X-Men: The Hellfire Club #1

Issue Date: 
January 2000
Story Title: 
Witch Hunt

Ben Raab (writer), Charlie Adlard (artist), Jon Babcock (letters), Kevin Somers (colors), Mark Powers (editor), Bob Harras (chief)

Brief Description: 

Freelance journalist Irene Merryweather has decided to follow her instincts and heads to Salem to get some background information on a story she is working on. Meeting with a priest outside a church, she mentions that she’s after details on a Reverend Hiram Shaw, and so the priest allows her inside to give her the scoop, on the understanding that what he tells her never leaves the church. He recalls a tale from 1692, where Reverend Shaw had taken over as the priest in Salem, during the infamous witch hunts. As Shaw preaches salvation to the masses, his son Obadiah’s relationship with a young woman called Abigail Harkness galls him. He believes her to be a witch. He warns Obadiah not to see her again, but his son insists that she is innocent. As Hiram Shaw sleeps, Dormammu brings him to his dark dimension and Shaw is revealed to be the time’s Sorcerer Supreme. Dormammu warns Shaw that his lust for power is the spark that will condemn his ancestors to damnation, and shows him images of people, some not yet born. He asks Shaw to submit to him and he promises to lighten his load but Shaw refuses and is cast back to his own reality where he finds his wife, Sarah, dead. Shaw uses Harkness as a scapegoat and she is duly sentenced to death. Obadiah decides to risk his own life and rescues her from jail, but they are quickly pursued by the townsfolk, as they head for the harbor. Obadiah is shocked to find that Abigail is, in fact, a witch and she uses her magic to kill many of her pursuers, leaving only Hiram Shaw alive, unable to save them lest he reveal his alter ego. In the present day, the priest reiterates to Irene that she must never speak of Hiram Shaw again. He doesn’t know what became of Obadiah and Abigail, but the revelation must have been a shock to him. Irene thanks him for the scoop and leaves but, once she has gone, the priest is shot and killed by an unseen assailant.

Full Summary: 

(Salem, Massachusetts)

Irene Merryweather has decided to blow a month’s rent on a trip to Salem, Massachusetts. Her recent S.H.I.E.L.D story for the Daily Bugle has slammed more doors shut than it swung open, with editors fearing she might be a loose cannon. In her possession is a book by an Obadiah Shaw called ‘The Truthful Account of the Salem Witch Trials.’ There’s a story out there somewhere; a big, fat juicy one, and she’s gonna find it.

The following morning, she heads out to a church where the local priest introduces himself. She informs him that she is a reporter, researching a story, and he replies that he can’t imagine there’s much left to tell, what with all those books about the witch trials and all. Irene tells him that the literature is exhaustive, but there appears to be a major detail that seems to figure prominently in the trials that’s completely missing from most of those accounts, except for one very obscure and very suspect chronicle: a Reverend Hiram Shaw.

Not another word, he tells her, and he closes the gates of the church behind them and locks the chain. Inside the church, he asks her to kneel and face the almighty. He says that she should never write that story and she invites damnation if she does. She tells him it’s gonna take more than that and he says, very well, but she must swear to him that what he tells her never leaves this sanctuary. She looks at the figure of Christ in front of her and promises. Holy guilt! The priest then begins to impart his story, a tale of power and prejudice that begins in a time not unlike their own; on a funeral pyre in the Massachusetts colony, during the most infamous year of our Lord, 1692.

(flashback, 1692)

The town of Salem is rife with rumors of witchcraft, accusations of heresy and its citizens’ own puritanical rigidity. The adolescent pranks of a few mischievous girls fanned the flames of righteous indignation among the faithful and in particular, the Reverend Hiram Shaw. Three young girls are burnt to death on his word. Hailing from England, Shaw dutifully served as a minor clergyman and exorcist of little acclaim. For most of his adult life, he accepted his meek station in life, confident he would someday inherit the Earth, for within him burned an insatiable hunger for power.

