[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men.]
“Inferno: Part the Second — Fan the Flames”
It’s excessive, it’s bloated and it’s plagued by more than a couple dubious leaps in logic, but for all of that, the “Inferno” crossover can be said to have delivered some major climaxes to several long-running mysteries and plot threads. The X-Men had been talking about bringing down the Marauders for a good long while now … indeed, the Marauders were the reason the X-Men decided to “let the world believe them dead.” Now, in the previous issue and this one, they finally take those bastards down. Silvestri is in excellent form, and he has a lot of fun with the action sequences. He and Green sell the Marauders’ last stand with gusto.
Meanwhile, we also get (as the cover blurb puts it) “At last! The startling secret of Madelyne Pryor!” Indeed. Now, again, Claremont has always, always said that Madelyne was meant to just be a dead ringer for Jean, and the whole “Is she Phoenix reincarnated” mystery was a red herring. He maintains that position to this day. In this issue, we learn that she was a clone of Jean Grey, but this is a ret-con that was shoehorned into Maddie’s backstory, so that she could find out about it and thus have more reason to become an insane villain. This is still Claremont’s idea, presumably, but not one he seems to have liked very much.
Yet, the original, “random doppelganger” alternative has always rung false to me. That a woman who looks exactly like Jean exists, okay. That’s the “everybody has a twin” school of thought (which Claremont has quoted in discussing this subject). Yet, she just happens to have been involved in a massive plane crash that took place at the exact same time that Jean died on the moon? Why was that a part of the story if Madelyne’s looks are coincidence? Why did Claremont deliberately have Madelyne mention this in Uncanny #176 (just after Mastermind’s defeat), thus making it clear that the plane-crash date was not part of Mastermind’s illusions?
And this dead ringer for Jean just happened to become a pilot (the same occupation that Scott’s father had), and then just happened to get a job working for an airline owned by Scott’s grandparents? If these are things that Claremont never planned to address, and was only forced to integrate them as part of the “Inferno” ret-con, then I say three cheers for “Inferno.” These coincidences are now woven into the tapestry, and the whole thing works quite neatly. Hell, even the name Claremont gave her (originally only a reference to the lead singer of Steeleye Span) now actually has a thematic justification. As Sinister explains here, Maddie had a “prior existence” as Jean Grey (and, though, no one realizes it yet) the Phoenix.
“Inferno” also resolves the long-running New Mutants arc about Illyana, S’ym and Limbo. Though most of it is resolved in New Mutants (written by Simonson), we get a taste of it here, during a scene between Colossus and a demonic “Right” robot. Both Illyana’s story and the mystery of Madelyne were begun back in 1983, and now we at last see them culminate, five years later. Sinister had been lurking for a while now too, and here we finally get some information on his motivations (though, overall, Mr. S’s full scheme remains rather smokily opaque).
So there is a lot of momentum leading up to Uncanny X-Men 241, a story that builds its tension on the constant shifting back and forth between the same two scenes: Sinister and Madelyne in “the secret, high-tech catacombs of a Nebraska orphanage” (one of my all-time favorite narrative captions ever), and the X-Men vs. the Marauders in demon-filled New York City.
The X-Men/Marauder sequence is a simplistic variation on a familiar Claremont theme: X-Men battle old villains, but their rivalry is set aside briefly to take on newer, more threatening villains. We saw it in the previous year’s “Fall of the Mutants” crossover – the X-Men fought Freedom Force until the Adversary made the world go insane, forcing a team-up.
The variation here is that – although the world is once again being turned upside-down – this time, the X-Men are being corrupted as much as the world around them. Over the course of the story, Silvestri evolves each character’s visuals, turning them into cartoonish, demonic caricatures of themselves. (Wolverine’s look is the most humorous, as by the end of the issue he looks as if his entire face is covered in char.) I love that Silvestri adds a humorous touch to this demonic invasion – something that we did not see in “Fall of the Mutants.” The anthropomorphized fire hydrants and mailboxes give the entire affair a slapstick feel that leavens the usual Claremontian melodrama (and Claremont, to his credit, seems more than eager to go along with the jokes).
With the X-Men turned nasty, they don’t really team up with the Marauders (who are pure unrepentant bastards anyway, unlike some of Freedom Force, so a team-up was not really in the cards). The heroes hold off briefly on taking them down while fighting some demons, but then just go right back to kicking their asses, as efficiently as possible. (Indeed, at least one Marauder is defeated off-panel, which is a bit of a disappointment.)
Meanwhile, Madelyne Pryor learns that she is a clone created by Mr. Sinister from a genetic sample stolen from Jean Grey years ago. She inexplicably came to life on the day Phoenix died, reciting a truncated version of that very familiar Claremont refrain “I am fire, and life incarnate. Now and forever, I am Phoenix.” Appropriately enough, Sinister’s revelations take Maddie the rest of the way towards villainy, and the final pages see her transformed entirely to the Goblin Queen (“Dark Madelyne,” by any other name.)
Note: The full “secret origin” of Madelyne – her ties to Phoenix, etc. – is never given by Claremont. He leaves it to Louise Simonson to reveal in X-Factor #38. But we do get a lot of it here, and I still maintain that “Inferno” works perfectly well to explain the long-running mysteries, certainly more effectively than “She was just this lady who looked exactly like Jean, but it was all just a coincidence.”