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Sep 7

Immortal X-Men #6 annotations

Posted on Wednesday, September 7, 2022 by Paul in Annotations

As always, this post contains spoilers, and page numbers go by the digital edition.

“The Devil’s Party”
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Lucas Werneck
Colour artist: David Curiel
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Design: Tom Muller & Jay Bowen
Editor: Jordan D White

COVER / PAGE 1: Sebastian Shaw, apparently in the middle of the ritual from the end of the story.

PAGES 2-3. Mr Sinister tells Destiny about the plan to attack the Progenitor.

This is a significantly expanded version of a sequence on pages 8 and 9 of A.X.E.: Judgment Day #3. All we see in that version is Sinister making contact with Destiny and telling her “I have some most useful information… just time it right.” This version makes clear that Sinister tells Destiny about the actual risk, but encourages her to conceal it from the rest of the Quiet Council. Jean does accuse him of concealing the risks in Judgment Day #3, but he denies it and claims that she would have known the full picture if she’d been on the Quiet Council.

“That awful plagiarist Doctor Stasis has made you all suspicious.” The Quiet Council learned in issue #4 that Dr Stasis, in X-Men, is apparently a duplicate of Sinister (and claims to be the original).

“You told me we should be on the same side.” In issue #2. Destiny had previously told Sinister the same thing in the flashback that opens issue #1, but he doesn’t remember that. This might be Sinister’s rationale for sharing the truth with Destiny, or he might simply figure that as a precog, she’ll know the risks anyway.

“Earlier, I saw it give a thumbs-down to that Captain America chap.” Also in A.X.E.: Judgment Day #3.

PAGE 4. Data page – Irene’s calculations on how best to time the vote to ensure that it goes through. Arguably the most important point here is the small print in the top left, and the first footnote, where Destiny insists that there is “no destiny” – what she sees is simply the probabilities depending on which course of action she follows.

  • Destiny herself becomes more likely to vote for the proposal if she manipulates the situation – perhaps because she only votes against if the proposal is clearly failing anyway…?
  • Hope won’t support a high risk but is happy enough to go with a low risk, especially if Professor X isn’t around to argue against it. Exodus just votes with her most of the time, because she’s the Messiah.
  • Professor X normally votes against but is still a lot more likely to support the proposal than any of the traditionally heroic X-Men. Still, Destiny figures that he will argue against it and carry some degree of weight – though really, the main difference in the third scenario is the loss of his vote. Nobody actually tips over the 50% mark because of his persuasion.
  • Mystique always embraces the idea with gusto and, if anything, is marginally more likely to support it when told that human cities could be wiped out.
  • Kate Pryde is highly likely to vote against, but isn’t quite as pure as Nightcrawler.
  • Emma Frost generally votes against, though she becomes a close call if Xavier’s not around. Still, she must see it as a last resort.
  • Sebastian Shaw‘s figures are similar to Exodus’s and not that much higher than Hope’s. Evidently the risk of mass destruction of human cities is off-putting to him, but you suspect it’s more because of the economic chaos.
  • Nightcrawler and Colossus are both vanishingly unlikely to vote for the proposal. In Colossus’s case, this might have something to do with the ongoing influence of Mikhail Rasputin, though the fact that Destiny doesn’t allow for this possibility indicates that it somehow never becomes apparent to her in any of the timelines she’s seen to date.

PAGES 5-6. The X-Men attack the Progenitor and are defeated in an illusion.

This is a recap of Judgment Day #3.

PAGE 7. The Progenitor appears to Destiny in the form of Mystique.

It’s still not entirely clear what criteria the Progenitor is applying, but it seems particularly disapproving of internal inconsistency and of failing to abide by one’s values. Broadly speaking we seem to be looking for characters who feel comfortable that they can justify themselves, or who are willing to stick to their principles in the face of emotional pressure.

PAGE 8. Data page. This is indeed an extract from the Summa Theologica, essentially a theology textbook written by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). It appears as part of his discussion of whether the damned wish for more people to be damned with them.  A fuller version reads: “Even as in the blessed in heaven there will be most perfect charity, so in the damned there will be the most perfect hate. Wherefore as the saints will rejoice in all goods, so will the damned grieve for all goods. Consequently the sight of the happiness of the saints will give them very great pain; hence it is written (Isaiah 26:11): “Let the envious people see and be confounded, and let fire devour Thy enemies.” Therefore they will wish all the good were damned.”

PAGE 9. Recap and credits.

PAGES 10-12. The Quiet Council meet.

Our narrator is Sebastian Shaw, who takes a while to make an appearance in his spotlight issue. He gets a chess piece symbol on his narration.

“She’s come a long way…” Shaw has known Emma since she started out as a dancer at the Hellfire Club. She has, of course, overshadowed him, both in terms of prominence as a character, and in plot terms in the way she outmanoeuvered him during the first volume of Marauders.

Emma Frost is judged by the images of various students who have died on her watch – something which has always been a major motivator for her. Most of them are generics, but two of them are wearing Hellions uniforms, and a third seems to be in a New Mutants outfit. To her right seems to be Negasonic Teenage Warhead, as she appeared during the assault on Genosha (where Emma was her teacher).

PAGES 13-14. Flashback: Sebastian Shaw’s childhood.

