In a Nutshell
Madelyne Pryor and Jean Grey fight to the death.
Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciler: Walt Simonson
Inker: Al Milgrom
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Tom Vincent
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Atop the transformed Empire State Building, with Marvel Girl her prisoner, Madelyne prepares to sacrifice her son to permanently bond Limbo with Earth. Madelyne sets the remaining demons against the X-Men and X-Factor, then turns Longshot, Dazzler and Angel to her side and tasks Havok with bringing her his brother's heart. But Angel, fighting Madelyne's influence, manages to free Marvel Girl as Storm deals with Longshot and Dazzler. Their powers useless against each other, Havok and Cyclops resort to throwing punches as Marvel Girl attempts to rescue Christopher, but Madelyne stops her, containing the women inside a massive bubble of telekinetic energy. As the X-Men probe the force field, Havok falls off the building, but is rescued by Angel. Together, Storm and Cyclops reason that if the two teams can apply enough force to the bubble to tax Madelyne's concentration, a well-placed blow could then shatter the field. As Madelyne telepathically links her mind to Marvel Girl's, showing her how she was born the day Jean Grey rejected the portion of her soul stolen by the Phoenix, Longshot overcomes the demonic influence long enough to use his luck power to pinpoint the weakest spot on the force field.
Cyclops, Dazzler and Havok, now convinced the Maddie he loved is gone, blast the force field, destroying it, and Cyclops manages to get his son away from Madelyne. Accepting that the only way to kill Marvel Girl, Cyclops and the baby is to destroy everyone, including herself, Madelyne triggers an enormous blast, but the two teams shield themselves from the explosion. Dying, Madelyne, her mind still linked to Marvel Girl's, is determined to at least take Marvel Girl with her. But Marvel Girl, wanting to live, reclaims the rejected piece of herself stolen by Phoenix and is pulled back from the brink of death. In the wake of Madelyne's death, the Empire State Building, and the rest of the city, returns to normal. As Cyclops and Havok mourn Madelyne, Marvel Girl points out it was Mr. Sinister who made her, who used her and caused her destruction. Combined with his leadership of the Marauders, both teams agree it's time to find Mr. Sinister, and make him pay for all the lives he's destroyed.
Firsts and Other Notables
Madelyne Pryor dies this issue, bringing to an end the reign of the Goblin Queen and her role in "Inferno". She is killed in battle with Marvel Girl, when she realizes she's about to lose and refuses to live in the world alongside Jean. It's an ignoble end for the character, a once-strong woman essentially giving up because she refuses to let go of her sudden villainy (and, ultimately, just because the plot demands it). Of course, this being superhero comics, this won't be the last we'll see of Maddie, as she's since returned in various forms to varying (but never very high) levels of success in the intervening decades since "Inferno", none of which have ever really stuck for very long.
Though not made clear in this issue, we'll shortly learn that in the process of dying, Madelyne's consciousness and memories are absorbed by Marvel Girl, a condition which will have both immediate and longer term ramifications for the character, and which will ensure that Madelyne is, at least, not entirely and immediately forgotten in the wake of this issue.
This issue is filled with tons of Maddie-related retcons, as, leading up to her death, Simonson attempts to craft a cohesive history for the character that takes into account the recent clone revelation and ties up any remaining loose ends so as to allow the X-books to move forward Maddie-free. To wit, we learn that, unknownst to her at the time, Maddie subconsciously altered the outcome of the Storm/Cyclops leadership duel in X-Men #201 to ensure that Cyclops would lose. While I don't appreciate what happens to Maddie in this issue, as a Cyclops fan, part of me has always appreciated this retcon most of all.
It's also established that while living with the X-Men, Maddie worked to keep the two teams apart, an in-universe explanation for the baffling amount of time it took to bring the two teams together.
Suggested in X-Men #241, this issue comes right out and says that Mr. Sinister gave Maddie the last name of Pryor, because she had a "prior" existence as Jean, which, as a lover of puns, I've always appreciated as well.
It's revealed that after Phoenix died on the moon, the Phoenix Force tried to awaken the comatose Jean Grey healing at the bottom of Jamaica Bay, but Jean rejected the memories of Phoenix, at which point they went to Madelyne (as she was a genetic duplicate of Jean), which triggered her awakening (as seen in X-Men #241) and explains how Maddie has some of Jean's memories (such as the death of Annie Richards). These Phoenix memories, along with Maddie's, are absorbed by Jean at the end of the issue, which means that Jean now possesses the memories of everything Phoenix did while posing as her, effectively integrating the two so that things only Phoenix experienced, like the bulk of the Storm/Jean friendship (which, thanks to the Phoenix retcon, was now more of a friendship between Storm and Phoenix) means as much now to Jean now as if it was actually her that experienced it and not the Phoenix Force.
The Phoenix-triggered awakening then led to Mr. Sinister creating the cover story of Madelyne surviving the plane crash at the same time of Jean's death to explain her memories prior to her awakening at that point in time.
It's confirmed that Mr. Sinister did indeed arrange the sale of Cyclops' grandparents' airline, while Maddie's escape from the Marauders (as seen briefly in X-Men #215) is fleshed out a bit, including the retcon that she once again subconsciously used her powers to help fight them off.
When Cyclops asks Storm why she keeps bringing up the mutant hunter stuff when X-Factor blew the lid off that ruse months ago, it's revealed that Maddie has been censoring the news she gives to the X-Men, as part of her efforts to keep the teams apart and opposed to one another.
