Inferno is available as a trade collection in stores, and a digital collection from your favorite digital comics seller.

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