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Kieron Gillen (writer), Lucas Werneck (artist), David Curiel (color), VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Tom Muller and Jay Bowen (design),Mark Brooks Arbutov (cover artists), VC’s Clayton Cowles (production), Laure Amara (associate editor), Jordan D. White (editor), C.B. Cebulski (editor-in-chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)X-Men created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
Mr. Sinister contacts Destiny, telling her about the weakness in the Progenitor and urging her to send the mutants to blow it up. He is sure she can get the Quiet Council to decide on an attack, as long as she downplays how risky the endeavor is for Iceland. Destiny times the vote right and the mutants attack the Progenitor. Which seemingly results in a detonation destroying Iceland, until they learn that the detonation was an illusion by the Progenitor, who tricked them. Destiny is judged by the Progenitor and fails. Later, the Quiet Council meets. Emma, Mystique and Destiny reveal that they failed (unlike Kate Pryde) and that the Progenitor may appear as someone whose censure one fears. Shaw is interested, as he recalls his fraught relationship with his dead father. Emma reveals that a group of Eternals wants to talk. Shaw volunteers to deal with them at the Hellfire Club in New York. That moment, the Black Knight of the Crusade appears captured by a demon. The Knight shouts that he went to hell and only Exodus can save him by taking his place. Exodus refuses to do it, as his mission is more important, but still tries to save his friend. Before he can be dragged to hell, Shaw intervenes to save Exodus. The Black Knight and demon disappear, but not before the Progenitor passes Exodus. Later at the Hellfire Club, Shaw buys stock in anti-mutant weapons. As expected, the Progenitor appears to fail him. However, Shaw is furious when, instead of his father, the Celestial takes the form of Emma Frost. Later, Shaw talks with Starfox, trying to work out a deal that can help both mutants and humankind. Later still, Shaw uses the magic Selene has used to call Selene’s benefactor. It turns out to be the mysterious Mother Righteous, who offers Shaw a deal.
On Krakoa, Destiny gets a telepathic alert from the missing Mr. Sinister. He briefly explains that he was kidnaped by some Eternals and helped make the big old Celestial. They hoped it would go better.
Destiny presses for him to return. There’s a break in the attacks, but they are still under psychic siege. They could really use him. He refuses and complains that awful plagiarist Dr. Stasis has made them all suspicious. He has to prove himself. She told him they should be on the same side. This is him trying. He smirks. A certain opportunity has presented itself. He explains how the Celestial is judging everybody. Depending on the sum of passes and fails, the whole world passes or fails. He saw him fail Captain America earlier. He doesn’t think the planet will cut the mustard if they play along.
However, it turns out, there is an off button. The Avengers don’t want to press it, as there’s a risk for a little collateral damage. Something about Iceland. The Eternals don’t want to press it, as it will be killing their god. However, he thinks, the mutants would press it, if a certain person in the know made them think the risks were only marginal and timed the vote correctly…
Destiny calls for her wife Mystique, announcing they have work to do…
She considers the vote ahead. If she reveals the odds for Iceland’s destruction, the vote will fail. If she minimizes it, there will be a stalemate, but if she minimizes it and times it to when Xavier is absent – it will pass. So, she times the vote to a point where Xavier is dead and being revived and Storm is on Arakko.
The mutants attack and destroy the Celestial, the detonation destroys Reykjavik and then the Celestial reveals it was all a delusion, a test. A test most failed.
The Progenitor appears to Destiny as Mystique. Irene defends her actions. She tried to protect her people: better an island burns than the world, and better their island than this one. The Progenitor gives her the thumbs down. It judges her not for that, but for lying about her gift to achieve it. It judges Destiny for her fear of losing her. She says there is no destiny but, with her every fearful action, she proves otherwise. She thinks herself better than this. With her actions, she shows she is not. Let’s hope her peers have greater moral fortitude. Or Destiny’s wish will be true. The island will burn. And the whole world with it.
At the Quiet Council meeting, embarrassment dominates. All eyes turn to Emma Frost (which annoys Shaw). So, that could have gone better, Shaw remarks. Quite, is Emma’s curt reply. It seems they are forced to play the Celestial’s game. They will all be judged in many ways. And when you are judged, it seems it may appear to you, either as itself or something else. Kate notes that sounds like experience talking. What happened? Thumbs down for yours truly, Emma replies breezily. Colossus asks why. She didn’t vote for the attack on the Celestial.
Shaw thinks to himself he is an idiot. Emma abstained to have deniability. Playing both sides. Making a careful bet. Smart. Seems like the big guy with the thumb doesn’t like smart.
So, who did it appear as? someone asks. Emma recalls, crying, as she was judged by all her students who lost their lives. Not one person in particular, she claims. Just enough to make her feel terribly judged. Has anyone else had a visitor or a test? Kate reveals that she passed. She doesn’t even know what she did. Healthy living and early nights, she bets. It just looked like a creepy Celestial for her.
