(X-Men enemies) (Original Sebastian Shaw era, part 1)
- The Hellfire Club really existed in 18th century England. Its patrons were rich and influential nobles seeking to spice their social life with morally disputable hobbies.
- Marvel derived the concept in the early 1980’s to pit influential and ambitious mutants against the X-Men. They kept showing up as shadow players ever since.
- The Hellfire Club, as Marvel defines it, has branches all around the world. This profile is focused on the New York branch, during the period when Sebastian Shaw was first in charge (Uncanny X-Men #129, in 1980, until X-Factor #67, in 1991).
- It offers a good opponent for role-playing game’s player characters. The GM can build the opposition up from street level, against the goons and low stake schemers, up to Mid-Level against The Inner Circle.
This is presented in two parts to facilitate reading. The second part is there.
The Hellfire Club (New York Branch).
To obtain and exert power through politics and economic influence, until achieving World domination. Officially, it provides unusual entertainment to its members and makes them part of an extended connections’ network. The Club’s motto was “Fais ce que tu voudras”, which translates to “Do what thou wilt” .
The leaders are constantly plotting and scheming to get more power. Most of this plotting is legal but amoral. They are not afraid of high stakes games. Indeed they crave these. It’s part of the purpose of the historical, original, English Hellfire Club: rich and influential people looking for extreme entertainment.
They attract political and economic power players with promises of exceptional entertainment (The Hellfire Club’s parties have a reputation). The most influential of those, and those showing the proper kind of ambition, are drafted in their various power mongering games.
The less involved members provide them with an extended network of connections, covering every angle of the economic and political scene, with international ramifications. Then they attract even more powerful people: super-powered beings.
They have their own personal army, whose operatives are equipped with the latest technology in weaponry, intelligence, logistics… They even have their own structures to recruit and train super-powered operatives. So, when their schemes need some arm twisting, they have the means to proceed, whatever the opposition might be. But usually, they plot behind the scenes, using fronts.
Extent of operations:
Their influence extends over all North and South America, with a focus on the East Coast of the USA. Their schemings have origins and consequences all around the world. Their most prominent members are involved in all kinds of economical ventures: finance, law, oil, mining, heavy industry, food industry, transport, armaments… It provides legitimate revenues and fronts for covert operations.
Bases of Operations:
The Hellfire Club’s Mansion in New York City is the main public place they are seen. That’s where their parties take place, and where they organize their private meetings. For parties, the mansion has a ball room, a casino with several rooms, grand salons with bar… For private meetings, it has small lodges, discreet parlors and dining rooms… For the intimate meetings, it has many rooms.
It has all the facilities to accommodate all those fancy guests: kitchens, storage rooms, garage… The mansion is three floors high. All the rooms are decorated in a 18th century style. It has underground floors as well, hiding facilities for covert operations, like where the Hellfire mercenaries monitor the surveillance devices. These parts of the mansion are off-limits for guests.
They have many other locations, all over the world. Their links to The Hellfire Club are usually kept secret (among them The Massachusetts Academy in Snow Valley, where they train The Hellions).
Furthermore, their leaders’ own facilities offer convenient fronts to covert Hellfire Club’s activities (like Shaw Industries’ facility in the Cumberland Highlands of Kentucky where Pierce was kept prisoner).
We can assume the membership comes with a fee, but this hardly covers the Club’s operations… barely their public events. The casino provides some income.
We can also assume their more prominent members lend great amounts of money to initiate new profitable ventures, legit or not. They certainly have the skills to launder that kind of dirty money (either themselves or their dedicated servants).
Lower ranking members would certainly agree to lend even more money for legitimate business.
Over time, The Club itself owns enough assets to grant legit revenues for both legit and covert actions.
The X-Men, The New Mutants, Firestar, The Reavers, The New Warriors, some Avengers, Spider-Man (Peter Parker). Many characters were working against The Hellfire Club without knowing it, it’s the way they do business, always sticking to the shadows.
US Government (Senator Robert Kelly, Henry-Peter Gyrich). Many influential people, as members, indulge favors to The Hellfire Club’s leader or peer members. After all, this is its true purpose: to extend the influence of its members through a network of connections.
