Excalibur (1st series) #99

Issue Date: 
July 1996
Story Title: 
Fire With Fire

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

Brief Description: 

Reading through Black Air’s files, Excalibur come across several connections between Black Air and the Hellfire Club. They discuss what their options are in recovering Douglock and taking down the Hellfire Club. As they begin to link everything together they realize this just how serious the Hellfire Club‘s plan is. Kitty and Wisdom contact his old friend from Intel, Jardine, and send to him all of the files they downloaded from the Black Air Acquisition station that Excalibur destroyed recently. Wisdom tells Jardine to get the information to everyone he thinks can do some damage to Black Air – and then get out of London. Immediately after talking to Jardine, Wisdom is contacted by Brian Braddock, who after talking to Scribe has learnt some startling information about the Hellfire Club, their plan and what is beneath London. The Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club, London Branch is an emergency meeting where the two colors of royalty, Red and Black are fighting with each other over the stages of the plan, as the Reds proceeded with it without contacting the Blacks. They go to Black Air HQ, where the Red King shows the Black King and Queen their new power link to the source beneath London – Douglock! The next morning, Excalibur leaves for London, unsure if they will be able to defeat Black Air. Brian, more concerned about the shapeshifter Mountjoy acquiring the power source, decides to become Captain Britain again. Elsewhere the Black Queen is visited by Onslaught, while the Red Queen and King begin the next stage of their plan. Revealing to be Margali Szardos in disguise, she summons power from the source beneath London, which is actually a demon. The demon is stringer than Margali and takes over her soul. No longer imprisoned it unleashes its power upon the people of London, who begin to riot and destroy their city. London goes up in flames.

Full Summary: 

Night time on Muir Island. Only a few hours after destroying Black Airs’ Acquisition Station in London, Excalibur has returned back to their home in Scotland. Now Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Meggan, Colossus and Wisdom are contemplating the teams’ next move. Wisdom tells his teammates that he knew Scratch when he worked at Black Air in British Intelligence. And knowing Scratch, if he has Douglock, then Douglock is probably dead. Wisdom continues, telling the others that Black Air kept about four or five mutant operatives like him once, but they all worked differently. The one thing Wisdom and Scratch did that was the same was kill people in the line of duty. Too many people Wisdom says. But while he killed only people who were killers and knew the costs involved, Scratch killed anything that moved.

(flashback to a time when Wisdom was still with Black Air)

One operation required Scratch to retrieve an alien artifact that was buried in a meteor, which had landed outside a remote country school in Norfolk. There were people in that school and Scratch killed them all. Wisdom heard all about it, and bumped into Scratch at Black Air HQ the next day. Scratch just smiled at Wisdom and said that is how it is done. Wisdom knew that Scratch would need a few seconds to get his electrical mutant power of voltcasting charged – so Wisdom kicked him in the gut before he had the chance to do so. Down on the ground, Wisdom kept punching Scratch in the face, and did not stop after puncturing his lungs. Eventually he tore off half of Scratch’s face – all without using his powers, before he was finally dragged off Scratch by security.


Looking back on it now, Wisdom thinks he should have incinerated Scratch’s brain back then when he had the chance. His girlfriend, founding Excalibur member Kitty Pryde, puts a comforting arm on Wisdom’s shoulder and tells him he scares her sometimes, before he tells her he scares himself sometimes.

Wisdom tells Nightcrawler, Excalibur’s leader, that story shows what kind of person Scratch is, and asks what their plan is. Kurt tells him that first they have to finish reading through all the files that they took from the Acquisition Station. Then they have to figure out how to break into Black Airs’ HQ in London, since that is the only other logical place Wisdom feels they could have taken Douglock. The only question remaining, Kurt feels, is how do they pull off breaking into Black Airs’ HQ, which is in the middle of London, and not come across looking like X-Force or the Mutant Liberation Front. After all, Excalibur are not terrorists, and Nightcrawler does not intend for this team to become criminal outlaws.

Looking rather sheepish, Meggan asks her friends what “Emolument” means. Wisdom tells her it means payment transfer of funds. Meggan tells everyone that the files she had been reading lists emoluments to members of parliament. Wisdom doesn’t believe her, but when the elemental shows him he is amazed. It seems Black Air was trafficking bribe money through the Acquisitions Station, and it was this cash which paid for the approving of Black Air taking over the role once held by the Weird Happenings Organization. Meggan finds that the file says that the money originated from “The Earl of Bute Society”. Wisdom tells Meggan that when he is in London next he will buy her some history books, as the Earl of Bute was a founding member of the original 8th century Hellfire Club, and this storefront is just a cover name.

