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Friday, July 25, 2014

X-amining X-Factor #37

"A Matter of Honor"
February 1989

In a Nutshell 
X-Factor battles the Goblin Queen 

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

Plot
In New York, X-Factor battles demons while on the trail of Cyclops' infant son Christopher. They draw nearer just as a demon delivers him to N'astirh. He then teleports away with the child, only to return moments later, joined by Madelyne in her Goblin Queen attire. Calling out Cyclops for abandoning her and their son, she attacks the team. X-Factor defends themselves, but holds back from harming Madelyne at Cyclops' insistence. When Madelyne realizes Marvel Girl is sharing the baby's thoughts, she blasts her, but N'astirh blocks the attack, hoping to keep X-Factor alive longer, in order to continue to goad and enrage Madelyne. She turns on her ally, declaring she is no longer his puppet. N'astirh teleports away, not caring what she is, so long as she does what he's set her to do: sacrifice her son to unleash his power and blast a permanent hole to Limbo.


Turning her attention back to X-Factor, she declares that she intends to destroy her child, the thing Cyclops loves most, and all his hopes along with him. Realizing Madelyne needs to be stopped any way they can, Cyclops orders X-Factor to spare Madelyne if they can, but to save his son no matter what. As they attack the Goblin Queen, she triggers a massive explosion, sending the team hurtling into the ground. As the dust settles in the crater her blast created, they see Madelyne standing on the edge, in her normal guise, asking why Cyclops is trying to take her baby from her. Just then, Marvel Girl feels a hand on her shoulder, as Wolverine declares he's confirming what his other senses are telling him, making sure that she's real.  

Firsts and Other Notables
Madelyne appears in person for the first time in the series since issue #1, finally confronting Cyclops and the rest of X-Factor over Cyclops' abandonment of her, while Jean Grey and Madelyne meet for the first time. 


The ending of this issue teases the long-awaited reunion between X-Factor and the X-Men, though the bulk of that reunion occurs in Uncanny X-Men #242. 


N'astirh's overall plan for Madelyne, hinted at in Uncanny X-Men #241, is made clear: he needs her to sacrifice her son atop the Empire State Building in order to permanently bond Earth with Limbo.

It's noted that Cyclops' son is named for his grandfathers, and Madelyne says that he never liked the name Nathan because it reminded him of his childhood bully, which explains why he and Jean usually refer to the boy as Christopher. However, by the time the whole "Cable is Cyclops' son from the future" business is revealed, Cable will use the name Nathan exclusively. 


The Chronology Corner
N'astirh appears here to receive Christopher, then disappears to give him to Madelyne as seen in Uncanny X-Men #241, at which point Madelyne, baby in tow, shows up to battle X-Factor, and N'astirh follows along behind her.

The ending of this issue leads directly into Uncanny X-Men #242.

A Work in Progress
With the portal between Limbo and Earth closed (thanks to events in X-Terminators #4 and New Mutants #72), Marvel Girl notes that the demon effect is lessening.


Reiterating what he said in New Mutants #72, the techno-organic N'astirh declares he is now comprised of magic.


N'astirh notes that it was easy to subvert Madelyne to his will.


Beast sheds his yellow-and-brown X-Factor costume in this issue, presumably to make his movements less restrictive while battling demons, but it's the last time we'll see him in it.


It's stressed that Madelyne's current villainous actions are a result of her manipulation by N'astirh, saying he distorted her.


Beast and Iceman perform a slightly-more literal fastball special of their own.


Marvel Girl encounters her demonically-transformed parents in this issue.


Teebore's Take
Despite only physically appearing in one previous issue of this series, Madelyne Pryor has loomed large over this book: Scott Summers uncharacteristic abandonment of her in issue #1 (and the subsequent ignorance of that fact in later issues) colored the disappointing early issues of the series as much as the ill-advised mutant hunter premise, and then the Simonsons ensured that throughout their rehabilitation of the series, the question of Cyclops' treatment of his wife was never left too far afield. Though her role as a villain, starting in this issue, probably burns too fast and too hot for consideration as one of the series' major arch villains, her long-awaited confrontation with the team in this issue feels momentous nonetheless.