The Hellfire Club’s leader are twisted schemers, manipulators and negotiators. They can convince former enemies to make temporary alliances to achieve what looks like a common goal.
Number of active members:
Formal members are in the hundreds. They include rich heroes and villains in their secret id (Tony Stark/Iron Man, Dwayne Taylor/Night Thrasher, Norman Osborn/Green Goblin). Or characters whose identity is not known to the general public but to players in the super-heroic community (Warren Worthington III/Angel, Betsy and Brian Braddock/Psylocke and Captain Britain…). They also include influential super-heroic characters with public identities (Namor, Black Panther (T’Challa)…).
Henchmen and operatives are in the thousands.
The Lords Cardinal, ruling it all, are less than 10.
Number of reserve members:
Membership is hereditary. So, except if a member is formally expelled, he is a member for life. The membership is a powerful asset to any ambitious person. Members are careful not to jeopardize it. Plus, if you displease the Club, they have the means to make your life miserable.
Surely some henchmen reached retirement. We can assume their loyalty is well paid. They could be called upon in case of manpower shortage.
There is no reserve Lord Cardinal. Those who reach these positions are playing for keeps. If a Lord Cardinal is no longer in position, it means one scheme or another has overthrown him.
Public Organizational structure:
On the public front, the servants of The Hellfire Clubs are taking orders form The Lords Cardinal and obey requests issued by guests.
The members and guests attend the parties, meet in the mansion’s parlors to arrange personal business, use and abuse the servants.
The Lords Cardinal organize the parties, supervise the maintenance of the Mansion, make interviews for future members, act as middlemen in private business. The men are expected to dress in 18th century gentlemen clothes. The women dress in revealing underwear (leather corsets with stockings or thigh high boots).
Secret organizational structure:
Behind the scene, The Inner Circle is at the top of the pyramid. They are the most powerful members of the organization: either insanely rich humans or powerful mutants.
They’re all ambitious. Together, they show a unified front to further the goals of The Hellfire Club. Individually, they plot against one another to get leverage and control over the immense power The Hellfire Club represents. They are ready to kill, even their fellow Inner Circle’s members.
The Inner Circle’s members are named after the chess pieces. The Black King and The White King are the rulers. The White King position is vacant, leaving all that power at The Black King’s disposal. The White Queen and The Black Queen are also very powerful.
However, The Club tends to have a patriarchal conception of power, so the Queens are supposed to step back before the Kings. In public, at least, because they are also master schemers and plot against the kings.
The Rooks and The Bishops are lesser players. When Knights are appointed, they usually are in charge of important parts of the Club’s underground organization, like the para-military forces or the scientific research. All them are ambitious, but they usually play for lower stakes. They don’t plot against the Kings or Queens, recognizing their superiority.
The Hellions are selected mutants teenagers groomed to become an elite super-powered squad. They are old enough for their powers to awaken, but young enough to be easily manipulated. However, they are not battle ready, yet.
The henchmen and servants share an equivalent position. They are well trained in their individual field of expertise. There are soldiers, scientists, spies, hitmen. We can assume there also are professional consultants like legal and financial counselors, stewards for the facilities, party planners, caterers…
They blindly and faithfully obey The Lords Cardinal orders, like any cannon fodder met in this kind of subversive organization. They are aware of The Hellfire Club’s true purpose but are not aware of the detailed plots their masters are unfolding. They just follow orders. It’s para-military, so there is a rank structure to relay orders.
At the time of its first appearance against The X-Men, The Inner Circle is Sebastian Shaw (Black King), Emma Frost (White Queen), Harry Leland (Black Bishop), Donald Piece (White Bishop).
The formal members are in the hundreds and are pointless to list. Just consider any rich or influential character as a member.
In the period covered by this profile, there are additional Inner Circle’s members. Mastermind (Jason Wyndgarde) as failed applicant White or Black Rook, Selene as Black Queen, Friedrich von Roehm as Black Rook, Emanuel da Costa (Sunspot’s father) as White Rook, Magneto as White King.
