X-Men (6th series) #26

Issue Date: 
November 2023
Story Title: 
Whack-a-Mole
Staff: 

Gerry Duggan (writer), Jim Towe & Javier Pina (artist), Marte Gracia (colorist), Virtual Calligraphy's Clayton Cowles (letterer & production), Tom Muller & Jay Bowen (designers), Lucas Werneck (cover artist), Alex Ross (Connecting variant cover artist), Javier Garron & Edgar Delgado (Marvel Icon variant cover artists), Jorge Molina (X-Men 60th Anniversary variant cover artist), Mark Brooks (Corner Box variant cover artist), Russell Dauterman & Matt Wilson (Trading Card variant cover artists), Lauren Amaro (assistant editor), Jordan D White (editor), C.B. Cebulski (editor-in-chief)

X-Men created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

 

Brief Description: 

Following the escape from the Hellfire Gala, Emma Frost found herself in the old Morlock tunnels, where the Kingpin agreed to help her against Orchis. She was about to tell him how they can work together – but the Kingpin was quick to point out that they don't work together – Emma works for him. The Kingpin became the new White King of the Hellfire Club, while Emma was reduced to hiding in plain sight as Hazel Kendall, Tony Stark's secretary. Kamala Khan learns how to balance her life between being a student, infiltrating Orchis' program at Empire State University, and as one of the resistance X-Men. Her teammate, Shadowkat, manages to reach the Bloom, Orchis' space station, where she kills several Orchis agents in a rage, before locating her true quarry – Firestar. She lashes out at her until Firestar, with a sword phased into her head, reveals Jean Grey's plan from the Gala, explaining how Jean set this ruse up, inserting false memories about Firestar's betrayal into everyone's minds. Shadowkat believes Firestar, and departs as an uneasy ally, while telling Firestar that she hopes she survives the experience. Later, outside the Hellfire Club, Emma is about to abandon her position as Tony Stark's secretary, and leave with Shadowkat, but when she goes inside to give Tony the news, Feilong walks in on them and finds Tony on his knees holding Emma's mutant-deflector ring out in front of her. Tony quickly plans along and proposes to “Hazel”, leaving Emma with no option but to tell Shadowkat that something has come up and she can't leave with her.

Full Summary: 

(Flashback – Hellfire Gala)

Krakoa was for lovers. Wilson Fisk and Typhoid Mary stepped onto the living island and lived a long quiet life of bliss in paradise. The End.

That is how their story could have concluded if it weren't for the intrusion of mankind – Orchis simply could not abide mutant success. The mutant nation was attacked during their annual Hellfire Gala, and during the assault, Professor Xavier was forced to order mutants through the Krakoan portals. Typhoid Mary was among a group of mutants who vanished through one such portal. Despite Wilson Fisk the Kingpin, a human, calling out to his wife, she was unable to answer him.

'Back to your corner, human!' the Omega Sentinel snapped as she punched the Kingpin hard in his face. The Kingpin told another human at the Gala to be ready to act when he does, otherwise Orchis will kill them all. 'Don't be daft, man. I'm the ambassador to the United Nations from Ireland... I'm not worth anything dead' the man responded. Moments later, the ambassador and all the remaining humans were murdered by Orchis.

Eventually, the Kingpin was able to escape with several mutants, including Emma Frost, the White Queen. In the safety of the old Morlock tunnels, Emma uttered that she wasn't able to sense her girls. 'Mary... my sweet Mary' the Kingpin lamented, before he informed Emma that if Orchis hadn't done it already, they would soon move to seize her considerable assets, which are resources needed for the mutants' war effort. 'Very well. Are you going to make me say it?' Emma responded. The Kingpin remained silent, Emma glanced sideways at him and asked him if he would help her. 'Yes, I will help you. Your enemies are my enemies' the Kingpin responded. He told Emma that they must act quickly. Emma suggested that they get to her lawyer's office. 'Together, we can -' she started to say, but the Kingpin turned and walked away from her: 'Not “together.” We may have common enemies, but make no mistake... you work for me again' he declared as he lumbered down the tunnel. Emma narrowed her eyes.

