Writers: Chris Claremont (X-Men), Louise Simonson (X-Factor)
Pencilers: Marc Silvestri (X-Men), Walter Simonson (X-Factor)
Inkers: Dan Green/Hilary Barta (X-Men), Al Milgrom (X-Factor)
Colorists: Glynis Oliver (X-Men), Tom Vincent (X-Factor)
Letters: Tom Orzechowski (X-Men), Joe Rosen (X-Factor)
Editor: Bob Harras
Manipulations and revelations; those are likely the two best words to describe the main themes of this chapter of Inferno and the two are quite intertwined. Throughout this issue, the reader is exposed to Madelyne’s manipulations with Havok (feelings/emotions), with Dazzler & Longshot (insecurities and ego), Angel (Apocalypse-instilled darkness), and of the family as it pertains to these Children of Xavier.
Although, save Cyclops and Havok, these individuals don’t compromise a blood-family they’re all individuals bound by the Dream of Xavier around which the concept of the X-Men was founded. They may share a chromosomal anomaly that gifted them with powers, but as evidenced by legion of evil mutants, it’s not Nature that is their bond, rather the Nurture of the Dream that’s their point of connection. It is through that bond that Madelyne has attempted to divide Xavier’s children.
Thanks to her prodding, the two teams again come to blows with X-Men repeatedly calling X-Factor “mutant hunters”. In their initial incarnation, the five original X-Men publicly posed as mutant hunters to “capture” young mutants and train them in their use of their powers ala Xavier. In X-Factor #21, Cyclops ended that charade with the dismissal of publicist Cameron Hodge (Angel’s college roommate later revealed to be a mutant-hating villain who made his own deal with N’astirh and who Archangel ultimately beheaded) and in Fall of the Mutants X-Factor became a hero to the people of NYC.
In UXM #242 members of the X-Men use the “mutant hunter” slur towards X-Factor but it is here that we learn how it’s because of Madelyne’s manipulations that this outdated perception exists. Storm, engaged in combat with Cyclops, tells him how they trusted Maddie to feed them the news from the outside world once they settled into the Outback base. Just as her origins were a result of manipulation, so too was the twisted news Maddie fed the X-Men to drive a wedge between two units that would likely stand united when they eventually crossed paths.
In Claremontian fashion, this fight between two team leaders harkens back to their clash in UXM #201 when a de-powered Storm defeated Cyke for leadership of the team. Madelyne herself notes how she experienced that fight as “…a daydream in which I got my heart’s desire” and credits the awakening of her nascent powers for influencing the outcome. This serves either as another example of Claremont’s long-form storytelling or a writer logically twisting his own past tales to fit the present narrative.
Now while the entire Inferno event has a strong theme of identity running through it, that theme (along with revelation) really takes precedent within the confines of Maddie’s force bubble. Madelyne’s identity crisis is perfectly encapsulated with Maddie’s words to Jean, “everything is its own self…individual…except me”.
Inside the bubble, the genetic twins engage in a massive back-and-forth info dump over origins and their shared aspects, particularly that of Annie Richardson. In this Jean tells (I believe for the first time) of how she rejected the Phoenix from within her healing cocoon as the Force attempted to return to her.
From how the Phoenix Force turned to Maddie after Jean’s rejection to how Sinister used her as a “brood mare” to create Nathan Christopher, everything about Maddie’s identity has been stripped away. Even her identity as a mother is false and, though her own actions throughout Inferno have screamed it, Jean further points out how little the baby apparently means to Maddie since she could have had Roma send her to Nathan but she chose to stay with the X-Men. The Goblin Queen’s total disregard for his son is further illustrated as she tosses him into the air as a skeet target.
When that fails, Maddie turns to a murder-suicide as she wills her own death, while linked to Jean in an attempt to kill them both. It’s a situation reminiscent of the Annie Richardson memory but this is Maddie attempting to end it all rather than a tragic accident. The saving grace ironically proves to be the Phoenix entity, or at least the piece of it housed within Maddie. It pulls Jean from the edge of death but at what cost to her?
That question is one to be resolved elsewhere as, with Maddie’s death, we see how much in control of the Inferno she actually was because it is only with her demise that both NYC, and Jean’s parents, revert to normal. The X-Men however stay transformed and the effects on that team seem potentially more enduring particularly with Havok and Longshot who both demand solitude from their teammates.
