Wednesday, July 23, 2014
X-amining Uncanny X-Men #241
In a Nutshell
The Origin of Madelyne Pryor
Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Marc Silvestri
Inker: Dan Green
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
In the secret high-tech catacombs beneath a Nebraska orphanage, Madelyne Pryor attacks Mr. Sinister, who claims to be her father. Mr. Sinister shrugs off her attack and traps her in chains as N'astirh disappears. Meanwhile, the X-Men and the Marauders find themselves in the midst of a demonically-possessed Manhattan, as inanimate objects and even the police have become enchanted. In Nebraska, Mr. Sinister asks Madelyne to share a childhood memory, but the only one she can recall is actually a memory of Jean Grey's. In Manhattan, the X-Men and the Marauders continue their battle, with the X-Men growing increasingly savage. Back in Nebraska, Mr. Sinister explains how he cloned Madelyne from a sample of Jean Grey's blood and tissue, but that she didn't awaken until after the Phoenix sacrificed itself on the moon. In Manhattan, Colossus learns his sister has been deposed as ruler of Limbo, and, with his teammates now enchanted themselves, leaves to help her on his own, in order to end the demonic invasion.
In Nebraska, Madelyne learns how Sinister set her up to attract Scott Summers, with the hope of creating a child born with incredible power. Back in New York, the X-Men have defeated the Marauders. N'astirh appears and taunts the X-Men, but just then, Wolverine picks up a familiar and troubling scent. Back in Nebraksa, having finally learned the truth of her creation, Madelyne breaks free of her chains, overpowering Mr. Sinister. Just then, N'astirh reappears with her son, fulfilling his promise. Taking the child, which Madelyne tells Sinister represents the culmination of all his machinations, all of Scott Summers' hopes and dreams and all of her humanity, she declares she will turn the world to ashes via an inferno that will consume everything.
Firsts and Other Notables
This issue reveals the origin of Madelyne Pryor, establishing that her resemblance to Jean Grey is due to her being a clone created by Mr. Sinister. Originally drawn to young a Jean Grey's power, Mr. Sinister created the clone after Professor X took Jean in before Sinister could get her to his orphanage. He thought Madelyne was a failed clone, until the Phoenix Force brought her to life following its sacrifice on the moon (as seen in X-Men #137).
Suspecting a genetic affinity for the powerful Phoenix Force, Mr. Sinister then created a set of false memories for Madelyne and positioned her so that Cyclops would meet and fall in love with her, making her a brood mare whose chief goal was the creation of a powerful child (later stories will establish that Mr. Sinister has long studied Summers DNA, and that he believes the offspring of Cyclops and Jean Grey will be a supremely powerful being, specifically one capable of destroying Apocalypse).
Once Madelyne gave birth (thus fulfilling her purpose) and Jean Grey returned to life (threatening to expose his role in Madelyne's creation), Mr. Sinister sent the Marauders to eliminate Madelyne and retrieve her son for him (as seen in X-Men #215, and again in #221-222), though they only succeeded in the latter.
By issue's end, Madelyne is finally reunited with her son, given to her by N'astirh (but only because giving him to her is part of his plan at this point; he's technically been in possession of the boy since shortly after X-Factor #35/X-Terminators #3).
Colossus encounters one of the armored Right soldiers sent to Limbo by Illyana during New Mutants' portion of "Fall of the Mutants", and learns from him that S'ym has overthrown Limbo, and that with the portal between Earth and Limbo created, he and N'astirh next intend to cast a spell that will make Earth more like Limbo. This leads him to seek out Illyana in order to help her defeat the demons, setting up his forthcoming appearance in New Mutants #73.
The rest of the X-Men, as a result of being in Manhattan, slowly become enchanted, acting more ruthless or selfish as a result of the demonic spells at work in the city, with even their clothing and hair taking on a more demonic look. This increased ruthlessness, even relative to last issue, stuns the Marauders and allows the X-Men to defeat them. By the end of the issue, it's suggested all the remaining Marauders, save Polaris (and Arclight, Blockbuster, Sabretooth and Scrambler, who are presumably still in the Alley, as they were knocked out last issue), have been killed by the X-Men. Though that won't stop them from returning in the future, this is the last time Claremont uses the team as a whole.
