Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

112 – Embers of Inferno (feat. Sam Humphries)

Art by David Wynne. Prints and cards available at the shop, or contact David to purchase the original.
Art by David Wynne. Prints and cards available at the shop, or contact David to purchase the original.

In which we cover (almost) all of the Inferno tie-ins with the help of writer Sam Humphries; the Marvel Universe used to be really X-Centric; Jarvis is unstoppable; Daredevil fights a vacuum cleaner; it’s probably best not to ask about the whole Celestial Madonna thing; Power Pack gets incredibly upsetting; working in comics makes you appreciate crossovers on a whole new level; and we’d all really have liked to have seen Guy Davis’s Inferno.


  • Peter Quill’s brief music career
  • Widget
  • The Amazing Spider-Man #311-313
  • Spectacular Spider-Man #146-148
  • Web of Spider-Man #47-48
  • Avengers #298-300
  • Power Pack #42-44
  • Daredevil #262, 263, 265
  • Cloak and Dagger (vol. 3) #4
  • Fantastic Four #322-324
  • Inferno, as a whole
  • The fate of Madelyne Pryor
  • Jay’s Madelyne Pryor song
  • How working in comics taught us to appreciate crossovers
  • Our ideal Inferno artists

NEXT EPISODE: So. Much. Wolverine.

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  1. That Star-Lord & Kitty Pryde series was a lot of fun. I especially liked Kitty’s dress. Such a gorgeous dress!

    The Avengers Inferno tie-in is mostly awful. But that Jarvis issue is amazing. It is so much fun! So great. I love it. But then the next few issues are really stupid.

    Todd McFarlane really did come into Marvel as a fantastic artist, right from the start. I feel like, of all the quintessential ’90s artists, McFarlane was probably the best. The various Spider-Man tie-ins to Inferno were actually pretty good. There were lots of really fun demonic things going on.

    The Daredevil tie-in was one of my favourites, I think. Ann Nocenti’s run was pretty dark and weird to start with, and then Inferno gets so incredibly weird, and it’s fantastic stuff. (And then the run remains bizarre but great.)

    The Power Pack tie-ins are also among the best. It probably is the best. Because damn. So dark and intense and fantastic stuff. Bogdanove does some remarkable work here. And then there’s the third part that’s all about their parents having complete mental breakdowns. (That issue’s also got some really good superheroism of the type I always enjoy seeing.)

    The Fantastic Four tie-in isn’t great. I’m not a fan of Englehart’s run. Lots of big, weird ideas that are kinda cool, but also lots of really weird writing choices.

    The Cloak & Dagger issue isn’t great as an Inferno tie-in, but it’s an enjoyable enough issue. I did enjoy Terry Austin’s work on the characters.

    On the whole, I really enjoy Inferno. It has some definite problems, but there’s so much great stuff in it. It’s my favourite of the three X-overs covered so far. Actually, probably my favourite X-over of the whole Claremont era.

    Skottie Young did do some New X-Men issues set in Limbo, that very much felt Inferno-like. It was one of the best New X-Men arcs, and his art was a pretty major reason for that.

    I feel like I vaguely remember an instance of Sinister showing interest in Rachel, but I honestly can’t think of when it happened, so I might have imagined it.

    I loved Humphries’ Uncanny X-Force series. It didn’t seem to get the love it deserved. I liked Psylocke and the Fantomexes (Fantomi?), and Psylocke actually having a same-sex romance. I also really loved his just-ended Weirdworld, which was SO GOOD! Having Mike Del Mundo on art helped a whole lot, because MIKE DEL MUNDO. But Humphries killed on the writing, as well. (And, again, a lesbian supporting character, and a Latina main character. I like how much Humphries clearly cares about diversity.) Sam’s great.

    And I now have to listen to the entirety of Poe’s Wild.

    1. I believe Sinister showed interest in Rachel during Scott Lobdell’s go nowhere run on Excalibur circa issue 71-80ish. Lobdell often tarted stories with no plan how they would end so I don’t think it was more than a few cryptic scenes. I might be misremembering and it’s a Legacy Virus thing.

