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The Hellfire Club

Marvel Legends
by yo go re

Sooooo... these guys all hang around Chris Jericho?

Sebastian Shaw assembles the Hellfire Club, a vicious syndicate bent on economic power and ruthless political domination.

That's the text from the back of the box, which may seem scant, but don't worry: there's going to be plenty more. The outside of the pack is designed to look like wrought iron gates, presumably the entrance of the Hellfire Club building. Open the flaps and you'll see portraits of the characters - individual ones on the interior of each flap, and a large group shot as a cover in the center.

Behind the central portrait (like, literally behind it: the flipside of that central art is designed to look like the back of a real painting, frame and mounting and hanging wire and all) is a secret letter, taped in place and sealed with wax bearing an ornate "H" logo. Open it up, and you'll find an invitation to join the Inner Circle. Meanwhile, the tray behind the figures shows their drawing room: fireplace, candles, more portraits, what have you. This is an amazingly designed box, and we wish there were credits on it so we could tell you who's responsible.

That said, the figures are what actually matter, so let's get to it. There's a brief bio beneath each of their individual portraits, with the order of the written text being opposite the order they're arranged in the box. We'll go in... hmm, box order.

A phenom whose powers of both telepathy and telekinesis are virtually unmatched, Jean Grey is enlisted into the Club's Inner Circle with the power of a psionic device.

It's kind of wild to think that this is the second "Black Queen" version of Jean Grey Hasbro has made. She's an unwillingly dominated character dressed in fetish gear - hardly the type of thing that usually gets prominent placement on toy shelves. The first version was a Toys "Я" Us exclusive in 2007, a repaint of the un-good Emma Frost. We've come a long, long way since then.

This time, Jean/Phoenix ["Jeanix" --ed.] actually gets to wear her traditional Black Queen costume, rather than a bowdlerized version. Gone are the PVC pants and bandeau top - this is stockings, panties, and a corset. When Claremont and Byrne were writing the story, they were looking for ways to "darkern" Phoenix, and both recalled a 1966 episode of The Avengers (the British spy show, not the superhero team) titled "A Touch of Brimstone," which revolved around a modern-day incarnation of the historical Hellfire Club. During the investigation, Emma Peel was drugged and forced to dress as "the Queen of Sin," wearing basically this same costume, right down (up?) to the spiked collar - a costume, it's worth noting, that actress Diana Rigg assembled herself. It really was pretty kinky for television at the time, and for comicbooks in the '80s.

On the previous Black Queen figure, the head and hair were sculpted as a single piece, so it could be pulled from the mold easily. That's not the style these days, so Jean's hair is free to be thicker and looser, though it's still pulled up into the same style of bun. Her red eyeshadow matches her hair and her rose (the one clasping her cape, not... any other), and she has a fairly stern look on her face.

Adding to the dominatrix mien is her accessory: a whip. While this is a mold we've seen before, it's not as good as the one we got last time - the claws on the end don't make sense when it's not being wielded by Black Cat. The spiked collar is a separate piece, for reasons that will become clear shortly, and the cape is entirely new. All the figures' various accessories are bunched together at the right side of the packaging, and Evil Jeanie gets two sets of extra hands to replace the splayed ones she's wearing in the package: a pair of fists and a pair for holding the whip.

After the Phoenix eventually broke free from Mastermind's control, the Hellfire Club needed a new Black Queen, they found an unlikely one: Selene, the immortal half-Incan psychic succubus magician. (N.B.: none of those adjectives include her mutant power, complete control over inorganic matter.) She's even older than En Sabah Nur, and throughout history has had cults dedicated to her existence; it was Friedrich von Roehm, the hereditary leader of one of those cults, who forged credentials for her so she could apply to join the Inner Circle. Though she wore the usual black underwear, the style of hers wasn't identical to Jean's; but as a figure created by just including an alternate head (one which appears to have Anne Hathaway's face?), this definitely falls under the heading of "close enough."

Wealthy industrialist Sebastian Shaw uses his superhuman abilities to absorb and convert energy in pursuit of global domination.

Actually, he rarely uses his superhuman abilities to do that - he prefers to pose as a normal human businessman, which allows him access to even the most strident of anti-mutant bigots. For instance, he was the one who pushed Senator Robert Kelly and Special Agent Henry Peter Gyrich to reintroduce the Sentinel program under the codename "Project: Wideawake." Why did a mutant think building mutant-hunting robots was a good idea? Eh, he wouldn't be the first person to side against his own interests and later end up paying the price. Ultimately his goal was to make his fellow mutants hate humans, and also to bilk as much money out of government anti-mutant coffers as he could.

Once it was decided the X-Men story would be based on "A Touch of Brimstone," John Byrne came up with the joke of making Mastermind resemble the villain of the episode, who had been played by Peter Wyngarde. (The actor later starred in a show called Jason King, which is why Mastermind's name is Jason Wyngarde.) Now that he was on this path, Byrne based the other members on real actors as well; Sebastian here, with his square, meaty face, was based on Robert Shaw.

The Black King gets an entirely new body; the Hellfire Club wears Regency costume for the same reason conservatives always want to cling to the past: they want to imagine times were "simpler" then, that society was "better" than its current degenerate state (conveniently ignoring that while it may possibly have been good for people who were like them, it absolutely was not good for many others - empathy and understanding have never been their strong points), and also ignoring the institutional advantages they've been handed in favor of pretending any success is purely their own doing. Sebastian's coat is blue and his vest is red - he's never really had one set colorscheme, but this is definitely one he's worn often. And it does make for a decent Aaron Burr custom when paired with Black Panther's head.

