Monday, 29 November 2021

Web of Spider-Man 48 - Inferno

The All-New All-Daring Jason Macendale the Replacement Hobgoblin pursues Spider-Man into the sewers.

Web of Spider-Man #48

Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciler: Alex Saviuk
Inker: Keith Williams
Letters: Rick Parker
Color: J. Cohen
Editor: Jim Salicrup
Editor in Chief: Tom DeFalco

Spider-Man briefly hallucinates about the demons and flees the Daily Bugle. Coming to his sense he realises New York is even worse then he imagined and sets off to find Mary Jane. Others deal with the demons in their own way. Gloria Grant's date Eduardo Lobo takes out a fork-lift truck with a pipe, winning her affections. The Kingpin punches a demon into oblivion, irritated by the distraction. Meanwhile the Hobgoblin is struggling with the changes inflicted on him and thinks he's mad when he sees a giant lizard the size of a man. Spotting Spider-Man he follows him as the wallcrawler reaches the studio where Mary Jane had a session then goes down into the sewers where the model and her crew are under attack by demons. The Hobgoblin catches up with Spider-Man and is now much faster and more powerful, with Spider-Man at times barely able to sense his foe's blasts. Meanwhile Mary Jane comes up with the idea of setting off a gas explosion to deal with the demons and when Spider-Man and the Hobgoblin come into view the latter's cape proves highly flammable. Out in Queens Aunt May sees the storm over Manhattan and worries about Peter.

Although Inferno still has two more Spider-Man issues to go we've come to the climax of the Hobgoblin part of the story. However with so much else going on in the issue we get little more than the Hobgoblin coming to terms with how he's been changed, with his face taking time to become truly demonic, and then a brief fight with Spider-Man. But it's sufficient to establish the Hobgoblin's new enhanced powers and gives the character a sense of dignity and menace for about the first time since he took over the costume. It somewhat puts the character's weakness in earlier issues in perspective as they have been setting up his search for strength and greater power whilst it also provides a personal angle to the conflict as the Hobgoblin blames both Spider-Man and Harry Osborn for the events that led him to become a demon and now seeks revenge.

There's a few scenes of other characters with some interesting moments. Harry Osborn pops by Aunt May's and from his thoughts it seems as though he knows Peter helped him last issue - so has he remembered Peter's identity? It's a subtle moment not touched upon for a while. Another mystery comes with the strange super strength of Eduardo Lobo but the standout moment has to be with the Kingpin. Coming out of his office to find his henchman the Arranger and various thugs cowering from a demon in the reception the Kingpin calmly destroys it with one punch and then tells his subordinate to get back to day to day business whilst he makes further plans for dealing with Daredevil. Despite being less than two pages long the scene is promoted on the cover and provides a fantastic moment that is all the better for its briefness.

This issue is struggling to balance the immediate needs and the ongoing storylines but manages to provide a good set of moments to bring a satisfactory conclusion to the Hobgoblin saga that serves to re-energise the character and make him a viable threat going forward.

Sunday, 28 November 2021

Spectacular Spider-Man 147 - Inferno

Spider-Man teams up with J. Jonah Jameson whilst the Hobgoblin tries to deal with demons.

Spectacular Spider-Man #147

Script: Gerry Conway
Art: Sal Buscema
Letters: Rick Parker
Color: Sharen & Wilcox
Editor: Jim Salicrup
Editor in Chief: Tom DeFalco

The Hobgoblin is frustrated after his battle with Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. Still seeking power and encountering the Limbo demons he decides to try seeking it from them. He goes to N'astirh and offers his soul for the power of a demon. N'astirh laughs at the idea he would want such a soul but rewards him for the amusement. A wounded Spider-Man staggers into the Daily Bugle office where he finds Jonah leading the staff in defence against demon attacks and the two find themselves fighting side by side. Elsewhere both Mary Jane and Harry Osborn see off demons whilst Robbie Robertson faces down a panicking neighbour.

This is another multiple cast issue again looking at how many of the supporting cast are handling the ever growing menace. And many are standing their ground firmly with especial courage shown by both Jonah and Mary Jane. When the demons attack the newsroom it's fun to see Spider-Man and Jonah teaming up but there's also a monologue about many of the frustrations of urban living and how for the staff this is just another thing to get through. I don't know if Gerry Conway was still living in New York when he wrote this issue but it does feel like a statement of defiance and pride in a city that had a lot of problems at the time.

