Inferno was a Marvel Comics comic book crossover from 1988-1989. The basic premise was that New York city was literally turned into a hell (not THE Hell, mind you) and its heroes, villains and civilians had to deal with it.
Synopsis: Although extended to affect several Marvel titles, this was basically an X-Men crossover. It was made for two reasons: first, to solve the dangling plotline regarding Cyclops' wife, Madelyne Pryor, and secondarily, to finally do something with the plotline of Illyana Rasputin (Colossus' sister) which had been teased for years. Pryor was a Jean Grey lookalike that Cyclops just happened to meet shortly after Jean's death. They married and had a baby. However when Marvel decided to bring Jean back to life and have her and Cyclops star in a new title, X-Factor, suddenly the character was unnecessary and made Cyclops look bad for "running away from his wife". (Actually he had tried to return to her later, but she had vanished by then.) This story revealed that Pryor was a clone of Grey from the start, created by the villain Mister Sinister since he wanted a baby born from the two of them, as it was predicted it would be the only one who could permanently destroy Sinister's archfoe, the mutant villain Apocalypse. The revelation drove Pryor mad.
As for Illyana, she had the mutant power of opening portals to the dimension called Limbo — which was a type of Hell. She was captured by its ruler, the sorcerer Belasco, who raised her for the purpose of sacrificing her to his mysterious gods, but Illyana defeated him - leaving her the ruler of limbo, whether she liked it or not. She joined the New Mutants, but her demonic heritage was a constant latent threat.
The plots become linked by the fact that S'ym, Illyana's main demon servant, made a deal with Pryor in a dream, which she haplessly accepted thinking it would not be binding in the real world - needless to say, it was. This turned her into the evil Goblin Queen. The whole thing was a plan by Limbo's top two demons, S'ym and N'astirh (introduced for this story). (Note that N'astirh was given credit for corrupting Madelyne, which is incorrect, unless it had pretended to be S'ym in the dream.) The two eventually turn on each other.
N'astirh tricked Illyana into releasing the forces of Limbo in New York. Demons invaded the streets and even the city itself turned demonic. While the local superheroes dealt with the resulting chaos, the X-Men and X-Factor had to prevent Madelyne from sacrificing her own baby. Ultimately she dies while trying to kill Jean, and things are restored to normal in New York. Almost as an afterthought, the heroes hunt down Sinister and kill him, though he would return later (as did Madelyne). Illyana seemingly was reverted to an innocent, non-demonic child. Most of the people of New York wrote off the incident as a mass hallucination.
In another example of tying up loose ends, the baby was taken to the future (in another story), growing up to become the mysterious hero Cable.
The story had a sequel in 2009 by the title of X-Infernus featuring the "Darkchylde" Illyana once again. It was also revisited during the massive Secret Wars event in 2015, depicting an Alternate Universe where the Inferno never ended.
Tropes in this crossover:
- All Just a Dream: Subverted, as Madelyne's deal with N'astirh was made in a dream.
- All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Mr. Sinister was operating out of Xavier's then-closed school.
- And I Must Scream: Almost said exactly in Madelyne's dream.
- Animate Inanimate Object: One of the dangers of the demonic invasion was objects coming to life and attacking people; cars driving on their own, air vents and mailboxes turning into monsters, and so on. Spider-Man even had to fight the Macy's Parade balloon of himself! ("Ah, the guy's eyes were wrong anyway!" he quips.)
- Art Shift: Readers who read the TPB will notice a major difference in art style and storytelling between Chris Claremont and Marc Silvestri's X-Men issues, Louise Simonson and Brett Blevins' New Mutants issues, and Louise and her husband Walt Simonson's X-Factor issues. Most fans prefer the X-Men issues.
- Big Bad: S'ym is the true main antagonist, but N'Astirh is the far-more visible villain in the story.
- Badass Bystander: J. Jonah Jameson ends up leading the crew of the Daily Bugle when demons invade it, rescuing Spider-Man in the process (as much as Jolly Jonah would rather the webhead rot). And then, there's the Kingpin, who gets fed up that his Mooks can't take care of a little demon infestation problem and drives it away by punching it in the face.
- The Chessmaster: The demon N'astirh's machinations on both Magik and Madelyne led to Inferno in the first place.