Maddie's role in this crossover as a villain is problematic, to say the least, but there's complexity to it that keeps it captivating despite some of those problems. In this issue, even while we're rooting against her for wanting to sacrifice her son in a demonic ritual, we can't help but feel her rage towards the husband who abandoned her family, and the friends who, directly or indirectly, encouraged him to do so. While we can't ultimately root for Maddy to succeed (because, again, demonic infant sacrifice), nor are we being asked to, there's no denying that this issue feels like it was designed to serve as catharsis for those readers who felt Maddy got a raw deal by this series, an opportunity to share her rage at the title characters even while we're rooting for them to stop her evil plot. It's an interesting struggle between two vastly different narrative desires, and it adds some effective complexity to what could otherwise be a very one-note, and disappointing, heel-turn for a character who ultimately deserved better.    

Next Issue
Next week, we look at the second batch of "Inferno" tie-in issues, followed by Excalibur #5 and Wolverine #4.

14 comments:

  1. we can't help but feel her rage towards the husband who abandoned her family, and the friends who, directly or indirectly, encouraged him to do so.

    The whole book of Ex-Factor reads as a kind of allegory for the failing of a marriage. The husband and a father of a newborn concentrates on his career leaving his wife alone home, and strays to closeness with a female co-worker at the office, while the wife who hangs around with her no-good friends finally gives up to the demons of her felt alienation and bitterness upon learning of her husband's affair. Inferno is really about the divorce proceedings seen from Scott's biased viewpoint where he and his new love (unfairly) see the soon-to-be ex-wife as a total bitch going for to have his son completely removed from him in a harsh custody battle, with her own bad father-relationship contributing to it all in not good fashion.

    Scott Summers, the ex-man. The superheroics are really there only because Claremont's and Simonson's contracts demand it.

    Beast sheds his yellow-and-brown X-Factor costume in this issue, presumably to make his movements less restrictive while battling demons, but it's the last time we'll see him in it.

    You can't talk me out of the theory that the "clothes designer" who supposedly sent them the uniforms, complete with a rubin quartz visor, was none other than Gentlemens' Dressery of Mr. N. Essex. Yellow and brown is exactly what he thinks about Dr. McCoy's work in creating the Morlocks.

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  2. It's noted that Cyclops' son is named for his grandfathers

    I never really thought of it being grandfathers, plural. "Christopher" is, obviously, Corsair's given name. I guess "Nathaniel Essex", a.k.a. Mr. Sinister, would be considered his maternal grandfather (close enough, I guess). And since his full name is "Nathan Christopher Charles Summers", it seems they added Cyclops' other father figure, Charles Xavier, into the mix.

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  3. I just think Inferno goes on for way, way too long. It's, what, five issues each of X-Men and X-Factor, three issues of New Mutants, two (completely pointless and series-derailing) issues of Excalibur, plus X-Terminators, plus the countless tie-in issues? This is as much an example of crossover bloat as anything in the 90's, and at least most of the 90's crossovers were numbered so you cold actually follow all 15 parts.

    It has its fun moments, and of course much of what happens in it ends up having a lot of significance for the series, but it's meandering and overly-elaborate to the point where it really doesn't function as a story.

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  4. At what point did actually name the little thing? Didn't the Nathan name for him surface only after Goblyn Queen Maddie insisted calling him that during Inferno after the bully known as "Lefty" Scott knew from the orphanage? I have hazy recollection he would have been just Christopher Charles Summers originally, I doubt Scott would have accepted Nathan.

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  5. He's called Nathan Christopher Charles Summers for the first time in X-Men 239.

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  6. "Beast sheds his yellow-and-brown X-Factor costume in this issue, presumably to make his movements less restrictive while battling demons"

    That or W Simonson figured he looked better without it now that he's back to his blue fur look...

    "It's stressed that Madelyne's current villainous actions are a result of her manipulation by N'astirh, saying he distorted her."

    Which does make her lack of redemption all the more tragic.

