(Metagame Archive) Voices From the Past: The Dark Phoenix Saga, Part 1

By Ben Kalman

Jean Grey was supposed to be dead. Of course, popular characters’ resurrections are hardly a rare occurrence in the world of comics—Superman died and was reborn in the early nineties, and Spider-Man died and was reborn over the last few months. Hal Jordan came back from the dead, as did Professor X, and Magneto has died so many times that it would take a research grant to tempt me to try to count them. Even Captain America’s World War II sidekick, Bucky, whose death was long considered sacrosanct, has been revived by Ed Brubaker in the current issues of the Winter Soldier storyline in Cap’s book.

Even in the seventies and eighties, character death and resurrection were not shocking events. This was especially true in the Marvel Universe, where everyone, from Dr. Doom, to the aforementioned Professor X, to Wonder Man, to the Red Skull, has flitted back and forth between flat-line and the “miracle” of rebirth. When Jean Grey, who had sacrificed her life to save her fellow X-Men,* tapped into the Phoenix Force and was able to reincorporate her physical form, it wasn’t too much of a surprise—especially to the legion of fans clamoring for her return.

But Chris Claremont, ever the comic sadist, wasn’t done there. Oh no, he had many, many surprises for us in what is to this day considered to be one of the single greatest comic story arcs in the Bronze Age of comics, if not modern comic history. This story arc introduced us to Kitty Pryde, Dazzler, and the nefarious Hellfire Club. It also redefined the connection between the X-Men and the Universe, particularly erasing the notion that the cosmic universe was something that was confined to issues of Captain “Mar-Vell” Marvel and the occasional FF or Iron Man science-fiction story. Claremont joined Jim Starlin in truly expanding Marvel into the Marvel Universe.  Hellfire and Brimstone The Dark Phoenix saga truly began with a vision—several visions, in fact. Jean Grey began to have countless daytime hallucinations, seeing herself in the 18th century as Lady Jean Grey with her handsome fiancé, Jason Wyngarde. These visions were, in fact, owing to the mental manipulations of the true Jason Wyngarde, a.k.a. Mastermind. Jason, a former Brotherhood mutant known for his powers of illusory nature, had been tapped by the Hellfire Club to use those powers to entrap Jean Grey and give the Hellfire Club a grip on the X-Men. The Hellfire Club’s White Queen, Emma Frost, had used her company, Frost Industries, as well as the Hellfire Club’s very deep pockets to develop a little device called the Mindtap Mechanism. The device allowed a normally weaker Wyngarde to enhance his powers by several degrees, letting him not only tap into the mind of a very powerful psionic, but also to create waking dreams that were as real to her as reality itself.

Jean’s troubles were compounded by that reality as well, however. Her “return” to life thrust her back into the life of Scott Summers, a.k.a. Cyclops, who fell back in love with her. Unfortunately, Scott’s emotions were undergoing a heavy bout of turbulence. To make matters worse for him, Professor X had returned to the X-Men and retaken the mantle of leadership, usurping Scott’s role and chastising him for leading the team into disarray. (This disarray was due in part to the loss of Banshee’s powers during a battle with Proteus on Muir Island.) Scott tried to convince Professor X that his help was unnecessary, only to be rebuked once more. Professor X’s true reasons for returning had less to do with the state of the team and more to do with the state of Jean Grey’s mental health—he was worried that her powers were out of control. But his emasculation of Cyclops only compounded his stress, which would in turn help to compound Jean Grey’s.

Meanwhile, Sebastian Shaw, chairman and Black King of the Hellfire Club, had succeeded in his plans to take down the X-Men. He had planted a mercenary named Warhawk in Professor Xavier’s Mansion, who in turn put a tap onto Cerebro so the Hellfire Club could gain access to Cerebro’s files as well as visuals inside the Mansion. Their plan was to monitor Cerebro, and every time a mutant was found by the X-Men, they would send Emma Frost to recruit the mutant to her Massachusetts Academy before they could be recruited to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. The first target was Kitty Pryde. Kitty was a young girl undergoing the onset of her mutant power—the ability to phase through solid objects and become ethereal. Her first discovery of those powers came when, suffering from a major migraine, she lay down on her bed only to open her eyes and find herself on the living room floor. She had phased right through her bed and floor!

Xavier went to Kitty’s parents’ house to try to convince them to send Kitty to his school. As yet, they were unaware that she was a mutant or had powers. Frost had been there first, however, and when Storm, Wolverine, and Colossus took young Kitty to the malt shop around the corner, Frost sent three armored Hellfire Club Mercenary soldiers to take them down and bring them back. Each mercenary was equipped to take down one of the three X-Men. Wolverine figured the plan out, though, allowing the X-Men to defeat the mercenaries after all. In the midst of the fighting, Kitty was knocked backwards and through the wall. When Emma Frost unleashed a powerful psychic blast that knocked the three X-Men unconscious, Kitty was safely out of harm’s way. Even more importantly, she was able to witness the kidnapping of the three X-Men, so she phased through the side of their jet to follow them back to one of several plants owned by Emma Frost through her company.

JOIN THE CLUB! – THE HELLFIRE CLUB IN VS. SYSTEM, PART 1 Founded in the late 1760s in England, the Hellfire Club is a secret club for members of the upper-crust of society. In other words, it’s a playground for the rich and powerful. It was initially meant for the British aristocracy to have a place to wheel and deal outside of the public eye, indulging in debaucheries that British society frowned upon. It spawned an American counterpart several years later, when Sir Patrick Clemens, a British business magnate, and his wife Diana Knight immigrated to New York and founded their own chapter.

