Monday, August 10, 2015

Review # 168: "X-Men - Inferno Prologue"

Interesting technique being employed by Marvel with this omnibus, as "X-Men: Inferno Prologue" collects all material from "Uncanny X-Men," "New Mutants" and "X-Factor" between the crossovers "Fall of the Mutants" and "Inferno." If this is their model going forward - collecting the "big three" of the 80s in single collections - then I am all for it. Better to keep all of the setpieces in one place, even if it does create some unevenness in terms of quality.

That is not a slight on Louise Simonson, whose work in "X-Factor" and "New Mutants" (here, immediately following the show-stealing turn for the former in "Fall of the Mutants" and the all-time stinker for the latter) is at the very least quite solid. It's just that "Uncanny X-Men" under Chris Claremont with pencils by the incredible Marc Silvestri and Rick Leonardi at this time was on an entirely different level.

This was the dawning of the "Outback Era" for the X-Men as Storm, Wolverine, Havok, Colossus, Dazzler, Longshot, Rogue and Madelyne Prior are thought dead and restart in Australia. With a strange feeling of carte blanche, Claremont crafts great story after great story after great story with near-limitless boundaries. The X-Men fight cyborg superthugs the Reavers, then Colossus teams up with his sister (who still thinks he's dead) to battle demons including one impersonating a villain from a folk tale, then they battle the Brood and (finally) head off to the new creation Genosha, the African island which has gone on to play a significant role in X-Men history. Of these, the return of the Brood is probably the best as the smash-em-up with evil aliens practically turns into a morality play. It's remarkable how good these stories are, considering we are YEARS removed from Claremont during his actual peak.

Unfortunately, much as she managed to outdo the father of the X-Men with her Apocalypse and the Four Horsemen section of "Fall of the Mutants," Simonson really can't keep up during this bridge period heading towards "Inferno." That said, she's no slouch. A good multi-part story in "X-Factor" features one of my favourite one-and-done villains ever, Infectia. The mutant with the ability to genetically manipulate the DNA of anyone she chooses, turning them into giant monstrosities is wonderfully weird and her strange obsession with manipulating Iceman in a plan to steal X-Factor's headquarters actually becomes funny. Infectia is also a great subject for the artist on "X-Factor" at the time, Louise's husband Walt who excels at drawing grotesque creatures like the Anti-Bodies and charismatic smokeshows like Infectia. It's a great storyline for Beast who was rapidly losing his intelligence at the time, and it may be the most entertaining Iceman arc you'll find.

"New Mutants," though, continues to struggle mightily. It reaches new heights of unintentional comedy when the emotionally oblivious Warlock reanimates Doug Ramsay's corpse and trots him around like a puppet. Still, it's not as bad as the story where Cypher actually died. So... it's a step in the right direction?

As the series stumbles through this and the forgettable Gosamyr story, there is one saving grace: Magik. With the character slowly transforming into the Darkchilde demon, Illyana steals the show and is the real focal point about what these books were actually heading for: "Inferno." It starts small as her teammates discover twisted-looking rocks. Then, suddenly, her soul sword is creating twisted demonic creatures. It's wonderfully bizarre and gets me primed to read "Inferno."

Buuuuuuuuuut not as much as what Chris Claremont does with Madelyne Pryor. The scene during the return of the Brood where Cyclops' estranged wife is seduced into becoming the Goblin Queen is the best in this giant book. Her role during the Genosha story is exceptionally creepy and - with my pledge to leave these Claremont issues be until I get colour copies - makes it very difficult for me to keep my black-and-white Essential X-Men sets on the shelf. Somehow, I have. February, when "Inferno" is re-released in paperback form, cannot come soon enough.

Rating: 7.5/10

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