Excalibur (1st series) #96

Issue Date: 
April 1996
Story Title: 

Warren Ellis (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Bob Wiacek (inker), Ariane Lenshoek (colorist), Richard Starkings and Comicraft (letters), Malibu’s Hues (separations), Suzanne Gaffney (editor), Bob Harras (editor in chief)

Brief Description: 

While playing soccer, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat and Colossus discuss Kurt’s new look, Shadowcat’s father and what may be troubling Amanda Sefton. Meggan, also sporting a new look, interrupts, telling her teammates that Jean Grey-Summers is on the phone waiting to speak to them. Turns out that Excalibur’s old ally Alistaire Stuart, showed up at the mansion in Westchester. Somewhat distraught, he begged Jean to get in touch with Excalibur. After explaining that Black Air is after him, Kurt and Meggan prepare to leave for New York to pick him up. Angry that his observers cannot get any useful information on the London Hellfire Clubs Inner Circle, Shinobi Shaw, Black King of the New York branch, decides that he must get in touch with Brian Braddock. He calls Muir island and explains to Brian that since he inherited a membership, he is the only one to investigate the London Club’s activities, which would be in both of their best interests as something strange is going on there and on top of it all, the shapestealer Mountjoy has already infiltrated the Inner Circle, certainly with no good intentions. Reading a file about Mountjoy, Brian debates with Kitty about the possibility of it being a set-up, but decides the only way to find out is to go. He writes a note for Meggan, as they never got to say goodbye. Outside, Pete Wisdom chases Lockheed, who has stolen his clothes, and Douglock decides that the only way to make sense of who he is, is to go by it a different approach – approach it by chaos. Meanwhile tension brews in the London Hellfire Club Inner Circle as the Red and Black Kings accuse each other of various things, and the mysterious Red Queen wants to hasten their plans along. The Club’s assistant, an Albino woman called Scribe, records the entire meeting. Elsewhere, Sebastian Shaw meets up with the mutant agent of Black Air, Scratch, to trade some object hidden in a strange box for some very important information. Several hours later, almost back at Muir Island, the Moonlight Flit, carrying Nightcrawler, Meggan and Alistaire Stuart is shot down by Black Air.

Full Summary: 

The mutant body stealer Mountjoy says ‘It’s a tasty world’, as his eyes flare with energy, ready to use his power.

It’s 7a.m. in Westchester, New York. Jean Grey-Summers, the X-Men’s Phoenix, is collecting the mail, hoping for the day that the mailman actually uses the letterbox, and doesn’t just chuck the mail through the gate. Someone walks up to her. Jean Grey asks the man if she can help him. The disturbed man identifies himself as Alistaire Stuart, and explains that Jean must get him in touch with Excalibur – before they are killed!

At the same time, still in New York, Shinobi Shaw, Black King of the New York Hellfire Club, has not slept yet. Reviewing reports that his observers in the London branch of the Hellfire Club have sent him he is not amused. His personal assistant, the sultry Martine, asks him if the problem can’t wait, as she is bored. Shinobi tells Martine that none of his observers have a seat on the London branch Inner Circle, and they cannot gather any useful information for him. Shinobi tells Martine to get the Rolodex – the only option left is the annoying one – he needs the help of Brian Braddock.

The same time still, only taking into account the time differences, it is noon, at the Muir Island Medical Research Center. The home of the super hero group, Excalibur. Outside, playing soccer, Kurt Wagner, a.k.a. Nightcrawler, shows off to his closest friends and teammates, Kitty “Shadowcat” Pryde and Piotr “Colossus” Rasputin. He is sporting a new haircut and a beard. Kurt tells them it was his lover Amanda’s idea, as she saw a guy with a similar look on her last flight, and she quite fancied him and it took only a few days to grow the beard. Colossus tells him to be careful not to sneeze as it might fall off. Kitty asks him if the cold air has got to his unprotected brain, and tells him to hurry up and shoot the ball.

Kurt asks his friends if they dare mock a German soccer player? They are the greatest! Flicking the ball with his tail to Kitty he reminds her that they were talking about her father. Catching the ball she tells her friends she is bugged about him. She got a cryptic phone message from him just before the Phalanx blew up, and hasn’t heard from him since. She passes the ball to Colossus, who asks if her parents are still separated. Kitty tells him that her mother wouldn’t spit on her father if he were on fire. She is sure he is fine, but would just like to clear up loose ends. Kurt brings up another loose end – something had been nagging at Amanda for sometime now, and loose ends always mean trouble.