But the big focus in this issue comes with the Hobgoblin. Let's cut straight to the chase - Jason Macendale was a lousy loser even long before he first donned this costume. As Jack O'Lantern he frequently screwed up and got his butt handed to him. He couldn't even take down the original Hobgoblin (as he and everyone else thought at the time) himself but had to resort to hiring assassins. As the second Hobgoblin his career so far has consisted of blundering through, getting chucked about to establish the credentials of new villains like Tombstone, equipment malfunctions and so forth. Other underworld figures openly mocked him including to his face. And he spent a lot of time whining about his situation including at the start of this issue.

It's now well established that this situation did not come about by design as briefly discussed when looking at Web of Spider-Man #47. To put a bit more detail the original Hobgoblin's identity was a mystery that got tangled up as multiple writers and editors came and went with their own plans that either made it impossible to establish intended characters as suspects or else ruled them out and the revelation issue was effectively a fill-in commission between regular writers with Peter David discovering to his horror that all the clues led to Ned Leeds who had just been killed off and no other suspect fitted. So came the unusual revelation that the Hobgoblin was Leeds and a replacement was hurriedly found in the form of his killer. And thus the legacy of not one but two of the biggest villains in Spider-Man's history was now held by a loser.

The Inferno issues of the Spider-Man titles seem to be trying multiple ways to resolve this. Putting Harry Osborn back into the Green Goblin costume may at first seem a one-off to allow for a long expected battle and set the Hobgoblin up for the next stage. But it might also have been a deliberate plan to have Harry back as the Green Goblin permanently though as it turned out this would take a little while to happen. However either way something still needed to be done up the Hobgoblin. And the end of the issue shows that's he's been changed by his meeting with N'astirh. Giving him enhanced powers seems a natural step. Having him transformed by a demon is a bit far out from the normal run of Spider-Man foes. Although the crossover provides the opportunity for it to happen, it does seem a rather odd route to go down. But how the changed Hobgoblin will work is a matter for later issues.

Otherwise this issue continues the pattern of Spectacular Spider-Man doing a lot of the subplot and character work whilst the other titles carry the main action. The battle in the Daily Bugle newsroom is hardly essential to the grand scheme of things but provides for a fun encounter and some great moments between Spidey and Jonah. Sal Buscema continues to provide the best Spider-Man art for the period able to capture the full range from the comedic to the dramatic with an especially strong final page as we see the Hobgoblin's face beneath the mask. This is a title living up to its name.

Saturday, 27 November 2021

X-Factor 37 - Inferno

The team find themselves caught up in a rather messy divorce.

X-Factor #37

Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciler: Walter Simonson
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Petra Scotese
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Fighting through the demons X-Factor are confronted first by N'astirh, reformed through the transmode virus and now far more powerful, carrying Nathan Christopher Charles Summers. Then appears Madelyne Pryor to confront her husband for the first time since he left her and her rival. The confrontation is explosive with the baby (called Christopher by his father and Nathan by his mother) distressed and threatened for sacrifice whilst N'astirh finds that Madelyne has gotten out of his control and can now only manipulate her through suggestions. The rest of X-Factor advise Cyclops that they must take tougher measures and he reluctantly agrees but Madelyne is extremely powerful.

Looking back it's astonishing that it took a whole three years for this encounter to happen. As discussed in previous posts the whole Scott and Madelyne situation came about because of a clash of visions with Scott having been given a retirement happy ending when suddenly an editorial order came down to reunite the original X-Men causing Madelyne and their child to be casually abandoned both by Scott and the creative team. Madelyne then became an awkward element to tidy away and demonstrated how difficult it can be to undo a superhero marriage when external demands change. Worse still came when one writer had her disappear with all records as though she had never existed but another brought her back into the frame. And in all that time there was no direct confrontation between her and either Scott or Jean.

This issue gives us that confrontation and it's brutal. The ex-couple cannot even agree on what their child is called. Scott seeks to justify his recent behaviour by his belief that Madelyne was dead. Madelyne blames the demons for distorting her through their influence but N'astirh thinks about how the manipulation of Madelyne has gone wrong, as though there's something deeper to her. Although both spouses' sins are touched on and given depth there's a sense that there's something deeper in Madelyne that has made her so willing, as though she bears more guilt for her actions than just the influence of others. There's even a hint that when Scott lost a dual for the leadership of the X-Men to a depowered Storm and opted to leave the team it was because of Madelyne somehow influencing it. Her encounter with Jean is less direct, reacting in anger at her rival trying to comfort her son and siccing demons on her, including her own distorted parents, then declaring her hatred. Madelyne's power is intense and there's something more to it than a mere tool of demons.

