X-Force (1st series) #98

Issue Date: 
January 2000
Story Title: 

John Francis Moore (writer), Jim Cheung (penciler), Mark Morales (inker), Marie Javins (colorist), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Lysa Kraiger (assistant editor), Jason Liebig (editor), Bob Harras (editor-in-chief)

Brief Description: 

Sunspot wakes to find himself in an illusion cast be Selene where he is a celebrated hero. Selene reveals herself, impressed that Sunspot saw through her illusion, she informs him that he is in the Hellfire Club, and that his teammates are all involved in illusions of their own - Proudstar finds himself at Camp Verde, moments before the massacre, Meltdown is shown the body of the man called Tiger, whose head has been blown off, Cannonball is trapped in a mine cave in, and Bedlam is put into a padded cell. Selene reveals that Moonstar, her biggest threat, is being looked after by an associate. Selene tells Sunspot that she wants him to join the Hellfire Club, and casts him into another illusion, where he is an advisor to the President on mutant affairs. Sunspot is still not interested, and flies away. Selene’s associate - Blackheart - reveals himself and tells Selene that if she wants Sunspot, she will have to use the girl. The illusions are still playing out, as Meltdown is being interrogated about her involvement in Tiger’s death, until Sunspot bursts in and frees her. They rescue Cannonball next, and meet up with Proudstar, who has freed Bedlam. X-Force are then attacked by Hellfire Club guards. Moonstar is being held in stasis by Blackheart - until Hela arrives, pointing out that Moonstar is under her protection and that no harm shall befall her. Blackheart is no match for Hela and forced to release Moonstar. Moonstar then meets up with her teammates and uses her quantum powers to make the Hellfire guards disappear, before announcing Selene is working with Blackheart. They are then attacked by a demon, and Selene and Blackheart appear, revealing that Juliana Sandoval is in their possession, explaining that when she was shot by the Hellfire Club all those years ago she was not meant to die. Sunspot is amazed to see her, and told that they can give Juliana a second lease on life if he joins the Hellfire Club. X-Force try to talk him out of it, but Sunspot eventually agrees. X-Force are free to leave the Hellfire Club, and discuss Sunspot’s decision. Inside the Hellfire Club, Sunspot realizes he is now a member of the Hellfire Club, and asks Selene to keep up her end of the bargain. Selene does, revealing that in a Baltimore hospital a young woman was brought into the emergency room suffering from a massive cerebral aneurysm, and that her soul has passed on - and that Juliana’s soul is now entering her new body. Juliana rises and calls out to Sunspot, while Selene tells him that eventually she will forget that she was ever a girl named Juliana Sandoval, but that is the price you pay for a second chance.

Full Summary: 

Bobby “Sunspot” DaCosta wakes from an uneasy slumber. Haunted by a disturbed and uncomfortable dream. He was fifteen again, playing futebol in a Sao Paolo stadium, scoring goal after goal, leading his team to victory. Then when he turned to acknowledge the crowd’s roaring adulation, the stands were empty - except for an angel - his angel - Juliana. To see her again, even in a dream, makes him ache with pain and regret. Still, he tries to hold onto the image of her face, the way the afternoon sun spun her hair white gold - but dreams are fragile things, and this one is washed away by the unfamiliar reality of his surroundings….

Sitting up in the large bed, wearing only a pair of boxer shorts, Bobby wonders where he is. ‘What am I doing in a hotel room? And an expensive one by the looks of things? I shouldn’t be…’ the young mutant hero thinks to himself. Suddenly, a voice calls out ‘Rise and shine, sleepyhead!’. ‘Who?’ Bobby asks, as a middle-aged man appears before him. ‘Bobby, sweetie. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten Lenny Delmonico - your friend, your confidant, your agent - the man who made you the international phenomenon you are today!’. As Delmonico hands Bobby his costume, Bobby looks at him and tells him that he has no idea what he is talking about.

‘Enough with the kidding, Bobby. It’s almost one and we got a busy day ahead. Photo shoots, interviews, personal appearances, and the video music awards show tonight. So get dressed already’ Delmonico exclaims. ‘I think you’ve got me confused with someone else’ Bobby replies. Delmonico opens the French doors which lead to the balcony, and tells Bobby not to play humble with him. ‘You and I both know you’re the idol of millions. See for yourself!’