Sebastian’s father is Jacob Shaw, who appeared in X-Men: Hellfire Club #3-4 in 2000. Jacob worked for Mr Sinister locating mutants; the bit about rebuilding the family fortunes probably refers to the family’s greater wealth in England before Jacob came to America. If Sebastian ages normally, then Jacob’s outfit – obviously the template for Sebastian’s own – is wildly anachronistic, and presumably Hellfire-related itself. The general idea here seems to be that Sebastian both hates his unaffectionate father and is driven to become him.

The established history is that Sebastian made his own fortune through his technological genius, a side of the character which has been played down over the years.

PAGE 15. The Quiet Council’s discussion continues.

Sebastian’s offer to deal with the Eternals is reasonable enough. While he’s obviously looking for his own angle on this, his deal-making skills were the precisely the reason he was put on the Quiet Council in the first place. And besides, the end of the world is not in his interests.

“Legion saved a lot of Arakkii.” Presumably in the Legion of X tie-in that we haven’t reached yet.

PAGE 16-18. Exodus is tested.

This is Eobar Garrington, the Black Knight of the Crusades. We saw him (possessed by his future counterpart Dane Whitman) in issue #3, as part of the retelling of the Black Knight: Exodus one-shot from 1996. I’m not quite sure what Garrington means when he says he “gave my life to help you back in the twelfth century” – that’s not what happened in Black Knight: Exodus at all. Garrington was around for a while after Exodus entered his coma, and didn’t die until Dane Whitman’s spirit returned to the present.

At any rate, Exodus apparently believes that this is what happened to Eobar, but he does indeed resist the temptation to abandon his post and rescue Eobar from hell – at least long enough to hold off until Sebastian can break up the illusion. Exodus passes, presumably by proving that he puts his principles above his personal relationships.

There’s an obvious implication here that Exodus and Eobar were lovers, not just from Exodus’s dialogue, but from the parallels that Shaw draws with his own “mistakes”. I can’t help wondering if that was the original explanation for why Eobar was in Hell. Black Knight: Exodus does describe them as “closest friends”, though it also has Bennet completely unsurprised by the suggestion that Eobar has spent the night with a woman (“knowing your insatiable joie de vivre“).

PAGES 19-20. Shaw is judged.

“I’ve long ago lost Sage…” Sage from X-Force started off as Shaw’s assistant Tessa, a mainly background character in various early 80s X-books.

Sentinels. Shaw’s company manufactured the Sentinels for the US Government back in 1980s Uncanny.

Shaw is judged (and fails) by the Progenitor in the form of Emma Frost, whom he dismisses as no different from him. Shaw, I suspect, sees himself as a character who is completely true to his internal values in the sense that he has completely embraced what he is and does – but his inability to accept that Emma has surpassed him is something he’s so deeply in denial about that he can’t even understand what the Progenitor is getting at.

PAGE 21. Shaw meets with Exodus.

The Hellfire Club Mansion is apparently up and running again. The last time I saw it, Conan the Barbarian was living there in the aftermath of King in Black. Presumably they reclaimed it after he left.

Starfox was broken out of the Exclusion in A.X.E.: Judgment Day #3 and A.X.E.: Death to the Mutants #2. Presumably we’ll see more of his alliance-building in future instalments.

Shaw seems at least sufficiently chastened by his experience to focus on creating the deal that the Quiet Council would actually want, rather than his own personal interests. Angel is hanging around in the background, close enough to overhear, but seems willing to let Shaw get on with it.

PAGES 22-24. Shaw performs his ritual.

Mother Righteous has been appearing in Legion of X offering power to various characters; Shaw tells her that she was also dealing with Selene. Selene was killed in issue #2 (and has deliberately not been resurrected), which is why Mother Righteous is surprised to find Shaw using Selene’s route to make contact with her.

PAGE 25. Trailers.

Bring on the comments

  1. Michael says:

    It would be nice if we had some consistency on what the Chronicler can and cannot do with respect to Colossus. He can apparently hide his control from Destiny but not Sinister but he can’t stop Colossus from telling Illyana he’s had blackouts (although to be fair his control might have been weakened by Peter’s time in Limbo.)
    Why do some people get judged by visions of people they know and others, like Cyclops, get judged by the Celestial itself? It seems arbitrary.

  2. Jenny says:

    I think Sophie Cuckoo is also among those who are seen in the illusion of Emma’s judgment.

  3. Dave says:

    So while Emma was speaking, some kind of hell boss actually appeared in the middle of the Quiet Council, genuinely holding the Black Knight who’d been dead for centuries? Or it’s just a trick, but one the Progenitor allows the other QC members to be fully aware of? Neither seems to make much sense to me.

    The summary doesn’t mention that Destiny lies about the Progenitor appearing as Mystique, for some reason.

  4. Si says:

    I like when Destiny is depowered a bit in this way. Instead of knowing exactly what will happen and when, she can browse the decision tree and check the odds. Maybe she can direct things along one branch, maybe she can’t, and a million to one chance that she ignores can still come up on the one. Which means she must really hate characters like Domino, who mess with the odds and ruin her whole schtick.