She also specifically says that the demons only came later, after she was already working against the X-Men, something which Claremont and Simonson herself more or less contradict in earlier issues of "Inferno".
Marvel Girls says that as a creation of Sinister, Madelyne was doomed to her fate from birth, another bit that seems more egregiously designed to somewhat repudiate Cyclops' behavior, as he's now just guilty of abandoning a villainous pawn whose purpose was to harvest his genetic material rather than a devoted wife who had done nothing wrong.
Warren/Angel/Death/Dark Angel receives the codename "Archangel" from Beast this issue; this is the name usually associated with his blue skin/metal wing appearance, and will be used almost exclusively moving forward, at least until the late 90s when writers start playing around with his wings again.
Al Milgrom fills in on inks this issue, and to the surprise of no one, his work does Simonson's no favors, his chunky thick lines sapping Walt's pencils of energy and distorting the figures.
The Chronology Corner
This issue follows on directly from X-Men #242 and leads directly into X-Men #243.
A Work in Progress
Though Illyana called all the demons back to Limbo in New Mutants #73, a few remain on Earth, ones which Maddie says are loyal to her. They also deliver her a few more babies, whose sacrifices are a warm-up to the planned death of Christopher.
Maddie says that she brings out the demon in people, a further suggestion as to why the X-Men have been acting more demonic than X-Factor (as they've been around Maddie longer).
Wolverine tells Havok the woman they're battling is no longer Madelyne, a convenient bit of lip service to wipe away any guilt the X-Men or X-Factor may have about fighting a former colleague and friend.
Jean rightly points out that when Roma resurrected the X-Men, Madelyne could have been reunited with her son, but Maddie says at that point she was just focused on revenge against Scott.
Longshot's jacket changes throughout the issue, with the sleeves torn off at the beginning, then back on when he pinpoints the spot to attack Maddie's shield, then it's back to sleeveless at the end.
Jean's parents resume their human forms in the wake of Madelyne's death, and it's noted that even though the portal to Limbo has closed and the city is back to normal, which, combined with Illyana's spell, effectively ends the demonic invasion of Earth, the X-Men's altered costumes remain.
Scott Summers, Husband of the Year
Cyclops finally admits that pretty much all the bad stuff Maddie has said about him is true, as far as his abandoning of her and his son for Jean.
Marvel Girl later points out that he went looking for Madelyne only to find all existence of her and the baby (save a rattle) to be wiped away, though she leaves out the part that it took him thirteen issues of X-Factor to finally do so.
Later, Jean does her best to absolve Scott of blame for what happened to Madelyne and how he treated her.
Like a Phoenix, From the Ashes
Marvel Girl notes that Maddy took over her life just like Phoenix did, and later, the Phoenix Force itself shows up to once again pull Jean back from the brink of death and restore the memories of its time living as her.
With that, the sad story of Madelyne Pryor comes to a close, as the final details of her past come to light just before she dies, her consciousness integrated into the mind of her genetic source material. It's an effective end for the character, in that, via the retcons established here, it dots the i's and crosses the t's of Maddie's past, taking all the teases and red herrings Claremont established involving the character and using the recent clone revelation to create a cohesive history for the character, one that, while almost entirely a complete retcon, is nonetheless tightly structured, to the point where it would be easy enough to assume this had been the plan all along. But it's an end that also does an unfortunate disservice to a character who, before X-Factor was launched, was a surprisingly well-developed supporting character and who, post-X-Factor, could have still had a place in the narrative despite what Cyclops did to her.
It's a shame that Chris Claremont, who is pretty much chiefly responsible for everything interesting about Maddie as a character, was unable to write her departure from the narrative. Obviously, he had a hand in crafting this resolution, and likely worked closely with Simonson in terms of deploying it (and will get his own chance to say goodbye in the next X-Men). But, even as someone who tends to appreciate Simonson's X-Factor work more than most, there's no denying that he probably could have handled Madelyne's departure, even as it appears in this issue, a bit more deftly. Claremont was always very careful to suggest that Maddie's villainous actions were a result of demonic corruption, dating any evil acts on her part to roughly post-X-Men #234. Though Maddie's characterization throughout "Inferno" took a hit, she was, for the most part, an agent of righteous anger twisted by forces outside her control, a character through whom readers could vent their own frustrations for the way Cyclops was forced to treat her.
Here, though, Simonson suggests Maddie's villainy goes back even further, saying that Maddie began resenting Scott shortly after the birth of their son, that she subconsciously affected the outcome of his duel with Storm and kept the X-Men and X-Factor apart, thus muddying Claremont's (and even, at times, Simonson's herself) presentation of the Goblin Queen as a force of corrupted, albeit justified, anger. Obviously, Simonson's tweaks paint Scott in a kinder light: he wasn't running from his wife, he was running from a burgeoning supervillain. But it also retroactively casts Maddie as a vindictive, catty shrew, someone attacking her husband for daring to want a bit of a life outside of her, instead of attacking her husband for genuinely awful way he treated her.
While this depiction was probably necessary to distance Cyclops as much as possible from the mess created by the early issues of X-Factor (something which will ultimately help the character, X-Factor the series, and the overall franchise) and while the end result is a surprisingly cohesive series of retcons that binds together much of the characters' established history with the new revelations, it's still a shame that all that had to come at the expense of a character who managed, despite her brief page time, to rise above the role of "token girlfriend of the hero" and become a well-rounded and interesting character in her own right.
Next week, the third batch of "Inferno" tie-ins, followed by Excalibur #6 and Wolverine #5.