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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #243

"Inferno Part the Fourth: Ashes"
April 1989

In a Nutshell 
The X-Men and X-Factor track down Mr. Sinister at the X-Mansion. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Marc Silvestri
Guest Inker: Hilary Barta
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
At the Empire State Building, the X-Men and X-Factor are mourning the loss of Madelyne when Marvel Girl suddenly cries out in pain. Using the psipaths from when she established a telepathic rapport with her, Psylocke brings herself, Cyclops, Storm and Wolverine into Marvel Girl's mind, where they realize that she now shares memories with both Madelyne and Phoenix. Just then, an avatar of Mr. Sinister appears in Marvel Girl's mind as well, destroying her memories, determined to transform her into a blank state. As Psylocke momentarily fights him off, Storm, Wolverine and Cyclops urge the remnant of Madelyne's mind to help them fight back against the villain, her true tormentor. Agreeing, Madelyne lashes out, forcing Sinister out of Marvel Girl's mind. At the X-Mansion, Mr. Sinister wakes up, telling Polaris they're about to have company.


Outside, a contingent of X-Men and X-Factor arrive. Splitting up, the two teams penetrate the mansion from various entry points. Meanwhile, Beast and Longshot bring Marvel Girl's parents and baby Christopher to Ship, but when Beast prepares to rejoin their teammates, Longshot is hesitant, worried the changes wrought on him by N'astirh will force him to betray his teammates. Back at the mansion, the combined teams are attacked by the remnants of the Marauders, but they're easily overpowered and Malice is captured. Unwilling to give up information on Sinister, Psylocke prepares to separate Malice from Polaris, an act Malice insists will kill them both. Just then, the mansion explodes. In the wake of the explosion, Mr. Sinister picks through the rubble, claiming Jean Grey and telling Malice to destroy the rest of the unconscious mutants. However, one person still stands in their way: Longshot. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue, the X-Mansion is destroyed for the second time (following the Sidri attack which destroyed it in issue #154, prompting the X-Men's short-lived relocation to Magneto's former island base in the Bermuda Triangle). Last seen in issue #221 (just before the X-Men leave for San Fransisco, which carried them into "Fall of the Mutants" and then into their new Australian locale), it will stay destroyed much longer this time; though it will eventually be revealed that the sub-basement levels (including the Danger Room) remain intact, allowing the future Cable-led New Mutants to use those levels as a headquarters for a time, the structure itself and the mansion's role as a full-time base of operations for the X-Men won't return until issue #281, after Claremont has left the title. 


This issue establishes that the memories of Madelyne and Phoenix now reside in Jean Grey's mind, along with remnant's of their consciousnesses, with Madelyne deciding to help the X-Men and X-Factor by sharing what she knows of Mr. Sinister and lashing out at him as he tries to destroy Jean's mind.   


The opening page of this issue declares it to be a celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the X-Men (roughly - it had actually been a little more than 25 years by a few months when this issue went on sale), and the 150th issue since the launch of the "All New, All Different X-Men" in issue #94. 

In a brief encounter, Psylocke and Sabretooth reprise their battle from issue #213, continuing the somewhat understated rivalry between the two that will be referenced again in the future.


We can assume from this issue that the only Marauders to survive their encounter with the X-Men in issues #240-241 (and not yet be re-cloned) are Sabretooth and Malice (and maybe Blockbuster, who definitely does die again this issue).

The cover of this issue is another iconic, oft-homaged cover. 

Joe Rosen fills in for Tom Orzechowski on letters, while Hilary Barta fills in for Dan Green on inks.

The Chronology Corner
This issue leads directly into X-Factor #39, where the X-Men/X-Factor portion of "Inferno" concludes. As such, this is the last issue of the series to carry the "Inferno" label. 

A Work in Progress
As in X-Factor #38, the X-Men's costumes remain as they were during the Inferno, though the other effects have faded, and even their psychic avatars reflect the changes, leading the X-Men to think perhaps the changes wrought on them are more than skin deep. 


As he attacks Marvel Girl's mind, an assortment of X-Men and X-Factor members see Mr. Sinister for the first time.


