"Ashes to Ashes"
Louise Simonson (writer), Walter Simonson (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Tom Vincent (colorist), Joe Rosen (letterer), Bob Harras (editor), Tom DeFalco (editor in chief)
While Longshot and later Beast distract Sinister and Polaris/Malice, the X-Men and X-Factor gradually regain consciousness after being knocked out by the explosion. During the resulting fight, where Sinister is effortlessly able to counter everyone's powers, Sinister tells Cyclops that he had experimented on him when he was at the Nebraskan orphanage. Cyclops finds he can't use his powers on Sinister because of a mental block he had placed on him, but a combination of Havok's taunting and the sight of an unconscious Jean in Sinister's arms breaks the block and Cyclops blasts Sinister with the fullest extent of his power, which seems to completely destroy the villain, while Polaris/Malice vanishes without a trace. Victorious, the X-Men leave X-Factor on good terms - with no one offering to rebuild the mansion (which always bugged me, even when I read this as a kid).
It's the first telling of Sinister's involvement in Cyclops', Havok's and Jean's pasts, although certain details, like how Sinister got a sample of Jean's cells, remain unexplained to this day. However, the back story in Classic X-Men #41 and #42 goes into much more detail about the role Sinister played in Cyclops' life at the orphanage. It's also the end of the long plot that had Polaris possessed by Malice, although you can't tell that from reading this issue. Finally, it's the last chapter in the core "Inferno" storyline.
Claremont's original idea for Mr. Sinister was that he was a child's concept of a supervillain, so Sinister is painted here as a boogeyman from Cyclops' childhood. It's easy to forget that interpretation because under later stories Sinister came to embody science without ethics, so much so that several recent stories have shown Sinister conducting experiments on human victims during the Holocaust. In more recent years he also became the archetypical Machiavellian villain to such an extent that he hasn't actually done anything except hint at vague masterplans that never came to fruition (except, of course, his plan to create Nathan Summers and pit him against Apocalypse, but even that was a wash). Here, in his original context, you can make a case that Sinister works better, although, probably again as a result of the tone in which X-Factor was being written at the time, the point is hammered in to the point of frustration: for instance, Sinister starts mocking Cyclops like a childhood bully, which is so bizarre even Cyclops comments on it. As far as final confrontations go - and it's clear this issue was originally meant to be Sinister's finale - this is all pretty good and is probably the strongest of the X-Factor Inferno issues.. It's nice to see superheroes form an actual plan for once, although the fact that Sinister is vulnerable to Cyclops' eye blasts comes across as a huge, blinking deus ex mechina.
So, what about Inferno? It was among the first comics I read, so I have a nostalgic fondness for it. Also the premise is rather fun, between superheroes fighting demons and homicidal inanimate objects and heroes and villains being corrupted. Further the conclusion to Magick's storyline is rightfully remembered as a classic and a rare, good “ending” for a popular character. Still, re-reading the entire saga I can understand why the storyline has a bad reputation. The X-Factor issues are the weakest links in the chain and unfortunately key points in the storyline are in those issues. Although it was part of the stories toward the end of Chris Claremont's run that led to the status quo that stayed with the franchise through most of the '90s, the crossover was used as an excuse to clear up old storylines, so much of it is given over to flashbacks, and the new plot turns introduced, like the hint that something would happen to the babies Madelyne had abducted or the”demonification” of most of the X-Men, ultimately never led to anything. Then we have Madelyne Pryor, who was written out in a manner clumsy at best and misogynistic at worst. Chris Claremont's deft handling of the character, mainly by not writing her as a Fatal Attraction stereotype, lightens the problems, but still it's hard to get past that you're seeing a long-time supporting character turning evil simply because of a man's rejection. Even as a kid, I noticed that Madelyne had been turned into an insane and scantily clad babysnatcher in order to redeem a male protagonist.
When the last page was turned, all said, I still enjoyed it, due to Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson's run in New Mutants and Bret Blevins' and Marc Silvestri's art. It's not a classic story, but it's a sight better than many of the crossover events it inspired.
Page 20, Panel 1-3: Even getting blasted to a shattered skeleton like Sinister here isn't enough to make one ineligible to pass death's revolving door in the Marvel Universe.
Page 21, Panel 2: Later on it's said that the shock of seeing Sinister 'die' finally shook Malice from her possession of Polaris' body, in spite of all the previous hints that Malice had gotten 'stuck' in Polaris' body, but nothing in this issue implies that, so it might have been a last-minute decision by Claremont or an editorial decree.
Page 22: Curiously no one addresses the fact that the mansion was completely demolished in the explosion or seems all that bothered by it. In fact, the mansion is actually not rebuilt until X-Men vol. 2 #1, which was published in 1991, two years after this issue. Everyone knows that the X-Men aren't the most proactive team of superheroes out there, but this is a bit much.