Monday, October 5, 2015

Mutants, Demons, and Heart: Inferno #5

The following is my review of Inferno #5, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


There are certain combinations that don’t sound like they go together at first. I’m sure the first person who proposed putting peanut butter and jelly between two pieces of bread was laughed out of the room. Several generations of school kids can attest that this combination worked out pretty well for the most part. So who’s to say that the combination of mutants and demons can’t work? Sure, it has the absurd undertones of Monsters vs. Aliens, but then again DreamWorks managed to turn that into a blockbuster movie. So why can’t Dennis Hopeless do the same for comics?

Hopeless has dared to turn an absurd concept like X-men vs. Demons into a compelling story and remarkably, he’s succeeded. Inferno has proven itself to be one of the most entertaining and engaging stories to spin out of Secret Wars. It’s not just some flashy spectacle ripped out of a Sharknado movie. It’s a story that has many personal elements, revolving primarily around Colossus and his desire to save his sister’s soul from Limbo.


It’s a simple setup, but one not so simple that it could be mistaken for a Kirk Cameron movie. And it takes place within the context of a massive war between mutants and the demon armies of Limbo. It has elements that are both epic and personal, which are every bit as potent as peanut butter and jelly.

Colossus’ struggle in this story has been the catalyst. His efforts to save his sister have led to entanglements with the Goblin Queen, who is the only one in a position to benefit with either outcome. Now, the rest of the X-men are involved. Even Sinister has gotten in on the action. It effectively sets up Inferno #5 with all the potent ingredients it needs to be awesome. While some of those ingredients prove bland, the most important details deliver the satisfaction of a dozen peanut butter sandwiches.


The greatest strength of this series as a whole has been Colossus’ journey. He began wanting to save his sister. However, after some painful struggles, one of which resulted in him losing an arm briefly, he comes to the harsh realization that his sister can’t be saved. And he has to be the one to put her down. It’s not quite like Old Yeller. Old Yeller was never as lovable as crazy demonic teenage girl with an army of blood-thirsty demons at her disposal. Few people outside the Marilyn Manson crowd will shed a tear for Illyana at this point.

That doesn’t make it any easier for Colossus. That doesn’t make it less heart-wrenching either. The real meat of this story is him confronting his demon-possessed sister in one final clash. He’s got muscles and a big sword. She’s got an army of demons at her back. All Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader had were lightsabres. It makes for a powerful spectacle, but one that doesn’t gloss over the emotional undertones.


It’s because these emotions are so well-developed that the end result is so satisfying. Colossus was in a difficult position where he had to swallow all these emotions and do what had to be done. These emotions clearly impacted him and Illyana did not hesitate to exploit them. This impact, along with the connection he developed with Domino, gave the story an impact that felt more meaningful than a PG-13 version of Monsters vs. Aliens.

While the emotional undertones were well-developed, the other secondary details were essentially glossed over. The role of characters like Sinister, Cyclops, Jean Grey, and the rest of the X-men were entirely forgettable. They might as well have been generic henchmen in a Power Rangers rerun. They really didn’t do much other than to act as demon bait. While some helped supplement Colossus’ struggle, they were too easily cast aside in the final confrontation.

This is somewhat of a letdown in terms of plot because previous issues had done a nice job of setting up these other characters to contribute in the final showdown. They could’ve contributed a lot more, especially after the arrival of Sinister. But in the end, the story takes on the mold of a movie that did one too many reshoots. The sub-plot with Sinister was abandoned, any potential sub-plots with other X-men were abandoned, and any emotional impact they could’ve had was snuffed out off-panel. That might work for a Josh Trank movie, but not for a series like this.

That’s not to say that this oversight derailed the story as a whole. It didn’t. Colossus’ battle with Illyana still had the right impact. There’s a distinct sense that if the book had been several pages longer, the details surrounding the rest of the X-men wouldn’t have been glossed over. If the story itself had been an issue longer, then there would’ve been time to add even more depth to Colossus’ struggle. So while the final battle still succeeded, it still felt rushed.

Now the reason for this isn’t entirely a result of insufficient ink or page restrictions. In many respects, Colossus’ inability to protect his fellow X-men comes from his reluctance to accept that she can’t be saved. Everyone around him accepted that Illyana was a lost cause. Even Cyclops and Madelyne Pryor agreed and anytime two ex-spouses agree on something, it’s pretty telling. So while the end result is rushed, it’s not completely without merit.

Rushed or not, Inferno #5 still succeeds in finishing the primary plot of the story. That alone makes it more complete than a typical Christopher Nolan movie. Colossus set out to save his sister. In the end, he had to be the one who stopped her. It made for a difficult, emotional struggle. But he still succeeded and managed to keep his girlfriend from dying. That’s more than Cyclops and Wolverine can say.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

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