Piotr tells Kurt that he would never claim to be an expert on relationships, to which Kitty laughs at, but perhaps he should just approach Amanda directly? There is something to be said for not brooding on things, to which Kitty seems surprised and says that was good advice. Kurt thanks his friends, it is something to think about.

Suddenly, Meggan appears, complete with a new costume, telling Kurt he has a phone call. Surprised by her new look Kurt says today is the day for changes in style. Meggan tells him she had been watching him, and she thought she’d try a new look too as it just felt like the thing to do. Meggan tells Nightcrawler that it’s Jean Grey on the phone.

Meggan mentions to Kitty about how her pet dragon Lockheed her finally stopped sulking. Kitty tells everyone he finally came out from under the bed this morning, and Meggan says it is about time, considering he had been miserable ever since Kitty got together with Pete Wisdom. All the while Lockheed is watching the heroes from a distance – with a pair of Wisdom’s pants in his mouth.

The rich and ambitious, the Inner Circle of the London Hellfire Club rarely meet at such an early hour in the afternoon, they tend to keep their dark activities until night time. With a cigarette in his hand, the other hand resting on his revolver, the Black King points at the Red King, with a telling him that the Inner Circle is already in a tense state, what with two sets of Royalty in existing simultaneously. But he says that they have all done a good job of keeping an all-out war between black and red from breaking out, but the Black King tells the Red that his haste in such a complex plan will break this court. And that the mess with the military complex, Dream Nails, was the first to start this approach.

The Red King tells the Black, that if he hadn’t prevented him from moving faster, Culley would never have escaped the complex. And if he had a free hand, the alien experimentation at the Dream Nails station would have remained a secret. Drawing his sword from its sheath, the Red King asked who knew that Wisdom possessed a conscience? He has killed more people than the Red King has even met.

The Black King tells him that this isn’t the point he is making. That these final steps are delicate and moving too fast could break everything they have built. The Black King orders the Red to tell that to his Black Air associate, and see that his employers are informed of his wishes, before asking the Albino Scribe, the London branch’s assistant, if she managed to get all of that. ’Naturally’ she says. ‘I record all’.

Sarcastically, the Red King says he is pleased, after all, he would just hate to have to make his point more forcefully! The Red Queen steps up, asking the Black King when do they begin the next steps, it is what she was inducted into the Inner Circle for. And what is the point in having magic, when one does not use it?

Back on Muir Island. Nightcrawler, Colossus and Shadowcat have assembled in the communications room and are speaking to Cyclops and Phoenix on a video monitor. Looking pensive, Jean tells them to let Brian now that there is no change in Betsy’s condition, she is still comatose. Kitty tells Jean to keep them posted, and Kurt says their prayers are with her. Kurt asks the X-Men if they have had a chance to speak to Colossus since he arrived at Muir, and he comes in to camera range. Cyclops asks how he is, and Piotr tells him he is much better, but eager to learn why they called so early in their day. Jean turns the X-Men’s camera around to show Excalibur – ‘We think you lost something’ she says.

The computer screen now shows Alistaire Stuart, one of Excalibur’s oldest and closest allies. Kitty is shocked to see him in such a state. He asks Excalibur to bring him to Muir Island, there is so much to do. Kitty asks what he is doing in America, while Colossus, unfamiliar with the guy, asks who he is. Nightcrawler explains to Excalibur’s newest member, that Alistaire ran the British governments Weird Happenings Organization until Black Air replaced them. They assumed Alistaire had just been moved on. Head in his hands Alistaire tells them that he had to leave Britain, he knew too much of what he was up to and they were not going to let him live. Kitty asks whom he knows too much about. As if it hurts to say, he spits out ‘Black Air of course’.

Colossus asks his teammates if Alistaire could just be paranoid. Kitty says it is a possibility, but whatever happened, he is in a mess. Nightcrawler asks Jean if she will hang on to Alistaire for a few hours – he is on his way. Leaving the room, Kurt tells the others that he will get the Midnight Runner off Brian, and he will take Meggan with him, as she will keep Alistaire calm. The phone rings again, Kitty answers it, and turning the computer screen on, reveals Shinobi Shaw! He says he wants to speak to Brian Braddock, and to just tell him it is a fellow prince of the Hellfire Club calling!