When the Salem witch trials began, the town’s previous minister was convicted of being a warlock and sentenced to dangle from the end of a gallows’s pole. The townsfolk wanted a savior and Hiram Shaw was the answer to everyone’s prayers. Well, almost everyone’s.

As the parishioners leave Shaw’s church, Hiram’s young son, Obadiah, is called away to the privacy of the forest by his girlfriend, Abigail Harkness, an attractive fair haired young woman. They kiss, and Abby asks him if he’s managed to tell his parents about them. Obadiah admits that he tried the other night, but his father would hear nothing of it. “You know how he is about people like you,” he adds. Abby becomes defensive, pushing her finger into his chest, asking if that means she’s a witch, and inquiring whether he cottons to those suggestions. She turns and folds her arms, so Obadiah tries to explain that people in this town don’t trust widows and their kin. They all suspect witchcraft is responsible for her family’s misfortune. Abby turns and says her father died building this damnable community. Sickness took him from them, not Satan. He loved them and they him. Obadiah hugs her and assures her that he knows that and he loves her too. Secretly watching their liaison is Hiram Shaw, and he looks not best pleased.

On a darkly overcast and rainy evening, the Shaw family sit for their evening meal. Hiram’s wife, Sarah, serves the food and asks Obadiah where he disappeared to after the morning services. He lies and tells her that he was just with his friends, Thomas and William. His father adds that his friends greeted them on their way home to spend the Lord’s Day with their families, like all good sons should. Obadiah is shocked that his lie was destroyed so simply. Hiram rises from the table and orders Obadiah not to see the Harkness girl again…ever.

Obadiah, in a surprising show of disobedience, tells his father, no. He doesn’t care what he thinks of her; he won’t stop seeing Abigail. He loves her and they plan to marry. Hiram is furious and asks Obadiah if he courts his wrath. He moves close to his son who backs against the wall. He tells him that he won’t see his wishes ignored, or allow his son to condemn his eternal soul to Satan’s furnace for the temptations of that filthy witch. Obadiah insists that she’s no witch and his father cannot prove it. “Can’t I?” his father replies.

Hiram leaves and Obadiah’s mother pleads with her son to obey him, but he says that he cannot deny his heart. She places her hand on his shoulder and says that nor can his father deny his. He believes he is God’s sanctified agent, sent to punish the wicked for their sins. Obadiah replies that perhaps he is, but even he is not above the law of the land. Without proof of her involvement in the dark arts, there can be no case against Abigail. She hugs him and says that she prays he finds none, for both their souls. Their father watches from outside in the rain, dressed in a robe.

Later that night, as Hiram Shaw sleeps, his slumber is disturbed by the appearance of several demonic arms that claw him from his bed, and through an interdimensional portal into the dark dimension belonging to the dread Dormammu. Dormammu calls him ‘Sorcerer Supreme,’ and Shaw says there are few that can pierce his Earthly guise. Instead of his priest’s outfit, he changes his clothing to those of a sorcerer, a long red robe with hood, tunic, trousers and boots. Dormammu warns Shaw that, if he continues to bar his way into his world, he’ll find there is little he cannot do.

Shaw despises Dormammu and tells him that his corruptive seed has already spilled across the void spanning their dimensions. He infects the people of Salem daily with his madness, and he will see it end. He raises his hands above his head and casts a spell, aimed at Dormammu, but his foe simply blocks it without raising a finger and says that Shaw pretends to be Salem’s holy savior, who shall raise those wretched masses into heaven’s glorious kingdom. Yet, in so doing, he damns his own kith and kin straight into the eternal pit. Shaw insists he doesn’t know what he means, but Dormammu uses mystical tendrils to immobilize Shaw and tells him he knows precisely what he means. Shaw, with his lust for power, is the spark.

Dormammu creates mystical visions from nowhere and illustrates them to Shaw. “Behold; the ashes of your legacy.” Surrounding him are images of people, some who will not live for another three hundred years. Among those shown are Captain America, Mister Sinister and Union Jack, the X-Men, the Hellfire Club and Apocalypse with his Harbinger. Dormammu warns Shaw that his sins shall weigh heavily upon the backs of his spawn. If he submits, then he will lighten his load. “Never!” replies Shaw. “Then we shall meet again,” says Dormammu, who snaps his fingers and returns Hiram Shaw to his own reality. Shaw wakes in bed with a start, holds his forehead and begins to tell Sarah of the nightmare he has had. He turns to look at her and finds she is dead beside him, her face gaunt and eyes blackened.