    While Inferno isn't my favorite crossover, I don't find it too bloated. We get enough action and plot in each issue, and the build-ups in X-men and X-factor are done rather nicely. Yeah, the Excaliber issues are superfluous, but other than X-terminators, none of the other tie-ins are needed if you're just focusing on the main crossover.

    While the plot and story are fine, these issues aren't W Simonson's best work on the title. Not up to his usual standards. Maybe he and Wiacek just don't mesh well together?

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  7. This issue was a holy grail for me. None of my comic book stores had it, and Amazon.com did not sell comics yet. I had promised my sister to read this crossover as soon as I got the comic. Ten months later, I gave up and read the saga to her. Based on the clues, the deduced plotline for XF#37 I told my sister was that the X-Factor meet the Goblin Queen. She tries to kill them, and then she changes guises and the X-Men come in.

    When my comic book store went to a convention, I asked the employees to get me X-F#37 (plus ALL-STAR SQUADRON ANNUAL 2-3 and LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES "Great Darkness Saga" issues). I was pleased to find much of my deduced story was correct (except for Jean recognizing her demon-parents, I thought that happened in UXM#242).

    I originally thought Beast's lack of an outfit in UXM#242 was a continuity error. Surprised to know that wasn't the case.

    This might have been noted before, but note the flames on the Inferno sign: The first chapters: the flame is over the 'I'. The second chapters: the sign is half-engulfed. The final chapters: the sign is completely engulfed.

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  8. "It's noted that Cyclops' son is named for his grandfathers, and Madelyne says that he never liked the name Nathan because it reminded him of his childhood bully,"

    I always liked the irony in that line, talking about how Nathan is both Madelyne's father's name AND the kid from the orphanage's name. Well, of course: Same person.

    "While Inferno isn't my favorite crossover, I don't find it too bloated."

    I agree. Although actually, it might be MY favorite X-crossover. (You never forget your first.)

    "these issues aren't W Simonson's best work on the title. Not up to his usual standards. Maybe he and Wiacek just don't mesh well together?"

    Agreed, again. I think the next couple issues are inked by Al Milgrom though, so either *both* inkers didn't mess well with Walt or Walt is just having a bad couple of months. I hated the art on these issues as a kid, and in 25 years I haven't come around. (Whereas I *have* on Blevins.)

    "Yeah, the Excaliber issues are superfluous ... "

    ... Although I *love* Alan Davis' rendition of the super-tall Empire State building.

    "N'astirh appears here to receive Christopher, then disappears to give him to Madelyne as seen in Uncanny X-Men #241, at which point Madelyne, baby in tow, shows up to battle X-Factor, and N'astirh follows along behind her ..."

    I've actually read "Inferno" in chronological order (minus the X-Terminators issues, which I didn't have at the time), jumping around and reading a few issues of one comic than a few issues of another, and as far as I could see, it all worked.

    The only thing that seemed a little off was Wolverine noticing a scent at the end of X-Men 241 and saying, "We've got company, we've got trouble," and then his next moment being his arm coming in from off-panel at the end of X-Factor 37.

    If the "company/trouble" that he smelled was X-Factor, then that is a huge delay. (Nastirh is still green on the same page as Wolverine noticing the scent of "trouble," but he's red in X-Factor 37, which means all the events involving Nastirh's transformation occurred in between. Did Wolverine smell X-Factor from miles away, and the X-Men had to make some huge trek to reach them?

    Apart from that, though, it all fit together in a way that worked, at least for me.








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  9. @Teemu: Yellow and brown is exactly what he thinks about Dr. McCoy's work in creating the Morlocks.

    Heh.

    @Cerebro: I guess "Nathaniel Essex", a.k.a. Mr. Sinister, would be considered his maternal grandfather (close enough, I guess)

    Yeah, and I believe it's established somewhere that Madelyne's father (ie the man she believed to be her father via the false memories created for her by Mr. Sinister) is named Nathan. Although maybe that's something that came about retroactively because of the comment in this issue.

    @Ben: It's, what, five issues each of X-Men and X-Factor, three issues of New Mutants, two (completely pointless and series-derailing) issues of Excalibur, plus X-Terminators, plus the countless tie-in issues?