Fully clothed, Bobby steps onto the balcony and before him lies a sea of adoring fans, all shouting ‘Sunspot! Sunspot!’ and carrying signs like “Marry me Bobby”, “Bobby we love you” and “Bobby 4ever”. Delmonico tells Bobby to face it, that everybody and their grandmother loves him. ‘You’re a solar-powered sensation!’. ‘This is insane!’ Sunspot exclaims. A little girl climbs up the side of the balcony, ‘Bobby!’ she cries, adoringly. ‘Oh my gosh! I can’t believe how much cuter you are in person!’ she exclaims, introducing herself as Belinda Cisneros. ‘And I know you’re busy saving the world and everything, but can I have your autograph?’ she asks. ‘Um…we’re ten stories up…aren’t you taking a big risk asking for an autograph?’ Bobby asks.

‘This is nothing. Remember that cheerleader who tried to skydive into your Malibu ranch?’ Delmonico asks. ‘The other girls in the Moreno Valley Fan Club are going to die when they find out I met y-’ the little girl exclaims, only to suddenly fall from the balcony. Bobby powers up and dives off the balcony, telling her to hold on. ‘No one’s going to fall to their death over me!’ Sunspot declares, reaching the little girl, he catches her in his arms. ‘Oh my…’ Belinda exclaims. ‘You could’ve been killed pulling a crazy stunt like that!’ Bobby tells her, hovering in the air. ‘But you were there to save me. This is exactly how I imagined it would…oh my…’ the little girls exclaims as she swoons.

‘Poor mixed up girl, she fainted’ Bobby remarks, before he flies back inside and places her on the sofa. ‘That was great, Bobby-O, but the next time, tell me in advance so I can get it on film - then we do a pay-per view special, followed by a video/DVD release. What d’ya think?’ I’ll tell you exactly what I think as soon as I put this girl down…’ Bobby replies, before spinning around and grabbing Delmonico, exclaiming ‘Okay, here’s the deal, I think you’re messing with my mind, and I don’t like it!’. Delmonico tells Bobby to lighten up, and exclaims that he is on top of the world here.

‘No, I don’t know where I am right now. But I should be with X-Force’ Sunspot replies, pointing out that the last thing he remembers was watching Dani Moonstar and Arcadia Deville destroy a Celestial robot called a gatherer that caused Selene, who was controlling the robot, to turn on X-Force with a vengeance. Sunspot looks around and remarks that this is beginning to make sense to him now. ‘Selene’s always struck out at anyone who stands between her and what she wants. You can come out now, Selene. I’m through playing games’ Bobby declares.

Selene a.k.a. the Black Queen materializes in the room, as Delmonico vanishes. ‘I’m impressed, Roberto. Few people can see through such elaborate illusions’ Selene smirks. ‘You must admit, it’s an attractive fantasy’ Selene adds. Bobby asks her if she really thought he would buy this charade for a moment. ‘I’m a mutant. In the real world, people like me are hated, hunted and feared, not treated like celebrities’.

Bobby frowns at Selene as he declares ‘You’ve been toying with me since our paths crossed in Sao Paolo, and I’m tired of it. Now, tell me what you’ve done to the rest of X-Force, before I make things really hot for you’. Selene smiles and tells Roberto that there is no need for threats. ‘Like yourself, your friends are guests of the Hellfire Club’.

Selene tells Bobby that each member of X-Force is ensconced in one of the club’s nightmare chambers, rooms in which the darker side of the subconscious takes on a tangible reality. ‘Right now, I imagine each of your friends is coming face-to-face with one of their own personal demons. ‘For example, how many times has James Proudstar blamed himself for the Camp Verde reservation massacre?’ Selene asks. ‘If only he had been there that night, perhaps he could have stopped Stryfe’s death squad - or perhaps he would have simply watched everyone he loved on the reservation die before his eyes’.

‘Run! Get out of town before it’s too late!’ James Proudstar shouts as he speeds through the illusionary Camp Verde. ‘They’re going to kill you all unless you do something! Are you listening to me? I’m trying to save your lives!’ James shouts. ‘Why isn’t anyone listening?’

Selene continues, telling Bobby that Tabitha Smith - ‘Meltdown - if you insist on those ridiculous code names your people love - is facing a different dilemma’. Selene informs Bobby that Tabitha is confronting her own dirty little secret, one she ran away from a long time ago. ‘Why she feels any remorse over her actions, I’ll never understand. A young runaway on the streets of New York’s alphabet city has to do what she can to survive’.

