5672 in-depth character profiles from comics, games, movies

Black King Sebastian Shaw (Marvel Comics) (Hellfire Club)

Black King

(Sebastian Shaw)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

  • Sebastian Shaw appears in 1980, in The Uncanny X-Men, initiating the Dark Phoenix Saga.
  • The Hellfire Club thus becomes a major adversary for the X-Men. They compete to recruit young mutants, and are often pulling the strings when the X-Men are confronted to political challenges (like Project Wideawake)
  • If a GM wants to build a multi-layered intrigue, Shaw is a good candidate as final boss. He builds complex plans where he appears to give something the heroes want while getting an even bigger profit himself. Then arrange for the PCs to face the consequences of what Shaw gained in the deal.
  • The Hellfire Club’s goons are a mild challenge, even for street level heroes. The Inner Circle is another matter entirely. This should be the point of a Hellfire Club separate team writeup.
  • This profile covers the period from his first appearance in 1980 up to the turn of the century (around 2000).

Background

  • Real Name: Sebastian Hiram Shaw.
  • Marital Status: Single.
  • Known Relatives: Shinobi Shaw (illegitimate son), Jacob Shaw (father, deceased), Lourdes Chantel (fiancée, deceased).
  • Group Affiliation: Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club.
  • Base of Operations: Hellfire Club’s Mansions, mainly in New York but London, Paris or Hong Kong too.
  • Height: 6’2″ Weight: 210 lbs.
  • Eyes: Black Hair: Dark gray/Black


Powers & Abilities

Sebastian Shaw is a mutant with the ability to absorb the energies of forceful attacks directed towards him. This energy fuels his strength, durability and, to a lesser degree, his speed. He’s impossible to defeat with direct attacks. He can become strong enough to beat Colossus and fast enough to catch Storm (Ororo Munroe) or Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner).

He has good hand to hand combat training to supplement his mutant’s abilities.

He’s a genius engineer. He developed is own, very successful company: Shaw Industries. It’s a major supplier for the US Government when it comes to advanced armament.

Most of all, he is a master of political intrigues and a major financial player.


History

Sebastian Shaw was born in a small town near Pittsburgh. As a young adult, he started to work in a steel mill. Ambitious already, he got his scholarship for an engineering college the day his father died. His powers manifested when some jealous thugs beat him with billiards cues. He dedicated his life to his studies. Graduate, he built his company: Shaw Industries.

Black King Sebastian Shaw (Marvel Comics) (Hellfire Club) and Gyrich

He became a millionaire by the age of 30, billionaire at 40. Shaw Industries has become a multinational corporation, heavily involved with United States’ defense contracts and the production of munitions.

He met Lourdes Chantel when she sub-contracted his company on one of her projects. She was a mutant with teleporting powers. They fell in love and he proposed to her.

Black King of The Hellfire Club

Shaw was invited to join the Hellfire Club, a leading social organization for the elite of society. Along him, the new recruits were:

    From this point onward, Sebastian Shaw’s history is closely related to The Hellfire Club’s.

    Rise to the top

    Soon after joining, Shaw learned of the Club’s secret Council of the Chosen. That was a group of members who, unknown to the others, conspired to achieve world domination through economic and political means. Through the force of his personality, Shaw became one of the leaders of the Council. He raised to the rank of Black Bishop (members were given titles corresponding to chess pieces).

    The leader of the Council, White King Edward Buckman, had the Club give considerable financial backing to Dr. Steven Lang’s Project Armageddon. It was an attempt to create new mutant-hunting Sentinels.

    After the X-Men’s battle in Lang’s asteroid, Emma Frost had kept a recovering Colonel Rossi in a safehouse. Reading his mind, she discovered the true purpose of Armageddon: the eradication of mutants.

    Black King Sebastian Shaw (Marvel Comics) (Hellfire Club) vs. Storm

    A Sentinel attacked Emma while she was making her telepathic report to Shaw. He ordered Lourdes to teleport them as reinforcement. They defeated the sentinel but Lourdes got killed in the battle.