- That says nothing of how Mister Sinister managed to manipulate both the X-Men and X-Factor since the very beginning.
- Cloning Blues: Poor Madelyne.
- Contrived Coincidence:
- Cyclops running into a Jean lookalike shortly after her "death" (although this story says it was set up by Sinister.)
- Of all the people in the world, why did the demons choose Madelyne as their new Queen?
- Deal with the Devil: N'astirh specializes in these.
- Die for Our Ship: Madelyne, obviously.
- Demonization: A meta-example on several levels, in that literal demonization was how the writers/editors chose to deal with Madelyne. Since the Scott-Jean pairing was mandated from above, they had to do something to get his established wife out of the way—and did it by making her a demonic villain that could be killed off without the readers feeling sorry for her. As it was, readers did feel sorry for her, but more or less accepted her death.
- Depending on the Writer: While the overall story holds together, Madelyne is treated somewhat differently in the respective titles that are part of the crossover, as depending on who writes her. In the X-Factor issues (by Simonson, who wrote most of that book, with Cyclops as Jean's suitor), she is particularly unhinged and, moreover, throws out a few lines suggesting that she was really Evil All Along, presumably to excuse Cyclops for treating her badly. The X-Men issues (by Claremont, who created the character and wrote nearly all of her appearances prior to this story) don't exactly make her sympathetic, but at least pitiable, playing up her aspects of Villain Has a Point (Cyclops really was a jerk to her, and he wasn't the only one) and Then Let Me Be Evil (If everyone is going to treat me like I'm Not Even Human, I might as well be a monster!) and portraying her as a good wife and mother until Cyclops left her (and she suffered a number of other unfortunate events).
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Madelyne.
- Eldritch Abomination: Belasco's gods.
- Enemy Mine: Spider-Man fights alongside J. Jonah Jameson in an issue where the story is appropriate called, "When the Bugle Blows!"
- Evil Costume Switch: For Madelyne and Illyana. Maddy's is very stripperiffic, while Illyana switches between a fully nude (yet covered in thick red fur) demon form, and head-to-toe silver armor that leaves only her eyes exposed.
- The corrupted X-Men get this too. Notably Havok gets his normal costume shredded into something that looks like Madelyne's.
- Evil Is Petty: Invoked and averted. When the X-Men return to the Xavier Institute, they find Mr. Sinister has taken over and their belongings were strewn all over the place. Colossus asks if Mr. Sinister is so petty that he would smash their possessions For the Evulz. Wolverine explains that the destruction wasn't wanton, but the result of a thorough search.
- Genius Loci: The city itself became "evil" featuring everything from overflowing toilets to trains turned into giant worms!
- Go Mad from the Revelation: Poor, poor Madelyne...
- Hate Sink: Madelyne becomes this and nothing else all throughout the crossover, with no redeeming qualities shown whatsoever; a total 180-degree reversal of her characterization from the previous six years. This is suggested In-Universe to be a result of a mixture of horrible trauma and dark magic corrupting her.
- Hellgate: Similarly to Fall of the Mutants a while earlier, the villains' plan is to open one, so demons will come in and destroy the world.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Magik's "Darkchylde" story arc in Inferno is reminiscent of Jean's in The Dark Phoenix Saga, except that at the end, she comes face to face with her younger, innocent self. Faced with the choice of staying as she is or returning to that innocent childhood, Illyana sends her child-self forward through time so that she will never become Magik, and therefore Darkchylde, and thereby un-creates herself.
- Human Sacrifice: Illyana (originally) and baby Nathan (both survive.)
- It Amused Me: During the crisis, the Jason Macendale Hobgoblin confronts N'Astirh and demands power in exchange for his soul. N'Astirh promptly laughs his ass off, declares his soul worthless, but decides to give him what he wants anyway because the Hobgoblin gave him a good laugh.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: A more subtle example than many. Madelyne's sadness, and hollow outrage at Sinister, when he coldly tells her that she was never really a person with a life at all, but simply a convenient cog in his plans that happened to think it was one (that he will, incidentally, remove now that she has served her purpose for him) is heartrending and works perfectly in-story. But on the meta-level, it can also be read as Claremont stealth-raging at the editors for suddenly invalidating the well-developed character that he had been writing for a long time and apparently cared a lot about, turning her into a plot device to be unceremoniously written out as soon as possible once they came up with new ideas that she didn't fit into.
