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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #29

"Return to Hellfire!"
February 1994

In a Nutshell
Archangel & Psylocke attend a party at the Hellfire Club.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Pencils: Andy Kubert
Inks: Matt Ryan
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Archangel watches alongside Beast & Professor X as Psylocke challenges Sabretooth in the Danger Room. Afterwards, amidst preparations for Scott & Jean's wedding, he ponders his romantic history, then receives an invitation to the Hellfire Club's annual gala, sent by Shinobi Shaw, with whom Archangel was friendly as a child. Spotting it, Psylocke reveals she too is a member of the club, and the pair agree to attend the party in the hopes of learning more about the Upstarts. At the party, the pair are knocked out by Tessa, Shaw's assistant, and awaken to find Shinobi waiting to offer his old friend Archangel the place of White King in the Inner Circle Shaw is hoping to rebuild in his image. When Archangel refuses, a fight breaks out, which ends when Psylocke uses her psychic knife on Shinobi, forcing him to relive all his paternal angst. Archangel & Psylocke then depart, leaving Shinobi what he's always been: alone. 

Firsts and Other Notables
this issue is considered the start of what will turn out to be a fairly long running romantic relationship between Psylocke & Archangel, a relationship that will be something of a thing over the next few years, then disappear for awhile, before becoming one of the centerpieces of Rick Remender's X-Force run. Though the pair mostly just attends a party together here (and as part of an X-Men mission, to boot), Nicieza is clearly laying the groundwork for a romantic relationship, one he and Lobdell (over on Uncanny) will develop over time, with the starting point of their relationship here being mostly that they're both children of privilege (later stories will also touch on the fact that they've both experienced significant bodily transformations and served as agents of villains as a result) which, frankly, is a more solid foundation for a relationship than some of the other more marquee X-couples have (I mean, for all their angst, the starting point for Rogue & Gambit is what, they're both Southerners?).

Shinobi Shaw declares his intent this issue to reform the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club (and offers Archangel the title of White King, to Shinobi's Black King), the first of several attempts by various characters (including Shinobi and his father Sebastian) to bring back that group, none of which have had much staying power or come close to rivaling the effectiveness/notoriety of the first group.


Tessa, Sebastian Shaw's longtime telepathic aide, is shown to be serving Shinobi here, suggesting her loyalty comes with the title of Black King or is tied to the club itself (of course, it will later be revealed that Tessa is a sleeper agent of Professor X, making this another example of where that retcon doesn't quite work, as it seems like the X-Men probably could have learned more about the Upstarts from Tessa if they really wanted to, considering she is now working with Shinobi, unless her cover was so deep she never made any contact with Xavier, in which case, why bother having her as a sleeper agent?).


Nicieza uses the Hellfire Club gathering to briefly tease the "Child's Play" crossover between X-Force and New Warriors (beginning next month), which will closeout the Upstarts plotline once and for all, by having the New Warriors' leader, Night Thrasher, appear at the party in his civilian guise. We'll see this party from his perspective, including a brief cameo by Archangel & Psylocke, in X-Force #32.


Also, Ronald Parvenue, Lady Deathstrike's recent ally/benefactor over in Wolverine, is for whatever reason on hand at the club, making a brief one-panel appearance that stands as his final appearance to date.


This issue establishes that like Archangel, Psylocke is also a member of the Hellfire Club via inheritance, with her father having been a regular at the club's London branch (the Braddock family's involvement with the Hellfire Club will later be revisited during Warren Ellis' Excalibur run as well).


In a somewhat awkward bit of exposition (likely intended for newer readers), Psylocke asks Archangel to explain the X-Men's whole deal with the Hellfire Club to her; while Psylocke joined the team shortly after the group stopped having regular encounters with the Inner Circle, given how instrumental they were in one of the X-Men's greatest defeats (the death of Jean Grey - who for a good chunk of Psylocke's initial tenure with the team, was still considered dead, even after she'd officially returned and was appearing regularly in X-Factor), it seems like the kind of thing Psylocke would have heard about from Storm, Wolverine or Colossus long before this.


Archangel also says that the Inner Circle fell apart after its members were mysteriously killed off one-by-one, with Shaw's death the final nail in their coffin. Except, Harry Leland died in front of the X-Men fighting Nimrod, Donald Pierce died in front of the X-Men (at the Hellfire Club), executed by Fitzroy's future Sentinels, Mastermind died in front of the X-Men of the Legacy Virus (and well after Shaw's death), and the White Queen (not pictured) isn't dead, just in a coma (and, we'll soon learn, being cared for by the X-Men in the X-Mansion). So really, the only mysterious death of the bunch is Shaw (assuming the X-Men don't know he was killed by Shinobi, which they may well not know).

There's another one of those unremarked upon moments I can't help noticing where heroes are knocked out wearing civilian clothes but then wake up in other clothes (in this case, old timey Hellfire Club attire), suggesting here that Shinobi (or Tessa, or some Hellfire goons) must have stripped down Archangel & Psylocke and then dressed them.

A Work in Progress
Sabretooth appears wearing his full set of manacles and muzzle on the opening splash, in what is essentially his default look during his time in the mansion.