So with one loose string left to tie-up, the two units set their sights on tracking down Mr. Sinister and, as the teaser says, “It all goes back to X-Men #1”!
A note on the art: I think it imperative to point out how much the art of Walter Simonson accentuates the demonic taint of Inferno. As opposed to the cleaner style of Marc Silvestri, Walter’s art makes both the members of the teams and the environment that has been touched by Inferno appear more twisted. The faces of Wolverine and Psylocke turn into shadows, Storm’s wardrobe is depicted in tatters, the changes to Angel after Maddie’s kiss, these are all artistic flourishes that are not similar to Silvestri’s half of this story but they go quite a way towards visualizing the changes Inferno wrought.
UNCANNY X-MEN #243
Thematically, it seems appropriate that this chapter of the story is entitled “Ashes” given how, back at the close of #241, Maddie told Sinister she would turn his ambitions into ashes; also appropriate given that the other UXM chapters of Inferno were entitled “Fan the Flames” and “Burn.”
With both X-Teams trying to pick up the pieces and make sense of Maddie’s death, and as a hesitant Cyclops debates, even holding his own son, Jean Grey is once again locked in a force bubble alongside the corpse of Madelyne Pryor. Psylocke, using her telepathic powers, enters Jean’s mind and once more we are confronted by questions of identity as the very memories of Jean/Madelyne are decimated by a psychic avatar of Mr. Sinister (although the X-Teams don’t know his identity yet). It is pointed out by Psylocke though that the memories being destroyed are Maddie’s not Jean’s, evidence that, in a fashion similar to how the Phoenix shared Jean’s memories with Maddie, Maddie’s are now within Jean’s mind (further throwing the identity issues into question).
The memory trails leads to a virtual Xavier Mansion which is being defended by an avatar whose identity keeps fluidly shifting between Jean (in her various garbs over the years) and Maddie. As the Maddie avatar remains distraught over her own clone-based origins, the Jean-avatar demonstrates her fears over developing having her own identity free from Phoenix/Maddie. Sinister shows up to shatter more memories and then offers an out, a clean slate so to speak, for the Jean/Maddie entity which is rejected wholeheartedly.
A quick aside that must be noted, Psylocke also makes note that when the group enters Jean’s mind, their psychic avatars manifest the changes wrought by the Inferno. The art doesn’t exactly reflect this with Wolverine or Psylocke but it is quite evident in Storm’s appearance. This would be a great example of how Simonson’s art evoked things that Silvestri’s does not and also is left as a dangling question for Claremont to play with post-Inferno.
As noted at the close of the last chapter, it all comes back to X-Men #1 when the team learns Sinister has set-up base at the Xavier Mansion. In particular there is a panel with Sinister sitting at a decimated table, telling Polaris/Malice to alert the other Marauders that, for me at least, harkens back to that 1963 debut issue. The only thing missing from the moment to truly bring it full circle, although it certainly would have been too cutesy, would be Sinister saying “To me my Marauders”…
With their arrival at the mansion (the X-Men’s first trip here since just after the Mutant Massacre, Jean’s first since her “death”, Cyclops’ first since UXM #201), our overriding identity theme continues to unfold in various forms with assorted members of our cast. Scott commenting on how bloodthirsty Jean seems leads to a remark that Madelyne is a part of her now, Havok’s almost passive reaction to his execution of the Marauder Blockbuster, how the battle between Psylocke and Sabretooth contrasts their earlier battle in UXM #213, and Longshot’s fears over how N’astirh destroyed the man’s sense of self are all evident of the massive identity crisis that is beginning to set-in with Jean and members of the X-Men. For Havok that execution was a payoff to a plotline brewing since the initial Reaver story and particularly emphasized during the Brood arc while for Longshot, his conflicts will continue to linger for some time.
We also see the changes in our mutants coming to light in Storm’s response to Malice as the X-Men’s leader when she is willing to risk the life of Polaris in order to separate the Malice entity from Lorna. This is not something that’s part of Inferno’s influence but rather a path we have seen Storm increasingly willing to go down. It’s similar to her judge, jury, and executioner speech to Cyclops from the previous issue of UXM. Fortunately for Malice, and perhaps for Storm’s own conscience, before anything can be done the Xavier Mansion that has housed X-Men since the beginning is blown up by Sinister.