Tessa (Shaw’s personal assistant), Sharon Kelly (former servant who married Senator Kelly), Randall Chase (Firestar’s bodyguard), Cole, Mason and Reese (three guards faithful to Pierce who became Reavers).
To be a formal member, someone must first be sponsored then pass an interview with The Lords Cardinal. Sponsoring is not a light thing. If your candidate fails the interview, your own membership can be compromised.
To be a Lord Cardinal, a position must be free. The applicant must somehow learn of the free position. Usually, he’s sponsored by another prominent Club’s member. Then, he must impress The Inner Circle. The more powerful the impression is, the higher the position he can pretend to.
Hellions are first detected with The Hellfire Club’s advanced medical equipment, then approached by Emma Frost in person. With a bit of mental control when necessary, she convinces the parents of the interest of sending their children to the prestigious Massachusetts Academy.
To be a henchman or servant, follow the usual recruiting cycle for subversive organizations (whatever this might be).
- Private army: efficient para-military organization.
- Professional specialists: satellites of the private army.
- Mansion’s servants: elite spies and enforcers, officially servicing the guests, but secretly advancing the schemes of The Inner Circle.
- Hellions: super-powered teenagers in training.
Top of the line in available technology for weaponry, surveillance, transportation, medical treatments.
- Mandroid armor suits.
- Kevlar personal armors.
- Advanced assault rifles.
- Donald Pierce’s bionics, until his banishment.
- Multivac, a mutants detection system similar to Cerebro (see Professor X).
The name of The Hellfire Club can be traced back, in the real world, to social clubs that date back as far as 18th century of Britain and Ireland. Men of high social standing would gather to take part in “immoral acts” that would remain a secret. This mainly pertained to intercourse with young women who were hired.
The first was founded in London in 1719. Over the decades, new clubs would spring up using the Hellfire Club name.
Mrs. Peel, we’re needed
Chris Claremont, who introduced The Hellfire Club during his X-Men run, modeled it according to “A Touch of Brimstone”, a 1966 episode of the British TV Show The Avengers. Claremont duplicated the dress code of the TV episode.
He mixed names of TV characters and actors to populate his Inner Circle (Sebastian Shaw comes form the actor Robert Shaw, Emma Frost comes from Emma Peel, Donald Pierce comes from Donald Sutherland and his MASH character Dr Pierce, Jason Wyndgarde comes from Peter Wyndgarde…)
Flashbacks from various mutants related series or one-shots depicted how the historical English Hellfire Club aligned with the Marvel world. Then, English wealthy emigrants founded the American branch in New York. That led to the time period covered by this profile.
At this time, Edward Buckman was White King. His White Queen, and lover, was Paris Seville. Sebastian Shaw rose to the Inner Circle’s position of Black Bishop. Shaw was already making plans to assemble ambitious mutants around him, to seize power in The Hellfire Club.
Buckman had a personal agenda he kept secret from his Inner Circle: the elimination of all mutants. He poured huge amounts of money and influence into Stephen Lang’s Sentinels Project: Armageddon. Sebastian Shaw ended up killing Buckman and Seville. See Black King’s writeup for details.
Sebastian Shaw took control of the New York branch. He appointed himself as Black King and appointed his faithful few as Lords Cardinal: Emma Frost, Donald Pierce and Harry Leland.
Race for mutants
Shaw as Black King and Frost as White Queen were the true scheming engine of The Hellfire Club. Leland was merely following Shaw’s every whim. So did Pierce apparently.
Shaw and Frost saw the point in having an elite squad of super-powered beings at their disposal. Frost used her Massachusetts Academy as a front to recruit and train such a team: The Hellions. Doing so, she secretly entered competition with Xavier, who was always paying attention for any potential X-Men recruits.
Shaw managed to bug Cerebro. The vast resources of The Hellfire Club allowed them to beat Xavier in the race to reach new mutants.
The first official encounter between The Club and The X-Men took place in Chicago. Frost arrived ahead of Xavier to visit Kitty Pryde, whose powers had just awakened. But she overplayed her hand. She sent Mandroids to neutralize Storm (Ororo Munroe), Colossus (Piotr Rasputin) and Wolverine (James Howlett), who were having pleasant conversations with Kitty.