Cyclops wonders what makes him so special that Mr. Sinister would go to the trouble of creating Madelyne as a brood mare. 


It's revealed this issue that Mr. Sinister has moved into the abandoned X-Mansion and taken it for a base of operations (ransacking the rooms to gain intel on the team), presumably sometime before the start of "Inferno" (as it's only been about a day, story-time, since Madelyne confronted him at his base beneath the Nebraska orphanage).

Characters in this issue refer to recent events as "Inferno", with the quotes.

It's established that the X-Men are invisible even to Ship, though he at least detects a ghostly presence when Longshot is aboard.


Longshot is worried that he can't undo the changes made to him by N'astirh in issue #241, that he'll be a "nasty man" henceforth.


The X-Men encounter a demonically-transformed Blockbuster in the tunnels under the school, and Havok has no remorse about blasting him to death, saying "he's changed". 


Malice claims that she hasn't taken control of Polaris so much as she's allowed her innate dark side to thrive.


I Love the 80s
Wolverine tells Maddie that she may have been "gypped" out of a decent chance life, a word choice that I don't think would be used nowadays.

Artistic Achievements
Polaris attacks the X-Men with a "shazam" sound effect.


Like a Phoenix, From the Ashes
We see the death of Phoenix once again, something Jean Grey herself is experiencing for the first time (not that she has access to Phoenix's memories).


For Sale
There's an ad in this issue for a "How to Draw the Marvel Way" video and a videotape of the "Pryde of the X-Men" animated special (that was intended as a pilot for a potential animated series and stands as my first introduction to the X-Men). Order both, and you'll get a poster signed by Stan Lee! 


Teebore's Take
With Louise Simonson tasked with (either by choice or because the rotation just worked out that way) expanding the Madelyne retcon and then writing out the character in X-Factor #38, this issue affords Claremont a chance to say goodbye to his creation. To his credit, he does a bit to soften the blow of Maddie's end, having the remnant of her psyche that now exists in Jean Grey's mind agree to help the X-Men and X-Factor take down Mr. Sinister rather than sit back and let Sinister destroy them all (the old "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" routine). By no means does this single act wipe away the copious problems raised by the handling of Madelyne, but at least she gets to go down fighting in a somewhat rational moment (and, to be clear, while Simonson wrote X-Factor #38, Claremont himself isn't blameless when it comes to the handling of Madelyne; ultimately, he signed off on those decisions, however grudgingly).

The rest of the issue, touted as the 25th anniversary of the X-Men and the 150th issue of the "All New" era, is suitably steeped in callbacks to the book's history, recent and older. There's the original X-Men on hand again, of course (including Havok and Polaris), references to the Dark Phoenix Saga (the series' most notable story), a rematch of the more-recent Sabretooth/Psylocke fight and, most notably, a return to the X-Mansion, not seen since issue #221 (and not really a recurring setting for the book since even before then). It's destruction, then, at issue's end, is highly symbolic: just like the lingering changes on the X-Men wrought by "Inferno", the characters are moving in a new direction, darker, edgier, their one-time place of refuge now reduced to ashes. The pre-"Inferno" X-Men were unlike any that had come before them; this issue, capped off by the destruction of the mansion, makes it clear those changes are sticking, and, if anything, the post-"Inferno" X-Men will be moving into even darker, more uncharted territory

Next Issue
Tomorrow. the fallout from "Inferno" begins in New Mutants #74, and Friday, the main "Inferno" narrative wraps up in X-Factor #39. Next week, we look at the last batch of "Inferno" tie-ins.

12 comments:

  1. As a kid, this issue was a milestone for me, and therefore a must-buy back issue, since it was the first on-page meeting between the X-Men and Mr. Sinister. I love the depiction of Sinister storming through Jean's mind, shattering her memories. Add to this the mansion getting destroyed again (more or less "for real" this time, as opposed to the fake-out years before), and you have a story which, for the younger me, felt like a watershed installment, the most momentous single issue of UNCANNY X-MEN until #281.

    "There's an ad in this issue for a "How to Draw the Marvel Way" video and a videotape of the "Pryde of the X-Men" animated special (that was intended as a pilot for a potential animated series and stands as my first introduction to the X-Men). Order both, and you'll get a poster signed by Stan Lee!"