As of this issue, the Cyclops/Jean wedding is "Saturday". We briefly see the grounds of the mansion being prepared for the ceremony.


Archangel & Psylocke accept Shinobi's invitation to the party in part to learn more about the Upstarts, but they ultimately don't really learn much at all (and, again, see above re: Tessa).


This issue reveals that Archangel & Shinobi were childhood friends who played together when their fathers were attending Hellfire Club events, making Shinobi the second of Archangel's former friends to become a villain (along with Cameron Hodge).

In a nice touch of artistic continuity, Shinobi's pitch to Archangel & Psylocke to join the Inner Circle occurs while he's sitting in the playing card-themed chairs the Inner Circle used in their earliest appearances.


Archangel is for some reason shocked to learn Shinobi is a mutant, despite having earlier mentioned how the Upstarts are a group of mutants.


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Jubilee name checks Ivana Trump, the current President's first wife (this was published shortly after they divorced, following his affair with Marla Maples).


Also, Jubilee is wearing her (Kubert-specific liquid metal) rollerblades in the mansion.


Psylocke emerges from her Danger Room session with Sabretooth via a ridiculously cheesecake-y image, which is saying something considering her regular attire is essentially just a bathing suit.


Young Love
Warren angsts over having lost Candy Southern all over again, after her brief return in Uncanny #306.


He also admits to Beast his relationship with Charlotte Jones is at a romantic standstill, which is more or less news to us - while the pair hasn't really done a lot together since their aborted date to Lila Cheney's concert in Uncanny #294, Charlotte has made a few appearance here and there since and there's been no indication of a freeze between them. In fact, the Marvel Chronology Project considers Charlotte as having been at Thanksgiving in Uncanny #308, which has to have been just a few days, maybe a couple weeks before this one (maybe they called things off, off-panel, then?). Ultimately, this is all just an excuse to clear the deck for a Psylocke/Archangel romance (and, for what it's worth, Archangel compares his relationship to that of Beast & Trish Tilby's, which similarly hasn't been focused on much lately but was implied to still be a thing as recently as "Bloodties").

It's in the Mail 
This issue has a two page letters page, running reactions to issues #26 & #26 and featuring a small reproduction of next issue's cover. One of the responses states that Magneto killed "thousands" as a result of his EMP attack in issue #25, an idea that I think gets downplayed in the years ahead, as the character cycles back around to a more anti-heroic role as opposed to outright villainy.

Austin's Analysis
Continuing this series' recent trend of featuring done-in-one stories that have less connection to events in the series itself than other cornser of the X-universe, this issue tosses Psylocke & Archangel into a story about Shinobi Shaw trying to resurrect the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club, while also briefly setting up the "Child's Play" X-Force/New Warriors crossover and featuring a fairly random appearance from a minor Wolverine character. It's not a bad story - the Archangel/Psylocke pairing, built on their shared past as children of privilege & history of physical transformations and metnal manipulation, will prove to have a lot of mileage to it (far moreso than Shinobi's Hellfire ambitions), and positioning Shinobi as a former friend of Warren's and leader of the next generation of the Hellfire Club is a far better use of the character than his involvement in the Upstarts and Yakuza business (in part because it gives him a stronger connection to both one specific character - Archangel - but also the X-Men as whole, because he now more directly represents the next generation of one of their worst enemies). But of all the recent "disconnected" issues of this series, this still feels the most like the one which fails to answer the question of "why this story at this time", and as a result, it's the one that feels the most like Nicieza is simply biding his time for something bigger (maybe the wedding next issue?) by just throwing an idea to the wall and seeing if it sticks.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Siryn goes home in X-Force #31. Friday, Mr. Sinister drops by in Excalibur #74. Next week, "Unstacking the Deck" takes a look at Fleer Ultra X-Men series I.

Collected Editions

12 comments:

  1. I can't help wondering: what might Andy Kubert have felt, after having drawn GHOST RIDER #29 "Biting the hand that feeds you!", of being here now and setting the very Image-generation Shinobi Shaw as the head honcho of the classic Hellfire Club.

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  2. "As of this issue, the Cyclops/Jean wedding is "Saturday"."
    Child's Play, X-Force 34 and Cable 9-11 all happen between this issue and the wedding- Cable must have been exhausted.
    Can somebody explain to me how Shaw was a probationary member in the backup story in Classic X-Men 7, which takes place circa X-Men 99, but was a member of the club when Warren was a child? That must have been a LONG probation.
    "maybe they called things off, off-panel, then"
    In Uncanny X-Men 322, Jones criticizes Warren for dropping her out of his life without explanation.

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    1. And this issue is explicitly set on a Thursday, so there's literally one single day between this story and the wedding!

      Which brings to mind a question that never occurred to me until just now: Cyclops's bachelor party is the night before the wedding, i.e. Friday, i.e. "tomorrow" from this issue's perspective. So that means Warren received his party invitation in the mail the morning of the party?! That makes no sense.

      I can't help comparing this to the Mighty Marvel's Bombastic Bronze Age style, which would have seen him receive it somewhere around issue 23, followed by a few months of sub-plot pages where he'd mull over whether to attend, followed finally by the actual party occurring this issue.