Nightcrawler reminds the team that Alistaire Stuart said it was the Hellfire Club who paid for the bribes. Meggan tells everyone that in the note Brian left for her he had mentioned that Shinobi Shaw thought the Hellfire Club had been moving money through the government. Nightcrawler comments on how this is all getting very heavy, and wonders what they should do. Wisdom asks for an hour, in which he and Kitty will make some phone calls. Wisdom thinks that if he is right, they can rescue Douglock and come out not looking like the bad guys. Nightcrawler agrees, but tells them to get some sleep after it is done. He doesn’t want any fuzzy heads in the morning, which could cause mistakes.

Kitty, following Wisdom, asks her boyfriend what he is up to. He tells her they are going to the communications suite. He asks her if she remembers his friends from the Crown Pub in London, Jardine and Doyle. He tells Kitty that they are their outs, and they are going to give to Jardine and Doyle every incriminating thing that Kitty downloaded form the Acquisition Station. So while Excalibur are tearing Black Air apart from the inside, Wisdom’s friends will use the downloaded evidence to tear them apart from the outside.

At that same time, in London, a great column of fire is burning on the river, and is visible all across the city – even at Brian Braddock’s window at his hotel suite. As he watches the fire his skin tingles, thinking he should do something about it, but he is here to investigate the Inner Circle of the London Hellfire Club, so tries to think about something else. Suddenly the flames starts to fade, as if they were never there. A voice tells him that they have started and nothing will ever be the same. He turns around to look at Scribe and tells her that she is way overdue for an explanation.

The albino mutant Scribe, assistant to the London Inner Circle tells Brian Braddock that this is the testing stage of the Hellfire Clubs plan. That they have access to a power source, of ultimate force, and they have recently established a radio link between it and the Red Queen, a magician. Turning away from Braddock she tells him that there will be an emergency counsel of the Inner Circle, and as Scribe she must be there to record it. She is about to leave, but Brian stops her, asking what power source. Turning to face him, she seems scared. She tells him that the power source is something beneath London. The Red Queen‘s magic can access the power and with it she can affect the entire country – or any other country. Picking up his telephone, Brian says, “I see”.

Back on Muir Island again, in the communications suite, Wisdom is speaking on the phone, while Kitty stands behind him, her hands on his shoulders. Wisdom is speaking to his old friend Jardine. He tells Jardine that while he is sure he needs his sleep, he needs to listen to him. He asks Jardine if the line is secure, Jardine protests at been woken up at this time of night, and Wisdom tells him to just listen to everything he has to say like it was the word of God. In his bed Jardine tells Wisdom the line is secure, and that he trusts him. Lighting another cigarette Wisdom tells Jardine that in a few moments he is to give Wisdom the number of a secure modem line at his office, and he and Kitty are going to send to his computer some files. Wisdom tells Jardine that he is to make hard and back-up copies of the files and then get out of London with his friends and family.

Jardine asks Wisdom what he is sending. As head of Criminal Intelligence, he can get a few things done, but - Wisdom interrupts him telling Jardine that he is sending him proof that the Hellfire Club is influencing parliament, and military intelligence groups, specifically Black Air.
Wisdom tells Jardine, that when he is out of town, he is to get the data to anyone who can use it. He is to bring Black Air down, remove people from government, and seize Hellfire Club members’ assets – anything and everything. Wisdom adds that Jardine is to tell them all that it came from Excalibur, to give them their resume and some excellent references from the London law-enforcement community. But most importantly, he is to leave London this morning. Wisdom tells Jardine that Black Air has taken one of their teammates, they are coming for him, and things could get a little messy.