‘C’mere, Smith. We want to show you something’ a detective tells Tabitha, pulling her towards a alleyway, cordoned off by Police. ‘I don’t need to see nothing’ Tabitha tells the detective. ‘What’s the matter, Smith? Guilty conscience?’ another detective asks as they lead Tabitha over to the cordoned off area, where a burly man lies face down in the alleyway. ‘Recognize him, sweetheart? Maurice Antonini, but everybody calls him the Tiger’. The detective points out that the Tiger won’t be getting up because his head was blown off. ‘You wouldn’t happen to know anything about this?’ he asks. ‘N-n-no…’ Tabitha whispers.

Selene informs Sunspot that the uptight Sam “Cannonball” Guthrie, X-Force’s leader, has returned to his roots as well. ‘You can take the boy out of the Kentucky coal mines, but you can’t take the mines out of the boy’ Selene jokes, adding ‘Imagine being forced to support a family of six at sixteen. That’s more responsibility than anyone that age should have to bear’ she exclaims.

‘Front end’s collapsed on us, Sam. We’re trapped!’ a miner tells Sam. ‘Don’t worry, I can get us all out!’ Sam exclaims, but the miner tells him not to bother. Coughing, he tells Sam that they are all dead anyway. ‘We all got the black lung’. These mines are gonna kill us just like it did your daddy!’

Selene tells Sunspot that X-Force’s newest member, Jesse “Bedlam” Aaronson is losing his precarious hold on his sanity. ‘Did you know he’s dependent on psychoactive drugs to control his neurochemistry?’ Selene asks.

Wearing a straight-jacket, Bedlam is lead down a corridor. ‘There’s been a mistake. I don’t belong here!’ he exclaims. ‘Doctors say you’re paranoid and subject to delusional episodes, Jesse’ one of the orderlies declares. ‘I don’t need to be institutionalized, I just need my medication!’ he exclaims. ‘Sorry, buddy, there’s no cure for you’ the other orderly tells him, shoving Jesse into a padded cell. ‘I’m not CRAZY!’ Bedlam shouts. ‘I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy’.

Sunspot and Selene stand before four frames on a wall, each depicting one of the four who are trapped in their own illusions. ‘Okay, so you’re putting everyone though a customized psychodrama, trying to break their spirits’ Sunspot exclaims, telling Selene that this is not going to work, as they are stronger than that. ‘We can’t be broken!’ he declares. ‘Anyone’s spirit can be crushed, Roberto. One needs only to feed the fear and guilt that eat away at a man’s soul’ Selene replies. Bobby asks where Dani is. ‘She’s not part of this nightmare gallery you’re showing me’ he points out. ‘Are you trying to pay her back for spoiling your fun with the Celestial robot?’ Bobby asks.

Selene frowns and points out that this is not the first time Danielle Moonstar has cost her an instrument of great power. ‘She also kept the rune staff of Yggdrasil from my possession’ Selene declares, informing Bobby that she has left Moonstar in the care of an associate who will see that she doesn’t interfere with her ever again. ‘And this is how you plan to convince me to join the Hellfire Club - by threatening my friends?’ Sunspot asks. Selene puts a hand on Bobby’s shoulder and tells him that his friends are holding him back. ‘I’m offering membership and eventually…inevitably…a seat in the Inner Circle’ Selene tells him, adding that translates to real power. ‘The kind of power even your father never had’.

‘My father was consumed by his greed, and he died because of it. I’m not going to walk down that path’ Sunspot replies, telling Selene that if she thinks she has such keen insight into his character, then she should know why he will never be a part of it. ‘Ah, yes, the girl. A tragedy, I admit, but the Club is no longer the one you knew’ Selene assures Bobby, before promising to make amends for any injustice done to him. ‘Simply allow me to give you a taste of things to come’ Selene asks, as Bobby’s costume is suddenly replaced by a suit. ‘Some things you can never make up…certainly not with a chance of clothes’.

Selene tells Bobby that he is he going to posses power, he will have to dress the part, and suddenly, Bobby finds himself in the Oval Office. ‘And that’s the President!’ Bobby exclaims. ‘Another illusion? Or is this a nightmare chamber, too?’ Bobby asks. ‘Think of it as your future’ Selene tells him. ‘Bobby, thanks for coming on such short notice’ the President exclaims, staring out his window. The President and Bobby shake hands, as the President tells Bobby that it looks like he needs his help again. ‘My help? Right. Like the President of the United States would ever need my help’ Bobby replies.

