Remember when Marvel’s crossovers were limited in scope and over in just a few months? When they were about stories that had been building for years, sometimes decades? When the event wasn’t slapped on any random issue just to increase sales?
I loved those.
When the X-Men started what would become an annual tradition of an event, I was on board. Mutant Massacre started just after I began reading X-Men and it blew me away. But that was just the start.
Next came The Fall of the Mutants, another crazy big event with what felt like real ramifications.
And then came Inferno.
Reading Inferno again I was struck by something I never would have believed: it’s actually better if you ignore Uncanny X-Men and X-Factor.
Okay, yes, those books crossed over for the first time and, yes, they finally dealt with Madelyn Pryor, Mr. Sinister, and the Marauders. They did not, of course, address the fact that Cyclops became the worst person in the world because of X-Factor, but they’d been ignoring that for years so I’ll let it go.
And as exciting as that story was, with the bonus of some fantastic art by Marc Silvestri and Walter Simonson, it’s only indirectly connected to Inferno. The Goblin Queen doesn’t really need N’astirh and doesn’t interact with S’ym, who actually gave her powers. Demonic NYC is a nice setting, but most of it is ignored.
And even as a kid, it bothered me that the X-Men were transformed by Inferno but X-Factor weren’t, as if X-Factor were somehow more pure than the X-Men.
Anyway, if you pull the two premiere X-teams out of the mix, Inferno still works as its own story.
New Mutant and X-terminators
I did not appreciate Jon Bogdanove and Bret Blevins when I was a kid. In my defense, both have styles that differed drastically from what I was used to; my first Marvel comics were drawn by Marc Silvestri (unfortunately inked by Vince Coletta) and John Romita, Jr. Bogdanove’s characters seemed almost cartoony to me, while Blevins characters always seem kind of psychotic.
Looking back on it, though, they both kill and giving them an event featuring demons and possessed inanimate objects really played to their strengths. They easily did the best job at conveying the insanity of something like Inferno.
The X-terminators is the name the X-Factor team gave themselves when they weren’t pretending to be mutant hunters (yes, X-Factor was filled with god awful ideas). During Fall of the Mutants, however, the team was outed, but saved the city of New York and became heroes, to a certain extent. So the X-terminators name passed down to the group of young mutants they had rescued while they were pretending to hunt them.
That group includes Boom Boom, Rictor, Skids, Rusty, Leech, Artie, and a new addition, Wiz Kid. This is the group that ultimately fights their way through Inferno and ends up teaming up with the New Mutants.
The New Mutants are really at the center of everything, as S’ym and N’astirh both want to wrest control of Limbo away from Magik. This is the driver behind the event. They’re using Madelyn Pryor to create a bridge to earth, yes, but they need control of Limbo first.
Inferno is the beginning of a transition for the New Mutants as a team. The team had lost members over the years (Karma, Magma, Cypher), but new members never really seemed to stick (perhaps because the most recent had been Birdbrain and Gosamyr). But when Inferno ends, the older X-terminators decide to stick with the New Mutants.
While Rusty and Skids would have an inglorious tenure with the team, Boom Boom and Rictor would become mainstays. Boom Boom would stick around long enough to be a founding member of X-Force, while Rictor would rejoin not much after that. They’ve both had fairly prolific histories, the bulk of which have stemmed from their time with the New Mutants.
Of course adding a few members meant losing a few. Magik gets a happy ending which is remarkably well done and, of course, eventually reversed. Gosamyr leaves in the aftermath, much to everyone’s relief.
This was something of a pattern for the New Mutants and X-book events. They lost Karma during the Mutant Massacre. Cypher died during Fall of the Mutants. Magik is reverted to a child during Inferno. And in next year’s crossover, the X-Tinction Agenda, Warlock would die. Compared to the other X-team, the New Mutants were practically canon fodder.
Uncanny X-Men and X-Factor
These issues are amazing to look at. I defy anyone to say otherwise with a straight face. But for the long awaited reunion between these two casts of characters, it leaves something to be desired, primarily because one of the two casts are acting like evil versions of themselves.
I mean, kudos to Claremont and Simonson for upending expectations for the joyous reunion, and kudos for their ability to not just tie-up the Madelyn Pryor/Nathan Summers story, but to also tie it together with Mr. Sinister and the Marauders. That is the kind of connectivity we don’t really see in superhero comics anymore because there are just so damn many of them.
But these issues are mostly fights, mostly the X-Men being dicks and Cyclops being angsty and at this point there’s nothing unique about that. And when the finale is over, we’re only given a couple of pages of actual reunion.
That not much happens to the Uncanny team isn’t surprising considering how far out Claremont plotted: he knew this would be the calm before the storm. Things would get bleak really fast for the X-Men.
On the other hand, this was the storm before the calm for X-Factor. At the start of the crossover they are finally all together again and that’s the team we see from here on out.
Again, perfectly fine, beautiful comics, but they lacked the impact of the teen flavored X-books.
You can probably determine whether a comic book event is any good or not based solely on the tie-ins. Inferno’s tie-ins, by and large, were great.
There are two titles in particular that are fantastic.
The first is Daredevil. The Inferno tie-ins come during the unbelievable run by Anne Nocenti and John Romita, Jr. Besides looking amazing, Inferno just happens to work perfectly with the thematic elements Nocenti and Romita, Jr. were already delving into in DD.
Plus, Inferno takes place in the summer time and no one draws the big city in the summer better than JRJR. For the longest time I just assumed everyone in New York looked like JRJR characters.
And since I’m talking about art…
The other book that stands out is Amazing Spider-man, featuring art by Todd McFarlane.
The insanity of a hellish New York is perfect for McFarlane, although perhaps this was a gateway drug for his later solo Spider-man book and Spawn (it’s fine in Spawn, but the darkness of his Spider-man book is a bit much). The event also gives him a chance to show off his versions of a couple of big time Spider-man villains, like Mysterio and the Lizard.
It’s not just the art on Amazing Spider-man that’s great; David Michelinie tells some really enjoyable stories, taking advantage of the setting to amplify some existing Spider-man stories. Besides Mysterio and the Lizard, we also get a fantastic Hobgoblin vs Green Goblin story.
The rest of the tie-ins are by and large good. The Excaliber issues feature art from Alan Davis. Alex Saviuk and Sal Buscema may not have been the hottest names in comics at the time, but both are legendary creators, neither of whom have gotten their due.
They can’t all be winners, though, and the Avengers tie-in issues are not great. While not all that bad taken on their own, the end result is perhaps the worst Avengers line-up in Marvel history, so bad that it’s completely up ended in only a few issues.
In the end, Inferno was the type of classic crossover that we don’t see anymore, an event that was contained to just a handful of books and created real change in a number of them. This was the kind of crossover that Marvel did so well and that had me running to the store every week.