X-Men: The Hellfire Club #3

Issue Date: 
March 2000
Story Title: 
For Want of a Soul

Ben Raab (writer), Charlie Adlard (artist), Jon Babcock (letterer), Kevin Somers (colorist), Mark Powers (editor), Bob Harras (editor in chief)

Brief Description: 

When Irene Merryweather heads to England to continue her story, Union Jack saves her from two would-be assassins and takes her to the home of Lady Jane Crichton. The former superhero known as Spitfire reads some of her father’s notes of the time he became involved with the Hellfire Club. The year is 1915 and club member. Sir Waltham Pierce. recruits Esau Shaw to the Inner Circle. Crichton’s father, Montgomery Falsworth, is secretly the first Union Jack and a friend of Esau’s. He warns him about the club’s reputation, and is also concerned that Esau’s envious brother, Jacob, might do something stupid. Jacob is out walking one night, when he is approached by a stranger, calling himself Nathaniel Essex. Shaw follows him to his home, where Essex reveals he is actually Mister Sinister. He injects Jacob with a liquid that allows him to shape-shift, and Jacob grins at the opportunities this opens up for him. Soon, he shifts to make himself look like Sir Waltham Pierce and he mercilessly kills his brother in order to take his place. He also wants to get rid of Pierce and shifts into the form of a woman, to carry out his murder. Before he can kill him, however, Union Jack appears and accuses Pierce of conspiracy to undermine the crown, sedition against its governing bodies and the murder of Esau Shaw. Before he answers the charges, Jacob shoots at Union Jack before fleeing. As he sprints away into the woods, Union Jack is sure the woman he sees is really Jacob Shaw. A trick of the light, he wonders? Back in the present, Lady Crichton gives Irene the book and, as she leaves, she thinks about how Jacob traded his soul to the devil for want of a better soul. She wonders if she would do the same, were she in his shoes.

Full Summary: 

(England, the present)

The journalist, Irene Merryweather finds herself on the other side of the Atlantic. She is continuing her investigation into Sebastian Shaw and his secret Inner Circle. She reads reports of the deaths of both Professor Thornton Fieldish, who she was supposed to meet in Philadelphia, and the priest who she actually did speak to recently in Salem. She now knows that the rich will do anything to guard their secrets, anything to hide the nasty truths about themselves and the impenetrable world their dirty money buys for them. Still, she knew the rewards outweighed the risks before emerging herself in the story.

As she ambles through the streets on a typically wet English evening, a car pulls up alongside her and a gloved hand reaches out to her. “Get in,” a voice says, “Now!” She is pulled into the car, just as two female would-be assassins fire at her. As the car speeds away, Irene bangs on the partition and says that, although she appreciates the save, she wants to know just what the blazes is going on. Who were those women, and who is he? The partition slides away and the masked figure of Union Jack stares back at her from behind the steering wheel. Oh, Irene thinks, a Pulitzer in the making.

By the time they arrive at the Falsworth family estate, the rain has ceased and Lady Jacqueline Crichton greets her warmly. Lady Crichton is a former World War II heroine. She was a member of the Invaders, using the codename Spitfire. She is old enough to be Irene’s grandmother but, thanks to some weird blood transfusion, she looks sexier than any super-model.

The two women shake hands and Lady Crichton invites her inside the grand mansion. They have much to discuss. It’s amazing what money can buy, thinks Irene. They are soon seated in the library and Irene gets straight to the point. She inquires about Sebastian Shaw, but Lady Crichton knows very little about him. She explains that a man such as Shaw doesn’t publicize his affairs, personal or otherwise. She is only on the periphery of the Hellfire Club and isn’t party to much information of that kind. Irene takes a hot drink from the butler and asks about Shaw’s family. She needs information and is at the end of her rope. “All martyrs hang eventually,” says Union Jack. Lady Crichton tells him not to tease Irene; she’s under a lot of pressure. She asks Irene to forgive him. For all his heroism, Union Jack is still rough around the edges.

“Your father, Lord Falsworth, he was the original right?” says Irene. “During World War II?” Lady Crichton reaches up and takes a large book off the shelf. She adds that he was in World War I as well; one of the crown’s top operatives consequently. She recalls him telling her as a child that he was a rather close friend to one of Shaw’s ancestors. He always spoke highly of him. She blows the long-gathered dust off the book’s cover. “Ah yes. Here we are. Sixth of December, 1915…”

(flashback, 1915)

A group of mourners stand around the gravestone of one Brigadier-General Cornelius Shaw, 1861 to 1915. He was a great man, the best of his majesty George IV’s best, on the field and off. He was a loving father and devoted husband, the last of a dying breed. The priest concludes his sermon and the mourners, including Shaw’s widow, begin to head their separate ways.

