Tuesday, July 8, 2014
X-amining X-Terminators #1-4
Oct. 1988 - Jan. 1989
In a Nutshell
The X-Factor wards band together to battle the demonic invasion of Earth by Limbo.
Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciler: Jon Bogdanove
Inkers: Al Williamson & Al Milgrom (issue #1), Al Milgrom (issues #2-4)
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: John Wellington, Petra Scotese (issue #4)
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Issue #1: In Limbo, S'ym orders N'astirh and his Nastiri to go to Earth and steal thirteen mutant babies for the performance of S'ym's Dread Rite. The demons arrive on Earth and take over mausoleum as their headquarters. Meanwhile, Rusty turns himself in to the naval authorities as Marvel Girl drops Artie and Leech off at their new school, St. Simons. Iceman then delivers the rest of the kids to Phillips Academy. At St. Simons, Artie and Leech befriend an abrasive student named Taki, a mutant with the ability to manipulate technology. That night, Taki observes a group of demons kidnapping Artie & Leech, believing them to be infants because of their bald heads. None of the teachers believe his story, and unable to reach the older kids, he transforms his wheelchair into a helicopter and flies to their school. After relaying what he saw to Skids, she, Boom-Boom and Rictor leave with Taki, and proceed to break Rusty out of jail to lead them in their efforts to rescue Artie and Leech.
Issue #2: Artie and Leech are brought before N'astirh, and Artie is able to project an image of where he is to the other kids before N'astirh puts Artie and Leech together so that Leech blocks his power. Recognizing at least New York in Artie's image, Taki and the older kids head there, stopping to buy clothes to replace their pajamas. As they do so, one of the demons overhears Taki talking about the spell checker on his computer, and thinks this could help N'astirh perform his spells faster. Continuing to New York, the kids decide to call themselves the X-Terminators, but when they reach the city, they're unable to find Ship or call X-Factor due to the demonic presence in the city. They decide to check the library for maps in order to locate the location Artie showed them, but are attacked by a group of demons who capture Taki and take him to N'astirh.
Issue #3: At the library, the X-Terminators locate the cemetery Artie showed them in Queens. Meanwhile, Taki, stalling for time, agrees to build N'astirh a computer that will speed up his spells, but gives a list of specific requirements he needs to get the job done. As the X-Terminators take the demonically-possessed subway to Queens, the Nastiri race to assemble all of Taki's requirements. Emerging from the subway, the X-Terminators steal motorcycles and head for the cemetery, arriving just as Taki finishes the computer. They're overpowered by the demons, however, and N'astirh, unable to touch the computer himself, uses their lives to force Taki to cast a spell which teleports everyone to Times Square, where the N'astiri fly the captured infants into the sky. As Taki casts another spell, the babies form the points of a pentagram, and just as Illyana, in Limbo, opens a stepping disc to Earth, N'astirh uses the pentagram to take control of it, creating a massive portal between Limbo and Earth.
Issue #4: Via the portal, demons pour out of Limbo to Earth, along with the New Mutants. As N'astirh confronts Illyana, Taki, Artie and Leech manage to turn off the computer, closing the portal and freeing the X-Terminators. One of the demons manages to turn the computer back on, so the X-Terminators take to the sky via planes created by Taki to rescue the babies and close the portal permanently. They're aided by the New Mutants, and together the teams are able to fight off the demons and free the babies. But Taki is recaptured and brought to N'astirh, who presents him to S'ym as his secret weapon. Forcing Taki to cast powerful spells via the computer, N'astirh attacks S'ym, but the X-Terminators free Taki once more. Determined to control the computer himself, N'astirh allows S'ym to infect him with the Transmode virus, becoming a being of living circuitry. As he attempts to absorb the computer, Taki triggers an explosion, destroying the computer and, seemingly, N'astirh. As S'ym and the rest of the demons leave to conquer Earth, the X-Terminators and New Mutants tend to the wounded Taki, pleased to have at least closed the portal and rescued the babies.