As Shaw buries his wife, he has already selected a scapegoat from his flock. Abigail Harkness is brought to trial, her hands tied behind her back. The judge lets the record show that Abigail Harkness has been found guilty of conspiring with the devil to destroy goody Shaw, and shall be put to death by hanging at first cock’s crow. Obadiah shouts out that he won’t let them do this to her but his father shushes him, and tells him that power demands a sacrifice. Someday, he will understand. Obadiah storms off, telling his father that he will never abide by his ways.

That evening, Obadiah knocks out Henry, the guard watching over Abigail in her cell. He takes Henry’s keys while begging for his shriveness and enters. He frees Abby and they head for his waiting horse. He tells her that they haven’t much time, as their ship sails from Boston harbor on the morrow. She asks where they will go and he replies, London. The chase is on. News of the breakout spreads like wildfire; the entire town is outraged, but none more than Reverend Shaw, who is prepared to chase them through perdition’s flames to save face in the eyes of his community. Pursued on horseback by several of the townsfolk, Shaw amongst them, the couple’s horse tires from the chase and the pack begins to close in on them.

Obadiah sees them closing in and takes out a pistol, which he aims behind him. Abigail asks him to allow her. Her hand begins to glow as she casts a spell and Obadiah is shocked to discover that she truly is a witch. She asks him to just ride and their troubles shall soon be ash. From her hand, she fires a bolt of fire, which stops Hiram Shaw’s horse in its tracks, but burns his fellow hunters to death. Shaw is horrified at their deaths and knows he could have prevented them, but to do so would have revealed his secret. He remembers Dormammu’s portentous words, the words that haunt his descendents to this very day; “You, Hiram, are the spark.”

(present day)

The priest tells Irene Merryweather that this is why she must never speak of him again. “That’s just it? He just disappeared?” she asks. So the legend says, the priest replies. He adds that what became of his son is unknown. He imagines that discovering his beloved was a witch came as an incredible shock to him. Irene produces Obadiah’s book from her purse and tells the priest that it seems to be what prompted him to write it. She quotes a passage from the book.

“I give this accounting of those terrible days to cleanse my soul of their ungodly taint, and to protect future generations from the pestilence that is my namesake…”

The priest crosses himself and prays for his troubled soul. Irene departs, thanking the priest for the scoop, and he reminds her of their agreement. He watches her leave through the gate but thinks that it’s funny, as he thought he’d locked it. He thinks his memory’s going again but, as he heads back inside the church, a gunshot rings out from the darkness.

Characters Involved: 

Irene Merryweather


(flashback, 1692)

Three suspected witches

Rev. Hiram Shaw, Obadiah Shaw

Sarah Shaw

Salem parishioners


Abigail Harkness

The Dread Dormammu

Henry (jail guard)

(in Dormammu’s future visions)

Captain America and Major Wallace Worthington

Two unknown men

Mister Sinister

Union Jack I and opponent

Angel, Beast, Colossus, Cyclops, Iceman, Nightcrawler, Storm, Wolverine (all X-Men)


Apocalypse’s Harbinger

Emma Frost, Harry Leland, Donald Pierce, Sebastian Shaw, Tessa (all Hellfire Club I)

Story Notes: 

Irene Merryweather was introduced in Cable #48.

Abigail Harkness is almost certainly an ancestor of Agatha Harkness, long-time friend of the Fantastic Four and the Scarlet Witch.

The current Sorcerer Supreme is Doctor Stephen Strange.

There appears to be an art error in the scene where Obadiah calls out to Abigail, telling her he won’t let them hang her. He is drawn as someone else, wearing a full dark suit, whereas Obadiah is wearing light colored trousers and shirt.

Issue Information: 
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