By Ben Kalman
Search and Rescue
When last we left our humble X-Men, Jean Grey, Cyclops, and Nightcrawler had barely escaped the most dangerous of perils (with Dazzler’s aid) presented by the Hellfire Club and its armored soldiers! They had just rescued Kitty Pryde from her Hellfire Club Mercenary pursuers, and through Jean Grey’s psychic powers, she was able to learn more about the Hellfire Club and its plans. She was also able to glean the location of Frost Industries, where the other X-Men (Wolverine, Colossus, Storm, and Professor X) were being held captive by Emma Frost, White Queen of the Hellfire Club!
Jean Grey, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Dazzler pretended to be tied up and unconscious in the back of the car of the Hellfire Club Mercenary soldiers who had pursued Kitty. Through Jean Grey’s telekinetic and psychic manipulation, she had one of those selfsame Hellfire Club Kitty-hunters drive them to the gates of Frost Enterprises and “speak” to the guards to let them pass. Once they got to the front of the main building, which was guarded by more mercenaries, Cyclops raised his visor and fired off a massive optic blast to take the roof off the car. Dazzler followed that up with a dazzling light show that stunned the guards, and the foursome entered the building in full attack mode!
Meanwhile, Kitty had snuck back into the building using her phasing powers, and she phased her hand into the lock of Wolverine’s “cage,” freeing Wolverine, who in turn freed Colossus. They joined up with Cyclops and Dazzler, but Jean Grey was missing; she had gone ahead to free Storm and Xavier. In her attempt to do so, she confronted Emma Frost, and it was a clash to be remembered. Emma’s psychic mettle toe-to-toe with the Phoenix Force—a Psychic Struggle for the ages! Emma held out for a while, but the Phoenix was too powerful. A last-gasp psi-bolt caught Jean off-guard, however, causing her powers to momentarily go off-kilter and level the warehouse. Jean would emerge with a slightly bruised Ororo, and Professor Xavier was unscathed. Emma was missing—and assumed to have been consumed by the blast—but she’d be back, as it would take more than that to eliminate the White Queen!
Returning to the Pryde house, Dazzler was offered membership in the X-Men, but she turned it down. She’d be back! When it came to Pryde’s parents, Jean Grey reached into the angry father’s and anxious mother’s minds and altered their memories to appease them. This concerned Scott, who was further unsettled by Ororo’s description of her battle against Emma as inhuman and ferocious. Between Jason Wyngarde’s meddling and Emma’s psi-bolt, it appeared as though Jean was getting worse and worse, succumbing to the Phoenix Force in a very negative manner.
In order to alleviate the pressures of their recent travails, Xavier took the X-Men to New Mexico, where they stay with Warren Worthington III and Candy Southern’s ranch in the desert, also known as Angel’s Aerie. There they would relax and plan their next move—one against the Hellfire Club. With Warren and Candy’s membership in the Club (though obviously not in the Inner Circle), they had one possible form of access. Wolverine and Nightcrawler went through the storm sewers, while Peter, Ororo, Jean, and Scott—all in civvies—would go through the front door, invited guests thanks to Warren’s membership. Xavier would stay behind with Warren in New Mexico as a contact man.
The X-Men’s entrance was noticed by one Donald Pierce, who, along with Sebastian Shaw, Harry Leland, and Jason Wyngarde, were in the Inner Circle plotting some form of intrigue. Shaw sent Jason out to the ballroom, where he swept Jean off of her feet and upstairs, her mind swirling back two hundred years once again. This time, however, as Cyclops tried to follow them, Jason revealed his true face—that of Mastermind! As Scott fumbled his way upstairs with the thought of snapping Jean out of Jason’s Mind Control—as he suddenly realized that Mastermind was behind every facet of Jean’s slow mental breakdown—he was blasted from behind by a new figure: the Black Queen. However, this was no new figure, but Jean Grey in a Black Queen guise that seemed created just for her. She was no longer Jean, but Jason’s puppet, Dark Phoenix, Alien Life Force! Colossus and Storm heard Jean’s blast and Scott’s anguished scream, and they rushed upstairs, shedding their civilian costumes for their X-Men ones . . . only to run into Sebastian Shaw! Meanwhile, Nightcrawler and Wolverine were in the basement of The Hellfire Club when they ran into the cyborg Donald Pierce—who attacked Nightcrawler—and Harry Leland, who used his ability to Alter Density on Wolverine, sending him literally through the floor and back into the storm sewers, where he was swept away. Pierce’s strength easily overpowered Nightcrawler, and Shaw absorbed the kinetic energy from Colossus and Storm’s attack, turning it against them. Then, they went back to the Inner Circle, with a toast to their victory and to the newest member to Join the Club!. The Black Queen now reigned, and the X-Men were defeated!