  5. K says:

    So the demon actually burns Shaw’s shirt off, and Shaw had to punch Exodus out to prevent him from actually getting dragged to hell. This also suggests that later, Shaw’s investment in Orchis was real, just coincidentally observed by the Progenitor for judgment purposes.

    Therefore, a demonic guilt trip made specifically for Exodus was always going to happen on that exact day at that exact time, and him being judged based on that was just a coincidence?

    You know what, this is the funnier explanation at any rate.

  6. Mike Loughlin says:

    The demon scene was confusing. Maybe all the other judgements could be witnessed, they just weren’t? As for why Cyclops was judged by the Progenitor without illusions, he sought the Celestial out himself. Maybe submitting oneself for judgement means you won’t have to deal with illusions?

    Gillen writes Shaw as egotistical and unscrupulous but capable of learning from his past mistakes. I like when villains are portrayed as smart and competent rather than just evil.

  7. Jenny says:

    I attribute any weirdness to the Cyclops bit to Duggan writing it instead of Gillen.

    Anyway, the Celestials have consistently been shown to alter reality to some extent since Kirby created them, so the demon scene doesn’t seem especially confusing. Everyone else saw the Progenitor as Cap during his Judgement, so it goes beyond just simple telepathic imagery in some cases.

  8. Michael says:

    Shaw mentions seeing a thumbs up during the demon scene. That suggests that the demon was just the Celestial warping reality, since it’s hard to see why Eobar and/or the demon would give a thumbs up otherwise.
    Speaking of demons. since Shaw used a heart and a pentagram to summon Mother Righteous, I guess she really is a demon. Poor Banshee. It’s not going to end well for him.
    But I guess that’s why Sinister didn’t see Selene attacking the island in any of the Moira’s visions. She never would have dared to attack Krakoa without Mother Righteous’s help.

  9. MasterMahan says:

    Maybe the inconsistency is the point? The Progenitor is only hours old. Some people are simply judged, others receive tests of character. Some of the vision are visible to everyone, some are private. It was created with a need to judge, but is still figuring out how.

  10. Bengt says:

    The Celestial apparently manifests for some people, like Startfox’s mum, just to tell them that is has to think a bit longer. So yeah, it’s all over the place.

  11. GN says:

    A summary of the judgments delivered so far:

    PASSED – Thumbs up from the Progenitor
    FAILED – Thumbs down from the Progenitor
    DEFERRED – Noticed by the Progenitor, but more time needed for judgment
    UNKNOWN – Judgment delivered, not revealed to readers

    HUMANS (and others):
    Sally > FAILED
    Kraven the Hunter > Ignored by Progenitor
    Hellbride > DEFERRED

    Captain America > FAILED

    Destiny > FAILED
    Exodus > PASSED
    Mystique > FAILED
    Kate Pryde > PASSED
    Emma Frost > FAILED
    Sebastian Shaw > FAILED

    Cyclops > PASSED
    Jean Grey > DEFERRED
    Wolverine > DEFERRED

    Tempo > UNKNOWN
    Psylocke > UNKNOWN
    Red Bishop > UNKNOWN
    Daken > UNKNOWN
    Aurora > UNKNOWN
    Somnus > UNKNOWN
    Cassandra Nova > UNKNOWN

    Ikaris > DEFERRED
    Phastos > PASSED
    Ajak > DEFERRED
    Makkari > FAILED

    Delphan Brothers > FAILED

    Uranos > DEFERRED
    Sui-San > DEFERRED
    Earth Machine > DEFERRED

    Warlord Kro > PASSED
    Karkas the Kind > PASSED
    Ransak the Reject > PASSED
    Entire Deviant race > PASSED

  12. GN says:

    Upcoming judgments (based on solicits and speculation):

    Iron Man > A.X.E. Avengers 1
    Captain Marvel > Captain Marvel 42
    Spider-Man > Amazing Spider-Man 10
    Fantastic Four > Fantastic Four 47 + 48
    Hawkeye > Avengers 60

    Jean Grey > A.X.E. X-Men 1
    Nightcrawler > Immortal X-Men 7
    Wolverine > Wolverine 25
    Storm > X-Men Red 6
    Magneto > X-Men Red 6

    Ajak > A.X.E. Eternals 1
    Ikaris > Death to the Mutants 3
    Sersi > Death to the Mutants 3
    Earth Machine > Death to the Mutants 3

  13. GN says:

    Bengt> The Celestial apparently manifests for some people, like Startfox’s mum, just to tell them that is has to think a bit longer.

    That actually really was Starfox’s mother Sui-San. She is telling Eros that the Progenitor visited her but deferred her judgment because more time was needed. Sui-San was surprised since she expected to fail due to Thanos’s crimes.

    Sui-San, along with her husband A’Lars and son Eros, have been imprisoned in the Exclusion ever since they each died respectively. As I speculated last time, Eros really is Eternal number 101, the one who was added to the Machine.

  14. GN says:

    Oh wait, I’m so sorry Bengt, I misread your comment.

    I read it as saying ‘the Progenitor manifested to Eros as Sui-San’ but you were actually saying ‘the Progenitor manifested itself to Sui-San’. You were right – I was just reading too fast.

  15. Jon R says:

    It’s too bad we didn’t get the entire issue for Shaw, he really could have used it. I liked what we did get though, as it’s been a while since I’ve felt Shaw as actually competent as he was in his early years.

