Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Casey Jones (penciler), Tom Simmons (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Ariane Lenshoek & Malibu (colors)
Summary: Meggan and Nightcrawler use their powers to neutralize Black Air’s helicopters and bring Alistaire Stuart to safety. Meanwhile, Shadowcat and Wolfsbane drop Brian Braddock off at the London Hellfire Club. Braddock enters the club and demands that he be given his father’s title of Black Bishop. The Red Bishop protests, but Braddock casually slaps him away. The Black Queen welcomes him into the club. Inside the London sewers, Black Air’s liaison with the Hellfire Club, Scratch, locates an ancient relic with a demon’s head. On Muir Island, Alistaire Stuart describes Black Air’s takeover of the Weird Happenings Organization. He knows that Black Air and the Hellfire Club are connected and they want him and Excalibur dead. Outside, Douglock has connected his circuits into the earth in order to experience random events. He’s suddenly impaled by a harpoon attached to a jet.
Production Note: This is the fifth issue in a row that only has nineteen pages. I wonder if this book had severe deadline issues and just cutting the book short became the solution. The missing pages are made up with an extended letter column, so it’s not as if Marvel was making money by selling more ad space.
Continuity Notes: According to the Black Queen, the London Hellfire Club changed the White King/Queen/Bishop/Rook designation to Red in order to distance themselves from the American branch.
Alistaire Stuart claims that Black Air began as a secret Ministry of Defense unit that took over W.H.O. after a government vote. He says that the Hellfire Club bought that vote. Stuart also claims that the Warpies (mutated children from the UK Captain Britain series who later became minor characters in a few X-books) have been killed and dissected by Black Air. It’s interesting that Stuart explicitly says that the Warpies were created in the 1980s, which is the second real-time reference made in this series in connection to the Captain Britain title. The first was when Alan Davis revealed that several Marvel UK characters had been in suspended animation for five years, which was the same amount of time in real life since their last appearance.
Review: The Hellfire/Black Air story arc continues to move at a pretty leisurely pace. The opening fight scene against the helicopters doesn’t advance the story very far, but it has a few nice character moments with Nightcrawler and Meggan. Meggan scolding the helicopter pilots after they shoot missiles at her is a welcome reminder of her childlike personality, an aspect that had been largely ignored in the post-Davis issues. Ellis also tries to do something with Douglock, by making his lack of a personality an actual plot point as he tries to find one. The rest of the issue still seems to be setting up the story rather than really getting into it. The connection between Black Air and the Hellfire Club is revealed, and the first move against Excalibur is made on the very last page, but that’s really it. Casey Jones returns as the fill-in artist and does a capable job, but it’s odd that Carlos Pacheco apparently needed a fill-in after drawing just one issue. The letters page brags that he’s going to be doing some upcoming Fantastic Four issues, which will lead to even more fill-ins in the future. So we have another issue without a regular artist that runs three pages short again. It makes the book feel almost as if it was an afterthought at the time.