Also Sprach Sebastian
Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Charlie Adlard (artist), Kevin Somers (colors), Jon Babcock (letters)
Summary: In China, Irene is awakened by Tessa, who relates to her the story of Sebastian Shaw. She learns of his past as a poor steelworker, who attended college on scholarship and became a successful engineer. Against the wishes of his girlfriend Lourdes Chantel, Shaw joined the Hellfire Club, only to be betrayed by the mutant-hating White King Edward Buckman. Following Lourdes’s death, Shaw killed Buckman and instituted the new Inner Circle. Shaw interrupts the story to meet Irene. She rejects his offer of membership and pursues the publication of her story back in New York.
A few pages of this issue are a retelling of the back-up story in Classic X-Men #7, which is likely why Chris Claremont has a “special thank you” credit in the opening.
Other members joining the Hellfire Club with Shaw include Iron Man’s father Howard Stark and Archangel’s father Warren Worthington, Jr.
Miscellaneous Note: The title of the issue is a reference to “Also sprach Zarathustra.”
Review: The finale might seem like a bit of an anti-climax, as Irene is allowed to live and we never learn if her story is published, but I think Raab does a capable job of creating a sense of closure without spelling everything out for the reader. Shaw is humanized for, if not the very first time, the first time in ages as Raab goes back to his youth and explores his blue-collar roots. Revealing that Shaw was essentially a character out of a Bruce Springsteen song is perhaps trying a bit too hard to make him likeable, but it seems to be a legitimate background for him to have. In comparison to the more recent trend in villain origins, revealing that they were all psychopaths as children (hello, Geoff Johns), I prefer the path taken here. Shaw’s evolution into sheer villainy was already handled by Claremont in the back-up story that killed Lourdes Chantel, but Raab does a decent job of getting the character to his starting point in Claremont's story. And as someone who spent much of his youth preoccupied with X-continuity, I have to say it’s a relief to see the previous Sebastian Shaw prequel story hasn’t been ignored.
The best scene in the issue is when Shaw refuses to kill Irene, simply because he sees so much of himself in her. That’s a smart way to invert the point of the previous stories, which consistently showed ambition as the downfall of the protagonists. Here, Irene is spared solely because of her tenacity and desire to succeed. Then again, those are the traits she shares with the villain she’s desperate to bring down, so how is Irene supposed to view herself now? My only real issue with the conclusion is Shaw’s arrogance that he can just buy out any publishing firm that wants to publish her story. That old trope might’ve gone unnoticed pre-internet, but by 2000 a story spiked by Newsweek had already leaked online and caused a certain American president a lot of trouble. The idea of a shadowy cabal controlling what the public hears always stretched credibility, but in the days when the average person has more access to information than ever before, it’s much harder to sell this as a legitimate plot point.