The final chapter of Inferno, entitled “Ashes to Ashes”, opens with the image below and immediately the identity question is at the forefront with Longshot serving as the X-Team’s saving grace.
Longshot’s internal conflict has twisted his luck; where it once came from a pure place of a desire to help, he says it is now about fear and rage and as a result, no luck for Longshot. Longshot is not alone in this attempt to stop Sinister thankfully, as he is assisted by Beast who, in a little creative snafu, appears in that above image despite Sinister commenting to Beast he noted his absence.
The traumas of childhood rear their head and are played out in the dynamic between Mr. Sinister and Cyclops. The villain, in a manner very unlike prior portrayals of him, taunts Scott like a schoolyard bully. Calling him a sissy, Cyke uncharacteristically reacts in much the same fashion as a kid would when trying to stand up to a bully. Even Scott, unable to fire his optic blasts for some reason, realizes that neither his nor Sinister’s reactions are normal and notes that it all seems familiar.
Although the word bully isn’t used here, Sinister’s actions are exactly that, and it is the second time in Inferno that “bully” has been directed at Scott. Back in X-Factor #37 Madelyne made reference to the name Nathan being that of the bully Scott was tormented by in his orphanage. The details of that part of Cyclops’ history do not come to light until back-up stories featured in Classic X-Men #41 & #42 flesh out Scott’s early days and include the bully Nate.
Still this story is not without its revelations as, after Rogue’s attempt to absorb Sinister finds her co-opted by him, Cyclops looks upon her flashbacks to the orphanage are triggered. As they did in UXM #243, revelations unfold again as we learn of Sinister’s involvement in Scott Summers early days and just like Madelyne, how manipulated he has been from the start.
From S’ym to N’astirh to Sinister to Madelyne herself, manipulation has been one of the main themes of this event and, in a very logical fashion Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson have managed to retrofit these massive manipulations into existing continuity. Kudos to them…
The conceit of family once again rears its head as it’s only the combined efforts of both X-Teams that a rescue can be made. Still, it’s a rescue mission nearly derailed when our broken identities theme turns Longshot’s luck for the worse leading Sinister to recapture Jean.
It is only when Cyclops, super-charged by Havok, sees Sinister kissing Jean that he finally breaks his bonds (i.e. childhood trauma) and unleashes the most powerful optic blast in his life, leaving nothing left of Sinister but bones. This “death” would stay intact for about three years until X-Factor #74 when Peter David would bring the character back with zero explanation if I recall.
In the aftermath of defeating the big bad, it is interesting how Havok refers to the X-Teams as “…twelve of Sinister’s peers” because, whether intentional or not on the part of Louise Simonson, The Twelve had developed into an X-World mystery ever since Master Mold told Cyclops he was one of The Twelve in X-Factor #14. Apparently The Twelve were the mutants around whom other mutants would gather and it would somehow shape the future. More on this in later entries because, given the jury-like context in which Havok uses the word “twelve”, I don’t think it is an intentional thing on behalf of the writer, more coincidental than anything else.
With the obvious threats resolved, the two teams of Xavier’s children come to a truce and an agreement that while “dreams don’t die,” each team has a different role to play in making the dream come true. The family bond that Madelyne attempted to manipulate to shreds actually ended up pulling together in the face of ultimate tragedy…
As the X-Men teleported back to Australia, it’s important to note how given the nature of comics and particularly how the X-Books were handled at the time, this was all a story far from over. The fallout is something that never ends it simply continues to unfold over the subsequent issues of all books.
For example, although she was an Uncanny X-Men character primarily, the story of Madelyne Pryor and the ramifications of her mind-meld with Jean Grey are explored in the pages of X-Factor for quite some as are the issues with Cyclops figuring out his identity post-Sinister’s revelations. Meanwhile the fallout from Inferno, as well as the lingering effects it has on the members of that team, is explored within the pages of UXM and sets the stage for the massive changes on the horizon.
What consequences will come from Longshot, Dazzler, and Havok’s twisted identities? What are the “more than cosmetic” effects of the Inferno to which Psylocke referred whilst inside Jean’s mind? What is the team’s identity coming out of this event considering the mass manipulations that led them there?
The answers to those questions will begin to come to light, while others will start to take shape, in the next chapter of the Outback Saga!