The President tells Bobby that he wouldn’t be in this office if it weren’t for his efforts to put him here. ‘I look to you for guidance’ the President tells him. ‘Without your insight, that whole Genosha fiasco would have turned into a full-scale war. Now I need your help at home. Senator Trask is looking to restart his father’s Sentinel program’ the President exclaims. ‘As a member of the Inner Circle you would control the politicians who determine national policy’ Selene whispers into Bobby’s ear. ‘You could dismantle the Sentinel program without lifting a finger. Aren’t you tired of being another soldier in the trenches? Do you really want to spend the rest of your life living underground?’ Selene asks.

Bobby suddenly powers-up and tells Selene that it is a nice pitch. ‘And your visual aids are very compelling - but I am not my father. I don’t want any part of the Hellfire Club!’ he exclaims, unleashing a blast of solar energy at the phoney President. ‘Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to find my friends and get as far away from you as I can!’ Bobby declares, taking flight.

Knocked to her feet, Selene gets up, as a horrid voice says to her ‘Apparently you are not as persuasive as you would like to think, my queen’. ‘Aren’t you confined to the lower levels of the building, Blackheart?’ Selene asks the demon, as fiery energy lashes around him. ’The boundaries imposed by Damion Hellstrom’s magics limit me to the Hellfire Club’s underground levels…but they do not bind the son of Mephisto’s astral form!’ Blackheart boasts. Selene asks Blackheart how long he has been watching, to which Blackheart replies ‘Long enough’ and asks her why she is so intent on converting the DaCosta child. ‘Should I be jealous?’ he asks.

‘Let me remind you that our relationship is strictly business. I’ve found demons to be lousy and potentially lethal lovers’ Selene replies, before admitting that her interest in Roberto is person. ‘His father and I were always at odds in the Inner Circle. I hope Emmanuel DaCosta is spinning in his grave knowing that his only son will soon be under my thumb!’. Selene adds that once they deprogram all of Xavier’s cant out of him, Roberto will make a fine Rook. ‘Take this advice from the lord of deceit and corruption, your offers of fame and power will not sway DaCosta. To entrap a noble soul, you must appeal to his heroic instincts. You’ll need the girl’ Blackheart declares. ‘My plan all along’ Selene replies.

Back inside Meltdown’s nightmare, Tabitha sits on a chair in a darkened room, while one of the detectives asks ‘So you used those fancy schmancy time bombs to pop Antonini, huh?’. The other detective remarks that it is too bad a girl who can create plasma projectiles and manipulate them ends up here. ‘Bet your mommy’s proud’ he adds. Tabitha tells him not to talk about her parents, and asks them why they even care. ‘Everybody knows Tiger was a nasty speed-freak who liked beating up girls and worse for kicks’. ‘This isn’t about what you did, it’s about what you’ve done. Now, you may think you’re a tough chick with these fireworks, but I think you’re nothing but a scared little girl’ one of the detectives exclaims.

Tabitha cries and plasma time bombs float around her. ‘He was coming at me with a knife…what was I supposed to do…let him cut me up like he did my friend Gina?’ Tabitha asks, claiming that she didn’t mean to, but that Tiger kept coming at her - suddenly, a door slams open - and Sunspot announces that this interrogation is over. ‘Hey, pal. We’re working in here!’ one of the detectives exclaims. Sunspot grabs Tabitha and begins shaking his ex-girlfriend by the shoulders, telling her that none of this is real. ‘Bobby? You’re not supposed to…what are you doing here?’ Tabitha asks.

Bobby takes Tabitha into the hall, and Tabitha exclaims that she is so confused. Bobby informs her that she is in the Hellfire Club in New York City, and that Selene is playing games with them, making them suffer for interfering with her latest grab for power. ‘I should’ve known that…guess I got disorientated when she zapped us halfway around the world’ Tabitha remarks. Bobby tells her that it is the rooms as well, nightmare chambers that somehow make your deepest fears and regrets. Tabitha tells Bobby that she doesn’t know what he heard in there, and if it changes the way he thinks of her, she understands. Bobby replies that it doesn’t change anything. ‘I know who you are. I know it was self-defense’.

