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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

X-amining X-Terminators #1-4

"Invasion of the Baby-Snatchers" / "Speed Demon!" / "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" / "Finale"
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

Plot
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.


Artistic Achievements
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.


Teebore's Take
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.

Next Issue
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.

11 comments:

  1. The beginning of this series is weird- S'ym acts like this is the first time he's telling N'astirh about the mutant babies but X-Factor 32 and Power Pack 40, which take place before N'astirh leaves Limbo, have N'astirh already looking for the babies. And all of those issues were written by Louise Simonson.
    I don't see what's wrong with Taki's powers- he's basically got the same powers as Madison Jeffries.

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  2. I can't remember, did you mention the "X-Terminators" ad that ran in Wolverine? I know it was in one of the early issues.

    Anyway, that ad was all I knew of "X-Terminators" when I was a kid, and the ad is so creepy, back then I thought it was a horror series. The ad actually creeped me out sufficiently that I had no desire for years to ever track down the mini.

    At some point it filtered through, I guess once I read the footnotes in "New Mutants," that the series was not some frightening creepy tale about demons but actually a really cartoonish-looking series about Rusty (ugh) and Boom Boom (ugh), I felt very silly for fearing it. (But really, that ad in Wolverine is *incredibly* deceptive about the tone, if not the plot, of X-Terminators).

    I know I have all four of these issues, thanks to seeing them in quarter bins and thinking "What the heck," but I still have never read them.

    I'm surprised your review is so positive ... I'll have to dig these up and finally give them a chance. I have "Inferno" nostalgia too after all, if not specifically for this part of it. :)

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  3. I suppose the beginning happened before the events in X-F32 and PP40, and N'astirh is just covering his tracks about his location.

    Ah, N'astirh. When I read the crossover to my sister, my way of voicing the demon was to put my tongue to the palaet of my mouth and speak.

    I'm surprised this limited series was absent from the paperback collections (if not the Omnibus). Several major plot points occur: the baby-pentagram, N'astirh's techno-organic transformation, etc.

    S'ym's comment about humans being hard to control is an interesting character point. Yes, he thinks humans are ants, food, victims, etc., but he does respect their will power.

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  4. @Anonymous: I don't see what's wrong with Taki's powers- he's basically got the same powers as Madison Jeffries.

    Admittedly, I havven't read a lot of stories w/Madison Jeffries (mainly just his time with the X-Club in more recent stuff), but I thought his power worked more like something between Taki and Forge - he had some control over metal/technology, but still needed time to create, say, the Box armor, as opposed to Taki, who almost literally just waves his hands over "technology" and makes different "technology".

    I think it's the use of the word technology that bgs me - it's so vague. Like, the story clearly means computers and guns and airplanes and junk, but what, like, a steam engine? Or a stone wheel and a wooden axle? Those aren't examples of current technology but they're still technology. Could he turn a sling-and-stone into, I dunno, a gun or something?

    @Jason: I can't remember, did you mention the "X-Terminators" ad that ran in Wolverine?

    I didn't - I've been reading the Wolverine issues via Marvel Unlimited so there aren't any ads (though, now that you mention it, I thought Wolverine was ad free, at least at first, like Excalibur? Or maybe just the Direct Editions were ad free, and the newsstand copies had ads?).

    I'm surprised your review is so positive ... I'll have to dig these up and finally give them a chance. I have "Inferno" nostalgia too after all, if not specifically for this part of it. :)

    I do have a less-low - I don't feel like "higher" is really the right word :) - opinion of the X-Factor kids than you do, so that probably aids in my appreciation of this story. But there is some fairly big "Inferno" stuff that happens, and the more I think about it, the more I genuinely like the juxtaposition between Bogdanove's goofy art and the darker tone. It somehow makes it all creepier, like an evil clown. Or something.

    @angmc43: I'm surprised this limited series was absent from the paperback collections (if not the Omnibus). Several major plot points occur

    That is pretty crazy. I mean, you get bits and pieces of some of this stuff in issues of other series (especially New Mutants), but this kind of presents a pretty straight-forward view of the build-up to a fairly big event in the crossover, the creation of the Limbo/Earth portal.

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  5. "Admittedly, I havven't read a lot of stories w/Madison Jeffries (mainly just his time with the X-Club in more recent stuff), but I thought his power worked more like something between Taki and Forge - he had some control over metal/technology, but still needed time to create, say, the Box armor, as opposed to Taki, who almost literally just waves his hands over "technology" and makes different "technology". "
    The Box armor was invented by Roger Bochs but Jeffries can reshape it into any form he wants, just like Taki can his chair. In fact, Jeffries can reshape any machine into any form he wants.

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  6. // The Reference Section //

    Nice!

    I had no idea that this mini was part of Inferno, which given my established nigh-willful ignorance of X-Men stuff in this era isn't surprising. Honestly, I don't even think I knew that it starred the kids from X-Factor until you began covering that series, nor did I realize that they had such relative longevity.