A hirsute man named Sir Harry Manners whispers to his companion, Sir Waltham Pierce, asking if the person they have their eyes on is suitable. Pierce says the circle must be complete. A Shaw has been chosen and time will tell if he’s the right one. Pierce greets Esau Shaw and puts his arm around his shoulders. He says he’s sorry about his father and understands that he has made the rank of lieutenant. It’s a prestigious position, especially for someone so young and full of promise.

Watching from behind a tree is Lord Montgomery Falsworth, who interrupts Pierce’s cosy chat. Esau is pleased to see him, despite the somber circumstances. Pierce walks away and the two men embrace. Esau asks why Pierce gave him daggers upon his arrival and Falsworth replies that he’s just smarting after he declined their offer to join the Hellfire Club. It’s the Falsworth family fortune they’re after, and he figures they’ll have to devise a cleverer way to steal it.

As Falsworth hears it, the Hellfire Club has been in cahoots with the Kaiser since before the Archduke’s assassination. They presume that they will come out of the war on top and take over the continent at the expense of the Allies’ fighting men. He warns Esau to steer clear of them before he finds himself their next target. Too bad, replies Esau, placing his arm on Falsworth’s shoulder. They’ve just offered me membership in their Inner Circle. As they depart, Sir Waltham Pierce scowls in frustration.

Falsworth feared for his new friend, and not just because of his association with the Hellfire Club. It appeared on the surface that he had been naturally selected for greatness due to his family’s bloodline. This of course meant that someone else in the Shaw lineage had to come up stunted. Esau had a brother called Jacob. He was a weasely man whose beady eyes betrayed him. He was envious of his brother, and was prepared to deal with the devil to usurp his brother.

One night, Jacob is out walking when a stranger approaches him carrying a lantern. The stranger says that man covets most what mistress nature denies. Her whims are shackles, binding him unto death. Jacob turns and asks who he is. The stranger, wearing a long cloak and hat, steps nearer and lifts the lantern to reveal his face. It is pale, like death, and his red eyes pierce deep into Jacob’s soul. Jacob again asks who he is and the stranger replies that he is Nathaniel Essex, at his service.

Jacob knows the name from an old science text at university. He was one of Darwin’s foremost competitors in the study of genetic mutations. Some said he went mad and then mysteriously disappeared. That was decades ago and that man would be dead by now. He couldn’t possibly be Essex. Jacob, nonetheless, finds himself following the man down a winding staircase. At the bottom, the stairs open into a room where Essex removes his cloak and hat, revealing a blue costume underneath. All around the room are flasks filled with liquid, some of which contain small creatures. “Quite right,” the man replies, “Essex is dead.” Jacob asks what he is. Holding a syringe filled with liquid in his gloved hand, the man replies that he’s a visionary, savior, a madman. It doesn’t matter. “I am Sinister!”

Jacob backs against the wall, terrified of the confident stranger. Essex tells him that some people hold that the eyes are the windows to the soul. He believes it runs much deeper. The genes are the very building blocks of humanity, which reveal our true colors. The liquid in his syringe will strip away the trappings of man, and help reveal his. Jacob sinks further into the wall as Sinister grabs him and plunges the syringe into his chest. “Now Jacob Shaw, show me your soul!” he cries.

Jacob collapses to the floor, taking several test tubes with him. He holds his face in the palms of his hands as the liquid burns inside of him. Sinister helps Jacob to his feet and asks him to ignore the pain; it will pass. It will leave a gift in its wake if he is strong enough. Jacob asks what he has done. Sinister replies that he has liberated him from nature’s chains and given him the keys to claim his birthright. Though he remains Jacob Shaw in essence, in body he has become so much more. Jacob looks at himself in a mirror and sees the face of his brother staring back at him. He gasps, and asks if it is permanent. Can he become himself again? Sinister asks him if he really wants to. Jacob doesn’t need to think about that too long, and grins as he imagines the possibilities that shape-shifting can bring.