Relationships, relationships, relationships . . .
Many of the relationships that have since grown between the various X-Men had their seeds firmly planted during the Dark Phoenix Saga. And I don’t simply mean coupling off, but also the deep friendships that many of these mutants felt, as exemplified last week in the hint of deep friendship to come through the sharing of a malted shake between Storm and Kitty. And heck, even the base emotional characteristics that would grow to define some of these mutants were starting to become more and more apparent.
For example, Wolverine is known to many as “the best at what he does.” He’s durable, hard, resilient, vicious, and often rather unfriendly. However, when it came to his abundance of “little sisters,” he was a big softie. Throughout the years, he’s cast a big-brotherly shadow over many of the younger X-girls who’ve graced the team, most notably Jubilee (who, in turn, worshipped him). And then there was Jean Grey, in whose case the relationship blossomed into a sort of forbidden love, with Scott always standing in the way.
Another of his little sisters was Kitty Pryde. At this point in X-Men history, Wolverine was still a fairly one-dimensional character. He hadn’t really developed past the gruff, stubborn, tough-as-nails exterior. However, when Kitty came along, that began to change, as he seemed to adopt himself as her unofficial protector. The first moment was in #131, while she was rescuing Wolverine from Frost Industries. As she was helping a dazed Logan from his “cage,” she was shot in the back by a Hellfire Club Mercenary with a laser bolt. That set Wolverine off, and he “took care of” the guards. Later, he seemed quite concerned for her as she was trying to shrug off the effects of the blast. This was the first moment where she entered his “little sisterhood,” becoming the first of many. He adopted her, took her under his wing, and looked out for her, and you can really track that throughout the issues to come, as her friendship was split three ways and sustained all the way through the current Astonishing X-Men runs. She was best friends with Storm, little sister to Wolverine . . . and lover to Colossus.
At this point, Colossus was an older teenager, and Kitty was just entering her teens. But Peter was shy, a foreigner (from Russia), and he was going through that awkward period when he felt he couldn’t do anything right and couldn’t impress anybody. There is a moment in that same issue, however, when Peter was called a “freak,” lost his temper, shifted to steel, and smashed the Hellfire culprit. He was ashamed at having lost control even for a second, but he impressed the star-crossed pre-teen. Although her attention seemed to unsettle him a little bit, he also seemed to feed off of it.
Peter would struggle through an on-again-off-again relationship with Kitty over the years, as he evolved into one of the deepest and most complicated characters in all of the X-Universe. Here is a man who would join Magneto’s Acolytes when his sister was consumed by the Legacy Virus, only to sacrifice his own life to stop the Virus. (Although, as we would later discover, it wasn’t really Colossus who died, but a clone . . . don’t get me started.) One anchor that sustained him throughout all of his emotional turmoil, however, was Kitty’s love. The one time he thought he had truly lost her love, he went a little nuts for a while as he tried to cope. Their connection, built slowly and brilliantly over Claremont’s long X-Men run, is what makes Joss Whedon’s “resurrection” of Colossus okay in Astonishing X-Men, and their reunification is one of the most moving moments in X-history.
Men of Hellfire!