Tabitha smiles and tells Bobby that he is a better guy than people give him credit for. ‘Me included’ Tab admits. ‘That’s not what Selene thinks. She thinks my dark side makes me prime material for the Hellfire Club fast track’ Bobby reveals. ‘Would you really want to join a club that makes you wear those stupid old clothes? Not even’ Tabitha exclaims, while Sunspot opens another door and suggests they look for the rest of the team, but the first door reveals nothing. ‘Bingo. I think I hear Sam’s voice behind this one’ Tabitha reveals, opening another door.

Cannonball finds several other miners gathering around him as they try to dig their way out of the mine. ‘It’s no use. Every time you clear an opening another part of the shaft collapses’ one of them coughs. ‘You’re wasting what little oxygen’s left us’ another declares. Sam replies that he refuses to give up, declaring that there is always a way out. ‘Boy, there’s a fine line between persistent and stubborn’ one of the miners tells him. ‘Working these mines killed my father. I’m not going to let them take anyone else’ Sam declares.

Suddenly, there is a loud noise. ‘Another cave in?’ Sam asks. ‘No. The cavalry’ Meltdown exclaims. ‘Can you say “mind game”?’ Bobby asks. ‘We’ve got to get these men to a hospital!’ Sam calls out. Tabby and Bobby prop Sam up and lead him out of the chamber. ‘I know you mean well, Sam, but listen carefully, they’re just figments of your subconscious…’ Tabitha tells him. ‘Wait…don’t tell me…Selene’ Sam exclaims. ‘You’re not the only one who feels foolish for not figuring it out sooner’ Bobby tells his best friend. Sam informs Tab and Bobby that sometimes he feels guilty because he escaped the mines and got out of Cumberland, while his dad and that generation never did.

Elsewhere, James Proudstar has found Jesse, lying on the floor of the padded cell in his straightjacket. ‘Jesse, it’s me - James Proudstar’ he calls out, shaking his teammate. ‘You’re not James. James doesn’t exist. You’re a delusion. Like the rest of X-Force’ Bedlam replies, eyes glazed over. ‘See, I’m crazy. I can’t pretend I have friends. I can’t have a normal life’. ‘Looks like we’re not the first to arrive’ Sunspot announces as he, Cannonball and Meltdown arrive. Sam asks James how he managed to escape his own personal guilt trip, to which James replies that it took a while for him to realize what was happening. ‘I was caught in the middle of the Camp Verde massacre. Everyone I knew was dying all around me and I couldn’t do anything to stop their killers or save their lives’ he explains.

James continues, revealing that he then realized the nerve gas was not affecting him, and if it wasn’t affecting him, then none of it was real. ‘After that, I was able to shut out the illusion and find the door’. James tells his friends that he heard Jesse down the hallway screaming, and arrived just before the three of them did. ‘He’s pretty far gone. He thinks we’re the illusion’ James explains. Cannonball points out that Jesse is the only one of them who has had no experience with this kind of artificially-created reality. ‘There are times I wish we had a full-fledged telepath on the team’ Sam adds. ‘You don’t have to be Jean Grey to handle this’ Meltdown boasts as she walks over to Jesse. ‘Tabitha, what are you -’ Sam exclaims, before Tabitha shouts ‘C’mon, Jesse, snap out of it!’ and slaps him across the face.

‘YEOW!’ Bedlam shouts, before following the others out of the chamber. ‘I know I lost it for a moment, but did you have to hit me?’ he asks, rubbing his face. ‘It works on RV all the time’ Meltdown replies. Sunspot tells his former teammates that they need to find Danielle and get out of here. ‘I want to put as much distance between me and the Hellfire Club as we can’ Bobby adds. Suddenly though, ‘Not gonna happen, muties!’ one of the Hellfire Club guards shouts as a group of them confront the young heroes. ‘No one walks out on the Black Queen!’ another exclaims, before X-Force and Sunspot engage the Hellfire Club guards in battle.

Sam blasts through several of them, telling Bedlam to be careful, as some of the Hellfire Club soldiers are cyborgs. ‘After they got cut up by Wolverine a few tears back, the Inner Circle had them rebuilt’ Proudstar explains. ‘Don’t know about that. If these mooks were even partially mechanical, my power’d make their prosthetics malfunction’ Bedlam replies. ‘Since that’s not happening, I’d say these guys are one hundred percent human!’ Jesse adds, while Sunspot punches on in the face, and Meltdown throws around her time-bombs.

