Wednesday, 16 November 2011
UXM Annual #4: "Nightcrawler's Inferno"
It's Nightcrawler's birthday in this annual, making Kurt the second X-Man to have their birthday celebrated on panel (Bobby being the first). Of course, given how long the new team has been together, everyone must have gotten a turn in peace and quiet.
Not so much our resident furry wunderkind, though.. A mysterious birthday present - a crystal effigy of himself - explodes in his face, and leaves him in a state almost indistinguishable from death. Acting on a hunch, Xavier calls in Dr Strange, who diagnoses the patient as missing his soul. There isn't much time to solicit a second opinion, however, because a giant floating ram-horned women's head suddenly appears, and after naming itself "Margali", proceeds to unleash all manner of supernatural, super-freaky tentacles at our heroes. Storm manages to get Kitty and the Professor before she's dragged into another dimension, but no-one else escapes.
When our heroes awake, they find themselves (and Nightcrawler) at what is clearly the entrance to Hell. Or at least, it's clearly the entrance to Hell if you assume that Dante's Inferno is a historical document. Strange, the only person present with the advantage (that being a term appropriate in only the narrowest sense) of having been to the pit before, notes that the decor has changed, but then one can hardly expect Satan to remain constant in his approach to furnishings or wallpaper.
The team grabs a lift across the river Acheron with Charon, Ferryman of the Dead, and then enter some kind of off-kilter mansion, which sets off Storm's claustrophobia. One might think that whilst travelling through Hell itself, a fear of confinement might be entirely redundant, but I know how badly I'd deal with the afterlife if it was carpeted in beetles, so fair enough.
Soon enough, the X-Men are admitted into the presence of Minos, Gatekeeper of Hell. As one might assume, Minos is all oily charm and lofty smugness, secure in his absolute power. He's got himself a tentacle too (someone clearly needs to sit down and have a long chat with a psychotherapist), which he uses to toss Nightcrawler to the harpies. Storm rescues him, but is captured in his place, at which point Logan, who I will love forever for this, threatens Minos with an adamantium enema.
As nervous as this clearly makes the Gatekeeer (and who can blame him?) there's nothing for it but climbing down into the pit after Storm. Instead of Ororo, though, they find first Cerberus (who also balks when threatened with a metal claw where the sun don't shine - though of course that's pretty much everywhere right now) and then the city of Dis. By this point it's obvious to everyone that Margali has a specific score to settle with Kurt, and he confesses the reason why: he killed her only son (who was also, though he doesn't reveal this, his own foster brother).
Colossus tears open the gates to the city (proving to Strange that this can't actually be the real Hell, Peter not having divine powers any more than he does a decent barber), and the team find themselves in the eighth circle, which is apparently where they keep the fraudsters (Wall Street, take note) and the thieves, which Logan presumes includes Ororo. Which it does, though as one might have expected, she's been bitten by a snake and turned into a lizard (just how much communion wine had Dante been drinking?) Strange reverses the spell by having the Stormosaurus bite the serpent in return (important note: this does not cure snakebites in the real world, though it might give one a certain sense of satisfaction).
With everyone present and accounted for, the team continue to descend, hoping they will find an exit. Instead, they find Sata himself, or themselves, or something. Mainly, it looks like Cerberus gave birth to a puppy fathered by Roy Chubby Brown (no wonder the poor pooch tried to get as far from Cocytus as it possibly could). But then, this isn't the real Prince of Darkness in any case, but Kurt's foster mother Margoli in disguise, for some reason.
It then turns out it wasn't Margali with the tentacles at all, though; rather someone called Jimaine, who appears without explanation on page 30. Jimaine, it turns out is Margali's daughter, and hence Kurt's foster sister, and she pretended to be Margali to lure the X-Men here. By now my head is swimming trying to work out who goes why and where (though at least it explains why "Hell" looks so much like Dante's version of it - Margali has built this place to chuck 'Crawler into as punishment for his "crime"), but more is to come. It turns out Kurt did kill his foster brother Stefan, but only as part of a blood oath - a promise to end Stefan's life should he grow up to be exactly the kind of evil shit he eventually became.
All of this is tossed off in three and a half pages, which rather makes for a frustrating ending, particularly since we've already been twenty pages of the X-Men wandering through every single circle of Hell to get here. I can't shake the suspicion that the story of Stefan - how he became evil, and how he knew so young that it was coming - would have been more interesting than what we've gotten.
Except... there's one final twist! After Margali admits she was wrong to blame Kurt and disappears, Jimaine has a confession to make... she's been following Nightcrawler around! For months (actually more than two years by Claremont's timeline, but whatever)! As his girlfriend, Amanda!
So, let's review. In order to save her foster brother from her insane mother, Jimaine transformed herself into a beautiful woman and seduced him? That makes Luke and Leia snogging seem positively wholesome. And is Nightcrawler angry at this deception? Does he point out that she could maybe have disguised herself as, say, a dude, and just made friends with him? No! Because he's always secretly hoped she'd agree to tip his velvet, if you get my meaning.
Holy God, what is it with these Central Europeans? When it's not Kurt and Jimaine, it's Wanda and Pietro. I feel quite nauseous.
Though I am thinking we need t-shirts that say "I WENT TO HELL AND BACK AND ALL I GOT WAS CONFIRMATION THAT I'D ACCIDENTALLY F**KED MY SISTER". That'll break the ice at parties. Guaranteed.
This annual takes place over the course of a few hours.
Nightcrawler mentions that they have heard little from Scott since Jean's funeral, and Kitty wonders how much longer it will be before she feels comfortable amongst the X-Men. Both of these clues suggest at least a little time has passed since UXM #138, so I'm adding a fortnight onto the count. Maybe "heard little" means "got one call when he arrived wherever he headed". That's a little shaky, but not impossible. And certainly, a fortnight's worth of failing to fit in would feel like an eternity to a 13 year old.
Monday 1st of November, 1982.
Channel 4 broadcasts for the first time.
1st November: Kurt Wagner.
14th December: Bobby Drake.
"If believing in your God, Nightcrawler, means accepting the existence of this place... I am now glad I was raised an atheist."