There are some other good moments in the issue with one of the more subtle fixes as the Beast literally shreds his uniform and restores his more traditional bare chested look whilst the re-emergence of N'astirh with enhanced powers is handled well to make the demon more credible as the stakes increase. But overall this is very much the eventual meeting of Scott, Madelyne and Jean that we've been long awaiting and it does so in brutal form.

Friday, 26 November 2021

Power Pack 43 - Inferno

The Bogeyman has captured the Pack's parents and seemingly destroyed the family forever.

Power Pack #43

Jon Bogdanove wrote without distraction
Jon Bogdanove, Sal Velluto penciled to good reaction
Stan Drake, Al Williamson and Company inked in fractions
Joe Rosen lettered-in the captions
Glynis Oliver colored this attraction
Carl Potts can't get no satisfaction
Tom DeFalco Chief of Hoo-Haa Action

Carmody the Bogeyman has captured the Pack's parents and forced the children to reveal their secret powers. He takes off across New York with the four Powers in pursuit but anger and an inability to wait to work together works against them. They come across demons attacking people and pause to deal with them. Meanwhile in space Kofi learns the Kymellians have rebuilt Friday the living smartship but the ship's essence is fading away and nobody can understand why. The Bogeyman climbs the Chrysler Building and taunts Power Pack as they approach and attack. They save their parents but are left uncertain what to do with the Bogeyman who will just keep coming back. In anger Alex determines to kill him but the parents talk the children down and tell them they love them still. The Bogeyman is outraged at this display of familial affection and charges at them but goes over the edge, falling into a raging fire. The children take their parents home as the city seems to be returning to normal.

This issue starts with one of the biggest moments in the entire series - the Powers' parents discovering their children have powers and are using them. Much debated both in the series itself and on the letters page the matter has been forced by the intervention of their revenge seeking archenemy, raising the stakes. Inferno supplies the backdrop to the changes in Carmody and also demons who provide a distraction in the chase but this is a highly personal tale focused on their true worst nightmare.

It's a story of discovery with both Alex and Julie finding new ways to use their powers - Alex can now fire multiple smaller powerballs at the same time and Julie can generate a molecular density field of condensed air - along with the family as a whole discovering about each other. At first Jim and Maggie react in disbelief but when they see their children acting to defend the family they remind them they are still their children and loved no matter what with Maggie even reminding Julie of a past conversation when she said she'd love her even if she could fly. Jim and Maggie have been put through quite a bit over the course of the series without knowing why things keep happening to their family so it makes sense they can understand what's happening and not much of a further stretch that they can accept it. However some will find it far too lubby dubby and can sympathise with the outrage of Carmody as he reacts in disgust, recalls his own harsh childhood and then cannot come to terms with the monster he has become.

However the very end of the issue suggests a different track as the children head out to help with the clear-up operation and the final panel shows their parents in total shock. Was a change forced upon this story that we'll see in the next issue? The cover to this one has a scrap of paper on it with "An introduction to Xavier's Sch... Gifted You..." and the cover to the next issue previewed at the end here shows the four children flying away from their parents with a suitcase and crying with some of the New Mutants in the background. Was there a plan to send them off to Xavier's school and overlap with the New Mutants more often?

At its heart Power Pack is a series about family and this issue challenges the dynamic like nothing before it. The dark world around them is as nothing to the darkness that has invaded their family and it's understandable how the children react in fury rather than thinking calmly, whether it's Katie charging off without the others or Alex determining to kill Carmody. And this is that rare issue that truly changes everything, doing so in spectacular style.

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Avengers 300 - Inferno

Kang manipulates the Avengers into reforming.

Avengers #300

First story: Inferno²
Writing: Walter Simonson
Layouting: John Buscema
Finishing: Tom Palmer
Lettering: Bill Oakley
Coloring: Becton & Siry
Editing: Mark Gruenwald
Editing in Chief: Tom DeFalco