    Shaw and Frost went back to Buckman. She mind controlled him in killing every present Hellfire Club members: a guard, The Council of the Chosen, his beloved White Queen. Then Shaw killed Buckman himself.

    Thus Shaw became The Black King, leader of the Council of the Chosen (which he renamed The Lords Cardinal) and master of The Hellfire Club. He promoted his close allies, all rich and influential people, mostly mutants, to build his Inner Circle:

    Ambition and political gambling

    Ever since, Shaw had searched suitable power players to fill the empty positions. There were a Black King, White King, Black Rook and White Bishop. Thus it lacked Black Queen, White King, Black Bishop and White Rook.

    The first attempt was with Jason Wyngarde as Black Bishop and Jean Grey as Black Queen (see below).

    Much later, after a former contact for a join venture to exploit untapped resources in the Amazonian Forest, Shaw enthroned Emanuel DaCosta as White Rook. At the same time, Friedrich von Roehm introduced Selene to the Inner Circle. She demonstrated her abilities and was appointed Black Queen (von Roehm gained the Black Rook position).

    Shaw did not oppose her ascension, but he sensed her as a powerful enemy. With the White Queen (Emma Frost), they immediately started to scheme an assassination of Selene.

    Black King Sebastian Shaw (Marvel Comics) (Hellfire Club) with lord cardinals Pierce and Leland

    After the Mutants Massacre , Magneto accepted the position of White King.

    Since his ascension in the Hellfire Club, in the shadow of the Black King, has lurked his ever-present, telepathic, computer-minded, assistant: Tessa.


    Tessa/Sage major retcon

    Tessa’s role beside Shaw will be retconned in a major way years later. Before that, her unswerving loyalty toward Shaw met many speculations, including romantic or sexual.

    As Marvel’s editing team judged it acceptable to retcon Tessa in such proportions, I encourage imaginative GMs, playing campaigns in this era, to accommodate their own explanation, however unlikely it may be, to fit their needs.

    Facing The X-Men

    Shaw’s first confrontation with The X-Men was when Jason Wyngarde (The Mastermind) was claiming the position of Black Bishop for The Hellfire Club’s Inner Circle. As his initiatory feat, he pretended to pervert Jean Grey (then the receptacle for The Phoenix Force) into becoming the new Black Queen. They also competed for recruiting Kitty Pryde, thanks to a bug Shaw planted on Cerebro.

    Shaw and his fellow Lord Cardinals surprised The X-Men with their mutants abilities. Only Wolverine escaped capture.

    Wyngarde’s plan backfired, thanks to Cyclops’ love for Jean. Jean Grey’s trauma of Wyngarde’s mind games created The Dark Phoenix. She punished him by making his mind one with the universe. He didn’t cope with the experience and went catatonic for several years. The positions of Black Queen and Black Bishop were left vacant.

    Shaw picked out the bits, making contact with Senator Kelly and Agent Gyrich to explore a new Sentinels program. Neither realized that Shaw was a muant. Meanwhile Reese, Macon and Cole, fatally wounded by Wolverine, were saved and transformed into cyborgs by the White Bishop.

    Black King Sebastian Shaw (Marvel Comics) (Hellfire Club) with the lord cardinals during the Inferno

    Next, when Kitty’s parent decided, of their own free will, to send their daughter to the Massachusetts Academy, Storm accompanied her to Snow Valley. As expected, the Hellfire Club attacked The X-Men. Frost swapped her body with Ororo’s. Meanwhile, Shaw launched his newly commissioned Sentinels MkIV on the X-Mansion.

    Frost, in Storm’s body, fooled the X-Men while they were fighting the robots. Once again, the X-Men were prisoners of the Black King and the White Queen. But Kitty and Ororo, experimenting with Frost’s mental powers, saved the day.

    Facing The New Mutants

    When the White Bishop made his power move against the Inner Circle, Shaw sort of indirectly sided with Xavier to defeat Pierce. This was the founding moment of The New Mutants, Xavier’s team of teenage mutants. Shaw then kept the cyborg locked away for several years, before Pierce’s Reavers freed him in a bloody jail break.