(Now – X weeks later)

The newly reconstituted Hellfire Club. A party is underway. Wilson Fisk is now the new White King. Nobody dares to utter his other name, especially in his presence. The previous white monarch is missing. Some say Emma Frost died the night of the mutant massacre, while others say she was captured by Orchis, while one tabloid assured readers that she had fled to Arakko and was being protected by her mutant cousins. Orchis has won the war against mutants, but the resistance was growing stronger every day. Some of the heroes hid in plain sight, like the club's new Black King, Tony Stark. He had been defeated by elements of Orchis, and his Iron Man technology had been inserted into the Sentinel Program. By day, Stark was playing possum, telling war stories and sipping on a glass of ginger ale. By night, he was designing his most dangerous armor yet, one he was content to die in if need be.

Hellfire guards stand around the large ballroom, as guests go about their business, and Stark stands at a table where some gambling is underway. 'So I said to Obadiah Stane, “Well, you can't eject this”!' Stark laughs, as do others around him.

The X-Men hide below the streets and strike in the dead of night. Orchis has eyes everywhere, including artificial intelligence scouring for any words of mutant support. The tiniest slipups could send someone to “educational camp.” These are the most dangerous days for mutants and their friends.

Suddenly: 'Mr Stark, I require a moment of your time' Stark's assistant, the dowdy Hazel Kendal calls out as she grabs Stark by his arm and drags him away from the guests, despite Stark telling her that he is not done hanging out with his new friends. 'It's quite urgent' Hazel responds. 'Well, bye, friends!' Stark calls back to the guests as Hazel pulls him into an office. 'Thanks for the save, Emma' Stark remarks, addressing Hazel as her true self – Emma Frost. Emma scowls and tells Stark that she knows he has some “optics” into Orchis, and asks if it is Firestar. Stark folds his arms and pauses, before reminding Emma that they decided to decompartmentalize some of what they are each doing. 'If she's a mole, tell her she's been targeted by a... rogue mutant assassin who she has no hope of surviving' Emma declares. 'If she's not your mole, then I'll go fetch an urn from the basement' Emma adds. 'Oh. I better make a call' Tony responds, wide-eyed. 'See that you do – and keep your hands to yourself, Mr Stark!' Hazel snaps as she opens the office door, where several guests can be seen standing outside.

Meanwhile, Kamala Khan is also leading a double life, balancing her identity as Ms. Marvel, the newest X-Man, and her cover as a high-school student as she infiltrates an Orchis-funded program at Empire State University. Orchis propaganda ensures that anti-mutant sentiment fills the airwaves – which translates to violence on the street. As Kamala walks down a series of stairs, with a large sign advertising an Orchis Science Center nearby, she suddenly comes across two hooded thugs who push someone with no hair and unique markings on their face over. 'Mutie scum!' one of the thugs shouts. 'Help!' the victim cries out. Although she instinctively increases the mass of her hand to create a large fist, Kamala does not want to embiggen her problems, and so discovers another way to deal with the attack: 'Stop! I'm recording everything!' Kamala calls out as she holds her phone up and records the thugs' attack. 'You'll get yours, mutie lover!' one of the thugs retorts as they rush away, keeping their hoods pulled over their faces.

'Hi. I'll call the police' Kamala remarks as she goes over to the bullies' victim. 'No. Please don't the young woman utters. 'But you're hurt' Kamala points out, noticing the blood streaming down the young woman's face. The woman wipes her nose and Kamala sees that the woman is bald and has some pigmentation markings around her eyes and mouth. 'I'll live. I don't want any more trouble. I just want to go home' the woman tells Kamala, adding that it is funny, because she isn't even a mutant, she just looks different because she has alopecia. 'I hated feeling their eyes on me, but I'd rather go back to that than feel their fists' she supposes that nobody different is safe anymore.

The Bloom is Orchis' space station, in orbit above the Earth. It receives regular shuttles. One arrives with a stowaway inside the hull, breathing comfortably with scuba technology. Once several Orchis agents leave the shuttle, Shadowkat a.k.a. Kate Pryde emerges. She knows she doesn't have long once breaching the station – but also knows she won't need much time to kill one mutant traitor. Ditching the scuba breathing equipment, Shadowkat races down a corridor, while a siren reports that a mutant has been detected. She has planned several means of escape. The Krakoan gates aboard the station would be her last resort, as her ability to transit is still a tactical advantage worth killing to protect.

