In a Nutshell
"Inferno" ends as Cyclops destroys Mr. Sinister.
Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciler: Walt Simonson
Inker: Allen Milgrom
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Gregory Wright
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Amidst the ruins of the X-Mansion, Longshot challenges Mr. Sinister, holding an unconscious Marvel Girl, and Malice. Along with Beast, he distracts them long enough for the rest of their teammates to wake up. Psylocke and Rogue attack Sinister, but he overpowers them both as he captures Cyclops, mentally blocking his power and detailing the role he played in Cyclops' life as child. As Havok attacks Sinister, he's trapped in metal by Malice as the rest of the X-Men and X-Factor begin to formulate a plan, telepathically linked by Psylocke. Reasoning that Mr. Sinister seems vulnerable to Cyclops' optic blast, they resolve to free Marvel Girl and Havok while Havok tells them to leave Cyclops to him.
Archangel proceeds to attack Malice and knock her out while a group of X-Men rush Mr. Sinister, freeing the unconscious Marvel Girl as Storm whisks her away on a wind. Wolverine, Dazzler and Beast then free Havok, who proceeds to taunt and blast the still-captive Cyclops. Mr. Sinister throws off the X-Men's attack, at which point Longshot tosses a knife at him, drawing his attention. Mr. Sinister fires energy at him, but Marvel Girl intervenes, taking the hit instead and falling into Sinister's arms. The sight of Marvel Girl with Mr. Sinister, on top of Havok's taunting, is enough for Cyclops to finally overcome Sinister's blocks. As Beast grabs Marvel Girl, Cyclops, charged up by Havok's power, blasts Sinister, destroying him. In the wake of Mr. Sinister's defeat, the two teams go their separate ways to bring about Xavier's dream in their own ways, with X-Factor determined make the most of the new world in which they find themselves.
Firsts and Other Notables
Mr. Sinister is killed this issue, blasted apart by Cyclops. Of course, he'll return eventually, and become one of the franchise's cornerstone villains, but that won't be until after Claremont has the left the franchise. Obviously, Claremont had plans for Mr. Sinister (or, an origin, at least) that he never gets around to establishing before leaving, suggesting he may have brought the character back himself at some point, but it's still somewhat amazing that, as it stands, as far as the Claremont Era of the franchise is concerned Mr. Sinister, despite being the driving force behind both the Mutant Massacre and the ultimate origin of Madelyne Pryor (two fairly significant events in the overall narrative up to this point), only appeared in two stories (and one of those was only for a brief first appearance) and all of six issues before being killed off and left for later writers to resurrect and bring to prominence. We'll eventually reach a time where the character becomes overused, but at this point, he's arguably the villain who's had the most impact on the narrative via the fewest actual comic book appearances.
This is Walt Simonson's final issue on the series, ending a run that stretches all the way back to issue #10 (barring the occasional fill-in). I've never read anything definitive as to why he left the title, but his Fantastic Four run (which he both writes and draws) begins shortly, so presumably he left this series to do that. And, of course, drawing 29-odd issues of a series is a lengthy run, especially these days.
Unfortunately, his last issue isn't his best, as Al Milgrom remains on hand as inker and continues to suck things up. There's a panel of Colossus being manipulated by Polaris that just drives me bonkers (it's the random big thick black lines that bug me; it's like Milgrom inks with a fat tip marker).
Just as the previous issues established a bunch of recons related to Madelyne, this issue does the same for Cyclops, confirming some of the things hinted at in issue #35 and formally inserting Mr. Sinister into the character's backstory. To Simonson's credit, little of what is added here fully detracts from what we know of Cyclops' pre-X-Men past (notably his "origin" story backup from the Silver Age run, though one does have to wonder why Sinister would have let his prize come under the sway of a one-note villain like Jack O'Diamonds). First, it's established that the coma Cyclops fell into after the plane crash that separated him from his parents (and damaged his brain such that he can't control his optic blasts) was triggered by Mr. Sinister.
Then, Mr. Sinister reveals, his attention drawn by Cyclops' use of his power to save himself and his brother, that he had the boys transferred to his orphanage, where he arranged the adoption of Alex but kept Scott close by until, like with Jean Grey before him, Professor X lured Cyclops away from Mr. Sinister.
Mr. Sinister also did his best to help Cyclops control his optic blasts, all while keeping his involvement a secret, but eventually had to resort to ruby quartz (thus retconning out the random government doctor who discovered the ruby quartz solution from the earlier story).
Finally, Mr. Sinister confirms that he created Madelyne to help lure Cyclops away from the X-Men and to create a child with him, whom Sinister knew would be more powerful than either parent.
It will be some time (and several later writers) before it's revealed exactly why Mr. Sinister is so keen on creating and controlling the offspring of Cyclops and Jean Grey (he basically needs someone powerful enough to defeat Apocalypse once and for all), while the Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix limited series will eventually reveal exactly why Mr. Sinister started looking in the direction of the Summers bloodline for that being in the first place (it involves time travel shenanigans).