Kang of Earth 123488.23497 is caught on a time bubble and sees the demonic invasion which he realises will alter the timelines and cause him to cease to exist. Thus he sees the importance of bringing the Avengers together again to deal with the demons and then in the future enter the time bubble as is their destiny. He timejumps into New York in the present day and starts fading out of existence. Meanwhile Mr Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, Captain America and the Forgotten One manage to free Franklin from the hold of Nanny by threatening her other helper, Orphan Maker. Nanny escapes and the Forgotten One adopts the name "Gilgamesh" that he was known by during one of his many long adventures wandering the Earth. Franklin is still trapped in the armour Nanny put him in when one of N'astirh's demons identifies him as a source of power and his master realises the boy could be useful. N'astirh captures the boy and takes him to his lair. The four heroes pursue but cannot easily trace him so as Kang finally fades away he activates the Growing Man to bring the heroes together to reform the Avengers. The heroes discover Thor returning to New York and then a disguised Growing Man gets them to pursue him to N'astirh's lair at the World Trade Center. There they fight off the demons and rescue Franklin when the portal closes up. They then see off the Growing Man, with Reed managing to reverse his power so he shrinks every time he is hit. With the demons gone the five heroes take Franklin home to the Richards' house where they agree to reform the Avengers.
And there came a day unlike any other, when Earth's mightiest heroes found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, they became The Avengers!
So runs the traditional introduction to the series. For a 25th anniversary 300th issue spectacular in the midst of Marvel's biggest crossover event to that time what could be more appropriate than the re-formation of the team to battle the menace? The arrangement is so obvious and all the pieces are in place but there's a flaw. Inferno is ultimately an X-Men event. It originated in that family of titles and will ultimately be resolved there. Other series tackle events on the periphery and the impact of the changes on their own world of characters but they aren't able to take on and defeat the main demons. At most they can deal with a back-up plan if that. So there's a clear limit here and awkward ways to resolve it.

Adding to the complications is the amount of time the events of Inferno take. When read all together the impression given is that this issue takes place over an inordinate amount of time from before N'astirh absorbed the techno organic transmode virus through to the end of the demonic invasion. That suggests the new Avengers took forever in rescuing Franklin and by the time they did so the wider threat had been averted. This was a way of explaining why they didn't make it to the main action but it also makes their rescue efforts looking exceedingly slow.

As a result it's a very small scale affair that brings them together - the kidnapping of a single child. Even more astoundingly the protection of Franklin is not the reason why Reed and Sue agree to join the team even though spending more time with their son was the reason they left the Fantastic Four. Thus rather than coming together to deal with some great emergency the Avengers are re-formed from such a small affair.

To add to the disappointment there had already been a great world-threatening emergency that a team of Avengers had formed to defeat. Avengers Annual #17 had featured a team of reservists and associates pulled together to save the world. Might that not have worked better as the story of the Avengers' re-formation? It also has a more interesting line-up. Although it's clear that the Hulk and the Beast would not have been available for the long term because of other series, the other five Avengers provide a wide mix of powers, skills and history with the team that would have made for a good ongoing line-up. Here the new team presents its own problems.

Captain America is fine. He's the quintessential Avenger and with Steve about to formally reclaim the role having him at the forefront of the team would only enhance the character. But the rest all pose problems, not least because of duplication. There are two traditional leaders. There are two mythological strong men. Duplication and conflict is built in without obvious resolution. To be blunt it feels ridiculous that half the traditional line-up of the Fantastic Four would become regular members of another superhero team. It undermines their reasons for leaving their own team and Mr Fantastic especially is just not an easily transferable hero or someone who can easily take orders from another. It's also awkward to have two strong men from mythology on the team at the same time. In general Hercules's regular membership of the team has been in periods when Thor is absent so there isn't the precedent that one might expect. It also brings up the complication that whereas Thor is presented as the character from mythology straight, the Eternals are presented as different beings who inspired the stories told about them (a point that it's not too clear the script understands when the Forgotten One recalls his friendship with Enkidu or knowing the flying horse Pegasus) which is part of the wider problem of the Eternals never really being meant to be part of the mainstream Marvel continuity. Overall this is a team that cannot really work for the long-term.

Or indeed the short-term. The letters page announces Simonson's departure from the title which he since said was in part because of editorial orders to return Mr Fantastic and the Invisible Woman to Fantastic Four. So we get an awkward team put together by a writer who won't be around the direct it. Looking back it's now clear that Avengers was now into a rut that lasted for nearly sixty issues between the departure of Roger Stern and the full-time arrival of Bob Harras with a lot of writer turnover and fill-ins combined with a massively unstable membership as new writers and/or editors kept inheriting a line-up they weren't happy with and making more changes. Simonson's whole run has been one massive deconstruction and reassembling of the team so it's a pity it all came to very little.

As a result this is a disappointing main story. It's trying to do something spectacular but constrained by the circumstances of the wider crossover and ultimately presents a small scale adventure that brings together an unworkable version of the team. The Avengers really needed their own crossover to star in but that would come another time.