The alarm reaches Angelica Jones a.k.a. Firestar in her small quarters. Tony Stark's warning had not come soon enough for her to leave the station. 'Oh God' Angelica utters as she holds a gun.

'You there! Stop!' one of the Orchis agents shouts at Shadowkat as she turns a corner. 'We will shoot!' another warns her. A moment later, both agents open fire, the blasts merely pass through Shadowkat who has phased herself. She then shoves her fist against the neck of one of the agents, breaking it, before she grabs the other by his ankle and phases his torso through the glass floor of the Bloom, right out into open space, leaving his lower limbs in a pool of blood on the floor. Shadowkat walks across the glass floor, leaving bloodied footprints behind her.

Shadowkat locates Firestar's quarters, which juts out of the side of the Bloom. 'Hello?' Firestar calls out. Shadowkat then phases herself through the floor and out into space, where she floats up behind Firestar's quarters. The remains of the Orchis agent can be seen floating behind her. 'Kitty – Kate, if you're outside that door, we need to talk. I have a crazy story to tell you' Firestar remarks.

Suddenly: 'TRAITOR!' Shadowkat screams as she phases herself through the wall of Firestar's quarters, and kicks Firestar in the back of her head. Firestar drops to the ground, and backs herself up against a wall. 'Wait! I need you to hear -' Firestar begins, but Shadowkat punches her and tells her that the only thing she wants to hear from her is her last breath.

'You don't understand!' Firestar exclaims as she surrounds herself with fiery energy. 'There's nothing to understand' Shadowkat responds as she shoves her sword into Firestar's head.

'At the gala, when it was clear we'd lost, Jean telepathically inserted memories into Stasis' head about recruiting me and being a double agent so I could help whoever survived in whatever way I could, and before she could tell anyone else, she died' Firestar reveals to Shadowkat. With the blade still phased into her head, Firestar informs Shadowkat that she is now here alone, trying to do what she can, and that she didn't ask for this, but Jean did it anyway, saying she had to volunteer. 'But I didn't really volunteer and I didn't even want to be an X-Man, but now that I am, I know I can be important – I can be of service. I'm a mutant – and I'm proud. I resist' Firestar adds.

Shadowkat unphases the sword, removing it from Firestar's head. 'Jean made it all up as she was dying – I swear!' Firestar calls out as she begins to burn up the floor. 'And if you're gonna kill me anyway, then maybe I should stop holding back and unleash my power on this station – sending it crashing to the planet below!' Firestar exclaims. Shadowkat places her sword at Firestar's neck once more, and Angelica tells her that she knows she doesn't believe her – but that this is the truth.

'Are. You. Kidding. Me?' Shadowkat asks as she removes the covering from the lower part of her face. 'That's the most “Jean” story I've heard in all my lives' Shadowkat smiles as she puts her sword back in the case strapped to her back. 'The last punch was for appearances. Gotta make it look good' Shadowkat explains as she extends a hand to Firestar. Firestar closes her eyes, before taking Shadowkat's hand. 'Good fight' she tells her. 'For me' Kate points out, before asking Angelica if she is okay. 'I'll live' Angelica replies.

Angelica asks Kate who else survived the massacre, but Kate tells her that she doesn't know – and that even if she did, she wouldn't tell her, as everything is on strict need-to-know. Kate pulls her cowl up over her head, and Angelica asks her if, after all this, she still doesn't trust her. Kate explains that it isn't about trust, but about running an effective resistance. 'Don't take it personally' Kate adds. 'Fine. Just tell any of the others who want to come at me that I'm on your side' Firestar asks. 'Absolutely not' Kate smiles. 'It's good for your cover to fight us once in a while' she points out.

Kate stands in front of a Krakoan gateway aboard the Bloom and starts to step through it, before turning to Firestar and letting her in on one little secret: 'I want you to know my truth. I can kill you at any time. So don't go get any ideas about playing both sides' Kate warns. Firestar looks shocked as Kate passes through the gate and asks her how this is possible. 'Doesn't matter. Consider having to defend yourself as your Danger Room trials' Kate adds as she puts her mask back on. Kate then tells Angelica to make the most of Jean's sacrifice, get as much intel as she can and disrupt whatever she can. 'Hope you survive the experience' Kate jokes as she disappears. '

Ow' Firestar mutters as she wipes the blood from under her nose. '$%&* me' she adds.