    Strangely, I owned both those videos and I had/have a poster autographed by Stan Lee. But I got them all at different times.

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  2. It's not clear if it's Maddie or Jean that fights back against Sinister. Weirdly, Jean/Maddie says that Dark Phoenix/the Goblin Queen was the result of them denying the Phoenix. I have a feeling that Claremont's idea of what the Goblin Queen was wasn't necessarily what we saw in X-Factor 38. It's worth noting that everyone stresses how much Jean and Maddie were alike in this issue, so Claremont apparently didn't agree with the "Maddie was always evil" idea.

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  3. Someone should've given Havok some pants

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  4. Hey, if the ladies can spend hundreds of issues running around in glorified bikini bottoms then Alex can show his gams for a couple.

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  5. @Matt: As a kid, this issue was a milestone for me, and therefore a must-buy back issue, since it was the first on-page meeting between the X-Men and Mr. Sinister.

    Because of that (and it's role in "Inferno"), this was a much harder issue for me to find affordably back in the day. As a result, it gained an added level of importance, since I read the issues surrounding it countless times before I ever read it, my imagination having to fill in the blanks until I finally got a hold of a copy.

    @Anonymous: It's not clear if it's Maddie or Jean that fights back against Sinister.

    True. I honestly sided with Maddie being the one fighting back mainly because that's how other summaries I've seen explain it (and because I like that idea more thematically).

    It's worth noting that everyone stresses how much Jean and Maddie were alike in this issue, so Claremont apparently didn't agree with the "Maddie was always evil" idea.

    Good point. I certainly don't think Claremont was on board with every detail Weezie laid out in XF #38; the idea that Maddie's villainy was a direct result of demonic influence is something Claremont seemed to hit on especially hard.

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  6. The first couple of Inferno covers are familiar to me, but I did not know — and would not have guessed — that this one was in any way iconic. What strikes me most about it, besides the washed-out colors and the way Sinister's hand looks wrong (it's possible that it could be positioned there relative to his head, but his bent arm needs to be shown at his side to make that work; as it is, hovering there, its placement not compute), is the way it can be read as a kind-of bookend to Paul Smith's lovely cover to #174: That earlier cover has Scott and Maddie, happy, just beginning their life together, in a ball of fire cupped within Wyngarde/Mastermind's hand; this cover has various X-Men, including Scott and Jean, tumbling from Sinster's hand amidst flames as he looks on, everything good about Scott and Maddie's union having fallen apart.

    For whatever reason, X-Factor's original X-Men don't feel like they belong in X-Men the series. Maybe that's a testament to Simonson putting her own stamp on the characters, maybe it's the whole conceit of X-Factor having dumbed them down or distorted them beyond recognition. Part of it is certainly their absence from the parent title as Claremont has pushed the current X-Men in vastly new directions. Scott and Jean aside, we just don't see much of them here, so part of it is probably also their being little more than window dressing, and while Hank's always had personality to spare in his blue-'n'-furry form it's not like Bobby or Warren, however Warren's supposed to even act now, had much of their own.

    I do love that image of Sinister tearing into the mental landscape cited by Matt. Perhaps because I'm a sucker for the gimmick, I also like the avatar of Jean/Maddie/Phoenix shifting amongst her/their various outfits and the brief romp through scenes from the past.

    And that's pretty much all I have to say about this issue. Your insights, Teebore, like Jason's over at Remarkable, are intriguing, but I find that I have very little emotional attachment to the characters and events of the series anymore. I almost completely pin that on my having dropped it well before this run back in the day, although for a short while after we moved beyond that point there was still some resonance — particularly when Alan Davis was penciling but even when JRJr. was still aboard, maybe because, while I had already been souring on the stories and didn't like the Romita/Green art, it was still familiar to me as X-Men.

    Stan's hairpiece in that ad is particularly bad.

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  7. I loved this issue, it showed how Versatile Psylocke could be, and not just be a Jean clone. She has no qualms mostly about the use of her abilities, and just does what needs doing. Loved how she checked Sinister. It seems like Claremont wanted to get one last hurrah from Psylocke, before The Ninjafication. I mean she was all over this issue. Loved how she mentally manhandled Sabertooth. Betsy without broken ribs, and body armour, she owned him.
    In another universe Betsy is still her normal self. :)
    Storm was her glorious self, proving why she and not Cyclops was a great leader for the team.