    He made a short-lived test run for his Sentinels mkV against The New Mutants. The teenagers proved a match for the robots. It was another setback for Shaw confronting Xavier’s students.

    The New Mutants indirectly opposed Shaw again when he sent Axe to kidnap Roberto DaCosta’s mother. Her actions with her environmentalist group were holding Emanuel DaCosta’s venture at exploiting resources in the Amazonian Forest. Shaw Industries was involved in this venture. Shaw also sent a spy to sabotage The New Mutants’ expedition.

    Shaw had a brief physical confrontation with Sunspot when Emma Frost had lured The New Mutants to join The Hellions.

    Facing Selene

    As soon as Shaw let Selene reach the position of Black Queen, he commissioned Emma Frost to recruit and train an assassin. She picked Firestar, after outracing Xavier when recruiting her. She groomed the girl as a living weapon to send her, in a suicide run, to kill Selene.

    Black King Sebastian Shaw (Marvel Comics) (Hellfire Club) office

    Thanks to Firestar’s former bodyguard, a Hellfire Club’s soldier named Randall, the young girl realized what Frost was preparing. The White Queen and The Black King couldn’t bring their assassination to fruition. Selene was still The Black Queen.

    After her confrontation with the Beyonder, Rachel Summers held part of The Phoenix Force. Confident on her new power, she took an opportunity to rid the Earth of Selene. The X-Men ended doing battle with The Inner Circle in Central Park. Nimrod interrupted. Both mutants groups agreed to a truce and teamed to fight the ultimate Sentinel. They forced Nimrod to teleport away.

    During the battle, Leland (The Black Rook) had died of a heart attack and von Roehm (The Black Bishop) had been disintegrated by Nimrod. But Shaw started to think about building his own Nimrod version, looking for a way to get a proper US Government’s funding.

    Facing Magneto

    The truce with the X-Men against Nimrod inspired Shaw to offer the White King’s position to Magneto. Both mutants groups were facing increasing odds, and an alliance, however awkward, might bring a bit of relief. With Storm’s blessing, Magneto agreed.

    As Magneto was losing The New Mutants’ respect, Shaw constantly challenged Magneto’s lack of control over his students. When Inferno erupted, he blamed Magneto for Illyana’s failure.

    They opposed very different views. Shaw wanted to use The Hellfire Club’s power to dominate behind the scenes, Magneto wanted to use it to blatantly put mutantkind in a position where it would win the upcoming war against humans. The confrontation went physical.

    Magneto got the upper hand. He called for a vote to demote Shaw of his Black King’s rank. With Frost and Selene’s support, Magneto expelled Shaw form The Inner Circle.

    Black King Sebastian Shaw (Marvel Comics) (Hellfire Club) vs. Magneto bare-chested

    It didn’t prevent him to take advantage of the Club’s facilities. He invited Senator Kelly, recently married to Sharon, a former Hellfire Club’s maid. Shaw was failing at convincing Kelly to fund his own Nimrod project when The Master Mold attack interrupted their diner. In the aftermath, Shaw took the opportunity of Sharon Kelly’s death to convince the Senator.

    Eventually, Magneto left The Hellfire Club to become a worldwide mutant villain again. The transition was confused but Shaw resumed his Black King’s position. He went below the radar for some times.

    Apparent death

    Shaw’s son (with an unnamed mother), Shinobi, bought out Sebastian from his company. Then, paying his father a visit in his Swiss chalet, he used his density manipulation power to kill him. He ultimately bombed the chalet, conveniently leaving no trace of Sebastian’s body.

    The kill was the master move for a deadly game played by The Upstarts, a group of rich brats. It was orchestrated by The Gamesmaster, and secretly sponsored by Selene. Killing major mutants players, designated by The Gamesmaster, granted points to the players. The winner would eventually get the prize of immortality.