Later that night, in the alley behind the Hellfire Club. “Hazel Kendal” stands in the dark alley, arms folded, before Shadowkat appears and tells her not to worry, that it didn't happen. 'Oh, thank god' Emma utters, before asking Kate if she found out what happened to Scott. Kate pauses, before informing Emma that Scott didn't come up, but that she is getting closer. 'It's been weeks. We need to find him' Emma snaps. 'If I'm leaving the relative safety of this cover and driving off a cliff with you as we dedicate ourselves to revenge, then I need to know he's sorted' Emma explains. Motioning to the Hellfire Club, Emma tells Kate that she paid Stark back for his kindness, that he has got what he needs, and that the Kingpin can help him the rest of the way. 'He's desperate for a new suit' she adds, before announcing that she will tell Stark she is leaving with Kate. Emma heads back towards the unmarked entrance to the Club, and Kate tells her that they are going to make a good team, and that there isn't a single one of them they can't kill together.

Emma Frost dreams of the revenge against the people who have done this. She looks forward to ending Dr. Stasis, the aspect of Sinister who had vexed mutantdom since before Krakoa. There was Moira X, the  traitor, and of course, Feilong – the man who had failed to conquer Mars but had taken Stark's Iron Man technology by force. She really looks forward to killing him – and here he is, standing right before her at the Gala. 'Oh my god' Emma utters as she looks at Feilong, when suddenly, Tony Stark grabs her and pulls her away. 'Unhand me, Tony' Emma complains. 'A word, Ms Kendal' Tony tells Emma as he drags her into a nearby room, where he asks her to hear him out. 'No, I have abided every humiliation. EVERY SINGLE ONE – but I will not play “Hazel” for that murdering pig!' Emma snaps. She starts to remove the ring that masks her mutant status around her finger and tells Stark to step aside.

Stark informs Emma that he is making progress in his design work, but that Feilong has information in his head that he needs, and so they have to do this right. 'If you go out there and wipe his mind, you will prolong this war. And if you take off that ring, you'll bring the Sentinels to our door' Stark adds.

Emma edges the ring closer to the end of her finger and narrows her eyes behind Hazel's round glasses as she warns Stark to get out of her way, or else she will make him. 'You wouldn't dare touch my mind -' Stark smirks, before Emma brings her knee up into Stark's crotch, hitting him hard.

Suddenly: 'Stark – I'm bored. Where do you keep the good liquor -' Feilong calls out as he enters the room, where he finds Stark on one knee in front of Hazel, holding up a ring. 'What the hell are you doing, Stark? Marrying the help? Heh' Feilong laughs. Stark tells Feilong that he is trying to, if she would do him the honor. 'Miss Hazel Kendal... will you...' Stark begins.

Back outside in the alleyway, Kate receives a telepathic message from Emma, informing her that something has come up, and that she is sorry. 'Me too, Emma' Kate mutters as she turns and walks away.

 

Characters Involved: 

Ms. Marvel IV, Shadowkat (both X-Men)

Emma Frost/”Hazel Kendal”

Wilson Fisk/White King, Tony Stark/Black King (both Hellfire Club)

Firestar

 

Feilong, (Orchis)

 

Hellfire Club guards

Hellfire Club guests

Thugs

Unnamed victim

Orchis agents

 

(in flashback)

Kingpin & Typhoid Mary

Curse, Emma Frost, Magik, Marrow, Mirage, , Professor X, Stepford Cuckoo

 

Omega Sentinel

Irish Ambassador to United Nations

 

Story Notes: 

This issue includes an email from Firestar to her father, in which she tells him that she began working for Orchis when she discovered the diabolical plans of Xavier and the Beast. She also asks her father to hand her Avengers I.D. card over to Tony Stark at the Hellfire Club.

Emma and Tony's story continues in Invincible Iron Man (5th series) #10.

Typhoid Mary and a group of mutants ended up in Vanaheim as shown in Realm of X.

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