The Chronology Corner
This is where things start to get dicey in the sequence of "Inferno" events, particularly in terms of N'astirh's appearances in this issue. His appearance with Madelyne at the beginning of the issue carries on from last issue, and he leaves her to open the portal between Limbo and Earth at the end of X-Terminators #3. From there, he appears in Avengers #300, New Mutants #71-72, X-Terminators #4 (where he becomes techno-organic) and the first seven pages of X-Factor #37, before returning, in his new T-O form, to deliver baby Christopher to Madelyne in the closing pages of this issue.
Where it gets tricky is that between disappearing and reappearing before Madelyne at the beginning and end of this issue, N'astirh also returns briefly to the orphanage as Mr. Sinister is monologuing to Madelyne and then shows up to attack Longshot and taunt the X-Men in the middle of this issue. None of the usual sources (the Marvel Index or the Marvel Chronology Project) seem to account for that appearance, leading me to wonder if that the demon is, in fact N'astirh (it sure looks like him, and I don't know why else a random demon would be there). Presumably, he popped back in to this issue during one of those other appearances, but it's tough to place it in the specific sequence of events (it had to be before he became techno-organic, since he's not red until he shows up with the baby at the very end of this issue).
Starting with this issue, the X-Men and X-Factor portions of "Inferno" actually cross over and follow directly from one to the other. Madelyne goes from this issue to X-Factor #37, and the ending of that issue leads directly into the opening of X-Men #242, and so on through the end of the crossover.
A Work in Progress
The macabre/darkly humorous possessed objects gags continue this issue, with, amongst other things, a sentient mailbox attacking someone for using insufficient posting.
Psylocke is felled by the psychic cries of the infants being used to open the portal between Earth and Limbo, as seen in X-Terminators #3 & 4, New Mutants #71 & 72, and X-Factor #36.
Later, in another darkly comic moment, a group of demons are seen betting souls on the outcome of the X-Men/Marauder fight.
With Madelyne recalling the memory of the death of Jean's childhood friend Annie Richardson (an incident first mentioned in Bizarre Adventures #27), he wonders if perhaps some memories become so deeply ingrained they become part of someone's genetic material.
Colossus is surprised to see Riptide, whom he slew during "Mutant Massacre", alive and well; Riptide notes the Marauders are full of surprises, another hint at being clones.
The Right trooper reveals that the Empire State Building will be the site of the ritual that transforms Earth into Limbo, explaining it's transformation and prominent placement in previous "Inferno" issues.
Colossus notes that, as with the Adversary, his metal form makes him resistant to magic, and thus, he's not as infected by the Inferno as the other X-Men.
Similarly, Longshot is not as affected by the spell, at least until N'astirh deliberately attacks him in order to bring out his dark side.
Mr. Sinister takes Madelyne's measure, and finds her wanting.
Scalphunter refers to Storm as the X-Men's Wind-Witch, which at this point seems like an alternate codename for her.
Havok still thinks of Malice as Polaris and cares for her, but he thinks he may love Maddy more now.
Longshot wonders why he can't have room in his hearts (nice touch, there) for both Dazzler and Rogue.
Whereas last issue it felt like the "Inferno" elements took a backseat to the X-Men's return engagement with the Marauders, this issue flips things, with the conclusion of the X-Men/Marauders battle taking a backseat (the final blows to the Marauders even happen off panel) to the long awaited origin of Madelyne Pryor. However much Claremont may have originally intended for Madelyne to be nothing more than a Hitchcockian dead ringer for Jean Grey that enabled Cyclops to have a happy ending, with the return of Jean Grey and the end of Scott and Madelyne's relationship, it became clear that another story would be needed to set things right, and that part of that story would need to involve a deeper origin for Madelyne beyond "happy coincidence".
Like the resurrection of Jean Grey, one's feelings about that origin are likely colored by when they first encountered it. Like the reborn Jean Grey, I came into a comics world in which Madelyne Pryor was a clone of Jean Grey created by Mr. Sinister - the first time I read "From the Ashes", it was with the knowledge that this woman with an uncanny resemblance to Jean Grey bore said resemblance because she was a genetic duplicate created to be a brood mare by a villain. It's just one of those things that always was. And while the direction the clone revelation leads the character in future chapters of "Inferno" has its problems, the revelation itself is almost a case of Occam's razor. In the world of the X-Men, right along with "time traveler" and "alternate reality doppelganger", "clone" isn't that outrageous a revelation; relatively speaking, it's almost downright mundane and, in and of itself, not a terrible explanation for the character.
Tomorrow, Illyana grapples with her dark side in New Mutants #72, followed by Madelyne's battle with X-Factor in X-Factor #37. Next week, the second chunk of "Inferno" tie-ins.