      (That's always been my favorite style of comic book writing, by the way. I prefer it much, much more than done-in-ones like this, where all the story elements happen in the same issue.)

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  3. I think it being Stevie Hunter at Thanksgiving makes more sense since she's been hanging around the mansion as recently as Executioners Song.

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  4. The last few word balloons on Pg. 10, between Hank and Bets— uh, Psylocke, look to have been relettered with (one would presume) new dialogue. What is “the revelation of the past few weeks” supposed to be, anyway? Even before this exchange I was trying to recall if there’d been a resolution to the Psylocke/Revanche deal yet beyond them both having elements of both Kwannon’s and Betsy’s psyches.

    Nobody at the party bats an eye at Elizabeth Braddock now being Asian, or, more likely from their perspective, at this woman of Asian descent representing herself as Elizabeth Braddock. I really wanted something like, “You got the purple hair right, but… ah… How do I put this?”

    // where heroes are knocked out … but then wake up in other clothes //

    There is a caption stating that the pair “feel gentle hands on them… touching, stroking, changing their clothes…,” which is even skeevier than it just not being remarked upon.

    // issues #26 & #26 //

    Now that’s ’90s. 8^)

    Manacles and Muzzle is my new band name. First album: His Default Look.

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    1. I don't think anyone (without a comicbookdb.com profile) at the party is supposed to personally or even by looks know Elizabeth Braddock. She's there for the first time and courtesy of her membership in the London branch.

      The revelation is just the Kwannon shebang on the whole I guess. The other girl has Betsy's likeness.

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    2. Well, I figured that having been a model — one with purple hair, no less — from a well-heeled family once active in the London branch of the Club, she’d be familiar to at least some members inclined towards international travel or, at minimum, gossip, but that’s all far more arguable than the stuff Austin pointed out re the circumstances of the old Inner Circle’s deaths.

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  5. I look forward to "Kubert-Specific Liquid Metal Rollerblades", the first single from "His Default Look". I don't recall Psylocke's Asian appearance being brought up by anyone when they first encounter her post Uncanny #256. For that matter, everyone seemed to just know it was her, which seemed perfectly plausible when I was a pree-teen.

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    1. No-Prize idea: perhaps she telepathically makes people who knew what she used to look like think that she still looks that way?

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  6. I really enjoyed this issue as a youngster. I always like the Hellfire Club and its trappings, and I especially loved the party scenario offering sort of a callback to "Dark Phoenix".

    For several years, I've considered Angel one of my favorite X-Men. And though my preferred version is the red-and-white-costumed/non-blue-skinned guy, re-reading this issue made me realize that this was probably the origin of my fondness for the character. I love the idea of tying him in with the Hellfire Club more closely than he already was, of making him a childhood acquaintance of Sebastian Shaw's son, and so forth. I also liked that Nicieza, and over in UNCANNY, Lobdell, were reminding us of his wealth and station in life. (I generally enjoy reading about rich/upper crust people, for whatever reason.)

    This issue may also be the origin of my appreciaton of Psylocke as anything more than the X-Men's eye-candy. I was really into the Revanche stuff when it first started, as I've noted here before, but that was more for the mystery than anything else. I think this is where I began to appreciate her character, and the second round of Revanche stuff, coming up after the wedding, really solidified that.

    And I was also totally on-board with the Archangel/Psylocke pairing. I think Chris Claremont once said that as Betsy's creator and, up to this point, most prolific writer, he believed Warren was all wrong for her -- but I've always respectfully disagreed with him there. The reason given here -- the privileged upbringing -- is a reasonable commonality on which to spark a friendship, and who's to say that friendship couldn't blossom into more? I think it works just fine. I followed this couple all through the 90s and I really liked them together.


    "Also, Ronald Parvenue, Lady Deathstrike's recent ally/benefactor over in Wolverine..."

    Until recently, I never had any idea who this guy was supposed to be. I always figured that, like Dwayne Taylor, he was from one of Nicieza's other titles. Now, almost twenty-five years after the fact, I know the truth!

    "There's another one of those unremarked upon moments I can't help noticing where heroes are knocked out wearing civilian clothes but then wake up in other clothes..."

    Blam already addressed this, but as he said, there's actually narration talking about the pair being half-aware of this violation that they can't do anything about. I read that bit and thought, "Teebore will appreciate Nicieza acknowledging this!"

    "Psylocke emerges from her Danger Room session with Sabretooth via a ridiculously cheesecake-y image..."

    This image was tied with Art Thibert's MARVEL SWIMSUIT SPECIAL illustration of Psylocke as my all-time favorite picture of the character when I was a teen. I agree it's ridiculous, but it's so over-the-top that I still kind of like it, weirdly cocked hip and all.

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    1. Forgot to add that I was always kind of disappointed nothing came of the set-up here. I wish there'd been some follow-up on Shinobi trying to re-form the Inner Circle, but unfortunately, the Hellfire Club as a concept kind of fell by the wayside for much of the 90s aside from little one-off appearance like this one here and there -- and then whenever the Club did show up, nobody every seemed quite sure what its status quo was supposed to be!

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