Man, this new tween Hellfire Club gives me the creeps! They’re possibly the most twisted, depraved sick-os in the Marvel Universe and they haven’t even hit puberty yet! After a brief encounter with Cyclops and his Phoenix Force, they wind up in prison… the youngest inmates ever. Hellfire leader Kade Kilgore recognizes the rules of prison and saunters up to the biggest, scariest guy in the joint and offers loads of cash to the other inmates to take him down.
At this point, he narrates to the reader his origin story. He didn’t cry as a baby, not even as a newborn, and didn’t speak until he was five. “I’m quite certain, I was just bored.” He learns to appreciate death at an early age and after learning that his father killed his mother, then comes to the conclusion that his father will also kill him, “unless I kill him first.” He also starts experimenting on dead bodies in the morgue and follows a street criminal in order to watch him in action. Eventually, he concludes his observations and actually begins murdering people until he has taken control of the Hellfire Club.
Like I said, creepy! But in a weird, over-the-top to the point of being almost comical way. Wilhemina Kensington, the sadistic White Queen, at one point shouts “KITTY!” then picks up a flattened piece of roadkill. At the beginning, the characters toast to their success with champagne flutes and crazy straws. The fact that they’re kids isn’t shied away from, despite their hyper intelligence and depravity. They’re strangely enthralling. And I must say, they’re a welcome change from the average adult masterminds, who can tend to all run together.
Chris Bachalo’s art is stellar, as usual. The fact that he colors his own work is even more impressive. Those colors work amazingly well and add a lot to the visual experience. When the Phoenix-powered X-Men arrive, everything is awash in oranges and yellows. The flashbacks to Kilgore’s childhood are in gray scale, but on one page there is a single panel of himself in the present once again in orange-tones that add a nice pop. The Hellfire Club flashback is rendered in red and black. Finally, toward the end, the scene is dusty purple with a bit of red, reflecting the sunset.
Beyond the creative use of color, though, Bachalo’s art is practically a character of its own. Kilgore and his associates are frequently standing perfectly still, while other things go on around them. They barely move, no matter what fire and debris is flying about in the background. It reinforces the steely confidence these kids have. The black and white flashback is particularly dramatic and in what may or may not have been an intentional nod, Kilgore is shown lying in a bed with a checker board pattern, perhaps an homage to the Hellfire Club’s chess theme.
This was another excellent issue of what I think is the best X-Men comic out there right now. The writing is top notch. The art is amazing and very unique. The story is a perfect stand-alone, but will surely impact have a huge impact later down the line. (These kids were, of course, the antagonists in the first story line of this series.) The only thing missing oddly, was… well, Wolverine and the X-Men.
WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #16
Written by Jason Aaron
Art and Cover by Chris Bachalo