Xavier remarks that, if he was being judged, he is unsure he would notice. He is wrestling with angels on the psychic plane and, if he flinches, there will be terrible devastation. If that’s not a test, what is? However, his test to all of them is this: If he dies again, he’d appreciate it if this council did not bloody the hands of Krakoa any further in his absence.
Shaw silently notes Xavier is sulking but no one rises to the bait. A man involved in a marathon bout of psychic bare-knuckle boxing gets the privilege to be a little passive-aggressive, it seems.
Nightcrawler, Colossus and Storm all haven’t had a test yet. Kurt expresses how uneasy he is about a god like that judging people. Exodus agrees with him: it is a false idol that would be better off melted down.
Mystique points out they tried that, and here they are. She failed and, if anyone asks for details, she will cut out the tongue of that person. She asks Destiny, who admits she was visited. After the disaster. Emma is correct: it can appear as someone you feel judged by. She lies that it appeared as her mother. She was disappointed in her.
For getting the chances wrong? Emma asks. No, Destiny replies. Chances are chances. There is no destiny, but judgment from they whose censure we fear the most may await them all. Destiny’s words resonate with Shaw.
Flashback:Shaw recalls how as a child he rushed into his father’s office, wanting to show him something. Hiram Shaw shushes him. He is trying to rebuild their fortune. He orders his son not to distract him. But, Sebastian begins. His father cuts him off. “But” is a weakling’s preposition. No sentence needs it. He orders him to be a man. Say what he means without preamble. Why should Sebastian take priority over his work? Does he have even a paltry sum like – say, a million dollar – to his name? No, the humiliated child replies. Then when he is at his desk, Sebastian is very much beneath his notice, Hiram announces and orders him to come back when he has something to offer him. When he has made something of himself.
Years later:Sebastian as a young man stands at his father’s grave with a bag. He opens it to show the first million he has made. He drops the money on the grave site stating he can make another and another. Once upon a time, the Catholic Church used to let people pay off sins for the dead. Spend money to spare the purgatorial whip for souls who had gone to the hereafter. He lights a match. Consider this the opposite. If there is a God listening, this first million is in memory of his daddy to keep the hellfire burning nice and hot.
Present:Enough lily-livered soul-searching! Shaw demands. They need a plan! If they’ve hours to live, let’s spend them doing something!
Storm announces she needs to return to Arakko. Uranos left machines there that need to be destroyed. She echoes Xavier’s words. If the Council acts in her absence, there will be consequences.
Emma announces, much of their forces are tied up with defending the island against the Eternals. There is a ray of hope, however. Another faction of Eternals have reached out with a plan of saving the world while playing by the Celestial’s rules. They think they can soothe the anger caused by the mutants’ immortality secret. They want to talk.
Shaw sees an opportunity and announces he will handle it. They’ll do it at the Club in New York. Near enough that he can crack a few dullard heads if he gets bored. And before anyone objects, they are all busy here. Send Leland and the Angel boy with him to make sure he is playing fair. They may not all trust him, but they can trust him to make a good deal, yes?
Everyone looks at Storm and Emma. Storm shrugs. Emma allows it and again warns of tests that may be subtle.
That moment, a giant demon bursts from the ground holding a prisoner: Eobard Garrington, the first Black Knight, who implores Exodus for help. Garrington shouts it was a mortal sin when he gave his life for Exodus in the twelfth century. He is in hell! If Exodus takes his place, he can go!
Shaw groans inwardly, more so when he realizes Exodus is buying it. Exodus reaches for Garrington. He shouts he loves him, but his work remains. The mutant church is still in its cradle. He cannot sacrifice himself, not even for Garrington!
However, when the demon wants to drag Garrington back to hell, Exodus begins to fight him.
Shaw figures it would be no problem if Exodus died, thanks to the Five, but one of their biggest guns lost in hell? Absolutely not. He drops his jacket, announcing he will save the fool. Someone save his jacket!
As he walks closer, he realizes the fire is no illusion. It’s consuming even Exodus. But he is Sebastian Shaw and the hellfire only makes him stronger.
He hits Exodus. The demon disappears but not before he gives Exodus a thumbs up. Shaw offers Exodus a hand. Exodus marvels that Shaw came to his aid. He is not a mutant of faith; if anything he is the opposite. True, Shaw agrees, but he knows a lot about making mistakes. His passions have gotten the better of him more than once. More than once in a night even. This Celestial gets under their skin. Let’s try not to make it too easy for him, yes?
Later:In the New York Hellfire Club, Shaw gets dressed and tells Harry Leland via comm to keep them busy. Yes, it is the end of the world, but he will be damned if he turns up to a business deal with scorched cufflinks!
A message pings on his computer. Some agent informing him about an Orchis shell account looking for investments to produce a new generation of anti-mutant weapons. People always ask him if he regrets investing in Sentinels. Of course, he does. If he had got in earlier, he could have made a few more points! He gives the order to buy all they can.