Wisdom hangs up on Jardine, and as he tells Kitty to dial up the modem number the phone rings. Wisdom tells Kitty that it is always bad news when the phone rings after midnight… Its Brian, who is not too happy that he has to speak to Wisdom, but this is important. Brian tells Wisdom that they have very serious trouble in London, and Excalibur needs to get here right away to put the Hellfire Club out of commission. Swearing, Wisdom tells Braddock that his timing stinks, as he just arranged for his friends to have the night to get out of London. In a very unusual move for Wisdom he tells Brian to hang on, as this isn’t about him, and as much as he hates to admit it to Brian, he is going to have to ask Nightcrawler about this. Running out of the comm room Wisdom asks someone to shoot him – he is actually becoming a team player! And as Brian Braddock waits on the other end of the phone, he knows that if worst comes to worst, he can probably handle things himself – he did bring “something” along with him…

On the other side of London, the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club has met for an emergency meeting. The Black Queen, amused, notes to herself on how the Inner Circle of royalty has finally split in colors – Black against Red! Angry at the Reds the Black King reminds them that there was to be consent between royalty on this project, and the Reds went against that agreement by testing the project without his or Steed’s agreement. He asks them if they have gone insane?
The Red King tells his Black counterpart that it was necessary to test the project quickly, and he had no time to search every bar in London for he, the Black King, and as usual Steed was unavailable to him.

Ms. Steed is not impressed by that remark, and the Black King tells the Red that he has had men hung by their entrails from Tower Bridge for just thinking what he said. The Red King tells the Black that posture is for when they have time, of which they currently do not. He says that it was vital they learn of the project’s efficiency immediately, and thanks to that they now know the link is working. They have a weapon – computer guided Hellfire – and suggests they all go to the project site, as the new development he arranged should be complete by now.

Not much later the Inner Circle are at a tall waterfront building on the docks that the general public dismisses as a folly. It seems to be just one of many eighties-stylish office blocks built in the economic boom period, which was left empty when the boom proved hollow. Those “in the know” call it the Blackwall, and do not go there – for it is the headquarters of Black Air! Inside the building, the Kings, Queens and Scribe walk through the cold corridors, where their Black Air servants meet them, as the Black Queen calls them. The Black King acknowledges them as Scicluna and Threadgold and asks how they are. Threadgold tells the Inner Circle that he and Scicluna are still the heads of Black Air and no-one’s servants. Scicluna tells the Club to excuse her partner, he has always been a Labour voter, and asks them to enter the Necromanteion.

The shelves around the walls are covered with bottles and jars of who-knows-what, and a single podium stands in the center of the room, with what appears to be a power cord running from it. The Red King explains to everyone that a Necromanteion is a magician’s workplace, so he thought it apt. After all, he continues, their work involves magic. Magic which was performed several hundred years ago by royalty – King James. Who wrote the famous translation of the bible, and also the work of Demonology – the Malleus Maleficarium. The founder of the Hellfire Club even held some of his more private writings, as they know.

The Red King is pleased, as the physical link is ready. He tells the others that the radio link to their power source was workable but impure, and it limited the amount of energy they could transfer. Pulling a cloth of the top of the podium, the Red King reveals the head of Douglock! He continues his story, that the Clubs friends in Black Air found a new link. A sentient mechanical creature, who by necessity had to pass energy through his body at the speed of thought. Once Douglock was unraveled he was perfect for their needs. The Red King tells the others that the Red Queen can access the power at this particular point. Douglock’s expression remains that of the one he held when the spear shot through him only the other night, and wrenched him from Muir Island. He is in pain, and stuck to the podium, with the rest of his body made into a single power cord, which extends down into the ground, and descends to the source.

Once there, it patches into the interface, which Sebastian Shaw gave to them, and Scratch planted in the sewers very recently. The chips are from a trident that supposedly belonged to the Devil‘s son and as it induces the flow of power, well, it must be true. The crypt beneath the city suddenly shudders, and wavers become transparent. Inside the crypt, there is nothing but fire, and the sketch of a demon - a creature that has no right being on Earth. There is a roar – and it all goes quiet again.

In London, Brian Braddock has not slept. He has been thinking about his fights. The big ones, the small ones…very few of them mattered as much as the one coming this morning. Nightcrawler told him to stay away from the Hellfire Club. The fact that one of them may be possessed by the shape-stealing mutant Mountjoy will have to wait. But, Brian thinks to himself, what if it’s Mountjoy who has been accelerating the Club’s plans? It is the Red King who has been pushing them, the Red King whom Scribe said had changed. What if the Red King is Mountjoy trying to access all that power for himself? Brian has to do something, he needs an edge though – lucky for him however, and he brought one. Opening his travel bag, Brian pulls out the helmet of his Captain Britain costume.