    Damning with the faintest praise, X-Terminators is way better than Fallen Angels. I've held them and Wolfpack, sight unseen beyond the merest glance, as a sort of totemic triumvirate representing of the worst of the stuff that Marvel — and, to be fair, the industry in general — was churning out at the time, with Sturgeon's Law really lowballing the percentage of crap amidst the flood. We did get some material that was good or innovative or even both; there was also plenty of extraneous dreck, though. I would actually call X-Terminators a qualified success, especially given its relation to Inferno as a whole and how much better it is than most of New Mutants and the same characters' appearances in X-Factor, which script-wise of course makes almost no sense.

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  7. I liked the art overall. You're right, Teebore, that the cartoony feel mostly juxtaposes surprisingly well with the horror of the demon hordes. We've talked before about Jon Bogdanove's stuff turning a little too loose or exaggerated by the time he's into his stint on Superman, but the layouts, body language, and detail in this mini are among his best work. Al Milgrom's inks over Bogdanove's pencils prove that he's capable of turning in solid stuff, too.

    That double-page spread in #4 is lots of fun, as is having Al Williamson ink the start of #1 in homage to his old EC work under Bill Gaines. Since Williamson mostly worked on science-fiction material there, not horror, and he memorably drew Flash Gordon as well, I wonder if Bodganove meant for that would-be bandage on Rusty to echo the kind of headgear you used to see on SF adventurers back in the day, expecting Williamson to ink the entire miniseries. Rusty in costume doesn't exactly not resemble Flash Gordon with the skintight top, trousers, and boots.

    While it's questionable to have the girls running around in their undies — as far as in-story practicality, which yes they do at least mention and lament in conjunction with Rictor's state of bare-chested pajamitude, but even more in terms of taste or standards — I have to admit that Boom-Boom finally looks decent (the other kind) the way Bogdanove draws her before the new costumes, with a kind of '50s throwback style rather than her immediately dated '80s fashion.

    On the other hand, Rictor, sadly if not somewhat appropriately, gets dressed like Vibe.

    Speaking of the '80s: In addition to all the stuff you cite, there's a soda machine that takes quarters; also, there's a pay phone that takes quarters and, well, exists period.

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  8. Discomfiting realization of the day? Rusty has the flame powers. Skids has an impenetrable force field around her. As I read #1 it suddenly hit me that their relationship can easily be read/rewritten as icky Johnny and Sue Storm fan fiction.

    One thing I hate, or at least don't get, is Crotus saying "mawthtur". It completely reads in my head like the stereotypical "mad scientists' assistant" / "Monster Mash" deal, and that would be funny if the rest of his speech indicated that accent in any way.

    I definitely hate the name X-Terminators, although dubious homage to X-Factor's other identity aside it's admittedly the kind of thing that kids might come up with as a cool team name, especially now that we're dangerously close to the age of kewl.

    The colors are pretty garish throughout, but that was par for the course (and went on for way too long) in this era of upgrades to better paper that absorbed inks differently and frustrated colorists used to making guides based on the old newsprint.

    My biggest problem storywise, besides what feels like an ill-defined sense of the relationship / hierarchy between S'ym and N'astirh, is that N'astirh's underling demons have to be told what a human baby is, perpetually screwing that up, yet they bring in bags of the proper groceries no problem.

    I missed the familiar "#1 in a Four-Part Limited Series" banner on the covers. Did Marvel stop doing that between Fallen Angels and X-Terminators?

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  9. "I didn't - I've been reading the Wolverine issues via Marvel Unlimited so there aren't any ads (though, now that you mention it, I thought Wolverine was ad free, at least at first, like Excalibur? Or maybe just the Direct Editions were ad free, and the newsstand copies had ads?). "

    No ... both Wolverine and Excalibur always had ads in them. They just didn't have ads on the back cover at first.

    If they didn't have ads, there'd be 32 pages of story in each issue, but they're always 22 or 23 pages.

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  10. Here's the ad I was talkin' about, the second one on the page. "For Inferno to begin, thirteen children must die ..."

    http://marvel1980s.blogspot.com/2013/03/1988-x-men-inferno-house-ads.html

    Creeped me right out as a kid.

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  11. Man, I just had a flashback. I saw Taki and instantly remembered him from an episode of X-Men: TAS where Cyclops goes back to his old orphanage to find closure after Jean's death. I just checked out some clips of the episode, and sure enough there are 4 mutant kids in the orphanage: Taki, Rusty, Skids, and Boom-Boom. I loved it when cartoons based on comics would through in really obscure references to past issues or storylines. I mean, aside from this post do you think anyone is actively going out of their way to talk about the X-Terminators? So it was a cool nod to see these 4 characters together in the cartoon.

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