    After killing his father, Shinobi Shaw rebuilt The Hellfire Club’s Inner Circle in his own image. That is, not a very successful one.

    Revival

    In the aftermath of The Age of Apocalypse, Shaw proved to have survived his son’s attack. He kept a very low profile.

    Target Cable

    He met with Holocaust, son of Apocalypse who somehow survived the end of this alternate reality (like Sugar Man, Black Beast and Nate Grey). They briefly exchanged punches before Shaw offered him a partnership.

    Black King Sebastian Shaw (Marvel Comics) (Hellfire Club) with Tessa and Emma Frost

    Shaw designed a power suit to channel Holocaust’s power. Holocaust, with a bit of mental control from Tessa, helped Shaw kidnap X-Force. Once under Tessa’s influence, Shaw sent X-Force to kill Cable. Cable’s own mental powers freed X-Force.

    Onslaught removed Shaw who was in the way of an alliance with Holocaust. Shaw resurfaced after the Onslaught story line.

    Zero Tolerance

    Shaw had worked in the shadow of his supposed death to built up a new power base, in Hong Kong. He was closing in on his son’s New York’s branch. As the threat of Bastion and his Zero Tolerance operation was rising, he buried old grudges and drafted Selene and Fitzroy. Nate Grey’s immense powers had relived Madelyne Pryor. She sided with Shaw, as consort and as the Black Rook.

    Shaw revealed his survival to The X-Men and made a deal with them to get a potential solution to The Legacy Virus. It ended in a Mexican stand-off with the Kingpin. Storm destroyed the elixir to prevent an all-out blood bath.

    Back in power

    Meanwhile, when Shinobi Shaw heard the rumors of his father’s survival, he got scared. He surrendered everything he had tried to build with his own Inner Circle. The actual transition is quite confused (again). But somehow, next time we saw Sebastian, he was fully in charge, as Black King of The Hellfire Club, again.


    Always in power is The Black King

    Somehow, the writers have kept Shaw losing his position as ruler of The Hellfire Club. But somehow, they had always needed him to be in power.

    So we witness his falls (in more or less inspired intrigues), but we never truly witness his come-backs. He just conveniently reappears in power again later.

    Tomorrow Agenda

    Shaw had a hard time bringing The Hellfire Club back to its former glory. He renewed contact with Donald Pierce, offering to put old grudges behind and giving him a second chance as applicant for the position of White Bishop.

    Black King Sebastian Shaw (Marvel Comics) (Hellfire Club) face closeup scar Madeline Pryor

    With the help of Ch’Vayre, Shaw and Pierce tried to unlock a piece of Apocalypse’s power. It ended in the Swiss Alps, in one of Apocalypse’s lair. Cable confronted The Hellfire Club’s little army and destroyed Apocalypse’s device. In the battle, Shaw sacrificed Pierce to ensure his escape.

    Unfinished business

    Shaw had received weird anonymous messages showing some kind of seal. During Rio’s Hellfire Club’s New Year’s eve, as Shaw was brooding about his contempt for the rich guests, we saw him agree to some shadow in the background.

    The editorial staff has dropped this storyline and we’ll ever hear from it again (X-Men vol 2 #73 , Trivia section below).


    Description

    Sebastian Shaw is a tall and imposing, barrel chested, man. He has a slightly receding hairline despite his middle length hair. He has long sideburns without mustache.

    Shaw’s creators, John Byrne and Chris Claremont, based Sebastian Shaw’s appearance and last name on the British-born actor Robert Shaw. (ref ).

    Black King Sebastian Shaw (Marvel Comics) (Hellfire Club) diner scene

    After Shinobi’s assassination attempt, Sebastian had got a long scar, across his left eye, down to his left cheek. Madelyne Pryor removed it when they partnered.

    He usually dresses in black business suits. But when he seats as Black King, he dresses in late 18th-century European, upper class attire. He’s particularly fond of this dress-code.


    Personality

    Sebastian Shaw is greedy, ambitious and arrogant. He admires the ruthless, indulgent habits of the late 18th-century European upper-class, emulating that behavior in everything he does.