(P.S. The appearance by Kang here is its own source of confusion so here's an attempt to sort it all out. Back in Avengers #267-269 Kang had encountered a small council of his counterparts from across alternate timelines and also his future incarnation Immortus. At the end of the story he appeared to be the sole surviving Kang. Issue #291 onwards featured what appeared to be the same Kang who was stated as being from the timeline designated "Earth 123488.23497" which it transpired was the regular Marvel Universe - this was before all that "Earth 616" stuff had taken off. This Kang, who took the unique name "Fred", joined the Council of Cross-Time Kangs made up of far more counterparts and others who had bested them and taken on their identity and discovered a plot by a female Kang called Nebula who was portrayed very differently from the existing Avengers villain Nebula. "Fred" Kang and two other Kangs set off to prevent Nebula's plans which tore the Avengers to pieces but in the process the three Kangs fell onto a time bubble.

The implication in the Fall of the Avengers is that "Fred" Kang is the regular Kang and there's nothing here to contradict this. However over in Fantastic Four #323 the Kang there explicitly declares that the one in Avengers is not him and it seems the real Kang has stood apart from the Council. And to add to the complications an earlier Fantastic Four story had established Kang as coming from a parallel universe that had been visited by a dimension hopping Nathaniel Richards (Reed's father) who became Kang's ancestor which makes it hard for there to be a Kang from the regular Marvel timeline. The result is a confusing mess with two different Kangs who both have a claim to be the "real" one. I lose track of just how many times Handbooks, history sagas and flashback issues have tried to untangle this one, often with different answers. But it doesn't actually affect Avengers #300 itself.)

Second story: The Coming of the Accursed Avengers!
Storytellers: Ralph Macchio and Walt Simonson
Letters: John E. Workman Jr
Colors: Gregory Wright
Editor: Mark Gruenwald
Editor in Chief: Tom DeFalco

Loki makes his annual pilgrimage to the Isle of Silence and recounts how he inadvertently created the Avengers as part of a plan to get revenge on Thor by framing the Hulk and arranging for the thunder god to receive a call for help, only for other heroes to receive it as well. Thor came to the island and subdued his brother then took him to Earth where Iron Man, the Wasp and Ant Man had found the Hulk. Loki was defeated and the five formed the Avengers. Ever since this has horrified Loki.

This is a retelling of the team's origin with the unusual perspective of the villain who caused it all to happen. It's fast paced and by focusing on Loki it manages to avoid some of the odder moments such as the Hulk disguising himself as a robotic clown in a circus. But it can't disguise the sheer awkwardness of his original plan to lure Thor to the Isle. Why did he need to go through an elaborate charade to frame the Hulk when he could have simply sent an illusion to pester Thor in his Donald Blake form and lure him in that way?

As is now known Avengers was a rush commission when the first issue of Daredevil was delayed and part of the way to get a replacement book together in a hurry was to use existing characters including the villain who would not need to be designed anew. Unfortunately the plot was also rushed and it showed. But was there anything that could be done after the event? Marvel has gone through phases of different attitudes to its continuity. There have been times when they've done major revamps with retellings of the early years that change a lot (and cause fans to scratch their heads about subsequent stories that are effectively negated with nobody seeming to notice). At other times they've held firm with the original material adhered to and relied on convoluted retcons navigating around some of the early oddness. In 1988 the existing continuity was a clear selling point at a time when DC had recently pressed a big reset switch and a back-up story in a double anniversary issue (especially one edited by Mark Gruenwald) was not the place to tell a new version of the origin that made more sense.

So this stands as a straightforward revisiting the origin for the benefit of (primarily) newer readers with the twist of viewing it through the perspective of one of the characters involved. It's an interesting perspective to take and it helps confirm Loki continues to harbour anger about the team's existence but ultimately it isn't able to sort out the mess. But that was a mess made in 1963 not 1988.

Bonus material includes some Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe style entries. There's a two page entry on Edwin Jarvis that doesn't hide his unfortunate moments though it makes him seem far weaker than he appeared in issue #298.

There's a listing of all the members of the Avengers over time and the issues they appear in but it's a bit confused. The first problem comes with the long-standing argument about whether the Avengers are a single whole divided into East Coast and West Coast teams or if the West Coast is a franchise spin-off of an operation based on the East Coast. Whilst the various members who've only joined in West Coast Avengers are shown on the chart of faces, the accompanying text list ignores all issues of the series. It also can't make up its mind if it's listing appearances as team members or almost any appearance in the title and notably ignores listing any appearances by anyone who was a member of the West Coast team at the time. In addition there are some other mistakes such as mixing up appearances by the original Iron Man and his mid 1980s replacement or skipping a substantial chunk of appearances by the Wasp when she was the team's leader. There are some characters whose precise membership status has always been a bit unclear and much debated amongst fans and this shows on the chart with Hellcat listed as "Applied Avengers #144", Jocasta has no issue number shown at all and others are displayed as "Active" whilst the list skips around. Notably Nebula is not listed at all, doubtless because of the nature of how she joined through mind control and was lost only a few pages later.