On Muir Island, Excalibur have made plans, but none of those plans have calmed down the fear in them, or the hate for the people that stole their friend and teammate from them. Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Meggan, Colossus, Wisdom and Wolfsbane are a team. They have no time to be scared or angry though. They walk towards the plane as one, and Kitty tells Wisdom not to get himself hurt or killed. He tells her he wouldn’t dare, she’d never speak to him again. There is no time to say that other “little word” either.

In London, the Black Queen‘s room is illuminated by candlelight. She is on her bed, though she needs little sleep. Holding a glass of red wine, she is fascinated by the book she is reading – an obscure tome about Spanish torture. Quite abruptly Steed is aware of a ripping noise, something tearing through reality to get to her. It is Onslaught. She shows a little fear, because she knows it pleases him. But even for the usually aloof Black Queen it is difficult to repress the primal terror he creates. Menacingly he stands over her and tells her there shall soon be a gathering, and asks if she is ready. No she says. But that doesn’t matter does it?

Still at the Necromanteion inside the Blackwall, the Red Queen has seduced the Red King, and the two appear to be engaged in sexual intercourse. The King mumbles to the Queen, who tells him to be quiet. She asks him if he loves her. She asks him if he will die for her. She tells him to bar the door, and climbing off of him she tells him if he fails, he will never see her again. In the next room, the Red Queen touches Douglock on the nose, saying “Hello little dead boy”. Hands clasped around his head she thinks it is funny. She was never a pretty girl, after all, circus folk rarely ate well in her day, and on her it showed.

She continues talking to Douglock. She tells the “Little dead boy” that in the last while, she has gorged. She took the Soulsword and used it to kill every magician ahead of her on the Winding Way, the path of mystical power. It was then that she learned what was under London, the promise of even more power than the vast amount she already had. She activates the link, and asks the “Little dead boy” if he knows what they will say? She tells him they will say, “Who cares what Margali Szardos looks like? For she stripped the power of a caged – “ suddenly something goes wrong, Margali’s young lithe body suddenly ages some, and her hands become infused with Douglock’s, she cannot feel them anymore. In anguish, she cries out that it is hungry, and she cannot contain it – the link is too pure. Margali says it has been caged, hungry starving and evil for centuries. The link is fused open and she cannot break it. Her blackened eyes open up, now with teeth glowing, Margali’s eyes speak. “Cant stop it” “Let it out”. With that, Black Air‘s headquarters, the Blackwall, catches fire.

In the streets of London, awesome and terrible fingers of fire reach up from the Earth, grasping for people’s lives. These fingers of fire strike at cars and buildings, and a demonic voice rings in the heads of the people of London, speaking directly to the hate in them, and within minutes the fires and mobs and murder and destruction all begin. London goes mad. All over the city, Londoners are destroying their city and killing each other- all to feed a beast, who, unknown to them all, has been living underneath them all for centuries. The Devil under London has been locked up for too long, and it is evil that sustains him. For too long he has been subsisting of the thin echoes of London murder, corruption and hatred. With one sweep of his hand he unleashes the evil that lives in everyone’s head. His image towers over a burning London, scaring the sky for an instant. Then he returns to his now open cage to feed upon the horror. And London burns.

Characters Involved: 

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

several civilians in London

Jardine, ally of Pete Wisdom

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

Scribe, assistant to the London Inner Circle

The Demon under London

Scicluna, Threadgold (both heads of Black Air)


In flashback:

Pete Wisdom


several other Black Air agents

Story Notes: 

Douglock was kidnapped by Black Air in issue #96.

Having spent her entire childhood locked away in her family’s caravan, Meggan was illiterate and only began to learn writing and reading in the early issues of Excalibur. Though literate now, she still doesn’t have the same vocabulary as most other people, hence her question about what “emolument” means. Probably it is the first time she has come across the word.

Shadowcat met Pete Wisdom’s friends in Excalibur #88.

Ms. Steed’s reading of Spanish torture would fit very well with her character as her choice of weapon in the Inner Circle is a cat-of-nine-tails whip.

Margali has possessed the Soulsword since Excalibur #85, where behind the scenes she killed those ahead of her on the Winding Way, and began to wear a new body, the same one she is wearing now.

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