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Friday, July 11, 2014

X-amining X-Factor #36

"Transformation"
January 1989

In a Nutshell 
X-Factor battles the demonic Inferno in Manhattan. 

Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciler: Walt Simonson
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Petra Scotese
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Beast and Iceman are battling possessed objects in Manhattan, as Trish Tilby reports on the state of the city. During a break in the action, Trish and Beast talk, with Trish unsettled by Beast's recent transformation. Just then, she and her cameraman are eaten by a demonic subway. Elsewhere, N'astirh muses on his manipulation of Madelyne Pryor, then appears before Death, sensing the darkness within him and attempting to sway him to N'astirh's side. When Death learns N'astirh empowered Hodge, he vows to unleash his evil on the demon. Meanwhile, Cyclops and Marvel Girl, telepathically following the cries of Cyclops' son, arrive in Manhattan as Beast and Iceman manage to climb aboard the subway which ate Trish. Cyclops and Marvel Girl are attacked by a possessed jetliner, while Iceman and Beast manage to stop the subway when it tries to cross the Manhattan Bridge.


They help the passengers get free, and then Beast and Trish team up to electrocute the monster. Elsewhere, Cyclops and Marvel Girl, having lost contact with Christopher, eject from their plane as they see a massive pentagram appear in the sky above the city, followed by a portal from which thousands of demons spew. Seeing the portal themselves, Beast and Iceman head in its direction, but not before Trish kisses Hank, admitting he's not the guy she knew before, but is a guy she'd like to know better. Beset by demons and possessed objects, X-Factor reunites on the streets of the city, and are almost overwhelmed when Death arrives to turn the tide. Suddenly, Marvel Girl makes contact with Christopher again, and realizes that the demons are now prepared to eat him. Together, X-Factor rushes off to save him.

Firsts and Other Notables
Warren/Angel/Dark Angel/Death more or less rejoins the team this issue, having decided to target N'astirh and his demons for helping empower Hodge and thus bring about Candy's death. The name "Archangel" still hasn't been suggested as his new codename, so we'll go with "Dark Angel" until then, now that's he back on the team and no longer an estranged Horseman.  


The Chronology Corner
Much of this issue run concurrently to X-Terminators #3, with N'astirh appearing here between pages of that issue. 


A Work in Progress
In a one-page monologue, N'astirh admits that he's using Maddy to further his own ends as much as she thinks she's using him.


This issue confirms that Dark Angel did indeed cut of Hodge's head in issue #34, as we see both the body and the head not quite where it should be.


N'astirh notes that Death's wings seem to have a soul of their own. 


Somewhat comically, it appears that Cyclops and Marvel Girl are wearing safety helmets while flying their jet. Safety first!


The Empire State Building's growth is noted once again.


The pentagram made of babies created at the end of X-Terminators #3 is seen by the members of X-Factor, followed by the demon-spewing portal that appeared in X-Terminators #4.


The Reference Section
On the opening splash page, a demonic hot dog cart tries to eat Calvin and Hobbes. 


Young Love
Trish spends much of the issue coming to terms with Beast's new look, starting off unsettled by the transformation, not because of the blue fur, but because of how seemingly-different the brash, jocular Beast is to the more gentle, simplistic one she got to know.


Specifically, she realizes it's Beast's constant chatter during battle that unnerves her, as it suggests he isn't taking the threat seriously.


By the end of the issue, after helping him defeat the possessed train, Trish decides she'd like to get this version of Beast better. 


Teebore's Take
Much like X-Men #240, which was an "Inferno" issue but seemed primarily concerned with the Marauders rematch, this issue is set against the backdrop of the demonic invasion (and features Cyclops and Marvel Girl continuing to track down Christopher) but chiefly uses that setting as a vehicle to address the Beast/Trish relationship in the wake of Beast's recent return to being blue & furry. It's a situation that needed to be addressed, and also presents an interesting take on Beast: a bit like Spider-Man, he uses his seemingly-comical banter during a fight to downplay the severity of a situation, even while internally he's taking it all very seriously (I can't say for sure if this is the first time such a notion has been suggested for the character, but it's the first time in awhile).

Whether all of this needed to come out in the first part of a big crossover is debatable (though there is some thematic parallels between Beast looking demonic but acting heroically while normal elements of the city are acting demonically), but it does feature a fairly significant event in Dark Angel's reunion with the team (ending the somewhat fractured feel of the book's inter-crossover lineup), and at least X-Factor, like X-Men, has an extra issue devoted to "Inferno", allowing the more significant events to unfold in future issues while making the less "Inferno"-centric elements of this issue not feel like a lost opportunity.