‘You’re wrong. They signed away their humanity the day they joined the Hellfire Club!’ Sunspot declares, reminding his friends that the Hellfire Club killed the first girl he ever loved, so as far as he is concerned, they are all monsters without souls or - he stops in his tracks as a face-plate falls off one of the soldiers. ‘I was right when I said they were monsters. They’re demons!’ Sunspot announces. ‘Demons? Didn’t we fill our demon quota by taking out Pandemonia a few months back?’ Bedlam asks. ‘Looks like Selene’s put the Hell back in the Hellfire Club’ Sam remarks, while Meltdown unleashes another plasma time-bomb and exclaim that she hopes Dani is doing better than this.

At that moment, in the lowest levels of the Hellfire Club building, ‘LET ME OYT OF HERE!’ Danielle Moonstar shouts, stuck in a strange force bubble. Blackheart flips through one of the many books in the room and asks if it is too much for a little quiet while he reviews his ledger. Blackheart remarks that it appears that some of the inferno’s bookkeepers have been remiss in the accounting of souls. ‘Right off the top at least two senators, seven investment bankers, three Silicon Valley CEOs and one cardinal are late in paying his devil due’.

‘I feel so sorry for you’ Moonstar tells him sarcastically. Blackheart tells Moonstar that she really should be more respectful when speaking to the Lord of the Inferno, while Danielle thinks to herself that she is just trying to keep him distracted while she attempts to crack herself free. Blackheart looks at Moonstar and informs her that her reality warping powers are of no use here. ‘The containment sphere is not of this Earthly plane, and is not subject to the physical laws and order’ he adds. ‘Seems to me I’m getting through’ Dani exclaims.

Blackheart realises that she is, and remarks that Moonstar is more powerful than Selene led him to believe. ‘If you wield power enough to sunder an infernal sphere, you are too dangerous to allow to live!’ he declares. Blackheart asks Moonstar if he mentioned that if she dies by his hand, her soul becomes indentured to him, and tells her not to be sad. ‘Heaven isn’t all it’s cracked up to be’. Dani looks in pain, and screams, ‘I’m burning up’ she remarks, when, suddenly, a voice not of this realm declares ‘That will be enough, Mephisto spawn!’

Hela appears, informing Blackheart that Danielle Moonstar’s soul belongs to her, the Goddess of Death. ‘Asgardian Goddess of Death, to be more precise’ Blackheart tells her, before pointing out that she doesn’t exactly have jurisdiction here. But Hela tells Blackheart that his actions violate the covenant of Underworlds. Blackheart asks Hela to forgive him for not following the protocols, pointing out that he finds them rather stuffy, before asking her what her interest in Moonstar is. ‘Didn’t think the Norse Gods had many Native American believers’ Blackheart remarks.

‘As long as even the smallest amount of Asgardian blood flows in her veins, she is mine!’ Hela booms. ‘Maybe that flies in the other eight realms, but you’re in New York City. As I remind an exorcist I know possession is nine tenths of the law’ Blackheart tells Hela. ‘Are you willing to go to war with me, little sprite?’ Hela booms, as everything in the room begins to swirl around. ‘Hmmm…when you put it that way…no…not at the present moment’ Blackheart replies.

Hela vanishes and the room returns to normal, while the infernal sphere fades. ‘Great. Bad enough I’m trapped in the Hellfire Club with the son of Mephisto…now I find out Hela wants payback for the time she used me against my Valkyrie sisters in Asgard!’ Moonstar declares. Blackheart tells Moonstar that it appears she is free to go. ‘Although, with Hela waiting for you, I wouldn’t be too quick to leave. I could help you, but you’d have to sign a contract’ Blackheart tells her.

Back upstairs, Bobby, Sam, James, Tab and Jesse are overwhelmed by the demonic Hellfire Club guards. ‘No matter how many of these guys I take out, more take their place!’ James exclaims. Bedlam exclaims that he has no room to use any of the martial arts moves he learned from Delphi’s memory box. ‘Fell like I’m trapped in the mosh pit at Woodstock ‘99’ he jokes. ‘Too many…the odds are turning against us!’ Sam exclaims, when suddenly, the room begins to sparkle. ‘They’re all vanishing…’ Meltdown exclaims. ‘Ah think we just got lucky’ Sam declares, as Danielle Moonstar appears before them, glowing with quantum energy, she tells them that she is sorry it took so long for her to get her. ‘I found out the demons vanished when I used my power on them. Couldn’t stay on Earth’ she explains.

