Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Casey Jones (penciler), Tom Simmons (inker), Ariane Lenshoeck & Malibu (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)
Summary: Peter Wisdom explains to Excalibur that Douglock is probably already dead if Scratch has him. Meggan looks through the files Shadowcat stole from Black Air and notices payments to members of Parliament. Wisdom contacts his friends in the spy community and sends them proof of the bribe money Black Air used to gain power. In London, the column of fire begins to fade. Scribe explains to Brian Braddock that this is the testing stage of their plan, which involves the Red Queen magically accessing an ancient power source. The Black and Red Kings and Queens of the Hellfire Club travel to Black Air’s London headquarters to view the latest development of their project. The Red King unveils Douglock, who is being used to as a pure electronic link to their power source. As Excalibur flies into London to attack Black Air’s headquarters and find Douglock, Brian Braddock unpacks his Captain Britain helmet and prepares to face the Hellfire Club. Meanwhile, Onslaught asks the Black Queen if she’s ready for the upcoming gathering. Hours later, the Red Queen reveals herself as Margali Szardos and tries to use Douglock to access the demonic power underneath London. The power overtakes her body, and creates columns of fire throughout the city. The citizens of London go mad, as a giant devil emerges over the city.
Continuity Note: The mysterious package Sebastian Shaw gave Black Air in a previous issue is revealed. It’s described as “chips from a trident that…belonged to the devil’s son”. The Hellfire Club is using it as an interface connecting Douglock to the ancient crypt under the city. I suspect the trident referenced belongs to Damian Hellstrom, a character who is supposed to be the son of Satan (and one of the first Marvel characters Ellis handled).
Review: The pace picks up considerably in this issue, as the Black Air and Hellfire Club plotlines begin to converge, and the almost forgotten Margali Szardos thread is revived. Onslaught also gets thrown in, since this is an X-book and it’s summertime in the mid-90s, but it’s just a one-page cameo. I seem to remember the next issue tying in more closely with the crossover, but for now it’s not a distraction from Ellis’ story. Despite the fact that Ellis is still setting up the big anniversary issue fight, there’s also some attention paid toward the ongoing character arcs. Wisdom differentiates himself from his Black Air co-workers by claiming that he only killed people “in the life”, while others, like Scratch, were willing to kill innocents. He then tells an anecdote about beating Scratch’s face off when he learned that he had killed everyone inside a school to cover his tracks. It comes across as a pretty flagrant attempt at making Wisdom seem intimidating and vicious, but Ellis also uses it as an opportunity to emphasize the doubts that Kitty would realistically have about getting involved with him. Ellis continues his rehabilitation of Brian Braddock by teasing the return of his Captain Britain persona. It’s important to remember that Braddock was an Olde English speaking buffoon named Britanic when Ellis took over, so the return of his true persona has to be one of the highlights of Ellis’ run on the title. I wish he could’ve done more with Braddock, because Ellis seemed to have some affection for the character, and no one seemed to know what to do with him after Alan Davis left. Casey Jones returns again as the fill-in artist (even though the letters page assures us that Excalibur is still Carlos Pacheco’s “real home”). I like his sparse, stylized character designs, and he’s able to pull off some of the satanic images in Ellis’ script. The image of Margali Szardos’ eyes being replaced with the demon’s teeth is appropriately disturbing.