Next Issue
Next week, the first batch of "Inferno" tie-in issues, followed by the "Inferno"-less Excalibur #4 and Wolverine #3.

16 comments:

  1. On the opening splash page, a demonic hot dog cart tries to eat Calvin and Hobbes.

    Ah. I tink ve can pinpoint the one deeply traumatizing experience behind all those morbid snowmen and imagining inanimate objects alive.

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  2. Reading my sister this crossover took 5 parts. Part 1 was a lengthy prologue explaining the characters and stories leading to Inferno, centering on Scott, Jean, and Illyana.

    Part 2 began with X-Terminators and ended with the cliffhanger of the opening Earth/Limbo portal: Whiz Kid worrying about how he can save everyone (XT3), Illyana becoming the Darkchylde and opening the portal (NM71), Scott and Jean seeing demons diving upon them (XF36), the X-Men coming to surface (UXM240), and N'astirh's coda to Illyana about love and demons (NM71).

    I know all this is confusing, constantly switching from one scene in one comic to another scene of another comic (and so on...) dealing with the same event, but such multiple viewpoints of one story is one of the things I liked about 1980s comic crossovers.

    Beast's personality quirks were given explanations. In AVENGERS#161, during Henry Pym breakdown#3 (becoming Ant-Man attacking the team), Beast is confronted about being humorous. When Janet apologizes, Hank seriously comments that sometimes it's very hard being a beast.
    Later, J.M. DeMatties' DEFENDERS#116 had Hank having a talk with girlfriend Vera about why he acts the way he acts: It's all an act. Feeling awkward about his noticeable mutant body, Hank developed a way to deal with it: creating these personas to please people while protecting himself. First he was the human genius with the vernacular. Then, when he transformed, the furry clown. As he comments to Vera, he really doesn't know the real person.

    As one commented in the Powell discuss-a-thon, Trish's accepting Beast's furry form here makes her later Morrison break-up rather OOC. So you dump your boyfriend because he looks like a scary beast with people talking about it? So you never encountered such things back then?

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  3. This issue really kicks the Maddie-bashing into high gear. First we have N'astirh saying how he never would have been able to corrupt Scott like he did Maddie, then we have Jean saying what a horrible woman Maddie was and criticizing Scott for marrying her.

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  4. Because of the speed at which the X-Men can get anywhere on Earth using the Blackbird, it was kind of funny to see the X-Factor jet flying toward the WTC in the first scene with Scott and Jean and then be only about ten feet closer a few pages later.

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  5. Yeah, I've seen that general explanation for Beast's attitude before, but Simonson does a fine job (re)articulating it. This whole issue reads leagues above the usual on this series to me, in fact. I wonder if having to map out the plots for X-Factor, New Mutants, and X-Terminators properly, syncing them with one another as well as with Uncanny, put a good kind of creative pressure on her, or even if she felt the need to step up her game now that she'd be more directly compared to Claremont's work on the flagship as readers who might not have picked up all the regular titles did so for Inferno.

    Pentagram Made Of Babies is my new band name.

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  6. I both rue & lament Googling "Pentagram Made Of Babies".

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  7. "N'astirh muses on his manipulation of Madelyne Pryor"

    Was there ever a given explanation as to why N'astrah and S'ym chose Maddie and Cameron Hodge to be their accomplices? Other than for obvious plot reasons, I mean.

    "Warren/Angel/Dark Angel/Death more or less rejoins the team this issue, having decided to target N'astirh and his demons for helping empower Hodge and thus bring about Candy's death."

    I love how everyone is all smiling and laughing at his news that Candy is dead and that he killed Hodge. Sheesh, and they say the Uncanny team is "dark"...granted, there wasn't enough panel space to deal with their reactions, but still.

    Simonson's art is starting to look a bit weak here, and doesn't get better during the rest of the crossover.

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  8. In Hodge's case, we saw in X-Factor 32 that he contacted N'astirh and made a deal with him.

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  9. It was easy to manipulate/corrupt Madelyne she really had only lived for a few years, despite her physical age. In a lot of ways its like the corruption of Illyana as a kid.

    Madelyne also had the un-manifested potential of Jean and at least a fraction of the Phoenix Force within her.