Though not yet established that Mr. Sinister was in fact Cyclop's childhood bully Nathan, this issue finds him taunting Cyclops very much like a child, something which Cyclops note (and which further plays into the never-established idea that Mr. Sinister is an avatar of a child mutant's idea of super-villainy).
Sabretooth pops up from amongst the wreckage mid-issue, and is quickly dispatched, off-panel, by Wolverine. He will, of course, be back.
Early in the issue, Beast attacks Mr. Sinister and Polaris as they are distracted by Longshot. Beast, like Longshot, was not at the mansion in X-Men #243 when it exploded, so neither was knocked unconscious by the blast. Yet, on the opening page of the issue, Beast is seen lying amongst the unconscious mutants at Sinister's feet.
The X-Men and X-Factor go their separate ways at the end of the issue, with Storm saying each team has a different role to play in bringing about Xavier's dream. Though the teams have finally met and all misconceptions about each other (one are mutant hunters, the other dead) have been stripped away, they'll go back to own books for awhile and won't directly interact again much until "X-Tinction Agenda", the next big X-book crossover (which is a little under two years away, publication time, from this point).
A Work in Progress
When Rogue attempts to absorb Mr. Sinister's power, his consciousness takes over hers.
The whole "is Longshot corrupted beyond beyond repair" business gets paid off in a nice little sequence, as Longshot throws one of his knives, which ends up allowing Sinister to regain control of Jean Grey. Longshot despairs, but in the end, the sight of that is what allows Cyclops to break free and destroy Sinister, so in the end, it was good luck at work after all.
The art in this issue isn't Simonson's finest, but I have always appreciated that the opening splash page reorients Longshot into a more dynamic position than his "hey guys, I'm over here just standing around" that closed out X-Men #243.
Scott Summers, Husband of the Year
Oh no, you guys, it's totally cool. It's not Cyclops' fault that he abandoned his wife and child, he was being manipulated by Mr. Sinister the whole time. S'all cool.
To wit, the issue ends with what is, even to this avowed Cyclops fan, a pretty eye-rollingly bad Cyclops lovefest, one which seems a blatant effort to say "well, we've finally put all that awkward mischaracterization behind us for good".
The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
It's established this issue that Mr. Sinister, for all his apparent invulnerability, is highly vulnerable to Cyclops' optic blast, an idea that is first theorized by Iceman and later proved true when Cyclops blasts Sinister apart. Of course, Mr. Sinister eventually returns, so the optic blasts aren't automatically deadly, but the idea that they can do more harm than anything else is an idea the franchise sticks with, and something that even gets picked up by other media (like the animated series).
"Inferno" comes to a close with the sprawling storyline effectively zeroing in on just two characters: Cyclops and Mr. Sinister (though the combined X-teams are used effectively in bringing about Sinister's defeat, even if Cyclops is the one who ultimately pulls the trigger, so to speak). Along the way, some previous hints about Sinister's involvement in Cyclops' past are made more explicit, creating an interesting dynamics between the two that won't get fully explored for some time to come, and we get some additional (hamfisted) efforts to explain away Cyclops' uncharacteristic actions at the start of this series. Whether that works for you or not (and it mostly doesn't), it marks the end of Simonson's efforts to rehabilitate the character; we are, 38 issues later, for better and worse, finally done trying to untangle the mess the first issue created for this series. Dubious Cyclops apologism aside, as an end to "Inferno" and the end of an era for the series, this issue mostly works.
In terms of "Inferno" overall, the crossover as a whole is also mostly successful. Certainly, it's not perfect: Madelyne's character, for example, is dragged through the mud, offered up as a sacrifice to clear away a character and plot mess left by other creators years ago. But it ultimately succeeds because it feels like a culmination of so many things: the X-Men and X-Factor finally meet, the truth about Madelyne (whether you like it or not) is finally revealed, the X-Men finally overcome the Marauders and meet Mr. Sinister, Illyana's struggle with her dark side and her fight for control of Limbo finally come to an end (again, whether you like the outcome or not). These are plot threads and character moments that have been building for months, even years, and they all come together at once to lend a feeling of gravitas to this crossover, and to create a sense that for all three series, an era is coming to an end.
That's what most modern crossovers miss: their endings mostly serve only to setup the next crossover, so there's no satisfying feeling of culmination. "Inferno" feels like a momentous occasion, like a big multi-part finale to a TV series. These series will go on, but so many plot threads came to a head in "Inferno" that whatever comes next promises to be markedly different, by necessity if nothing else: the New Mutants, without Illyana and no longer studying under Magneto, X-Factor, free at last of both the mutant hunter baggage and the lingering questions surrounding Cyclops' family, the X-Men, more cutoff from their usual status quo than ever before. Serial fiction, especially superhero narratives, thrive on the illusion of change; above all else, "Inferno" does a great job of creating that illusion in an entertaining manner, of creating a feeling that what happened was a big deal, a culmination of years of plotlines that all seemed to be building to this story (even if they actually weren't always). That's a tough feeling to create, but "Inferno" ultimately does it well.
Next week, the last batch of "Inferno" tie-ins, followed by Excalibur #7 and Wolverine #6.