Doing so, she alienated the teenage girl. Kitty’s choice had been made, she wanted to be an X-Woman.
With the help of The White Queen, the Mandroids captured the X-Men. Kitty escaped and followed them, hidden in the car’s boot.
Cerebro had also pinpointed Dazzler, in New York. Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner), Cyclops (Scott Summers) and Phoenix (Jean Grey) found her giving an underground concert. They, too, faced Hellfire Club’s Mandroids. They barely escaped capture. They got Kitty’s call for help, and freed their friends captured in Chicago.
Finding a Black Queen
Shaw was looking for powerful mutants to fill the vacant positions of his Inner Circle, particularly The Black Queen. As Black King, he was confident he could control whatever power could pretend to the position.
The Mastermind (Jason Wyndgarde) pretended his illusions powers could corrupt Jean Grey and turn her into a powerful Black Queen. He expected the feat would grant him a Rook position. For several weeks yet, he had sent her flashes of belief she was actually in the 18th century and in love with him.
It worked. As the Phoenix Force’s avatar, she was prone to corruption. Jean unscrupulously affected Kitty’s father’s mind to agree for Kitty to join The X-Men.
The X-Men wanted to investigate the involvement of The Hellfire Club in their recent attacks. Angel (Warren Worthington III) had left the X-Men when Xavier formed his second team. As inheritor of his family’s business and wealth, he was a member of The Hellfire Club. He got invitations for the next Club’s party.
Cyclops, Phoenix, Storm and Colossus went to the party, straight into the lion’s den. Wolverine and Nightcrawler sneaked through the sewers. Pierce and Shaw immediately recognized their four unexpected guests.
The Phoenix is a bird of prey
Mastermind’s influence on Jean Grey grew to its peak. She now believed she actually was The Black Queen. She neutralized Cyclops. In the ensuing fight, Shaw neutralized Colossus and Storm, Pierce neutralized Nightcrawler. Leland propelled Wolverine into the sewers. Frost was absent from the scene.
Wolverine clawed his way back to the mansion through Hellfire Club’s guards, maiming them. He crashed Wyndgarde’s masquerade. It woke Phoenix from her delusion. Together again, The X-Men defeated The Inner Circle.
However, Wyndgarde’s corruption left its seed. As Black Queen, The Phoenix Force had a taste of evil, and liked it: it turned Jean Grey into The Dark Phoenix. It punished Wyndgarde by making his mind one with the Universe. It made him catatonic. Needless to say, his Hellfire Club’s membership got revoked.
The strain of this fight gave Leland a heart attack but he survived. In the aftermath, Shaw met Senator Kelly and the police forces. He easily put the blame on those damn X-Men muties: they broke into the Club during a party celebrating its anniversary. Shaw suggested Kelly to launch a new Sentinels project.
The last flight of Ms. Marvel
Ms Marvel investigated the assassination of a friend at the hands of Mystique. She interfered with an arms deal conducted by Leland, Pierce and Tessa. It turned out the arms dealer had double-crossed The Hellfire Club in favor of Mystique. In Hong Kong, where the shipment was due, Shaw killed the untrustworthy intermediary.
Not giving up on Kitty
Kitty’s parents decided to send her to The Massachusetts Academy anyway. Whether they were manipulated by The White Queen or not, The X-Men felt suspicious. Storm accompanied Kitty to Snow Valley. It was a trap. Emma Frost swapped her body with Ororo and imprisoned her own body (with Ororo’s mind in it).
Meanwhile, Shaw launched his newly manufactured Sentinels MkIV on The X-Mansion. The X-Men defeated the robots, rather easily compared to their former encounters. MkIV models were far less efficient than their former Project: Armageddon’s ones.
But Frost’s deception as Storm took The X-Men by surprise. The Hellfire Club captured Xavier and his students once more and held them in The X-Mansion to gloat.
Ororo, in Frost’s body, escaped her cell. She reached Kitty. Together, they escaped Snow Valley, despite Frost pursuing them, using Storm’s powers. They reached Salem Center with the help of Stevie Hunter. On their turf, they infiltrated the mansion. Kitty’s phasing powers disabled the power nullifiers restraining her teammates.