Sam helps the weary Dani up and tells her that he is so glad to see her, while Dani announces that Selene is in league with the demon Blackheart. ‘That explains the George Romero mob we met’ Sam jokes. Meltdown exclaims that she never much liked dealing with the supernatural, to which James points out that if they were in San Francisco they could bring in Jennifer Kale. ‘I don’t get why this is happening to us. You guys must have ticked off a lot of serious players in the past’ Bedlam mutters as they walk down a corridor. Sunspot informs everyone that Selene wants him to join the Hellfire Club. ‘She doesn’t know how to take no for an answer’ he tells Bedlam.

Sam tells everyone that they need to slip out the back way, and motions to a window, supposing that is as good an exit as any. Suddenly, massive tentacles bust through the floor and grab the six mutant heroes. ‘WHAT?’ Dani exclaims. ‘Am I the only one feeling way too Sarah Michelle Gellar-ish right now?’ Meltdown asks. ‘No one’s leaving yet, X-Force!’ Selene exclaims, while Sunspot asks her if she ever gives up. Selene smiles, standing next to Blackheart, and tells Roberto that they are still in negotiation. ‘That is why I brought Blackheart with me. ‘I understand you met him once before in his native realm.

Blackheart stands with a cloaked figure before him and remarks that this is an opportunity Sunspot cannot afford to refuse. ‘Join us and the world is yours to shape to your liking. Walk away, and you will regret it for the rest of your life’ he declares. ‘I think I’ll take that chance’ Bobby replies, asking Selene if she is through. ‘Allow me one last chance to change your mind. My appeal to your vanity failed, as did my offer of power. Let me offer you a more personal incentive’ Selene announces, before telling Blackheart to introduce Roberto to their guest. Blackheart pulls back the cloak on the mysterious person - and Bobby’s jaw drops. ‘No…it can’t be!’ he gasps.

Roberto DaCosta stares into a face he thought lost to him forever. She is even more beautiful - more angelic - than he remembered - but her eyes register no awareness of her surroundings, or of Bobby - for she is a phantom soul, trapped in the limbo between life and death. ‘JULIANA!’ Sunspot shouts. ‘How DARE you? This isn’t Juliana Sandoval! It can’t be!’ he shouts at Selene, as he remembers how Juliana died while saving him from one of the Hellfire Club’s soldiers. ‘I held her as she bled to death in my arms!’ Bobby exclaims.

Selene and Blackheart close in one Bobby, and Selene assures him by her true name that this is no illusion, no artifice of smoke and mirrors. ‘The girl that stands before you is Juliana Sandoval, the first and only girl to whom you ever gave your heart…trust your heart, and you’ll know I’m not lying’. ‘How can this be possible?’ Sunspot wonders, to which Blackheart informs him that the other side doesn’t want this publicly known, but that sometimes mistakes are made. ‘Juliana was meant to survive that gunshot wound, but someone in processing screwed up - and since she wasn’t scheduled for the Elysian Fields quite yet, she ended up in Purgatory’ Blackheart reveals.

‘You can give her another chance at life, Bobby. All you have to do is join the Club’ Blackheart tells Sunspot. Moonstar informs Bobby that Blackheart is the Lord of Deception and tells him not to believe him. ‘You can’t make a deal with the Devil. Haven’t you seen those old Twilight Zones?’ Tabitha asks. James agrees, and tells Bobby not to do it, while Bedlam declares that he has to agree with the team, that this seems like a really bad idea. ‘The Hellfire Club killed Juliana. Don’t let them use her memory against you!’ Sam tells his best friend.

Bobby touches Juliana’s face and powers-down, remarking that he knows it is too good to be true. ‘But looking into her eyes, I know it’s her. I feel it’ he tells his friends, while telling Juliana that he is so sorry for all the pain he caused her. ‘Bobby…?’ Juliana whispers. ‘It’s so cold, Bobby. Why is it so cold?’ she asks, confused. Selene tells Sunspot that the decision belongs to him. ‘Serve as my new Black Rook, and she will find new life’. ‘If you refuse, she returns to the limbo in which I found her‘ Blackheart warns Bobby, who asks Selene ‘You can really bring her back?’. Selene smirks, and tells Bobby ‘That’s exactly up to you’.

With great deliberation, Roberto DaCosta makes up his mind, knowing full well that his life will never be the same again.