A moment later, he notices a glow behind him. Shaw is unsurprised, he knew this was a test. With all he’s done, what god would ever pass him? He figures, if they survive today, it will be because the good find a way. If the good find a way, it doesn’t matter what he does one jot.
He turns around, expecting his father, instead the Progenitor appears as a smirking Emma Frost with one thumb down.
It thinks he respects Frost? Shaw scoffs. “I do it for the children?” Hogwash! She is like him and always has been. She does it for the money! She does it for the power! She does it because she knows she is better than people! And it doesn’t get to judge him!
As the Progenitor disappears, Shaw rages at it to come back. He gave his fealty to hell a long time ago, Shaw shouts. When his time comes to burn, he will do so with a smile on his face! With a cognac in his hand and a fat roll in his pocket! Does it hear him? He will burn and he cares not one fig for its judgment!
A little later and much calmer, Shaw has his meeting with Eros of Titan in the Club. Eros explains he wants them all to survive to have breakfast tomorrow. They can do that by being better. Let’s try that. But he’s surprised to be speaking to Shaw. With his reputation, he suspected, he’d be spending his final hours with more carnal activities than a business deal.
Shaw replies there are many things he finds agreeable. And striking a good deal ranks among dallying in the fleshpots he has so carefully cultivated.
Well, if he enjoys it that much, they have to make a deal that leaves his knees weak, Eros suggests. The immortality secret is what started all this. They’ll have to work out something the mutants can give up here.
Shaw silently thinks of the profit he could make on the side with whatever compromise they end up with here. But then he thinks of Frost’s eyes cracked with cosmic fire, that upturned nose, that downturned thumb…
Shaw announces Krakoa isn’t going to strike a deal that would leave a lot of men like himself better off. Whatever happens, it should help the children. He raises his glass. So does Eros. He likes the way Shaw thinks. They can work with this. He’ll send his suggestions. Then he apologizes for having to leave. He has a lot of meetings today. Of course, he does too, Shaw agrees.
Later, he stands in a cellar, in front of him a pentagram of blood on the ground. He wonders what possessed him and admits to disliking how this is another way the White Queen got him. He likes it not one jot. Maybe she is very good - exactly as bad as his old Black Queen ever was. Selene animated the External Gate into a monstrosity. A lot of mystic punch for a girl in a corset. He was interested, investigates, discovered something. And here they are.
He holds a human heart in his hand and squeezes it… and something happens within the pentagram. It seems Selene has been making deals with a new player and, if that player is the person who makes deals, he is interested in meeting them.
He turns to pour another drink as the person solidifies and observes she wasn’t expecting this number to be used again, with Selene being all bullet-headed. Though maybe not a surprise to see him, a man of sins and her in a pentagram. They are all the same symbolically. Perhaps the surprise is him being interested in making deals, with the apocalypse ticking and all that malarkey. She’d have thought a man with his reputation would have his head buried in some buxom girl’s cleavage.
Shaw replies that the world may end today. If it does, all investments turn bad. One has to plan assuming they are going to live. If he lives, he is immortal. And immortality demands funds of a similar magnitude. A mere billion is pocket change on the scale they have to think of. And he plans to be sipping brandies that would cost entire worlds from now until the end of time. He sits down. So what the hell should he call her?
“Oh you sweet little man,” she coos. Call her what he likes, as long as he calls her often, but most call her Mother Righteous. And is Sebastian Shaw someone who is interested in a deal? He’s a businessman, woman, he smirks. What does she think?
Colossus, Destiny, Emma Frost, Exodus, Hope Summers II, Kate Pryde, Mr. Sinister, Mystique, Professor Xavier, Sebastian Shaw, Storm (Quiet Council)Starfox
As illusion:Black Knight (Eobar Garrington)
In flashback:Sebastian Shaw as a child and a young manHiram Shaw
The issue is part of the Judgment Day crossover, crossing over with A.XE. Judgment Day #3 and #4.
The title refers toa quote by English poet William Blake who stated that Milton, writer of “Paradise Lost,” was “of the devil’s party.”
Sebastian Shaw is the issue’ POV character.
Dr. Stasis claims to be the true Nathaniel Essex and works with Orchis (as shown in in X-Men (6th series).
Xavier is either very intuitive or subconsciously noticed that this is exactly the way he failed his test (as shown in A.X.E Judgment Day #4).
Mystique’s and Kate’s judgments aren’t shown.
The depiction of Shaw and his family is somewhat at odds with Claremont’s version of the character and the depiction of his relationship to his father in X-Men: Hellfire #4. There Shaw came from working class roots and actually had a good relationship with his father
PASSED: Exodus, Kate PrydeFAILED: Destiny, Mystique, Professor X, Emma Frost, Sebastian Shaw