  16. Evilgus says:

    I agree. Shaw hasn’t been a threat for years. His powers are surprisingly mundane and not very visual. I think he’s stuck around due to his role in Phoenix saga.

    It’s a shame this issue didn’t get to open him up in a way it did with Exodus. Partly due to the crossover. But maybe also as there isn’t too much compelling to say…?

  17. Sam says:

    Shaw suffers from being an evil industrialist, a role that was popular in the 80s when he was created. It’s mostly been supplanted by the evil tech guy.

    As for the Exodus scene, maybe the whole demon and fire were psionic constructs generated by Exodus’s powers? I don’t think he’s ever been particularly stable; the Krakoa era puts him at the most stable I’ve ever seen, but people still remark that he’s a fanatic.

  18. Jon R says:

    Rolling it around in my head more, I think what it really set up well was a conflict with Emma in outlook. His reactions to her, and how the Progenitor shook him, also had a subtext to me of someone who believes that you are who you are. He doesn’t just ignore that Emma has surpassed him, as Paul said, but can’t believe that she’s changed. That’s good fodder for more character interactions that I hope come down the road.

    It’s also interesting that two different people poked Shaw about how they’d have expected a man of his reputation to be busy enjoying the apocalypse in debauchery. If making deals up to the end didn’t seem utterly in Shaw’s long-term character, I’d wonder if it were a way of pointing out he actually has changed himself. Still, having it come up twice seems like it should mean something. The more I think about it, the more I think that it’s commentary on what we said before. He hasn’t been a threat for years, and so his reputation as the King of Hellfire’s just gone to the carnal.

  19. Chris V says:

    Sam-Shaw is perfectly positioned to be an irredeemable villain. His company is part of the military-industrial complex. He accepted government contracts to produce Sentinels at his factories, even though he is a mutant. There’s really nothing outmoded about the character.
    The problem was that most stories featuring Shaw after the end of the Claremont run have moved away from that direction. He should be a prominent villain considering the amount of evil corporation stories Marvel have published in the past twenty years, interacting with the Roxxon, Tony Starks and Justin Hammers of the Marvel Universe. Claremont set him up for a major role towards the end of his run on Uncanny when his company got the US government contract to create the Nimrod Project. It was a plot-point dropped afterwards.

  20. Paul says:

    Yes, the problem with Shaw wasn’t so much the concept of the character as the fact that he just didn’t DO a great deal. He hasn’t really had a direction since 1990 or so, and even at that point, Bob Harras was acknowledging in Marvel’s own publicity material that the Hellfire Club had become the most evil organisation in the world that did absolutely nothing (or words to that effect).

  21. Si says:

    Even in the Claremont days Shaw mostly just sat in a topcoat and grinned sinisterly, or had thought bubbles about how he’s going to stab everyone in the back. His most active before Krakoa is probably that time he was lobotomised and was running with the X-students like a secondhand Sabretooth.

  22. Sam says:

    Shaw spent about 5 years allegedly dead thanks to the Image guys throwing out Claremont’s toys and replacing them with their own. Since he’s come back, stories with him have mostly focused on taking control of the Hellfire Club again.

    Other than making Sentinels, I can’t tell you what Shaw’s company does. I can’t tell you what Frost International does. Other than funding the original mutant hunting version of X-Factor and making a substandard headquarters building in Champions, I can’t tell you what Worthington International does. It’s one of the things that the mutant books have generally been bad about answering, this recent version of X-Corp focusing on magic Krakoa drugs excepted. Truthfully, Iron Man books are usually the only ones that have what an evil company does, and then it’s pretty much the same thing as Stark’s company du jour only run by evil people.

  23. Joseph S. says:

    “PAGE 21. Shaw meets with Exodus.”

    @Paul Was this meant to read Starfox?

    Anyway, I’m happy that Hickman’s Krakoa era set up was able to bring Gillen back to the X-books. The opening five pages is better storytelling than many full issues. For what it’s worth, I read that scene with the Progenitor as Mystique when Destiny first met her. That’s the same outfit from the Destiny issue, right? Her mother would have worn different clothes I presume, but in any case it isn’t surprising that she wouldn’t be totally forthright.

  24. Omar Karindu says:

    I think the only other notable use Shaw got was as a recurring corporate villain in, of all things, David Michelinie’s Amazing Spider-Man around the Acts of Vengeance crossover. And even there, he was mostly upset at Magneto — who’d recently booted Shaw out of his leadership role in the Hellfire Club or having his Sentinels hijacked by Loki.