During this Saga, there were four major male players in the Hellfire Club: Shaw, Pierce, Leland, and Wyngarde. Each of them has a single representation in the new set, and Wyngarde has the previous Mastermind, Jason Wyngarde card from Marvel Origins. See Part 1 for a closer look at Shaw and Wyngarde. Today, I’ll add a little spice to Shaw and take a look at Pierce and Leland.
Sebastian Shaw, a major player in the jet-set, was a millionaire and owner of . A bastion of Power and Wealth (and yes, that’s a Return of the Jedi-esque display of it on the card of the same name), he was also the Black King of the Club—and a mutant with aspirations of world domination, but not in the Magneto “smash you and take over” sense. Instead, he used subterfuge and subtlety, as is the Hellfire way. This is, as I mentioned in Part 1, the reason the Hellfire Club dotes on the hidden area—it’s all about working from behind the scenes in order to come out ahead without showing your cards.
Even Sebastian Shaw’s card is a display of this Power and Wealth, a portrait worthy of a noble—and a well-to-do noble at that. The card Power and Wealth is but a small example of what is at Shaw’s fingertips. If he needs a location, he buys it. If he needs something done (as only a plot twist will do it), then it gets done. Notice, though, how you have to exhaust two Hellfire Club characters. That’s what Hellfire Club Initiates are for: to be used as pawns. If they’re not available, then anyone else will do—but it’s rare that Shaw would need to sully his own hands in order to achieve his goals.
Shaw Industries furthers the Hellfire theme—and Shaw’s own—by rewarding you for hiding characters. You get a nice little bonus for sending only one character out into the light and an extra bonus for having multiple hidden characters to support him or her. As the card’s flavor says, the support system behind the character is even more powerful than what his mutant factor provides. Both Shaw and Frost have proven time and again that one can have all of the mutant power in the world, but without a support system, they are merely putting their toes in the water to test the temperature.
Donald Pierce was the White Bishop of the Club, and he was therefore the second-highest ranking male in the Inner Circle. He had royal aspirations, and over the years he would vie with Shaw for (and even succeed at getting) the position of White King. Ironically, it was Shaw who saved his life and granted him his cyborg parts, building him into a powerful being; Pierce is no mutant. And it was Shaw who would eventually expel him from the Club for his treasonous sensibilities.
Pierce is basically a beefcake in the game, an average 6-drop with a big, beefy bonus when he is alone on the visible battlefield. This directly reflects his cyborg strength, which is augmented when he is at his peak. His cockiness is apparent on Army of One’s flavor text, but its ability—which is the same as his—gives some backup to his arrogance.
Harry Leland, the Black Bishop, was a typical aristocratic snob, from his topcoat and cane to his healthy gut and glorious sideburns. His ability was to be able to Alter Density, making any object become heavier. This worked either to a dramatic degree—as he did to Wolverine—or ever so gently—as he did to save Shaw’s life when he was attacked by Nimrod, who had flung Shaw into the stratosphere. That gentle, parachute landing would help provoke a heart attack (Leland was hardly in shape) that would prove fatal.
Leland is the perfect example of the blended Mutant traits in the game. His ability is a mental ability (hence his power), but it affects objects physically (hence his trait). His ability increases the density of a defender you control, pumping up the target’s DEF and giving him or her reinforcement while reducing the character’s ATK.
The card Alter Density also reflects Leland’s ability by increasing the DEF of an attacker or defender you control. He alters his opponent’s density, making it harder for that opponent to hit him, therefore raising his DEF. It’s hard to lay the claws on him when you weigh seven hundred pounds and rising . . .
NEXT WEEK: Wolverine’s revenge!!
Questions? Queries? Comments? Send ’em along and I’ll try to get them answered in the column! Email me at Kergillian (at) hotmail (dot) com.
Also known by his screen name Kergillian, Ben Kalman has been involved in the VS community since day one. He started the first major online community, the Vs. Listserv, through Yahoo! Groups, and it now boasts well over 1,850 members! For more on the Yahoo! group, go to http://web.archive.org/web/20070425144022/http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Marvel_DC_TCG