Dec 6, 2010

Classic Material- The Uncanny X-Men: Hellfire Club

8:27 PM

Most of us can say the penultimate Uncanny X-Men story of the legendary Chris Claremont / John Byrne era was The Dark Phoenix Saga.  Many reasons why with our fave mutants taking on the most powerful of the Shi'ar Empire to protect their beloved Jean Grey, which leads to fighting against her to help save the Universe that ends in her death (of many).

No doubt, one of the greatest comic-dramas ever told.  But, the part of the story we will hone in on like that rare B-side of vinyl that only true heads recognize as the real sh*t is-- The Hellfire Club arc-- that takes place just before Phoenix goes rogue from issues #129-133.

To kick off how legit this arc is, how about the first appearance of Emma Frost (White Queen) and Kitty Pryde (Ariel / Shadowcat)!  The book is dense with numerous subplots from all the behind the scenes scheming against the X-Men by the HFC, the growth in leadership of Cyclops and the other X-Men (displayed through Professor X's inability to adapt as a mentor in the Danger Room) and then Hellfire Club/X-Men jockeying for neomutant- Kitty Pryde's parents for enrollment in their "school."   

And what makes the X-Men so much more relate-able than say the Avengers-- they can lose.  In round one of the X-Men vs. Hellfire Club, all it takes are some armored henchman and the White Queen to defeat and cage Wolvie, Colossus, Storm and Xavier.  Let the S&M begin Emma!!  With one squad down- Cyclops,
Phoenix and Nightcrawler continue their search for the other neomutant that was scanned by Cerebro.  As Jean gets her grind on with Jason Wyngarde / Mastermind -- who she believes is her long-lost lover from another time-- Cyclops gets blinded by the discotheque of Dazzler.  Surprise!!  Another battle ensues with the X-Men and more Hellfire Club cronies.

The young, unskilled Kitty phases in and out of the HFC stronghold and finds her way back to the other band of X-Men and reports on their teammates capture.   While Jean struggles with her inner-urges to explore her darkside, her powers as the Phoenix becomes more devastating.  As they fight on to rescue the others-- an eventual telepathic duel is made between Emma Frost and Jean Grey.  In the epic face-off, Storm watches on and begins to realize how deadly her good friend is becoming.   As if things
couldn't of ended another way, Phoenix not only defeats but kills the White Queen.

Things look peachy for awhile as Claremont makes you feel like all is well with a visit to an old teammate, Warren Worthington III (the Angel).  Scott and Jean have makeup time and get more deets on the nastiness of the gothic-elitest Hellfire.

The band of mutants plan on infiltrating their newfound enemies at one of their uber-secret, swinger parties (that of course Angel was going to attend) and they all but fall into a trap that is laid by the the true power behind the HFC, The Black King- Sebastian Shaw.  Jean gives into her seduction by Wyngarde and is key in the defeat of her lover and X-fam.  With the birth of the Black Queen, Jean moves closer to her dark transformation, but even more key in the greatness of this tale is the moment that clearly helped to propel Wolverine to super-status of Marvel heroes.

In one of his first, full-fledged solo adventures to rescue his team and becomes a repeated recipe for success in future X-stories-- Logan comes back from his ass-whooping served by the fatty and Byrne uses simplistic black and red imagery to display the ferocious nature of the X-Men's wild thing.  Even more scary than Logan going berserker rage is when he plays mind games and gets chatty with hit prey.  If you don't remember this classic scene of Wolvie history -- your geek badge is now officially

revoked. 

Things go from bad to worse as Wolvie gets trampled on by a bunch of Liberace-looking guards, Cyclops is killed by Wyngarde in the psychic rapport he made with Jean and with little hope, the ish ends with the Hellfire Club on top again of their mutant counterparts. 

Another artistic element  that adds to this masterpiece is the splendid dialogue that is maintained by all members of the Georgian-era villians and aloof candor in how they hand the X-Men their asses.  The peak of John Byrne's mad-penciling.   Brilliant work chaps!! 




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big O
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