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  10. @Branden- There are two problems with that. The first is that Maddie never was easy to manipulate or corrupt before- in other words, Maddie was evil Because Simonson Said So. The other is that it was also easy for the demons to corrupt Meggan- does that mean Meggan is really a five-year old?

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  11. @Anonymous: For most of her "life" she thought she was something she wasn't. Having your husband abandon you for his resurrected girlfriend and slowly finding out you were a clone of her might un-hinge you. Madelyne was tricked into making a choice she didn't know she was making by S'ym at a moment of weakness.

    I cant think of any situations where Maddie was in a position to be manipulated, and I image demons are particularly good at that.

    I'm not sure why you are relating Meggan's turn with Maddie's, but wasn't Meggan's thing that she was affected by the emotions of people around her?

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  12. Can't say I'm happy to hear that there's apparently no reveal yet to unfold linking S'ym and N'astirh to Mister Sinister... I thought I'd hold off on asking about it until reading the rest of the storyline, but I've been hoping the Limbo faction hadn't just, y'know, happened to lure in the clone of Jean Grey, especially since that's on top of N'astirh gathering mutant babies at the same time as Nanny and the Orphan Maker. N'astirh does lead Maddie to Sinister at the end of Uncanny #240, so perhaps I'm totally misunderstanding the comments above. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

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  13. @Blam
    Totally agree that the combo of the Limbo demons and Mister Sinister never seemed to be a good fit to me. (Although maybe I'm forgetting the part where they explain some kind of loose connection-- it's been awhile since I read Inferno all the way through.)

    Even with an explanation, this crossover always felt to me like a combination of random elements, especially when you add in the slapsticky (though admittedly fun) aspect of a demonic New York City attacking its inhabitants.

    And I never really understood who N'astirh was or why another random Limbo demon was necessary, although I'll admit I was never paying very close attention.

    I do agree with a poster on a different thread who mentions that this is the best part of Louise Simonson's New Mutants run. My one caveat to that is that, while it's a fittingly moving ending for Illyana, I would have preferred her to get a sendoff that felt like it "belonged" to her more, rather than being just a side element of a crossover that really belongs to Sinister, Scott/Jean and Maddy.

    On the other hand now that I think about it-- and yes, there are three hands-- Magik's bigger storyline does have some really loose thematic elements linking it to Maddy's, which I guess adds a nice unifying element to the whole thing.

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  14. Blam: Can't say I'm happy to hear that there's apparently no reveal yet to unfold linking S'ym and N'astirh to Mister Sinister... I thought I'd hold off on asking about it until reading the rest of the storyline, but I've been hoping the Limbo faction hadn't just, y'know, happened to lure in the clone of Jean Grey

    I have to say I'm so totally not with you on this one. The one thing that ruined Spawn for me was that instead of Jason Wynn's ordered assassination of Al Simmons and Al's subsequent deal with Malebolgia being totally unrelated things to each other, Wynn and Malebolgia were apparently in shady dealings with each other beforehand to the extent that killing Al was pretty much a built-to-order job by Malebolgia.

    Because, comics. Things do "just happen". It did come as kind of a shock to Mr Sinister when he was to find out that his machines has limits, and Maddie doesn't. It's awesome really how the great reveal of his master plan is kind of ruined by totally unaccounted-for-happenstance of the demons taking over the Manhattan just then.

    I mean, carbon copy Jean Grey and leave her running around unguarded and expect her not to get tempted by limitless powers? That's a mistake to be made by ten-year-olds, not scheming masterminds. (wink)

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  15. Ben: And I never really understood who N'astirh was or why another random Limbo demon was necessary, although I'll admit I was never paying very close attention.

    I've seen suggestions that big part of it would have been the fact that originally S'ym, the Belasco henchman, was a blatant spoof of Dave Sim's Cerebus, and that while Sim had little problem with that it was completely another thing when S'ym suddenly was supposed to the cover boy and the big bad in a major crossover. Thus, enter demon brother from another mother.

    Being a proponent of creator-owner comics, Sim-written Spawn #10 is a bit of a classic in the meta-commentary category with its panel of very recognizable hands of Big 2 superheroes whose creators gave their rights away reaching out from between prison bars.

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  16. @Blam: I think that N'astrah was created distinctly from S'ym in order to give the X-Men someone to fight. It makes thematic sense for Illyana to overcome S'ym on her own away from the X-Men, just like Illyana beat Balasco on her own.

    @Ben: I see "Inferno" as being 95% about Illyana. The rest resolves the Scott/Jean/Madelyne storyline, while all the major players are just in the background.

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