There are guns among the set's accessories, but since Shaw's powers are related to physical combat (he's basically the same as Strong Guy, just without the bodily deformation), he typically uses his fists - thus, we are left to assume the pair included herein is meant for him. Switching the hands is very hard, however; because of the large, frilly cuffs sticking out of his coat sleeves, it's not easy to get a solid grip on the hand to pull it our of the wrist. His ankles are slightly stiff, but otherwise the articulation is all fine, doing what it needs to do.

With devastating telepathic powers, Emma Frost is capable of anything on behalf of the Hellfire Club's Inner Circle.

"don't hold your breath waiting for Hasbro to release a figure wearing a corset and panties"

Clearly that blowhard didn't know what they were talking about! Emma grew up in a rich, yet abusive, household, so it's no wonder she would be drawn to the intrigues of the Hellfire Club. She was originally a caring young girl, until the man she had a crush on rejected her for being a mutant, an act which hardened her heart against humans. She used her mental powers to amass a fortune and bluff her way into a role at the Club.

This is in fact the White Queen's classic look, so this figure uses the same bob-haired head that came with Walgreens Emma - does that mean we can look forward to a box set with Lilandra now, too? She's wearing some truly ghastly blue eyeshadow, because "the '80s," and her lipstick is a very vibrant red. The lower edge of her hair is slightly darker than the rest - funny, if anything you'd think it would be her roots that were changing color, not her tips.

Emma shares her body with Jean - if there are any differences between the two, you'd have to ask Cyclops. [Ménage à HAW! --ed.] The legs and feet are the same seen on Marvel NOW! Emma, but the upper arms have sculpted ridges to suggest the upper edge of her gloves, and the torso is entirely new: while some customizers were content using White Rabbit's torso for its corset, this is a different style, one that laces up the front instead of buttoning. It's also a separate mold from the bust, to better create the look of material covering a body. Hey, here's a question for you to ponder: did Phoenix have to do any, ah, "personal grooming" when she was given this costume? I mean, Emma's been dressing like this for years (and doesn't want anyone to know she's a natural brunette), so she's probably used to taking care of that; but Jean had always dressed more modestly, so what are the odds she had to cut a firebreak before she could come out of the changing room?

Speaking of trimming fur, Emma's only accessory is her fur-trimmed cape. The cloth part is as white as the rest of her clothes, while the fuzzy frill is more of an ecru to set it apart. The clasp is painted blue, like her makeup. Since she doesn't use a whip (she's more of a "riding crop" kind of girl), she doesn't have any hands designed for holding. Just an alternate pair of fists. While most of the articulation is good, the right knee on mine is loose - something that's very undesirable for a figure that's wearing high heels and a heavy cape on her back. The mold only has a single balljoint to move the torso. It's hidden under the lower edge of the corset, rather than cutting right through the ribs like White Rabbit's did.

While little is known about his past, Pierce's wealth and family name brought him into the Hellfire Club, where he has become a nefarious force.

Yeah, they probably should have done a more thorough background check on him, because then they might have realized he was rabidly anti-mutant, which meant he hated the rest of the Inner Circle just as much as he hated the X-Men. He only joined the Club to get at them, in fact. It seems he inherited his membership - there was a Waltham Pierce in the Hellfire Club of 1915, and an Anton Pierce in the 1870s. He's from Philadelphia, the city that booed Santa and murdered a hitchhiking robot, so maybe it's no wonder he's a jerk. His "power" is that he's a cyborg - in that first storyarc, all we saw was that his arms were mechanical, but these days the only thing left of the real him is his head.

In the cameo-palooza that was Byrne's Hellfire Club, the White Bishop (later promoted to White King, briefly) was based visually on Donald Sutherland, who played MASH's Hawkeye Pierce. That meant he had a rather narrow face, something this toy is lacking. Pretend this is after he replaced his skull with psychic-blocking metal, which is why he looks different.

Pierce uses the same new molds as Shaw - if there are any differences between the two, you'd have to ask Cyclops. [That joke worked better last time --ed.] The outfit consists of a jacket (with buttons on both sides of the front, for some reason) worn over a waistcoat and a white shirt with ruffled cuffs. The trousers end just below the knee, exposing his socks. The shoes are sculpted with actual buckles! As in "one, two, buckle your shoe"? Guess that's what that means. He and Shaw both wear the same jabot, which is weird. Why make it a separate piece if you're not going to change it? Donald's coat is brown, his vest is green, and his pants are olive - a much more drab and earthy colorscheme than the Black King was wearing.

As we said above, the set includes a couple of guns - a large pistol and a small rifle. Those seem like things Pierce would use, right? There are also a pair of robotic hands, which don't make sense for anyone else. He moves at the head, neck, shoulders, biceps, elbows, wrists, chest, waist, hips, thighs, knees, shins, and ankles.

The set includes a few more decorative accessories: Wolverine's mask, Magneto's helmet, and a leatherbound book that, like Donald's extra hands, comes from that "Retro Collection" Dr. Doom figure. Here it's got a big Hellfire "H" on the front, so assume it's their book of rites and rituals or something. The mask and helmet are just trophies, showing that the Hellfire Club is not associated with any mutants outside their own, well, inner circle.

This set would have been an SDCC exclusive if there had been an SDCC this year, but instead, all you had to do was wake up early and go to the Hasbro Pulse site to get it. And maybe pick up a Hellfire Guard while you were there. This is a really good release, with a bunch of new sculpts that no one would have ever predicted we'd see. They could do another set with the other Inner Circle members - Harry Leland would require a new body, to capture his Orson Welles-ian bulk, but you could just put a Jason Wyngarde head on this existing suit. Then include an "ugly" head for him, and repaint this set's Jean Grey with black hair to be Tessa/Sage, and you've got yourself some low-cost re-uses to balance out the cost.

-- 10/26/20

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