Also included is a chart of support staff with a paragraph noting Captain America is expanding the team's administration. Not everyone shown here would necessarily make it into an Avengers issue but all are pre-existing characters with their first appearances noted. There's also a page devoted to Avengers Park, the site of the original mansion with a map of the open space replacing it and the statue of the early Avengers at the centre. The Avengers annual that year was notably short on features so it's good to see the anniversary issue providing some that feel stronger as information pieces rather than humorous side tales that can be very hit or miss.

Overall this issue is trying to present a strong anniversary package with a landmark story but ultimately a crossover centred on another family of titles is not the best place to relaunch the team. It would have been better for Avengers to have left the crossover an issue earlier and done its reassembling in its own story.

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

New Mutants 72 - Inferno

Illyana's transformation is completed.

New Mutants #72

Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciler: Bret Blevins
Inker: Al Williamson
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

The demons descend upon New York as N'astirh encourages Illyana to embrace her dark side completely. S'ym shows up and the two leading demons battle whilst Illyana flees. The rest of the New Mutants see the X-Terminators in the sky fighting to destroy the pentagram and take off to help them. They succeed but with several wounded. The surviving members of both teams join together. Illyana finds herself teleporting into surreal distorted versions of life in New York with the twisted demonic forms overwhelming her and taunting her to use the Soul Sword. Eventually she does so as the demonic magics increase due to N'astirh having absorbed the transmode techno organic virus and now having magic in all his circuits. He survives an explosion and confronts Illyana, telling her there is no path of redemption. She uses the Soul Sword again on him and her armour now fully forms, encasing her completely.

This issue demonstrates a major problem with the crossover structure of Inferno. Rather than having separate issues of different series tell distinct chapters that flow smoothly from one to the next it instead has a lot of overlapping issues with characters jumping from one set of pages to another and back. This is why there are so many different orders in circulation for the event though they tend to at least line up around key moments such as the opening of the portal bringing the demons into New York. Sometimes the overlap is especially great the whole narrative jumping between titles. This happens here.

With the exception of Illyana's part of the issue it is very hard to follow in isolation. It overlaps heavily with the final issue of X-Terminators to the point that the battle between N'astirh and S'ym is only fully understandable when the two issues are read in close proximity. The team-up between the two teams is mostly covered in the limited series but here we get more of the rescue of the babies and an extension to the scene of the two teams resting at the end. The two teams are effectively fused in this issue with a redivision based on wounds rather than existing affiliations and this looks like it could lead to a future expansion.

However Illyana's story is mercifully told in a single series. Here we see her descent continue as she becomes ever more a pawn of the demons. Some proclaim to worship her but others are more overt in simply using her. The scene at the end as she sees what she has become and N'astirh tells her that there was never a right path for her once she entered Limbo and everything ultimately led her to this moment is truly chilling. Her continued destruction has driven so much and left her vulnerable to abuse and manipulation, making for a very dark cliffhanger as her only source of help seems to be S'ym (who is drawn and coloured to look more menacing here than usual).

This issue is very much in two pieces. One side is a mess because it overlaps upon another part of the crossover so heavily that it doesn't work well in isolation and even read together it feels jumpy and slightly repetitive. The other side is self-contained and shows a terrifying final descent for Illyana as she truly becomes the Darkchilde with seemingly no escape. The stakes are rising but this issue could have been better structured to get there.

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Avengers 299 - Inferno

Captain America seeks help from Reed Richards but instead finds Franklin has been kidnapped.

Avengers #299

Writing: Walter Simonson
Layouting: John Buscema
Finishing: Tom Palmer
Lettering: Bill Oakley
Coloring: Max Scheele
Editing: Mark Gruenwald
Editing in Chief: Tom DeFalco

The real Captain America returns to New York as demons come through the portal and finds the New Mutants dealing with them so he sets off to find more help. Elsewhere in Olympia the Eternal known as "the Forgotten One" is told of the demons and sent to New York to deal with the threat. In Connecticut Nanny has detected a powerful mutant and sends the Orphan Maker to kidnap the child and kill the parents; however the child is Franklin Richards and his parents survive because of a force shield around their bed. Captain America arrives and joins them in pursuing the ship to New York. Nanny's ship is brought down in the park where all four heroes converge but Nanny has a second helper in armour - Franklin.