  25. Michael says:

    The problems with Shaw as a villain is that after Uncanny X-Men 152, he wasn’t allowed to DO much as a villain. In his next appearance, in Uncanny 169, he’s discovering that Mastermind left Emma in a coma. In Uncanny X-Men Annual 7, he gets into a fight with the X-Men when they break into the Hellfire Club looking for the Impossible Man. He DOES send his corrupt SHIELD agents after Rossi in Uncanny 182 but he only appears on one page. He appears in the arc that introduced the Hellions in New Mutants but it’s Emma acting on her own that captured Kitty and the New Mutants. The next two Hellfire Club stories- Uncanny X-Men 189 and X-Men 207-209- are triggered by Rachel trying to kill Selene. He does play a role in the Firestar limited series- but it’s Emma’s idea to recruit and corrupt Firestar- Shaw just tells Emma to have Firestar kill Selene. (The other major Hellfire Club story in this period is when Emma, again, tries to suborn the New Mutants after thei Beyonder incident.)
    Then the X-Men become allies with the Hellfire Club until Inferno. In Inferno, the Club basically wander around Manhattan accomplishing nothing before agreeing to look the other way while N’astirh does his baby-sacrificing. (This is forgotten about once Emma becomes a hero, for obvious reasons.) Then, Shaw gets kicked out of the Hellfire Club.
    There’s a reason why Emma overshadowed Shaw early on in most fans’ minds, and it’s not (just) that Emma hardly wears any clothes. Emma got the memorable scenes in the Firestar limited series, threatening Kitty’s parents, etc. Even as early as the Pryde of the X-men cartoon , Emma was one of the villains and Shaw got left out. This problem was specific to Shaw- the evil corporate villains in Iron Man got to actually have evil schemes. There’s a reason why most fans consider the X-Men’s top villains Magneto, Apocalypse, Sinister and Mystique- Shaw is a distant afterthought.

  26. Jenny says:

    I think it says a lot about Shaw that when Grant Morrison briefly wrote him during the Assault on Weapon Plus arc, in a run that has Claremont looming large as an influence, they forgot that Shaw’s power was supposed to be energy absorption and wrote him as a telepath instead.

  27. Thom H. says:

    Sadly, Shaw was one of the more developed members of the Hellfire Club’s inner circle. I always thought they were a great bunch of characters, but they never quite made sense.

    Why give yourself royal/chess titles if there are only 4 or 5 of you? Was the inner circle slowly building itself or falling apart? Did they ever have a plan that more than 1 or 2 of them knew about?

    To be fair, I’m sure a lot of Claremont’s plans for them were scuttled toward the end of his run. But the Hellfire Club always seemed like they could use the Alpha Flight treatment — just a little more time and attention would have pulled them together as a concept.

  28. Omar Karindu says:

    Tom H. said: Sadly, Shaw was one of the more developed members of the Hellfire Club’s inner circle. I always thought they were a great bunch of characters, but they never quite made sense.

    Why give yourself royal/chess titles if there are only 4 or 5 of you? Was the inner circle slowly building itself or falling apart? Did they ever have a plan that more than 1 or 2 of them knew about?

    A lot of the oddities around them are, of course, because they were intended mostly as a fun little reference to “A Touch of Brimstone,” an old episode of the 1960s spy series The Avengers that itself was about a bunch of arrogant rich people reviving the historical Hellfire Club and trying to destabilize Britain in advance of a coup.

    In that episode, “A Touch of Brimstone,”Diana Rigg as Emma Peel gets remade (somewhat involuntarily) as “the Queen of Sin” of the Hellfire Club, clad in rather risque dominatrix gear.

    Thus, Emma Frost — named for the Emma Peel character — gets to be “the White Queen,” and Phoenix, who gets the other part of the TV show plot, is refashioned as the Black Queen.

    When first seen, the other members are hinted at having playing card motifs, not chess motifs, since their daises have the emblems of the suits of cards. Their name keeps changing in the buildup as well, from “the Council of the Chosen” to “the Inner Circle,” all well before they’re revealed as working from the Hellfire Club as a front.

    Even in “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” Shaw is only referred to as “the chairman of the Inner Circle” in this story, not as “Black King.” Beoidn that, everyone just calls him “Shaw” or “Sebastian” depending on well they know him. Leland and Pierce don’t get distinct titles at all, and Mastermind, as Jason Wyngarde, is simply trying to apply to join the Inner Circle, not applying to any specific rank.

    The main members also all get in-jokey names and the likenesses of famous actors, the mind of thing you’d do as a cheeky one-off.

    The only other chess motif is that the red-armored mercenaries are referred to as “Knights of Hellfire,” and then mostly on the cover captions.

    More generally, referencing and old TV show’s version of the Hellfire Club seems like something Claremont arrived at late, with Byrne, as the payoff to his fits-and-starts “Council of the Chosen” references from the first Dave Cockrum era. In fact, the name of the mysterious group conspiring against the X-Men changes from “Council of the Chosen” to “Inner Circle” without much explanation. This is also why “the Council of the Chosen” name-dropping turns up in other late-1970s Claremont stories that don’t fit the story he’s telling here, like Moses Magnum’s pre-earthquake-powers appearance in Power Man Annual #1.

    Even the bit about the Inner Circle originally being anti-mutant is a later retcon from Classic X-Mento explain why the then-unseen group that was funding Stephen Lang’s Sentinels project is mostly made up of amoral mutants.

    As a consequence, the rigid chess motifs really only came in later, when Claremont decided to not only keep using Shaw as a villain, but to start foregrounding the inner politics of the Hellfire Club, and suddenly needed fixed titles and ranks.

    The playing card motif in Byrne’s art vanishes and the Club expands to fill out the other major chess pieces. Even then, there’s some confusion, with Donald Pierce being referred to as “White King” here and there before his role as the (former) White Bishop is established.