    Four issues of X-Factor, five of X-Men (assuming you count the #239 prologue, which I do). But one of the reasons I think it works better than some of the bloated 90s crossovers is that for as sprawling as it is, most of the story is still relatively self-contained.

    X-Men and X-Factor are really the only two titles that crossover directly - you could read just those two and get a full, complete story.

    Ditto just reading the three New Mutants issues - they tell a story that is enhanced by reading the other series, but is it still a complete story on its own.

    Of the tie-ins, really only X-Terminators is close to necessary reading - everything else is really just using "Inferno" as a backdrop for its stories, but very little, if anything, in the tie-ins is necessary for full understanding/enjoyment of the overall narrative.

    So someone could theoretically read everything and get a large, sprawling narrative, or just read part or all of the X-Books and still get a complete story that leaves you feeling like you're missing something.

    @wwk5d: That or W Simonson figured he looked better without it now that he's back to his blue fur look...

    Well, that's ultimately what I always assumed the motivation was, but I'm not sure why then he waited until issue #37 to do it, instead of just not bothering with it in #36, or telling Shoemaker not to use it in #35.

    Which does make her lack of redemption all the more tragic.

    Indeed. Usually in these kinds of stories, the distorted villain gets some kind of redemptive moment (like Hal Jordan restarting the sun back in the 90s after Parallax possessed him), but Maddie never really does. Claremont pays some lip service to her consciousness ultimately helping Jean battle Sinister in X-Men #243 IMS, but that's about it.

    Of course, the whole point of this story was to get rid of Madelyne once and for all, so that makes a redemptive moment all the harder to come by. Still, she could have gone out renouncing the demons and saving Christopher, or something.

    While the plot and story are fine, these issues aren't W Simonson's best work on the title. Not up to his usual standards. Maybe he and Wiacek just don't mesh well together?

    Wiacek's been inking him from the start of his run, for the most part, so I'm not sure that's it, though there's definitely something off about this issue and the next two (and, as Jason pointed out, Al Milgrom inks him shortly, and then the pencils REALLY look off, but that's what happens when you let Milgrom get his hands on the art).

    He leaves the book after #39; maybe he's just burnt out (or burning out) at this point? He's also writing Avengers at the moment, which I've heard was something of an editorial nightmare for him, so maybe that contributed?

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  10. @angmc43: This might have been noted before, but note the flames on the Inferno sign: The first chapters: the flame is over the 'I'. The second chapters: the sign is half-engulfed. The final chapters: the sign is completely engulfed.

    Holy crap. I've been reading these issues, off-and-on, for nearly two decades. And I've never noticed that before! That's pretty neat.

    @Jason: Although actually, it might be MY favorite X-crossover. (You never forget your first.)

    Indeed. That is why I will always have a great deal of affection for "X-Cutioners Song", flaws and all.

    If the "company/trouble" that he smelled was X-Factor, then that is a huge delay. (Nastirh is still green on the same page as Wolverine noticing the scent of "trouble," but he's red in X-Factor 37, which means all the events involving Nastirh's transformation occurred in between. Did Wolverine smell X-Factor from miles away, and the X-Men had to make some huge trek to reach them?

    That's what makes N'astirh's appearance in #241 between leaving Madelyne and returning to her with the baby so problematic, to the point where I think maybe that's why the various chronology experts more or less ignore that appearance. It pretty much makes it so it has to be what you suggest, that Wolverine picked up X-Factor's scent in the city, and then the X-Men took some time to get to where X-Factor's battle with Madelyne ended.

    It *seems* like we're supposed to assume that Wolverine's comment leads directly (within moments) of his arm's appearance at the end of X-Factor #37, but that green N'astirh appearance means there simply isn't enough time for that to be the case.

    So far, it's the only really egregious timing issue I've found with the overall narrative, which is fairly impressive. And it's easy enough to explain away, as you did.