- Lower-Deck Episode: The first issue of the three part Avengers crossover with this storyline is almost entirely centered on the Avengers' butler, Jarvis. And it is awesome.
- Magitek: A central part of N'Astirh's plan involved using a computer to cast hundreds of spells at once, blackmailing Whiz Kid to do it. N'Astirh would later merge with the computer himself after becoming infected with S'ym's techno-organic virus.
- The Man Behind the Man: S'ym and N'astirh to Madelyne and Cameron Hodge, respectively. Though both of them turned against the demons later.
- Poor Communication Kills: After Scott had joined X-Factor, several months had passed before he first tried to contact Madelyne. Many of the problems would have been avoided if Scott bothered to explain the situation to both Jean and Madelyne.
- To be fair, Scott did reach out to try and get in contact with Madelyne from issue 2, so it wasn't months later. He just didn't physically go back until months later and thought she was avoiding him. Not to mention, Sinister was manipulating the whole situation so he left in the first place (and then disappeared Madelyne and the baby the day he left). He tried to communicate, but unbeknownst to him there was no one to communicate with.
- Reality Bleed: Opening the portal to Limbo causes Manhattan to become like Limbo. S'ym, N'Astirh and Madelyne all want to extend this to the entire world.
- Red Skies Crossover: None of the non-mutant heroes (aside from Captain Britain, who was part of the otherwise all-mutant team, Excalibur) involved ever found out what all that was about with the exception of Spider-Man, who had a few issues dedicated to the crossover. This became important to the history of the second Hobgoblin, who was merged with a demon during this event. Said demon would eventually leave the Hobgoblin to become the villain Demogoblin. (The editors insisted that the primary reason for this was not to get non-X-Men fans interested in the main storyline, but the other way around.)
- Inferno came about right on top of a massive upheaval in The Avengers; the tie-in provided the opportunity to restart the team with a new roster after the previous team quit at the end of the Council of Cross-Time Kangs storyline.
- Selective Obliviousness: The people of New York accept the existence aliens and mutants, but demons? No way.
- Spotlight-Stealing Squad:
- The long-teased Limbo invasion finally happens, and it's Madelyne Pryor instead of Illyana who provokes it?
- Also, S'ym loses the spotlight to a completely new demon, the Chessmaster N'astirh.
- Superpowered Evil Side: The Darkchylde for Magik, and the Goblin Queen for Madelyne.
- Sympathy for the Devil: As evidenced on this page, Madelyne Pryor is treated as much as a victim as a villain in this story arc, thanks to the circumstances surrounding the end of her and Cyclops' marriage.
- Take That!: S'ym is a parody of Cerebus. His creator, Dave Sim, wrote about having a little "talk" with the Marvel artists about their parody character becoming a main story driver and featuring on the cover without them asking permission. Per Dave, no lawyers were involved but S'ym's body and features changed significantly shortly afterwards, with N'astirh suddenly taking over much of the demoning.
- Taking You with Me: Madelyne tries to destroy the X-Men, baby Nathan, and X-Factor with a single massive burst of power in a last-ditch attack. When this fails thanks to the tanks on both teams, she locks Jean's mind to hers and tries to drag her at least into death with her. Jean is saved by the timely arrival of a portion of the Phoenix Force.
- Underboobs: See page illustration above. Unquestionably one of the most legendary examples in comic book history. Were it not for the fact that she possessed awesome telekinetic powers or some hellafied double-sided tape, there would have been no way that Madelyne could have ever raised her arms like that, much less engaged in combat, without baring it all!
- Unexplained Recovery:
- Jean Grey's return started the whole mess.
- All the characters eliminated here eventually return.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Remember the other infants who were to be sacrificed? They were turned into child soldiers.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Madelyne, who undergoes a brutal Trauma Conga Line.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: The Ghostbusters-like paranormal investigators looking into the strange phenomena appearing around the Empire State Building early in the story. They appear to believe that Inferno is that kind of lighthearted story, where the Science Hero trounces the magic and gets to condescend to everyone else along the way. That's not at all how it turns out for them, needless to say.