    The Hellfire Club is really what happens when a writer is developing an idea without a specific endpoint in mind, and when the artist is a co-plotter as Cockrum and later Byrne were for Claremont.

    Read in publishing order, the stories seem to show that Claremont (along with Cockrum?) have an idea for a vague-yet-menacing conspiracy of unnamed power brokers called The Council of the Chosen working in the background, then Byrne comes along with the idea to homage an old TV show they like, and the Claremont decides to make the Hellfire Club idea an ongoing thing.

  29. Omar Karindu says:

    Also, it’s worth noting that Uncanny X-Men #131 ends with Phoenix seemingly killing the White Queen in battle. Emma Frost doesn’t seem to have been intended as a recurring character, at least not while Claremont and Byrne were co-plotting.

  30. Dave says:

    “Shaw mentions seeing a thumbs up during the demon scene. That suggests that the demon was just the Celestial warping reality, since it’s hard to see why Eobar and/or the demon would give a thumbs up otherwise.”

    Yeah, so then why does Shaw participate? Maybe this is how these things are going in this crossover – I’m reading ahead on Immortal.

  31. K says:

    I think the fake Hellfire Club in Whedon’s run really summed things up.

    The Hellfire Club is just Emma and Sebastian Shaw and whoever else happens to be around at the time, with a mysterious agenda that comes to nothing other than beating up Colossus and Wolverine for a bit.

  32. josh says:

    Nobody remembers Shaw’s stint in Avengers Academy?

  33. Mark Coale says:

    “rich people reviving the historical Hellfire Club and trying to destabilize Britain in advance of a coup.”

    The more things change, …

  34. Michael says:

    @josh- That’s because Shaw was amnesiac and had a completely different personality.

  35. Mike Loughlin says:

    Emma Frost may have been intended as a one-off villain, but Claremont returned to her many times after Byrne left the book. In fact, the whole Hellfire Club is involved in the Nimrod story, and seemed to be a big deal when Claremont aligned Magneto & Storm with the Club. I think Jim Lee & Bob Harris were responsible for their diminished role. Even though Claremont was the writer, the co-plotter/hot artist and editor were more interested in reverting Magneto to villainy, going back to space, making Psylocke a super-kewl ninja, and introducing new characters to bother with the (potentially complicated & visually boring) Hellfire Club.

  36. Luis Dantas says:

    Claremont used the White Queen after #131 and the Hellfire Club after #137, sure. But there were clear signs of ad hoc plotting in most or all of those uses.

    Emma and Shaw turned out in #151-152, with only a token effort of explaining her survival and few plans beyond messing with the X-Men by mind-controlling Storm.

    They only return in #169 for a page or so of Shaw telling himself that he is a mover and shaker with long term plans and Emma being ominously frozen by a telepathic attack by an agent that she conveniently considers too dangerous to be named. It is a prelude to Mastermind’s return, but not a very necessary or a very well written one.

    After that, most of their appearances are in New Mutants instead of Uncanny X-Men. There are a few, sparse statements in Uncanny that Shaw and the Hellfire Club are influential and dangerous (lest we forget). In New Mutants Emma insinuates herself as a fairly competent if untrustworthy alternate mentor to the teenagers, Shaw builds a few new Sentinels for the New Mutants to fight and destroy, and we learn that Roberto’s father is a member of the outer circles of the Hellfire Club.

    All of those are tentative events and reminders, with not a lot of plot weight. It would be very easy to make them consequential, but mostly Claremont simply does not.

    At this point in time he mostly plays with his toys in New Mutants and transfers them to Uncanny if he decides that they deserve serious plot treatment – both present-day Rachel and Psylock in America debut in New Mutants but quickly become staples of Uncanny. I think he enjoyed the ability to be more experimental with his writing in NM while also writing Uncanny as the star book with reliable significance.

  37. Thom H. says:

    I fondly remember UXM 151-152 since they were some of the first comics I collected. Flipping through them now, it seems pretty obvious that Claremont was echoing a lot of the beats from the Dark Phoenix story:

    — Storm is toyed with/tortured by the White Queen.
    — Kitty is torn between Xavier’s and the Massachusetts Academy.
    — The X-Men are betrayed by one of their own.
    — The X-Men are held in power-dampening collars in one big group for some reason.
    — There’s no clear motivation for messing with the X-Men other than Emma and Shaw are bored and want to collect more mutants, I guess?
    — Kitty frees her teammates.
    — Wolverine fights Leland and Cole. Colossus fights Shaw.

    The point seems to be to re-establish the Hellfire Club as a threat and to spotlight Storm, who frees herself this time and has to be talked out of killing Emma by Wolverine. She seems stronger than in the Dark Phoenix story and more morally ambiguous, which surely is setting up some more character moments for her in the not-to-distant future.

    It occurs to me that the Massachusetts Academy/Hellfire Club is a really useful counterpoint to Xavier’s/the X-Men. Claremont could transfer characters back and forth to investigate their goodness/strength/moral stances. At one time or another, Phoenix, Kitty, Storm, Magneto, Sunspot, and the entire New Mutants team all belonged to one or the other of the Emma/Shaw organizations. It would have been even better if the Hellfire’s motivations were more clear, but not absolutely necessary, I guess.