In the ensuing fight, Wolverine offered a rematch to Cole, Reese and Macon, the guards he had maimed during their former encounter. This time, Pierce’s genius had made them cyborgs, but still not on par with Wolverine. Ororo reversed the body swapping process. She barely let Frost escape alive. Wolverine prevented Storm from killing The White Queen.
The White Queen, the only Inner Circle’s member standing, agreed to call it a day. She let Kitty go, but swore to take revenge.
White Bishop’s betrayal
Donald Pierce was revealed to be an anti-mutants bigot. He tried a coup to kill The Hellfire Club’s mutants and seize control. He kidnapped Tessa and used Multivac, the Club’s mutants’ detector computer. He located young mutants and sent Cole, Reese and Macon, now forever faithful to him, to abduct them.
Meanwhile, Professor Xavier used Cerebro to spot the same young mutants. With Moira Mc Taggert’s help, He contacted them to join The New Mutants. They prevented the abductions, but it cost the lives of Sunspot’s (Roberto da Costa) girlfriend and Mirage’s (Danielle Moonstar) grandfather. In the end they defeated Pierce and freed Tessa.
See The New Mutants, year one for details.
Tessa took Pierce and his henchmen to a secret detention facility in the Cumberland Highlands of Kentucky. The front for the facility was a property of Shaw Industry.
When The New Mutants discovered Nova Roma, they had accompanied Sunspot’s mother in an anthropological studies trip in the heart of the Amazonian forest. But Sunspot’s father had plans for the area. He expected to exploit its untapped resources.
Shaw had seen Inner Circle’s potential in the Brazilian industrialist. He offered him the discreet support of The Hellfire Club to keep Nina da Costa away from his prospection area. The New Mutants protected Sunspot’s mother and unmasked the Hellfire Club’s saboteur.
Later, Roberto da Costa had an violent argument with his father about his ways of conducting business and endangering his relatives’ lives. Emmanuel da Costa accepted Shaw’s proposal to join The Inner Circle.
Battle for Doug Ramsey
The Mastermind eventually recovered from his catatonia. To get revenge on The Hellfire Club, he mentally attacked The White Queen. She withdrew in a self imposed coma to avoid further damage. Tessa kept her body in The Hellfire Club’s mansion’s underground. When Frost got out of her coma, she kept it a secret.
She lured Kitty Pryde and The New Mutants by admitting Doug Ramsey to her prestigious Massachusetts Academy. See The New Mutants, year one for the details of how Kitty and The New Mutants got out of this trap. Also see Hellions, for details on their competition against The New Mutants.
In this episode, The White Queen demonstrated subtle use of her telepathic powers to enroll The New Mutants in her Hellions. She also demonstrated brutal force to neutralize Kitty’s phasing powers and Magik’s astral projection.
For a new Black Queen
Shaw enthroned Emmanuel da Costa as White Rook: an inferior position but still an Inner Circle one. We hardly see him afterwards. His admission might only have been a way to mess with Roberto da Costa (The New Mutants’ Sunspot).
Selene left of her Nova Roman retreat to conquer the modern world. See The New Mutants, year one for details. She went to New York’s high priest of her cult: Friedrich von Roehm. A regular member of The Club, he sponsored his goddess for the position of Black Queen.
She passed the interview, capturing and offering Rachel Summers and Magma as application gift.
Shaw was uncomfortable with it, but he had to admit she was fitting the requirements to claim the position. Von Roehm was granted Black Rook position as a reward, but he was not taken seriously by the rest of The Inner Circle.
Shaw immediately plotted with Frost to eliminate Selene. The White Queen manipulated a young mutant teenager named Angelica Jones and groomed her as the weapon to kill Selene (see Firestar’s writeup for details). It backfired and The Black King had to endure The Black Queen for years thereafter.
(Continued in part #2 !)
Source of Character: Uncanny X-Men (#100-247), The New Mutants (Graphic novel and #7-75), X-Men: Hellfire club (2000 mini-series).
Writeup completed on the 18th of October, 2017.