    2. There are several songs on Poe’s Haunted album that remind me of Madelyne. “Control” and “Haunted” both come to mind.

      1. Dio’s song “One Night in the City” always reminds me of the Inferno saga, especially Magik’s decent into the Darkchilde. Heck, most of Dio’s “The Last in Line” album conjures images from Inferno with his lyrics. (Breathless, I Speed at Night, Evil Eyes, the title track…!)

  2. 1) Spider-Man was my main experience of Inferno. In fact, for the longest while, I did not even know it had anything to do with X-Men. And then I didn’t believe it. It was such a major factor in Spider-Man. It’s one of the reasons I take exception whenever Macendale is referred as some loser Hobgoblin. He’s definitive for me.

    2) I have slight recollection of that Daredevil and that nightmare dentist/officer. I had in fact forgotten about it until you brought it up. So . . . thanks.

    3) Whenever Miles says “Australia” he says it with what sounds like an Australian accent.

    4) George Perez to do Inferno. With the same lack of restriction he had in Infinity Gauntlet.

    5) In that same vein, maybe Barry Windsor Smith.

  3. I’ve only listened to part of the podcast so far but wrt super teams outside the NYC area, waaaaay back in the 80’s the first Marvel RPG came out, cleverly titled the Marvel Super-Heroes Role-Playing Game, developed and published by TSR.

    One supplement for the game was an Avengers sourcebook, and it included an adventure for your players to create their own local Avengers expansion team. Though Miles mentioned Peoria, the writer of this supplement said that in his play test of the scenario, the team was based in Terre Haute, which ain’t too far away from Peoria.

    By the way, I can’t speak highly enough of how much I liked this game, and most of the components have been opensourced and there are a number of sites where you can get the various materials and fan-created additions, such as http://www.classicmarvelforever.com/cms/

  4. Quick question (maybe some of the other commenters will be able to answer this)– when does Quicksilver, Madrox and co. join the X-Factor book? Or, phrased more appropriately– how many episodes until I’ll get to hear about the Mulitple Man on a regular basis?

    1. The Quicksilver and co X-Factor team debuts in X-Factor #71 in late 1991, so there are about two and a half years worth of issues to go.

  5. Mister Sinister has indeed tried to get Rachel’s DNA, in Excalibur 73-74. He uses Sienna Blaze… remember her from the Ultraverse? She managed to scratch Rachel when they were fighting, and Sinister got the resulting skin sample…

    What happened after that I’m not sure as it involved the whole “Rachel swaps places in the timestream with displaced Brian Braddock, so she ends up going into the future to set off the Askani plotline, and he comes back to the present as the more or less forgettable Britanic” * and I think I lost the will to live.

    * Which isn’t even a word… he’d be “Britannic” as in “Her Brittanic Majesty”

    1. Oh, man, Britanic – I think that weird plotline overwrote everything nearby in my brain. And that weird costume, which I drew in my school notebooks far more than it deserved.

      1. Personally, I think that “more than once” would qualify as more than it deserved.

        I was never even sure what it was supposed to represent, especially given Brian’s tendency to go for very symbolically relevant outfits. 😉

      2. Oh crud, on re-listening to the podcast I realise that by mentioning that Excalibur story I just became an “Ummm… actually…” guy.

        I’m not sure I want to be an “Ummm… actually…” guy, though i suspect I have a natural gift for it. Please don’t look down on me! I’m already an aging comic geek, I can’t afford another step down the social hierarchy!

    2. Like I mentioned up-thread Lobdell never knew where he was going with stories so it was probably just dropped when Ellis(?) came on.

  6. These Inferno episodes just made Nastir’h one of my favorite villains of X-men.

    Does anyone know why did he play a more major role in Inferno then Sy’m did? I mean, Sy’m was already a grounded character as a rival to Magik, so why it is Nastir’h that is shown in all of the tie-ins on not Sy’m?