An hour later, Sam, Dani, James, Tabitha and Jesse walk downtown. ‘How could Bobby say yes? He knows that Selene and Blackheart can’t be trusted’ Dani exclaims. ‘Guess he still had it hot and heavy for that Juliana babe’ Bedlam remarks. James points out that it was more than that though, as Juliana died saving Bobby’s life. ‘Every minute of every hour since then he owes to her. Until now, that’s the debt he could never repay’. ‘Yeah, but the deal was made under…what’s the word…duress. It doesn’t count’ exclaims Meltdown.

Tabitha suggests that they should get a lawyer, and if that doesn’t work, just bust Bobby out of the Hellfire Club. Sam tells Tabitha that he doesn’t like this any more than she, but that Bobby made it clear that his decision stands. ‘We have to respect that, even if we don’t like it. When Bobby’s ready to leave, Ah’m sure he’ll let us know…’.

And at that moment, Bobby stares out a window at the Hellfire Club, telling himself that his friends think he is crazy to surrender to Selene. ‘But I see no other choice. Not if it involves giving Juliana the second chance she gave me’. Bobby admits to himself that he is a member of the Hellfire Club now. ‘God help me’. Suddenly, Selene materializes beside Sunspot, and tells him to come along, that they have much to do before they present him formally to the Club. ‘What about your end of the bargain, Selene?’ Bobby asks. Selene replies that, as they speak, Juliana is about to begin her new life.

Selene informs Sunspot that today in Baltimore, a young woman Juliana’s age was brought to a hospital emergency room suffering from a massive cerebral aneurysm. ‘The woman’s soul has already moved on, long before her body acknowledges its absence’ Selene adds, revealing that into this body, Juliana’s essential being will be placed. ‘It will be traumatic for Juliana at first, to find herself bound once more by mortal flesh. She will be disorientated. When she will tell them she is not the woman they thinks she is, her doctors will attribute her eccentricities (and her fluency in Portuguese) to the aneurysm.

Selene assures Sunspot that, in time however she will embrace that woman’s life and family as her own. ‘It will be simpler that way. Eventually she will forget that she was ever a girl named Juliana Sandoval. But that’s the price you pay for a second chance’ Selene declares.

And indeed, at that moment, in a Baltimore hospital operating theatre, ‘We’ve done all we could. Call it, nurse’ a doctor calls out. ‘Time of death. One forty seven AM’ a nurse replies while the doctor covers up the body. There is a flash of energy over the woman’s body, and the doctor announces that he will inform the family. ‘She was so young’ the nurse adds. Suddenly, one of the monitors hooked up to the body begins to beep. ‘Doctor…’ the nurse exclaims as they spin around. ‘Incredible…’ the doctor declares, and the woman sits up on the table… ‘’Berto?’ she asks….

Characters Involved: 

Bedlam II, Cannonball, Meltdown, Moonstar, Proudstar (all X-Force)

Sunspot (former member of X-Force)

Juliana Sandoval




Hellfire Club Soldiers / Demons

Surgical team

In Sunspot’s Illusion


Lenny Delmonico, Bobby’s agent

In Proudstar’s Illusion

Tribe members

In Meltdown’s Illusion



Maurice Antonini

In Cannonball’s Illusion


In Bedlam’s Illusion


In Sunspot’s Second Illusion

President of the United States

In Flashback Illustration
Bobby DaCosta

Juliana Sandoval

Hellfire Club Soldier

Story Notes: 

X-Force foiled Selene’s plans in X-Force (1st series) #75.

A family of six? Cannonball is the eldest of ten siblings.

Selene was the only member of the Hellfire Club remaining, and so re-started it with new members in the Fantastic Four Annual 1999.

Sunspot’s father, Emmanuel DaCosta, was the White Rook of the Hellfire Club, poisoned in New Mutants (1st series) #98.

It was revealed in X-Force (1st series) #94 that Meltdown killed Tiger while she was living on the streets.

Juliana Sandoval was killed by the Hellfire Club in Marvel Graphic Novel #4.

X-Force battled Pandemonia in X-Force (1st series) #85.

George Romero is a well-known horror film director and writer, specialising in zombie films, notably the “Living Dead” series - Night of the Living Dead (1968); Dawn of the Dead (1978); Day of the Dead (1985); Land of the Dead (2005); Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2010), which have spawned numerous remakes, spin-offs (the “Living Dead” series) and copy-cat films. Romero’s other well-known films include The Crazies (1973) and Monkey Shines (1988).

The Sarah Michelle Gellar comment is a reference to the actresses role as Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the television show of the same name, which ran from 1997 - 2003. During the course of the show Buffy and her companions encountered numerous demons.

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