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  8. Thus began the final part of my INFERNO reading to my sister.
    Does anyone know how Madelyne died? Did she will herself to die, or was using the Phoenix force too much for her human body, that final big blast the overextension that fatally consumed her life.
    There is a lot of crying in this crossover. Illyana crying about her horrible childhood & turning into a red demon. Trish crying about Hank. Maddy crying about the truth. Sam and Rahne crying about Illyana. Baby Summers crying. Scott crying about losing Maddy (in both X-F#38 and here), Havok crying about ditto, etc.
    I remember PRYDE OF THE X-MEN as well. I caught the last few minutes of the special one Saturday Morning, convinced this was going to be a series, waited next Saturday, only to be disappointed with nothing. I also remembered the Arcade game on a family vacation visit to Florida. Me and my siblings worked together to win that game. I also got to see the full special, and remembered liking it better than the Animated series, mainly because it had the Scott-Ororo-Logan-Kurt-Peter-Kitty line-up with the original Cockrum outfits. I erroneously thought Logan's Punk accent was authentic Canadian.

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  9. "Does anyone know how Madelyne died? Did she will herself to die, or was using the Phoenix force too much for her human body, that final big blast the overextension that fatally consumed her life."
    According to the Official Handbook, the X-Men were somehow able to protect Jean but not Maddie from the final blast, even though the art made it look like they were right on top of one another. So Maddie died but Jean was unharmed.
    "It seems like Claremont wanted to get one last hurrah from Psylocke, before The Ninjafication"
    Unlikely, since Claremont has said the Ninjafication was supposed to be temporary- the problem was the fans liked it too much, so the editors made it permanent.

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  10. This issue was a milestone for me as well, as it was around this time that I really started reading X-men on a monthly basis. Before that, my exposure to the X-men was pretty much:

    * Their appearances on Spider-man & His Amazing Friends
    * During family vacations to Europe, I'd buy comic books except they'd all usually be in French or German (imagine trying to figure out as 7 or 8 year old what was going on in some of those issue lol I do remember from Secret Wars #1 wondering why Hawkeye was being such a bitch to Cyclops...)
    * Random issues throughout the years of Uncanny and others. They included Uncanny 170, 196, 208, 211, 217, 219, 224, 225, 229, and 230, New Mutants 5 and 43, and X-factor 8.

    Imagine trying to construct a whole universe in my mind just based on all of that! It was a few years later for example before I figured out the Maddie that Scott and Jean were talking about in XF 8 was the same Maddie hanging out with the X-men in 224 and 225. To make things even more challenging for me was that a lot of those issues were not read in sequential order. I read Uncanny 217 and 219 before 211...and read 225 at the same time as 208...and both before 224!

    Funny enough, I never found any of it to be confusing. In fact, it made me want to learn more about the characters and stories and what was going on. So finally I took the plunge and this was the first issue I began to buy as it was being published. And I was still confused as heck. Maddie became a villain and died? And is this Jean Grey person's clone? Angel from the cartoon has blue skin and metal wings now? Etc, etc. But hey, it confirmed that I was a fan of the X-men, and got me started on my road as a fan.


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  11. Sorry, meant to say, while I did find it confusing, I never found it off-putting to the extent that I wanted to stop reading it altogether.

    "It's not clear if it's Maddie or Jean that fights back against Sinister"

    It's not clear to me who exactly Storm is giving her speech to. But I do think the person who fights back at the end against Sinister is a combination of all 3 (Maddie, Phoenix, and Jean) as she finally more or less integrates all 3 into 1 (which is why we see Maddie...then Phoenix...then Jean herself all rejecting him).

    Yeah, Psylocke had a good issue here.

    And yay for Longshot getting some depth and character development...only to leave in like 4 or 5 issues.

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  12. Also, for all you fans of pre-ninja Betsy, check this out:

    http://bullyscomics.blogspot.com/2014/03/psylocke-psaturday-25-then-all-this.html

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