[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. An especially good entry here, in its look at Cyclops and Havok.]
“Inferno: Part the Third — Burn”
In 1988, Marc Silvestri and Dan Green earned a place in X-Men history, drawing the first issue of Uncanny X-Men since 1969 that featured the original five members of the team as the chief protagonists. They are even the main focus of the cover, charging towards the reader heroically while Storm, Wolverine and Havok loom above them like villains. The entire first half of Uncanny #242 sees the current X-Men – the ones who had spent all of 1988 being terrifying and alien – taken to that extreme. They are being influenced (albeit not outright possessed) by a demonic invasion, and further manipulated by Madelyne Pryor, and as such end up acting more as antagonists; while the pure-hearted, Silver Age X-Men seem somehow immune to “Inferno”’s psychological effects. This is a nice twist on Claremont’s part.
The “new X-Men vs. old X-Men” story here is, oddly enough, a first. There were a couple such issues back during Claremont’s earliest days, but in both of those cases, the “old X-Men” who showed up were imposters – robots, in one case; illusions in the other. This is the first time in the franchise’s history that the “real” Silver Age X-Men fight the “real” new X-Men.
Claremont has also said in an interview that, when the X-Factor series first debuted, there was an editorial edict that forbade any of the X-Men encountering any of X-Factor for the first full year of the latter’s existence. That (somewhat arbitrary) divide lasted three years, so the clash depicted here constitutes another of the “Inferno” crossover’s many “FINALLY!” moments (i.e., “Finally, the truth about Madelyne”; “finally, revenge against the Marauders”; “finally, the X-Men meet Mr. Sinister”; “finally, the conclusion to the Illyana saga”; etc.). Finally – X-Factor meet the X-Men!!! Again, say what you want about “Inferno,” but it was a genuinely culminating event for the X-franchise at this time. For all its hype and excess, it delivered a lot of resolutions and revelations. This puts “Inferno” at a sharp contrast against latter-day crossover events, which are just as hyped and just as excessive, but ultimately deliver nothing conclusive, other than a lead-in to the next, equally “important” crossover.
Uncanny X-Men #242 allows Claremont to write the resurrected Jean Grey for the first time. Significantly, not long after X-Factor debuted, Claremont began writing new stories set in the past, for the reprint-series “Classic X-Men.” He used that opportunity to seed new wrinkles on certain relationships. One such was to suggest that Jean Grey had – from Day One – a profound, “primal” sexual attraction to Wolverine. The payoff for that ret-conned revelation comes right on Page 1 of “Inferno: Part the Third,” which gorgeously depicts a passionate kiss between Jean and Logan.
A few pages later, Wolverine says to Jean, “My senses tell me you loved that kiss … an’ you want more.” This puts me in mind of what Geoff wrote about Morrison’s New X-Men Annual:
“Sex is brought up twice more in this book, both time to great effect:
Wolverine: So ... you need some company after this gig?
Domino: Can't hide from the man with hypersenses, huh? No strings animal passion, Logan, and you're paying for the drinks.
Wolverine: The Professor hands out platinum credit cards to his teaching staff.
Domino: First things first, honey ... Ninja business.
It takes only a split second to realize why his hypersenses are telling him she wants to have sex, and right in that moment you know the X-Men should never go back again. We don't lose the ninja stuff, but it's working on a fun, sexy, and dangerous new level.”
Now, granted, I am a comic-book geek, and – as such – a virgin who knows nothing about female biology, but am I right in thinking that this is another time where Morrison’s “new level” is not really all that new? [ed. note -- Yes. Yes you are. You win again Powell.]
Indeed, “fun, sexy and dangerous” are all words I would use to describe Uncanny #242.
1.) FUN: Claremont seems more than willing to acknowledge the silliness of “Inferno”’s premise: Revealing that Madelyne is a clone of Jean, only three years after John Byrne’s ret-con that Phoenix was also a clone of Jean. Thus, we get more than a couple jokes about it in this issue. My favorite is this bit, between Longshot and Dazzler, when the latter sees Jean Grey being threatened by demons:
Dazzler: “Red’s in trouble.”
Longshot: “Theirs or ours?”
Dazzler: “Theirs. Could probably use a hand.”
Longshot: “What’d she ever do for us?”
2.) SEXY: I understand the criticisms of Madelyne’s transformation from good-hearted woman to demon goddess. Intellectually I realize that my defense of the whole transformation doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Yet every time I read “Inferno,” I become enamored of evil Madelyne. She is hell on wheels (literally at one point), and her rage is so damn righteous. Plus, Silvestri and Green’s visualization is amazingly statuesque. What can I say? I know it’s just lines on paper, but I just love this lady. So she turned Jean’s parents into demons – they were boring anyway. So she wants to kill that baby? Why not, he was an annoying little distraction. (And four years later he’s going to be transformed, via ret-con, into a Liefeld character. A LIEFELD CHARACTER. Snuffing the little brat out now would’ve been a mercy killing.)
Claremont also creates a beautiful little moment on Page 25, wherein the Goblin Queen façade cracks, and Maddie speaks as her old self. It’s disarming, charming and unexpected, and it makes me love Madelyne that much more.
Meanwhile, it’s quite nice the way Claremont writes Jean as being just as bad-ass as Madelyne (logical, given their connection). Marvel Girl gets some great tough-gal dialogue as well: “What are we waiting for, lover?! We were the original X-Men. Past time we showed these cheap copies what that means!” (She doesn’t know yet that Madelyne is a literal “copy.”)
3.) DANGEROUS. As far back as Uncanny 219, Claremont was working a rather shrewd little bit of parallelism between Havok and Cyclops. Both of them abandon their female counterparts, who in turn are targeted by the Marauders. The parallel lines then change and become intersecting (like the lines of an “X”) when Claremont positions Alex and Madelyne as lovers. It is a very soap-opera swerve, but I love that the melodrama is given such an epic tone and sweep in Uncanny 242, as Alex confronts his brother with such fury. “You forfeited every right you had when you walked out on her,” Havok says. “You swore an oath, Scott – and you LIED!” There is a nice subtext at work here – Alex is confronting his own guilt as well. The entire affair takes on a heightened quality, like something out of a Greek tragedy. Claremont has played with the “brother vs. brother” trope before with Alex and Scott (as far back as issue 96), but back then it was all pretty safe and comic-booky. Here, the conflict still owes much to classically comic-booky tropes, but the battle itself – particularly the one between Scott and Alex – is girded with a powerful emotional component that make the stakes seem exponentially higher.
(Meanwhile, I think it’s great that Havok’s clothing gets stripped down until he is dressed in a version -- only slightly different -- of Madelyne’s very revealing goblin raiment. Both the gals and the guys get sexy in this issue!)
The story ends as these things typically do, with the two hero-teams realizing it was all a “misunderstanding,” and they team up to fight the real bad guy. What I enjoy about this iteration is that the transition is so very fluid. The X-Men and X-Factor just sort of start working together instead of fighting, without any fanfare. It is almost as if they cannot help themselves from drifting into being on the same side, which is lovely.