    Also, remember when the X-Men drove places in a car? And wore civilian clothes on a regular basis? It was wild to see that again.

  38. Mike Loughlin says:

    Luis Dantas: I know Claremont planned to have the Hellfire Club be a major faction in the proposed “Mutant Wars” story, and that having the X-Men aligned with them was supposed to be a bigger deal than it was. I agree that the HC never lived up to their first appearance, but my read on the situation is that Claremont’s slow burn plotting ran up against Harras & Lee’s disinterest.

    Most of Emma’s appearances being in New Mutants still indicates Claremont’s interest in the character. His writing on NM took awhile to get good, maybe due to the experimentation you are writing about. Of the pre- and post-Sienkiewicz issues I’ve read, the ones featuring Emma and the Hellions are the best.

    Thom H- I only encountered Uncanny X-Men 151-152 in the Essential trades. They’re not my favorites, which might be why I didn’t notice the repeat of the Dark Phoenix plot-beats. There are plenty of good issues between Byrne’s departure and Smith’s arrival, but the lack of an artistic partner with (presumably) a stronger hand in the plotting
    didn’t help Claremont when he wasn’t at his most inspired. (No offense to the excellent Dave Cockrum!)There were plenty of plot beats repeated in those days (another Arcade story! Storm almost becomes another Dark Phoenix! Aliens and more aliens! Every villain loves Storm! Etc.).

  39. Michael says:

    @Mike- The problem was that people kept coming up with potentially interesting status quos for the Hellfire Club and not following through. Claremont had the Hellfire Club ally with the X-Men but then when Simonson took over she decided the Hellfire Club couldn’t do anything evil without the X-men looking like enablers and set to end the Club’s alliance with the X-Men. So that led to Inferno- I don’t think I’d ever read a story before where a group of villains spend several issues stumbling around another villain’s plot and then basically agree to just look the other way anyway. Anyway, Simonson decided to set up a status quo with Magneto as the Grey King of the Hellfire Club and Emma as his lover, the two of them plotting against Selene and Shaw expelled seeking revenge. But nobody did much with that either- hilariously, the New Mutants seemed to forget that Selene was threatening Amara. Claremont came up with the idea that the Shadow King had taken over the Hellfire Club and Magneto was hiding from him- but he just got to throw in one line of dialogue suggesting that before he was kicked off the book.
    Meanwhile, Emma had become one of Marvel’s top female villains, in part since two of her students- Firestar and Warpath- had become super heroes with dozens of appearances. Evil mentors are commonplace but evil mentors to two heroes are much rarer. I read an analysis of Dracula where Dracula represented a corrupted aristocracy and his opponents represented middle-class morality. The same could be said of Emma- she was a cruel, wealthy, scantily-clad Boston brahmin while Kitty and Angelica were kind, conservatively dressed middle-class girls. Anyway, Emma’s success with Firestar and Warpath led Scott Lobdell to have Emma become a teacher of Generation X, even though it flew in the face of much of the character’s previous portrayal.

  40. Mike Loughlin says:

    Michael: That’s an interesting analysis of Dracula. I’ve read that Dracula could be seen as foreigners coming to corrupt British society with their sinister, alien ways. A subtext of class conflict also makes sense.

    And yes, the mid-late ‘80s Hellfire Club plot lines were a mess, mostly because they never went anywhere. Emma Frost became the breakout member because Claremont gave her more to do.

    Speaking of Emma, I’ve always liked the idea that she’s not a hero but that she genuinely wants what’s best for her students. She’ll manipulate the ones with useful powers into serving her interests, but she also believes they are better off in her care. Maybe because she is “of superior breeding” so she knows best? She believed that altruism was for fools, and it’s better to be cruel than kind. I buy that her students dying resulted in her changing her ways, and the Generation X kids were a chance for Emma to atone for her past sins

  41. Omar Karindu says:

    Claremont definitely retrofitted the Hellfire Cub stuff he co-created with John Byrne after Byrne left the books, which is why we do eventually get a relatively consistent set of ranks, goals, and personalities in the Inner Circle, and the duller members like Harry Leland get killed off. And Shaw is definitely set up as a recurring villain in The Dark Phoenix Saga.

    As to the long-term lack of action on the part of the Club, I think of that as a consequence of two things.

    First, the Hellfire Club’s original shtick is that they are “passing” minorities in the most negative sense: secret mutants with great wealth and connections who don’t see themselves as “like other mutants,” but rather want the privileges of the human elite and the extra benefits of judiciously using their powers. In “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” their plan is to dissect the non-Jean X-Men so they can manufacture subservient superbeings; Shaw’s willingness to build Sentinels plays into this concept as well.

    But this also limits what kinds of roles they can play as villains, since they are taking advantage of the status quo. At most, they can try to prey on the X-Men, or perhaps blunt the social change the X-Men can achieve in order to preserve the existing social hierarchies that advantage them. But tis makes them unusually reactive, even complacent villains, who therefore can’t play the plot catalyst/active agent role most villains play in superhero comics.

    Then, when Claremont starts developing his “Mutant Wars” concept, the Club essentially becomes uneasy allies of the X-Men, forced together by circumstance against greater external threats.