Sometime later, Esau Shaw is having a little clay pigeon target practice when Sir Waltham Pierce pulls up on his motorcycle. He congratulates him on his precision, telling him he’s quite the hawkeye, much like his father. Shaw reloads and says he wasn’t expecting him. Pierce walks over to him. He says he saw him carousing with the Zemo twins at the club the other night and asks if he’s enjoying their organization’s little indulgences so far. Shaw replies that he’s been a most gracious host. Pierce asks if he has given any further thought to their offer, but Shaw replies that he has, but to no conclusion. Pierce reminds Shaw that a soldier’s salary is a mere pittance compared to the wealth he could enjoy amongst their ranks. Along with that is the added fact that a rise in his social status would be of great benefit to his entire family. He is, after all, the head of the Shaw household now and wouldn’t want to disappoint his dear, departed father.

Shaw continues to take aim at his next pigeon and Pierce, standing behind him, pulls out a dagger. “Pull,” shouts Shaw. Another pigeon is released into the air. As he follows the pigeon with his pistol, Pierce raises the knife above Shaw’s head. The gun fires and the knife is brought down forcefully into Shaw’s back, killing him. “Tally ho brother,” says Pierce, who is revealed to be none other than the shape-shifting Jacob. He callously loads his dead brother’s body into his motorcycles sidecar and drives away.

Later, Esau’s gun is discovered by Lord Falsworth. It’s a Wembley Mark V, Esau’s most prized pistol. His father gave him the weapon when he entered the service. It’s a modern talisman to keep his son safe from harm. Insurance, Cornelius called it. He pockets the gun and rides through the snow on his motorcycle, pulling his Union Jack cowl over his face.

Sir Waltham Pierce, meanwhile, is enjoying the company of two scantily clad women in a four-poster bed. One feeds him grapes; she likes a man with an appetite. He pours another glass of wine, as unseen by him, the other woman reaches under the sheets, revealing a pistol hidden underneath. Before she can grab it, however, Union Jack comes crashing through the ceiling window, sending shards of glass flying in all directions. As he lands, he strikes Pierce.

He accuses him of conspiracy to undermine the crown, sedition against its governing bodies and the murder of Esau Shaw. Grabbing Pierce by the collar, he demands that he answer the charges. Before he confesses, however, the other woman grabs her gun and fires at Union Jack, narrowly missing him. The situation has gone from strange to stranger, thinks Falsworth. The woman flees and Union Jack follows her down a corridor, which comes to a dead end. Instead of stopping, though, she crashes through the window and lands, naked, on the snow-covered ground. Union Jack looks through the shattered frame and sees her run away. Maybe, he thinks, that it’s a queer trick of the moonlit night, but it certainly looked like Jacob Shaw dashing away into the night in place of the woman.

(the present)

Lady Crichton concludes her father’s notes, by mentioning that it was probably his most peculiar encounter, whilst in the employ of his majesty’s secret service. She closes the book and says, “Bless you daddy.” She stands and hands over the book to Irene, asking her to take care of it. She thanks her and says there is nothing she possesses more important to her right now than the book. “Even your soul?” asks Union Jack. Irene finds herself unable to respond, before turning to find Union Jack has slipped away through the window. “He does that often,“ Lady Crichton says.

The two women give each other a hug, as Irene makes her way to her car. As she drives away, she wonders about the tale she has been told. A soul, she thinks, my soul. What was it really worth? A byline? A front page lead? News that’s here today, forgotten tomorrow? For want of a better soul, Jacob Shaw traded his to the devil. If she were in his shoes, she wonders if she would do the same.

Characters Involved: 

Irene Merryweather

Two female assassins

British citizens

Union Jack III

Lady Jacqueline Chrichton

Lady Crichton’s butler

(flashback, 1915)

Cornelius Shaw’s widow



Sir Waltham Pierce

Sir Harry Manners

Lt. Esau Shaw

Montgomery Falsworth (also as Union Jack I)

Jacob Shaw (also as an unnamed woman)

Mister Sinister

Esau Shaw’s employee

Pierce’s female companion

Story Notes: 

The Archduke mentioned is Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination was instrumental in the starting of World War I.

Lord Montgomery Falsworth was the first Union Jack. His son, Brian, became the second. The current Union Jack shown here is Joseph Chapman, a friend of Jacqueline Crichton’s son, Kenneth. He first appeared in Captain America (1st series) #254.

Jacob Shaw is the father of Sebastian Shaw. Sir Waltham Pierce may possibly be an ancestor of Donald Pierce.

Lady Jacqueline Chrichton was reduced in age during a battle with Master Man in Namor, the Sub-Mariner #12.

Issue Information: 
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