Firsts and Other Notables
The teenage characters all receive new costumes in issue #2 (though with the exception of Rusty's shirt, they're all more like new street clothes than new superhero outfits), which will remain their default looks when they join the New Mutants. The second issue is also when they name themselves the X-Terminators, taking it from the discarded name X-Factor used for their "evil mutant" persona from back when they were pretending to be mutant hunters.
This series establishes that all the demons we've seen in X-Factor nabbing babies were sent out by N'astirh in order to gather thirteen infant mutants to open and then sustain a portal between Limbo and Earth, so that the former invades and takes control of the latter. The X-Terminators and New Mutants eventually close the portal and rescue the children, the welfare of which will feature in future issues of New Mutants and X-Factor before the government takes custody of them, after which they'll disappear until they return, grown-up, for a storyline in the relaunched New Mutants from the late 00s.
Takeshi "Taki" Matsuya, the poorly-codenamed Wiz Kid, makes his first appearance in issue #1, and remains a central figure of the series for the remaining three issues. He possess the mutant ability to manipulate technology, but unlike Forge's more intuitive invention power, he just mashes things together with his hands and turns it into other stuff, a somewhat dubious manifestation of a mutant power. He'll pop up in surrounding issues of "Inferno" but, barring a future New Mutants annual, has more or less disappeared, which is probably for the best.
In issue #1, Rusty is seen turning himself in to the naval authorities, as he promised to do in X-Factor #33, though his stay is short-lived as he's busted out by the end of the issue to help rescue Artie and Leech. Despite his good intentions, he won't return to the prison, ending up once more a Federal fugitive after the X-Terminators join the New Mutants.
Similarly, the rest of the kids are seen being dropped off at their various schools in the first issue, but all quickly leave for one reason or another. While Artie and Leech will eventually return to school, the rest of the kids end up joining the New Mutants post-"Inferno".
The New Mutants guest star in issue #4 and team-up with the X-Terminators to defeat N'astirh and close the portal to Limbo, presaging the eventual merging of the two groups.
N'astirh allows S'ym to infect him with the techno-organic virus in issue #4, and though he is seemingly destroyed in that issue, he will return elsewhere in "Inferno" thanks to his new techno-organic condition.
The Chronology Corner
Slotting these issues in and around other chapters of "Inferno" is something of a mess, with characters at times going back and forth between specific pages of a given issue. It all fits together surprisingly well, but makes reading "Inferno" as a complete narrative difficult without literally picking up one issue, putting it down and picking up another, then going back to the first one for a few pages, and so on.
X-Factor appears in issue #1 between issues #33 and #34 of their series, with Beast appearing before his subsequent appearances in Hulk #350 and Avengers Annual #17.
Issue #2 references N'astirh's conversation with Hodge in X-Factor #34 as well as his visit to Madelyne in Uncanny X-Men #238.
Issue #3 takes place alongside X-Factor #36, with the very end of New Mutants #71 running concurrently with the end of it.
Issue #4 takes place in and around numerous other "Inferno" issues.
A Work in Progress
These four issues takes place within the general setting of "Inferno", with the characters commenting on the extreme heat in the city and constantly under attacked from demonically-possessed inanimate objects.
The demons loyal to/working for N'astirh are a group called the Nastiri.
In issue #2, Crotus begins using a pair of glasses that enable the demons to see whether a baby is a mutant or not based on its aura, which were seen in X-Factor #35 (though it's unclear where N'astirh got them in the first place).
N'astirh notes that it's harder to do magic on Earth than on Limbo, which is consistent with Illyana's long-standing inability to use her magical abilities on Earth.
Skids notes that the Morlocks know how to drive the subway cars.
Taki theorizes that demons and technology don't mix due to the different electro-magnetic energy surrounding demons.
Somewhat humorously, in issue #4, both teams of young mutants believe they are responsible for the manifestation of the Limbo portal (and, to a certain extent, they're both right: Taki helped it manifest on the Earth side, while Illyana opened it from Limbo).