A barren area somewhere in Eastern England is where the former Black King of the New York Inner Circle, Sebastian Shaw, previously thought dead at the hands of his son Shinobi, has chosen to meet with Black Air agent, Scratch. He tells Shaw that he has the files he wants, and asks the former Black King if he has the box. Sebastian Shaw tells Scratch that his employers know he always respects a business deal – both of his employers. As the switch takes place Scratch comments on how it is funny that Shaw has made use of the Legacy Virus information he recently provided him, and Shaw tells him not to come too close as his bodyguards are nervous in these troubled times. One of the bodyguards tells Scratch not to touch Shaw, but as Shaw raises his arm telling the guards everything is fine, Scratch unleashes his powers upon the bodyguards telling them they are getting on his nerves, and kills them all.

Shaw comments on how he misses the days when he could openly hire decent bodyguards. He tells Scratch to take care with the box – it is what his superiors have been waiting for. As Shaw boards the helicopter he tells the pilot that it is time to meet Tessa, and that the more mutants he meets, the more he hates being one.

Brian Braddock’s gift to Muir Island, the Moonlight Flit, a hypersonic medical vessel, equipped for the worst possible scenarios of human crises, departs Muir Island in the afternoon. As Brian Braddock watches as it leaves, he trusts Nightcrawler’s piloting skills with the precious vessel – it has a lot of Brian in it, he doesn’t want to fight anymore, just fix things. Brian tells the computer to take the caller off hold, and asks Shinobi Shaw what he wants. Right to the point, Shaw tells him that he would like him to rejoin the London Hellfire Club. He reminds him that he and his sister Betsy both hold claim to their father‘s seat as Bishop in the Inner Circle. Betsy is indisposed as Shaw believes, though he reminds Brian of how his sister visited the club in her younger days. He tells Braddock that the London Chapter has changed, and has become not only a threat to himself, but Brian as well.

Shinobi tells Brian that the Inner Circle are moving funds in and out of the British government, and they have obtained telepaths to screen off thoughts of those unwelcome. Certain strange “consultants” have been seen entering their offices, and there have been murders, Shaw continues. His observer has not been able to get close enough, and it would be in both of their interests for Brian to infiltrate the Club, and find out their true intentions. He is about to hang up, but Shinobi has one other thing to say. He warns Brian that that someone from America has already infiltrated the Inner Circle, and he is unmistakable. One of the Inner Circle, Shaw doesn’t know which one, is in disguise. One of them is really the man called Mountjoy. As Shaw says that Brian looks nervously up at him on the screen, before saying ‘screen off’.

A little bit later, a computer screen shows the mutant Mountjoy ripping through the bodies of Psylocke and Gambit. Sitting at one of the consoles, Shadowcat tells Brian that this is from a file that Bishop downloaded to Muir Island. Mountjoy is from Bishop‘s timeline, the mid-21st
Century. While he qualifies as a shapeshifter, the more appropriate classification would be shape-stealer, as he absorbs live bodies into his own, and uses their form while “digesting” them. Bishop had a run-in with him recently, in which he was handed to the authorities, though he escaped immediately afterwards.

Looking worried Kitty tells Brian this guy is trouble. Brian, speaking for the first time after taking all of this sudden news and revelations about his new enemy in, tells Kitty that he always avoided the Hellfire Club, while Betsy liked going, and their father said it helped him in business having her there. Kitty brings up the possibility that Shaw maybe lying. Brian tells Kitty he cannot take that chance, by the look in Mountjoy’s eyes, you can tell he likes killing, and even if he is lying, what else is waiting in London? Something is definitely wrong. He asks Shadowcat to prep the Midnight Runner for him, while he writes a note for Meggan, and packs his bags to go.

Outside, Pete Wisdom is climbing one of the buildings, and he doesn’t like it. Being outside fills his lungs with fresh air. Lots of his clothes are strewn around an antenna. Calling Lockheed a ‘bloody flying rat’, he tells Kitty’s pet dragon to give back his clothes. Lockheed tells the former Black Air agent that he hates him as well, and to back off, or he will burn all of his clothes. Wisdom tells the dragon that he doesn’t care that he is the pet of his girlfriend, he is still going to skin him.

Standing alone on a cliffside, the techno-organic being Douglock tries to make sense of who he is. He is a mechanical entity, and yet he is also the template of the dead New Mutant Doug Ramsey. He has tried to understand his two components through logic, but decides that perhaps logic is the wrong approach, and that perhaps chaos is a better way. He believes that today everything will change, and that saying it aloud gives it force.