    This shift in planning is most visible in the Nimrod story, where Harry Leland sacrifices his life to help temporarily stop Nimrod. Arguably, the Club go from outright enemies to, at most, amoral allies who threaten to corrupt the X-Men’s mission.

    But that angle means the Club are, at best, shady and amoral allies; any spectacular schemes won’t work with this new “uneasy alliance” setup. And to the extent the Mutant Wars were perhaps end up with the Shadow King manipulating half the players as part of some big, vague, cosmically evil plot, that would rob even more agency from the antagonists, potentially including the Hellfire Club folks. (Claremont seems to have said different things in different places about his “Mutant Wars” plans.)

    As a consequence, pretty much every later story of the Club is really about the existing members trying to defend their power or reclaim it after someone comes in and starts taking over — Selene, Magneto, and, eventually, the Upstarts of the post-Claremont era.

    Even this is really present in their first appearance, where Shaw immediately sees Mastermind’s control of Phoenix as a challenge to his leadership of the Club, and the plot might almost be read as something the Club only did because Mastermind came to them with the idea as part of his efforts to join.

    So the core concept of the Club makes them unusually passive for superhero comics antagonists, and then the plot ideas Claremont has later on for the Mutant Wars stuff put the Club on a defensive, less openly antagonist footing in story terms. And thus they are the pirates, er, the world-conquering villains who don’t do anything.

    It might have been interesting to see a story where the Hellfire Club become a threat because the X-Men are stating to change things, and the Club doesn’t want that. Ironically, incorporating them into Krakoa in the current setup means they lose their chance to play a role that was, perhaps, implicit in their earliest appearances.

  42. Michal says:

    Come to think of it- part of the problem stems from Claremont’s writing style.
    Look at the Brotherhood after Uncanny 142- their next story in Avengers Annual 10 involves them trying to break out of jail, then in Uncanny 158 they get into a fight with the X-Men when they literally bump into them, then in Uncanny 170 they’re attacked by Mastermind and then in Uncanny 177-178 they go after the X-Men because Rogue has defected to them. At least in Uncanny 199, they go to work for the government as Freedom Force, which enables them to actually do stuff for the government,
    Or look at Juggernaut and Black Tom- after Siryn’s introduction, the Juggernaut next appears in an X-story in Uncanny 182, where he bumps into Colossus and gets into a bar fight and then in Uncanny 194, where Nimrod attacks him. At least in Uncanny 217-218, he gets to rob a bank. Then in Excalibur 3 he tries to break out of prison.
    Claremont has an annoying tendency to have his recurring villains get into fights with heroes they bump into, get attacked by other villains, break out of prison, etc. instead of actually engaging in evil schemes.

  43. Mike Loughlin says:

    Omar & Michael: now I’m seeing Claremont portraying non-heroic mutants as opportunists. The Hellfire Club are capitalists first, ready to fund Sentinels if it nets a profit,and mutants second. Freedom Force contribute to government oppression of mutants. Forge works against mutants and is able to live a life of luxury. The X-Men follow Xavier’s philosophy of assimilation, but not to the point that they’ll harm other mutants… unless said mutants intend to harm people. The X-Men kept stumbling into villain plots because they won’t attack first. When they did, as when Rachel tried to murder Selene, it went horribly wrong.

    It’s tough to write a proactive superhero team- even Liefeld’s X-Force spent more time reacting to villains than hunting them down- and Claremont’s X-Men were rarely a take-charge group. The Hellfire Club were more into scheming and making deals behind the scenes than attacking. That gave the X-Men very little to react to. No wonder they so rarely presented a threat, outside of Emma Frost in the pages of New Mutants.

  44. Thom H. says:

    @Omar: I should say thank you for the detailed chronology of the Hellfire Club. Interesting to see it laid out sequentially like that.

    “So the core concept of the Club makes them unusually passive for superhero comics antagonists”

    Compared to the typical Avengers villain, I agree. But the first couple of times the X-Men go up against the Hellfire Club, it’s because the HC has specifically come for them. Wholly unprovoked, Mastermind corrupts Phoenix and Emma mind-swaps with Storm, with the rest of the team getting captured and variously abused.

    I suppose that gets to my confusion about the HC’s motivations. If they want to be a shadowy cabal influencing human/mutant relations, why tip their hand to the X-Men so often? And if they’re your standard eeevil supervillains trying to get the X-Men to join their ranks, why are they so ham-fistedly bad at it?

    It helps that all of this is happening behind a veil of secrecy. Back in the Claremont/Byrne/Cockrum days, being a mutant was seriously shameful in a way that doesn’t exist in the books anymore. So the X-Men couldn’t spill the beans about the HC without throwing suspicion on themselves. I guess they could have tipped someone off with an anonymous message, but that’s hardly an interesting way to tell a story.

    Anyway, interesting discussion. It helps me understand the HC’s place in X-Men history and some of Claremont’s writing practices.

  45. Luis Dantas says:

    There is another bit of trivia about early conceptions of the Hellfire Club that seems to have been largely forgotten – or perhaps just transferred to Mr. Sinister.

    Back in Uncanny #133 (the “Wolverine fights in the sewers” issue) Shaw claims to want to use the captured X-Men as guinea pigs of sorts in order to find out how to artificially create new mutants. I don’t think that ever came up again.

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