Boom-Boom recognizes Roberto from their time together in Fallen Angels; Roberto is less than thrilled to be reminded of it, as all should be when it comes to Fallen Angels, while Boom-Boom is properly dismissive of Gosamyr.
Mirage makes a bandage for Rusty that comes out looking like a Gambit-esque head condom (and, hopefully, his head wound will have stopped bleeding by the time she needs to mirage up something else...).
I Love the 80s
Most of the X-Terminators new looks, especially Boom-Boom and Rictor's, are very much of their time.
The second issue ends with a baby being kidnapped while his brother plays Lazer Tag in the park.
In a more subtle 80s bit, issue #3 opens with the kids at the library looking in maps for the cemetery where Artie, Leech and Taki are being held, as opposed to just using Google Earth or what have you.
As the books at the library attack the X-Terminators in issue #3, someone rightly points out it's like something out of Ghostbusters.
In issue #3, N'astirh teleports everyone to the most central source of negative energy: Times Square, which is surrounding by adult theaters and porno shops, rather than the pseudo-amusement park it is today.
The Reference Section
The groundskeeper in issue #1 is based on Bill Gaines, a long-time EC Comics editor and former publisher of Mad magazine. He is wearing a Mad shirt and reading Tales from the Crypt, while the graveyard contains a tombstone for Frederic Wertham, the author of Seduction of the Innocent, whose work helped bring about the Comics Code Authority, which sounded the death knell for the kind of mature audience comics in which Gaines specialized.
Bogdanove actually does a nice double-page splash featuring the demons pouring out of Limbo in issue #4, coming right at the page and attacking the panel border.
This limited series is a great example of the power of nostalgia. I can't begrudge anyone who just rolls their eyes at most of this or tosses it aside, but I also can't deny I still enjoy it, almost despite myself. Probably because it's not objectively very good, the four issues were a cheap back issue buy for me back in the day (I believe I got all four issues in a pack for all of a few dollars), and as a result, I read them a lot - in the days before trades, I was much more familiar with this part of "Inferno" than I was the latter half, when the main story settled in the more expensive X-Men issues.
But nostalgia aside, I do think there are some pieces here that genuinely work. Yes, the X-Terminators are very much of their time (especially once they get their new "costumes"), but the characters are much more enjoyable here, on their own, than when stealing scenes from the adults in X-Factor, and frankly, this series in places reads better than some of Simonson's contemporaneous issues of New Mutants (goodcharacters written poorly is worse than mediocre characters continuing to be written mediocre).
Taki is an irritating character with a ridiculous power and a laughable code name, but he does get something of an arc, and actually comes out the other side a changed character. And while this is probably the last time I enjoy Bogdanove's art (whose stuff fits in a very limited set of circumstances), I do think it works effectively here, his cartoony, almost goofy figure work contrasting nicely with the grim circumstances of the demonic invasion. The demons, at times, are legitimately creepy in their actions (devouring people and/or transforming them into demons), but rather than detract from it, the art adds to the surreality of the situation while preventing things from getting too dark (nothing is terribly graphic).
These four issues also function as a nice introduction to "Inferno", introducing and establishing N'astirh (one of the overall storyline's more rookie villains), laying out the goals and rivalries amongst the various demons that other series will pickup and explore further, and, most impressively, managing to tell a complete story with a narrative arc that still weaves in and out of several titles and is essentially just a prologue to a larger story (something which makes the task of creating a chronological reading order for "Inferno" difficult but does help the whole storyline feel bigger than past X-crossovers).
I don't think I'd want repeated X-Terminators miniseries or even (heaven forbid) a regular series (their eventual integration into New Mutants is more than enough), but as a four issue introduction to/survey of "Inferno", featuring characters less annoying than they probably have any right to be and art that is effective despite a style seemingly-incompatible with the tone of the story, this works. For me, at least.
Tomorrow, the X-Men bring the fight to the Marauders in Uncanny X-Men #240. Thursday, the New Mutants battle S'ym in Limbo in New Mutants #71, and Friday, X-Factor hunts for baby Christopher in X-Factor #36.