    1. I think because Sy’m had had such a long held and strong tie to Magik and her past. She was the one he obsessed over and wanted to defeat because he wanted to rule Limbo completely.

      Having him suddenly split his focus to deal with Maddy as well would have been more than a little out of character for him, so they created Nastir’h to fill that role (and as I note further down, I think the concept of Inferno suffers somewhat because of that: instead of the culmination of Magik’s 50 plus issue character arc it becomes that, and then shifts to become the end of Maddy who had had nothing to do with demons a few months beforehand. Nastir’h is effective in the role, no denying it, but I’ve never been certain it was the right time for that role… if that makes sense?)

      I don’t think either Sy’m or Nastir’h have ever returned, have they?

      1. Sym has actually appeared a fair amount since Inferno (when Amanda Sefton takes over Limbo for example). N’Astirh hasn’t actually appeared much since Inferno but apparently he had a brief appearance in Second Coming.

  7. I like the subtext in Nocenti’s DAREDEVIL Inferno issues that living in NYC has just started making people a special kind of virulently crazy . . .and the they poured demons all over everything.

    1. “Oh, Homer, of course you’ll have a bad impression of New York if you just focus on the demons and the hellishness.”

    2. My personal favorite part of that was when everyone just saw what was going on and went “Same shit, different day.” The indifference to it was very New York to me (sadly, New York will never be the New York of Marvel, which fit so well).

  8. Miles, I’m here to (I hope helpfully) disagree about cell phones, easy net access, and the like and horror. Modern telcom tech is actually the friend to all children, insofar as all children are great horror stories. Some works that demonstrate this…

    * The podcasts Black Tapes and Tanis, created by the folks at Pacific Northwest Stories. Both of these are biweekly, in their second seasons of 12 episodes, using the documentary format. Two friends and colleagues are each investigating mysteries that turn out to be connected to more and more. The stories literally couldn’t work without cell phones (with voice recording capabilities) and the ways experts can use the World Wide Web. They open up ways to info that couldn’t readily be had any other way, while creating dramatic potential all their own – besides the suddenly interrupted call and such, there’s the appearance of sounds that weren’t there before, the ability to track a call or mail or post and see where someone is (particularly when you have good reason to believe they’re somewhere else), getting to rely on a source and losing access to them, and a whole lot more. Wonderful fun.

    (Also, the use of easily accessible digital archives shows some good ways to short-cut boring RPG scenes where players just grope to recall what happened five sessions ago. They can skip right to the much more interesting question, “Right, what do we do about that thing that happened five sessions ago?”)

    * Several stories by Laird Barron in his short story collections The Imago Sequence and Occulation. Barron moves beyond the obvious unreliable-narrator possibilities with digital cameras to the potential in situations where sometimes digital is more reliable than memory, but you can’t at the moment tell which is which. (You also get to see how a gay man works with Lovecraftian cosmicism while completely trampling Lovecraft’s personal bigotries.)

    * A whole mess of films in recent years show just what damage to composure, confidence, and hope you can do with cell phones and digital video: Oculus; Resolution; The Last Days (aka Los Últimos Días); The Taking Of Deborah Logan; Inkeepers. Not all these are what I’d call top-notch horror, but they all have really worthwhile moments, and in particular good ones with the tech stuff and how it enhances and deepens horror.

    It’s true that certain specific kinds of isolation and confusion slip away when characters have cell phones and Internet access. But a whole bunch of others open up. Enjoy, and be expanded in your awareness, like an Engelhart or Starlin character!

  9. Generally I still hold that Inferno becoming so much about Maddy distracted from what should have been purely Illyana’s story, especially snce the only reason Maddy DOES becomes involved is because they invented Nastirh to get her involved.

    On the other hand I had forgotten just how effectively horrible the Power Pack Inferno crossover was, the demonic meeting the domestic to create concentrated urban blight, so thanks for that.