    He’s very pragmatic. He never does anything that won’t profit him. He’s a master at hiding his motives behind a benevolent attitude.

    He knows when to withdraw to cut his loss. He also knows how to put old grudges aside, when higher profits are at stake.

    He enjoys fighting, and he won’t hesitate to disrobe to spar against a worthy opponent. He’s confident his power put him out of harm’s way.

    A bit of speculation

    Having accessed a position of uncontested ruler over The Hellfire Club, we legitimately wonder why he keeps assembling more powerful and ambitious people around him. We can argue he wants to gather even more political and financial power at hand.

    However, the kind of people he’s looking for are power-mongers. They’re bound to constantly conspire to take his position and claim all this influence. Shaw had even killed to reach his position. Some of his recruits would remorselessly do the same.

    Black King Sebastian Shaw (Marvel Comics) (Hellfire Club) kiss Madeline Pryor

    It’s a kind of balance that holds only because Shaw’s, and every other player’s, conspiracies neutralize each others. There’s a real danger that one of the Lord Cardinal gets the little bit of extra edge required to topple his whole castle (like Selene did with The Upstarts).

    My theory is: the challenge and the risk themselves are driving Shaw. He rips the benefits of this influence and the constant conspiracies thrill him, keep him on the edge, preventing boredom. Don’t forget the historical Hellfire Club was for rich and influential people looking for distractions.

    In the fictional Hellfire Club (as painted in The Avengers’ TV show episode “A touch of brimstone”) they’re looking for extreme distractions. Power mongering on a global scale is an extreme distraction.


    Quotes

    “I didn’t build a billion dollars empire by making mistakes or by underestimating my opponents”.

    “Revenge can come later… or not at all.”

    (After Senator Kelly’s wife is killed in the fight between X-Men and Master Mold)
    Shaw: “My dear friend, I am so sorry. If there’s anything…”
    Senator Kelly: That hunter system we spoke of, Sebastian… Go ahead with it, full steam. Whatever federal support Project Nimrod requires… I’ll guarantee it gets. Whatever it takes, I swear on my wife’s grave… This carnage must end.”
    Shaw: “I quite agree, Robert. Believe me, my friend, you won’t regret this decision.”

    “The X-Men are dead. The New Mutants, though mere teenagers, have defied you time and again. As a direct result of this defiance, Illyana, the most powerful among them, and potentially the most likely to serve our interests, has been reduced to less than nothing.” (WHAKT – punches Magneto.) ”You, Magneto, are now less than nothing…”

    Shaw: “That was totally unwarranted: You’ve ruined good equipment that will take time and money to replace.”
    Guard: “He… He… Killed Stansfield… Just like that”

    “I have been a patient man. Now my patience is about to be rewarded.”

    “There is a certain beauty to a well executed plan. An elegance that only a few can appreciate.”

    “Xavier. The X-Men. The Hellfire Club. Shinobi. They will all learn. Slowly. Painfully. What is mine… is mine. And what is theirs… is mine.”

    “Ah… I miss the days when I could hire decent bodyguards.”

    “Nothing ventured, nothing gained. For every setback suffered, a hundred other plans I have set in motion come to pass. I have lost nothing.”

    “By the right of power, girl. The only thing that matters.”


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    Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

    Tell me more about the game stats

    Black King

    Dex: 06 Str: 03(07) Bod: 04(06) Motivation: Power Lust
    Int: 07 Wil: 07 Min: 06 Occupation: Military industry magnate
    Inf: 07 Aur: 06 Spi: 06 Wealth: 017
    Init: 022(025) HP: 050

    Powers:
    Enhanced Initiative: 11, Kinetic Absorption: 24, Power Reserve (Str, Bod): 22

    Bonuses and Limitations:

    • Kinetic Absorption also works on RAP gained by column shifts due to high Energy attack rolls (see special below, +1).
    • Kinetic Absorption Add to Power Reserve (+3).
    • Power Reserve is Fueled by Kinetic Absorption (BC 75, FC -5).
    • Power Reserve Adds to STR and BODY in a 2-1 ratio (IOW for every 3 full AP of PR, 2 go to STR and 1 goes to BODY) (-1).
    • Active Enhanced Initiative AP are limited to half of active Power Reserve AP rounded down (-1).