The American chapter of the Hellfire Club has since been taken over by several powerful mutants intent on using the Club’s wealth, power, and connections to conquer the human world and transfer their power to mutants. Since its membership includes the most powerful of American human industrialists, businessmen, financiers, and economists, the Club’s reputation is rock solid, and the vast majority of its members are unaware of its secret intentions.

Most don’t even know about the Inner Circle. The Inner Circle consists of the leaders of the Hellfire Club, most of whom are code named after chess pieces. They usually meet in a secret inner sanctum deep within The Hellfire Club Mansion. The card Inner Circle reflects this, with the four major players in the Inner Circle sitting on their special “thrones.” The card gives a bonus to hidden characters when you have a high number of them, as the power of the Inner Circle lies as much in its secrecy as in anything else. The Hellfire Club itself runs on secrecy, and hidden characters are an important theme for this team. These characters are not hiding in the shadows, waiting to strike like the Marvel Knights or the Crime Lords do, nor are they hidden in an alternate dimension like the Anti-Matter characters are. Hellfire Club characters stay hidden because they don’t exist. They will never strike from the shadows, because they don’t need to strike at all. Everything these characters do is through manipulation and puppetry, through connections and a show of political or social force.

Cardinal Law, so named because the members of the Inner Circle are also known as the Lords Cardinal, reflects that “behind the scenes” manipulation. Cardinal Law gives a combatant a bonus based on hidden characters. This is not a show of force or a team attack like Call Down the Lightning or Team Tactics. This is a card about adding to the strength of someone engaged in combat from behind the scenes, where it’s not even necessary to be with him or her in the open on the battlefield.

This is why Absolute Power grants a boon to the player who has a single visible character while the rest lie in wait in the hidden area. They send out a single combatant, and through their subtle machinations, the character will become stronger—in this case, recovering the wounded visible character by exhausting themselves and expending their influence to repair the damage.  POWER AND CONTROL

The three Hellfire Club members specifically mentioned in today’s chapter of the Dark Phoenix saga were Jason Wyngarde, Emma Frost, and Sebastian Shaw. Let’s take a brief look at their cards and how they reflect the characters.

Mastermind, Dark Dreamer is Jason Wyngarde. Like most Inner Circle Hellfire Club characters, he has concealed—optional, allowing him to skulk in the shadows for as long as necessary. Since Jason was only vying for a position in the Inner Circle—he was a puppet who was trying to serve the Inner Circle for a spot on the fringes—Mastermind is only a 3-drop, though he has fairly decent stats. His powers of illusion are strong, after all. His ability is less of a Mastermind ability than it is a Hellfire Club talent; it reflects his status as a tool for the Club to use for their own endeavors. His ability is essentially that if he is stunned, he is replaced by another Hellfire Club member who will hopefully get the job done. You can shuffle him into the shadows and bring forth a replacement, not only avoiding a direct attack, but also retaining the bonuses you receive for having a single visible character and as many hidden characters as possible. Mastermind signifies that a) it is important to maintain secrecy—he can be dragged back into hiding so the secrets of the Club are not revealed; and b) any agent of the Inner Circle is replaceable. If you fail in your mission and fall to the enemy, there is someone to take your place.

Emma Frost is the White Queen (hence her name, Emma Frost, White Queen), one of the four Lords Cardinal in the Hellfire Club’s Inner Circle. A wealthy industrialist rivaling Shaw himself, when she was first introduced, she seemed to be a more subservient character. As we learned more about this master manipulatress, we discovered that everything she did was for a reason, and her subtle machinations became more and more apparent as she vied for power and struggled for control within the Club and its Inner Circle. This version of Emma is when she was somewhat more established in the hierarchy, once she had created the Hellions and started to push herself into a higher level of control within the Circle. She is a leader, and she functioned as leader to the Hellions much in the same way that Xavier did with the X-Men. The Hellions and the Massachusetts Academy were essentially looking glass reflections of Xavier’s own school and students.

A 7-drop with decent (though not great) stats, her ability is a very strategic one, reflecting her ability to manipulate people around her to better serve her needs. She can move someone next to her to the hidden or visible area, an ability that takes a lot of tactical prowess and strategic forethought to use to its nth potential, but one that can be devastating if done properly. The card’s power is typical of Emma, who is renowned for her planning and tactical command. Those strengths have helped to make her one of the most powerful people, literally, politically, and financially, in the X-world.

Finally, we have Sebastian Shaw, Black King, who is always the center of power in the Club and its Inner Circle. Few wield the power he does, and few could maintain his level of control, as he pushes back constant attacks on his leadership. A 7-drop with slightly better stats than Emma but without range, Shaw’s ability is the true sign of what the Club and Shaw are really about—taking out your own allies if it means you can get ahead. This can be interpreted in several ways, all of them true. For one, he is willing to sacrifice anyone to come out ahead. As well, the term “ally” is only symbolic for Shaw, who would likely sacrifice his own mother if it gained him an iota more power. 

NEXT WEEK: Kitty’s Pryde and Alison’s Dazzle!

* After freeing herself and her teammates from Steven Lang and his Sentinels, Jean Grey volunteered to pilot them through a radiation storm and back to Earth. She received a fatal dose of radiation in the cockpit of their space shuttle.

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/20070425133438/http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Marvel_DC_TCG


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