  10. Sadly, the other X-Men tattoo book isn’t nearly as entertainingly nuts as “Masquerade”; it’s largely a retelling of #111 (where Mesmero hypnotizes the team into the circus) with an updated cast. I’d be happy to send you my copy if you’d like, though.

  11. Love this episode. Sam Humphries was a very knowledgeable guest. He could easily be a regular.

    I remembered reading Nocenti’s Daredevil with no context of Inferno. That was weird (particularly the subway train to hell). I actually assumed it was associated more with the Mephisto stuff that followed. I agree the final one and the way it handles possessed New York is wonderful (something you missed was when hypodermic syringes start launching themselves at Karen Page who was only recently a recovering heroin addict).

    I also have to say “Holy Crap, Power Pack!” When I read it, I had missed the context with the Boogie Man and his mutant hatred. That’s dark. I feel I really need to read that whole series now. That’s impressive. Thanks for the exhaustive list of tie-ins. It was certainly worth it for something as big as Inferno.

  12. Power Pack. Wow. It’s been years since I’ve read these issues, but I picked them up again after listening to the podcast. So good. The parent-focused parts of issue 42 are incredible, with wonderful bits of prose description.

    I can’t imagine how a parent must feel reading 42-44, but any adult can appreciate the way these seemingly normal problems (a disrupted commute, unfortunate weather conditions, a busted AC, plumbing problems) compound one after the other without a moment of reprieve.

    1. With Power Pack, even moreso than the New Mutants, the dark stuff hits REALLY hard becuse the heroes are kids, and (as Jay and Miles have noted in the past) it’s a pretty much automatic reaction to feel more protective towards characters who are kids (especially ones who are in over their heads because they are trying to do the right thing) than one does towards self-reliant adults. The fact that I think titles like PP and NM genuinely were much darker when they went to the darker side of storytelling than, say, the X-Men of the same era, just emphasises it even more.

    1. NYC’s carnivorous elevator problem (along with the eyeball eating binoculars) got mentioned an episode or two ago.

      1. It’s just that there seems to be a real phobia about it among the writers. Elevators kill people in Uncanny X-Men, Spider-Man, one nearly kills Black Widow and the kids in Daredevil, and the Powers family are attacked by Boogyman in one in Power Pack. And those are just off the top of my head! lol!

  13. I kinda want to read more Power Pack now.

    And by far the most terrifying thing that could be possessed in my home is my collection of Nintendo Amiibos. If by chance you don’t know what those are just google them, sit back, and tremble at the idea.

  14. Listening to this is making me wonder: Where was Doctor Strange during Inferno? Because you think a guy who’s literal job description includes “Prevent Earth from being attacked by Extra-dimenionsal threats” would be a touch concerned about such an event taking place in his backyard

    1. That is a very good question. Even if he didn’t have his own ongoing, you’d think someone would write him into the story somewhere (if only showing that he was the reason Inferno was limited to New York and not expanding to the rest of the world or something).

      Anyhoo, the description of the Power Pack story reminds me a bit of both Silent Hill: The Room and that one early chapter of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (towards the end of the first arc/trade) where Doctor Destiny has escaped from Arkham Asylum with Dream’s helmet and has gone into the diner.

      As far as artists who it would be cool to see do Inferno – to return to my trend of contextualizing comics through my Anime & Manga fandom, it would have been great to have seen the late Shigeru Mizuki do Inferno. Mizuki did a great manga called “GeGeGe no Kitarou” or “Kitarou of the Graveyard”, which is a manga about Youkai (Japanese spirits and Goblins. It has a very profoundly fun-macabre style. Considering the rest of his body of work, it would probably focus more on everyday people in New York coping with Inferno, in a very different sense than the brief glimpses we get from Daredevil, Power Pack, and Spider-Man’s comics (though probably similar to the glimpse we get in that one issue of The Avengers).