    Skills:
    Charisma: 07, Martial Artist: 07, Scientist: 08, Weaponry: 06

    Advantages:
    Confidant (Tessa), Connoisseur, Expertise (Electronics, Weapon Systems), Genius, Leadership, Omni-Connection, Rich Friend (Hellfire Club, Shaw Industries), Scholar (Finance, Politics, Engineering), Misc. (Sentinels built by Shaw Industries are programmed not to attack him or members of The Inner Circle).

    Connections:
    High (Inner Circle), High (Finance, Shaw Industries), Low (US Government).

    Drawbacks:
    Secret ID (Mutant), MIH (Selene), MIA (Hellfire Club dress-code).


    Initial active APs of Power Reserve

    Shaw usually manage to have around 6 APs of active Power Reserve before entering physical combat. He can punch walls to build up reserves or just let an enemy punch him.

    If he’s expecting physical combat during an encounter, consider his initial stats as Str: 07, Bod: 06, Init: 024, Power Reserve: 06, (Enhanced Initiative 03).


    Energy Absorption

    He seems immune to energy attacks, but he’s not impervious to heat. How can we split damages from an energy attack into a kinetic part his basic power can absorb, and a heat part that it cannot ?

    Here is an option: when a high attack roll gains columns on the Action table, it earns more RAP on the Result table and causes Knockback. Knockback is kinetic. This part of the RAPs is kinetic while the RAPs on the RV column are heat.

    Example: a trained SWAT (Weaponry: 04) attacking with a stock Flamethrower (Flame Project: 07) vs Shaw’s unaltered stats (OV=06, RV=04) making an Attack roll 15 (+1 CS), gains 5 RAPs (4 RAPs on the EV=7/RV=4 cell, +1 RAP for 1 CS). Shaw suffers 4 RAPs which he can LDD, and 1 RAP is absorbed by KA.


    Not a Gadgeteer

    Shaw has Scientist but not Gadgetry. He designed sophisticated armaments like Sentinels or Holocaust’s suits, but we never actually see him build them himself.


    Omni-Connection

    It reflects the leverage he has over any “regular” member of The Hellfire Club. Whenever he needs a connection, the GM can easily trace to an influential Hellfire Club’s patron.

    Example: he needs tickets for the next Knicks game. Surely James L. Dolan is a Hellfire Club’s member. Just call him and talk about his favorite cigars brand (or worst).

    A vicious GM may use this to make a connection with a rich PC. This could be a great adventure’s starting point. (After all, some heroes are Hellfire Club’s members, if not regulars: Captain Britain, Psylocke, Angel, Night Thrasher, Iron Man…).

    Power overload

    Several tertiary sources  (TSR Gamer’s handbook to Marvel Universe, Marvel wikia, Comic Vine) say his power might overload. I’ve never seen any reference of such a limitation in the comics, so I don’t put it first place in this writeup.

    If ever the GM wants to have it, as a way to limit Shaw’s invulnerability, here is a way to model it:
    Bonuses and Limitations:
    Power Reserve may overload. When PR reaches its maximum (22), any further kinetic damage RAPs are treated like a Reliability Number to roll anytime Kinetic Absorption kicks in. Failure indicates that KA fails and Shaw falls unconscious (-1).

    By Nicolas Lemaçon.

    Source of Character: Marvel Comics, essentially X-Men until the aborted “wraith” intrigue of X-Men vol 2 #73 in 1998.

    Helper(s): Paul “Z” Ewande, Peter Piispanen, Darci, Gareth Lewis, Sébastien Andrivet, Jackson, Pufnstuff.

    Writeup completed on the 04th of July, 2017

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