There is still no team of Avengers put back together and only a few steps towards one. There's a strong hint that the Eternal called "the Forgotten One" will be joining (and also taking a name that will make my prose easier) but otherwise this issue feels more like it should be billed as "Captain America Team-Up" as he briefly works with the New Mutants and then two retired members of the Fantastic Four rather than seeking out new members.

The sequence in Times Square serves to bring Cap and the reader up to speed on the basics of the Inferno crossover as well as showing just how pointless it is to pretend to be anything but Captain America with Cannonball easily working out who he is. More surprising is the sudden use of Nanny from the pages of X-Factor even though Walter Simonson was drawing that book.

Nanny continues to have an unclear motivation but also there's some strange lapses in logic. Franklin is sleeping with his parents when he's kidnapped but for some reason the Orphan Maker is able to spread a sleep dust and lift Franklin out of the bed yet when he fires a gun there's a forcefield in the way. There's nothing indicating Sue Richards has heard Franklin's cries or that it's somehow automatically triggered and the result is the Orphan Maker has done a kidnapping but failed to live up to his codename. All the problems with Nanny continue here and make for some rather uninteresting scenes. However it does result in one of my all time favourite lines in comics as the Forgotten One shouts out:
He is not my son, egg with a voice. But if he tries to slay his own parents, he is a monster! And slaying monsters is why I am here!
Nanny is not too pleased.

Overall this issue feels stunted. Nanny just isn't that interesting a villain and with both the Avengers lacking a team and New York facing a demonic invasion this whole plot feels like a needless sideshow.

Monday, 22 November 2021

Power Pack 42 - Inferno

Power Pack face their worst nightmare as they discover the Bogeyman really is under the bed.

Power Pack #42

Jon Bogdanove who both wrote and penciled lightly
Stan Drake who finished in ink tightly
Don Hudson inking the backgrounds slightly
Glynis Oliver who still colors brightly
Carl Potts editing nightly
Tom DeFalco Editor in Chief Politely
[And Joe Rosen lettering with credit overlooked unknightly]

(In case you're wondering about issue #41 it was an unrelated issue by a different team that saw the Pack dealing with a landlord committing arson so as to use the insurance to clear his debts.)

In Limbo Douglas Carmody gets changed by N'astirh and sent to Earth. The heatwave in New York coincides with all four Power children coming down with a fever and being unable to join together to use their healing powers to cure themselves as their parents are constantly around. The flat experiences more of the weirdness as living sewage and mildew invade whilst out on the streets Carmody and other demons make their presence felt. The Powers plan to leave the flat to stay at a relative's who has a water supply but Carmody sneaks into the building and confronts them in the lift. Grabbing the parents he demand the children reveal their secret.

Many of the foes thrown into Limbo in various issues have been transformed by the magic there into something far more demonic and dangerous and so it's natural to give Carmody a power upgrade beyond a simplistic man using technology into something far more powerful and dangerous. His demonic form retains his obsession with decency, attacking gangs in the street and then picking on a loud obnoxious fat man and stealing his suit to create a suitably comic appearance for this monstrous foe.

Much of the issue focuses on a seemingly ordinary family trying to survive in the madness caused by illness, the heatwave and now reports of the demons invading New York with the complication that the children could easily cure their illness and deal with many of the immediate problems but it would require them to give away their secret. Meanwhile their parents are suffering the effects of the madness with Jim worn down by the heat and long walk home through streets overflowing with rubbish when public transport packs up whilst Maggie is showing signs of collapsing under the strain.

And then the Bogeyman attacks and forces the children to reveal their identities to their parents.

The debate about whether to tell them or not had been running for a good while both in the stories themselves and on the letters page but seemingly resolved with a decision to not do so. However the cliffhanger to this issue blows so much open and offers a real prospect that a major lasting change is being made here.

This makes the slower pace of the issue feel natural. It's all building up to the key moment at the end so it helps to give us a final look at what life has been like for the parents before the bombshell. Making such a bold move is a shock but also offers true change going forward.

Sunday, 21 November 2021

X-Terminators 4 - Inferno

The X-Terminators and the New Mutants team up to try to close the portal and save the babies.

X-Terminators #4

Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciler: Jon Bogdanove
Inker: Al Milgrom
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Petra Scotese
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

With demons flowing through the portal Taki realises he's been tricked and tries to shut down the computer but N'astirh and Crotus stop him and more demons come to guard the computer. The other X-Terminators have been freed and Taki creates planes for them to take to the sky to take on the demons and rescue the babies. They are joined by the New Mutants who have also come through the portal whilst N'astirh confront S'ym. N'astirh cannot touch the computer himself without shorting it out so opts to be transformed by the techno-organic transmode virus to allow him to interface with it. As he does so Taki uses his own power to revert the computer to its components causing it to explode, taking N'astirh and the portal with it.