    2. Weirdly enough, Dr. Strange’s soul gets stuck in a rat’s body while Dormammu posesses his body during Inferno. There is a reference to what’s going on in Manhattan there. Weirdly, Dr Strange, as a rat, gets help from Thor’s frog friends to defeat Dormammu…!

  15. Those Power Pack issues were the f***ing best. Bogdanove is usually a great artist (even with awful Milgrom’s inking), but then he was definitively amazing. His perfect trace, his expressivity, his elegance, his impeccable storytelling. Besides that, he writes!!! I gotta say that my favorite Inferno story is not in X-Men, neither in X-Factor, neither in TNM, but here and in Excalibur. The only issues that achieved to make me feel the HOT and smell the GARBAGE were those PP (and up to a certain point the DD ones) –the first issue, with the whole family melting in sweat and mold growing all around the house, is splendid.

  16. Good No-Prize explanation for Sinister and Rachel Summers, but man, it still is a bit weird, isn’t it? Especially given how Phoenix-crazy Sinister was when cloning Madelyne in “Inferno,” as revealed in the flashbacks of Maddie’s origin.

    And Sexy Sinister… oh man. So my friend Mal and I have this ongoing joke that Sinister and Tullamore Voge are secret lovers and constantly make unsubtle innuendo jokes in the middle of conversations. If you read X-Men: The End, you’ll see that subtext is totally, totally there (or so we like to tell ourselves).

  17. I am way behind of the podcast and even accidentally listened to them out of order, so this is coming late. I just listened today on the subway ride into the city to get my comics – so not all that different from what I was doing back when Inferno came out, even though by then I had mostly given up on comics and would probably be going to the Complete Strategist on E. 33rd instead to get the latest issue of Dragon or maybe some new dice.

    Because of that it was not until the recent episodes that I even knew that Inferno had anything to do with Maddie Pryor. I always assumed it involved Mephisto and Ilyana. Why Mephisto? I don’t know, I guess I never considered Limbo distinct from Hell.

    Anyway, great episode. Sam Humphries was just a vaguely familiar name to me, but I really enjoyed his insights.

    As always I love the positive response to Power Pack, which is one of my all-time favorite comics runs. I wrote a bit about them in December of last year in: “Power Pack Says Crack is Wack!” – and have a lot to say about the representations of NY in 80s superhero comics.

    Oh and to Miles, regarding his description of what readers had to do to make sense of stories when you didn’t have all the issues, especially in crossovers? There’s a term for that “macro-closure” (I should know, I coined it) – for ways that reader-provided closure (and resistance to closure, as well actually) works not only to provide sense across and among panels on the comics page (a la McCloud), but across multiple issues, titles, and even time periods/incarnations to fashion a working and identifiable sense of a character that postitionally coheres.

    Anyway, keep up the good work. I’ll catch up soon.

  18. I realize I’m coming in late to this episode, but I can’t be silent on this. Groot isn’t a bad choice for the drums, but I feel like Drax’s personality makes him much more naturally inclined toward making music through physical violence. Personally, I’d put Groot (the heartbeat of the Guardians) on bass, Gamora on guitar, Rocket on keyboards, and Star-Lord on vocals.

    Oh yeah, and really exceptional work on this and every episode. To paraphrase Jay, you’re my very favorites.

  19. Avengers #400 was part of the Onslaught storyline, but the less said about that the better.

    Ugh…and #500 was “Disassembled”…oh, god…note to self: Avoid Avengers centennial issues…

  20. After reading just her three Inferno tie-in issues of Daredevil, I can confidently say that only Ann Nocenti could have created Mojo.

    The Marvel Database wiki says that the demon who appears to Kingpin alongside Typhoid Mary was Mephisto. I don’t know if that’s actually what Nocenti intended, but I do like to think that Mephisto saw some other demon lords starting crap in New York and just decided to pop in for a few minutes just to see what was going on. Like “Hmm, I could work with this, and—oh, what? It’s that loser N’astirh? Screw this, I have better things to do. I think I’ll go crash at Dormammu’s place…”

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