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  11. // It's noted that Cyclops' son is named for his grandfathers //

    Which is nice in its understatement since readers will (rightly) infer that Xavier is among them — as, strictly speaking, kids only get two grandfathers each. I feel like we got an explicit acknowledgment of this when the baby's name was first revealed, but I'm not sure. Of course once we realize there never was a Nathan Pryor, I guess (as Teemu and Jason referenced above) the name came to Maddie subconsciously from Sinister; however, since at the time Scott wouldn't know that — and really wouldn't care about the origins of his revealed-as-a-clone-of-Jean's turned-evil wife's invented father's name anyhow, just that it was indeed presumably invented, never mind that it coming from Sinister makes it all even worse — I don't buy that Scott wouldn't legally strike Nathan from the kid's name altogether after Inferno, given his own negative associations with the moniker, since it's now an homage to nothing as far as he knows and only dredges up bad memories.

    The fact that it was apparently Claremont's intention for Minister Sinister to have been the same Nathan who tormented Scott in the orphanage, and that his given name will be revealed as a variation of Nathan even in his revised published history, is without question a choice bit of irony. You just can't convince me that the name would survive little Nathan Christopher Charles Summers' infancy.

    Also, I still want to know who the man walking Maddie down the aisle at her wedding in #175 was, and what the explanation (to readers) is for her having family at the wedding or, conversely, what the explanation (to Scott et al.) is for her having no family at the wedding.

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  12. And for that matter, how could Sinister have possibly planted information that Maddie was the sole survivor of one of the largest plane crashes in the United States? Suppose the X-Men decided to check her story out- did he tamper with the newspapers in every library in New York and Alaska? (Remember, Mastermind knew about the plane crash and Scott found out additional details about the crash in issue 172.)

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  13. Indeed. That is why I will always have a great deal of affection for "X-Cutioners Song", flaws and all.

    Same here. That was my first experience going to the corner book store and buying a chapter of a story on weekly basis. It blew my 9-year-old brain. I even was excited about getting the crazily over-written Stryfe's Strike File cards. I have to confess I made sure the issues had them included when I bought them a few years ago, too.

    I always read it whenever I do a read-through of the Claremont/Lee issues. I think it kind of puts a nice capper to that run even though they weren't involved with the crossover. Then it's a little bit of a valley until Age of Apocalypse and a BIG valley after that until Morrison comes on.

    Anyway, I'm jumping the gun a bit. This is all a long way off.

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  14. @Blam: You just can't convince me that the name would survive little Nathan Christopher Charles Summers' infancy.

    For the most part, it doesn't - he'll continue to be referred to almost exclusive as Christopher for the duration of Simonson's run, and, I believe, right up until he's taken into the future and written out of the book, just before Peter David comes aboard and the book is revamped.

    The usage of Nathan comes about after it's revealed that Cable is the baby grown up and returned from the future, mainly because, I believe, Cable had referred to himself/been referred to as "Nate" or "Nathan" before the revelation, during the whole cryptic "where'd he come from?" phase of his development, so it just kinda stuck from there

    (Of course, the usage of that name as a cryptic hint towards Cable's identity was because they were already teasing he was Cyclops' son, so they should have used Christopher or Chris, but I suspect that some combination of Liefeld and Lee - it's fuzzy who exactly settled on the "Cable is Cyclops' son" reveal - just saw his name as Nathan Christopher Charles and ran with Nathan, not knowing the full ramifications of it.)

    Also, I still want to know who the man walking Maddie down the aisle at her wedding in #175 was, and what the explanation (to readers) is for her having family at the wedding

    Given his eventual familiarity with shapeshifting/disguise, it could very well be Mr. Sinister posing as the man he falsely setup in Maddie's mind as her father. But I don't think the text itself ever addresses that very valid question.

    @Anonymous: Suppose the X-Men decided to check her story out- did he tamper with the newspapers in every library in New York and Alaska?

    I think we're supposed to assume that he did - after all, we know he did the opposite (wiping out all public record of Maddy and her baby), so it's not much more of a stretch to assume he could have planted records as easily as eliminating them.

    @Jeff: I even was excited about getting the crazily over-written Stryfe's Strike File cards. I have to confess I made sure the issues had them included when I bought them a few years ago, too.

    When we get there, I have to decide if I want to devote an entire post to that issue. I'm leaning towards yes, because I have fond memories of it too, and because it is ridiculously over-written, and that could be kind of fun to discuss.

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