At the close of the afternoon, the Moonlight Flit crosses back into British airspace. Piloting the aircraft, Nightcrawler looks over his shoulder and tells the Alistaire Stuart, who is huddled over with a cup of coffee, and tells him they are almost at Muir Island. Meggan looks at Alistaire in a comforting way, though he tells Kurt that it doesn’t matter, it is probably to late now. Suddenly, attack helicopters, marked with the Black Air symbol, approach the Moonlight Flit. Kurt orders the plane to begin evasive maneuvers, and arm weapon system, only for the computer to reply that the Moonlight Flit is a dedicated medical vessel, and does not carry armaments. Nightcrawler cries out at Brian and says ‘oh, not again...’, as the aircraft catches fire from shots by the helicopters.

Characters Involved: 

Brian Braddock, Colossus, Douglock, Meggan, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Pete Wisdom (all Excalibur)

Lockheed, Shadowcat’s pet dragon

Cyclops, Phoenix IV (both X-Men)

Alistaire Stuart, Excalibur ally

Black King III, Black Queen IV / Ms. Steed, Red King, Red Queen II / Margali Szardos (all Inner Circle Hellfire Club, London branch)

Scribe, assistant to the London Inner Circle

Shinobi Shaw, current Black King II of New York Hellfire Club

Martine, Shinobi Shaw‘s assistant

Sebastian Shaw, former Black King I of New York Hellfire Club

Bodyguards of Sebastian Shaw

Scratch, Agent of Black Air


On a Computer Screen:

Gambit, Psylocke (both X-Men)


Story Notes: 

Alistaire Stewart was a long time ally of Excalibur, who Shadowcat once fancied, though he only had eyes for her best friend, former Excalibur member Rachel Summers. When last seen, Alistaire agreed to help the R.C.X. (Resources Control Executive) in handling the Warpies. [Excalibur #65]

This is the only appearance of Martine. Her role is somewhat unclear, she could be either Shinobi’s personal assistant (just like Sebastian Shaw’s Tessa), though she doesn’t seem too interested in his business and is probably a mere servant or mistress.

The Amanda that Nightcrawler is referring to, is of course, Excalibur member Daytripper, and his girlfriend. She is presumably away on another flight.

Kitty received the mysterious phone call from her father in Excalibur #76, it was later revealed that he was staying on Genosha and he was still on the island when it’s inhabitants were massacred by the Sentinels. [X-Men Unlimited #36]

Meggan’s new costume is her third. She gained her previous one in Excalibur #14 and wore it till last issue.

Each member of the London Hellfire Club has their own weapon. The Black King has a revolver, the Black Queen has a cat-of-nine-tails whip, and the Red King has a sword. The Red Queen however, has a very long set of perfectly manicured fingernails.

The Hellfire Club’s Red Queen is revealed to be Margali Szardos in disguise in Excalibur #99. The same issue establishes the Black Queen’s real name as Ms. Steed. Although this is the Black Queen’s first appearance, her Age of Apocalypse counterpart Damask already appeared in X-Calibre #1-4. The real names of the Black and Red Kings are not revealed, and they haven’t appeared before.

The secrets behind the Dream Nails complex were uncovered by Shadowcat and Pete Wisdom in Excalibur #88-90.

Brian Braddock’s twin sister, the X-Men‘s Psylocke was fatally wounded by Sabretooth, though eventually recovered thanks to the Crimson Dawn. [Uncanny X-Men #328-330]

Sebastian Shaw was believed to have died by the hand of his son in X-Factor #67. He was revealed to be alive (without any explanation) in X-Force #48.

While Nightcrawler tells Kitty he is going to borrow the Midnight Runner from Brian, it would seem that Brian gave Kurt the Moonlight Flit instead, as that is what departs Muir Island, and is later shot down, carrying Kurt, Meggan and Alistaire. Next issue, it is quite clear that Brian leaves in the Midnight Runner.

The Braddocks being members of the London branch Hellfire Club was established in X-Men (2nd series) #29.

Mountjoy first appeared and absorbed several X-Men in Bishop #1-4.

The fact that Lockheed can talk is only known to Pete Wisdom.

The ‘Oh, not again... ‘ refers to Excalibur #86-87, where the entire team was in a similar situation when their craft was shot out of the sky over Genosha.

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