This issue brings the limited series to a conclusion and really exposes the problem with it - there's too much Taki. The character has been on an arc of self-discovery as he evolves from the embittered self-centred kid seen in the first issue to the brave and cunning child who pulls himself to the computer and is willing to give his life to destroy it. But ultimately it cannot disguise that he's an entirely new character to the series that combines a host of unfortunate stereotypes about east Asian Americans and the disabled and he's ultimately taken much of the focus away from the existing characters who are the main attraction of the series.

Although Leech and Artie do little more than pull out the power cord on the computer (which Crotus soon replaces), the other four do get some good moments in the battle as they each deploy their powers and show skills. But there's a strong hint of just where the team is going as the New Mutants fly up to join them with a strong hint that the two groups will soon be merged. As a result this limited series has ultimately been less of a solo showcase for the X-Factor kids and more an additional Inferno story that doubles as a way to bring the two groups together with the addition of a character who is best either totally forgotten or radically overhauled. It reinforces the idea that what was planned as a series based around five of them being at neighbouring boarding schools whilst Rusty started off in jail was hurriedly co-opted to instead serve as the main official build-up for the crossover. This explains the rather limited plot that isn't sufficient to sustain four over sized issues or even give a full conclusion to the saga.

The art is especially cartoony here and doesn't feel the most appropriate for a tale of demons invading Earth. In contrast to the first issue S'ym is now drawn in a more traditional comical form that continues to undermine the character given his role in the story. By contrast N'astirh retains a credible look as a dangerous force and this is even more so after he absorbs the transmode virus.

This issue invariably feels anti-climactic. It's clear that things have only been temporarily stopped for now because there's still so much of the crossover to come. It also feels like the series as a whole has gone in a completely different direction from planned. If there was any plan to give the X-Terminators their own ongoing series then this is not a good sample as to what it would be about. The whole thing would probably have been better done in a single special edition issue rather than bring dragged out like this.

Saturday, 20 November 2021

Daredevil 265 - Inferno

Daredevil wanders through New York dealing with the madness, not all of which is caused by Inferno.

(In case you're wondering what happened to issue #264, it is a fill-in that has nothing to do with Inferno. A box at the top of the first page is surprisingly open about how John Romita Jr's wedding meant he was unable to pencil the issue in time so they put the story on hold for a month and came up with "a special off-beat issue" set "sometime in the very recent past" with Steve Ditko drawing a tale of the Owl, drugs, bombs and a baby. It's a surprisingly honest approach to explaining the presence of a fill-in rather than having Daredevil or some other character suddenly pausing mid story to remember the full details of a previous adventure including scenes he wasn't present for.)

Daredevil #265

Writer: Ann Nocenti
Penciler: John Romita Jr
Inker: Al Williamson
Letters: Joe Rosen
Colors: Max Scheele
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Editor in Chief: Tom DeFalco

There are many problems in the city that the magic and demons are amplifying. A dentist is attacked by his machines and turned into a possessed cyborg that goes out attacking others. A lorry causes huge pollution with the drivers not caring until Daredevil jams their exhaust pipes. The buses aren't moving because demons are attacking the drivers until Daredevil intervenes. A resident of a flat is woken by demons doing construction work early in the morning and finds his flat has been burgled. He determines to leave the city but his car is looted then destroyed in a crash. He tries a taxi but gets taken for a ride. Eventually he takes a tour helicopter to get out of the city if only for ten minutes. The dentist is now a corrupt police officer choosing who to arrest for whatever minor violation he feels like and ignoring laws he dislikes. In an alleyway a couple are mugged until Daredevil fights off the demons. Ol' Hornhead then fights the dentist/police officer and beats him before leading citizens in picking up litter.

This is a very plot light issue and Daredevil (now back in his full costume over his bandages) never says a word in it. Instead it's very much a parade of problems with urban living and seems to in part be preparing to take the hero out of the city for an extended time. Much of the issue feels like a rant about problems living in New York but it also highlights that there are good people and those who can't live without it.

It's an odd issue that feels more a polemic than a story. Ann Nocenti's take on the series is famed for this and in the wider context an issue like this makes a lot of sense. But as a part of a crossover it feels rather less substantial as though it's just taking the elements that have to be incorporated but not making the best concession to visiting readers or producing an especially memorable tale. This is a disappointing end especially given how strong John Romita Jr's artwork is here.