This article is from the X-Men Comic Books FAQ, by Kate the Short (email@example.com) with numerous contributions by others.
The Hellfire Club is a direct homage / tribute to the 1960s UK Avengers
show with Patrick MacNee and Diana Rigg. In an episode called "A Touch
of Brimstone", Steed and Mrs. Peel face a top secret political group
which named itself after the legendary 18th-century secret society. The
members of the "Inner Circle" all wear period costumes, and at one
point Mrs. Peel assumes the role of "the Queen of Sin", wearing a black
leather costume that's the image of the White Queen. (That's also why
the White Queen has the first name Emma--it's an homage to "Emma Peel".)
John Byrne has admitted using it as an inspiration, since it was one of
his favorite action/advenute shows growing up. Hellfire Clubs did exist
in the real world, but they were usually "gentlemen's" clubs of the 18th
century dealing as upper-class brothels. The best-known characters were
based on popular actors: In the X-Men Companion II (Fantagraphics Books,
1982), Byrne says that Sebastian Shaw was based on Robert Shaw, Harry
Leland was Orson Wells, Donald Pierce was Donald Sutherland, and Jason
Wyngarde is Peter Wyngarde.
Anyway, in Marvel Comics, there have been many different incarnations of
the American Hellfire Club / Inner Circle, as well as numerous
international clubs. The HC members tend to be mutants who want to rule
the world through a combination of raw power and subtle political and
financial maneuvers. Membership is passed down to one's offspring, so
people like Warren Worthington III (Angel) and Brian Braddock (Captain
Britain) are members of the club. The club first appeared at the start
of the Dark Phoenix Saga in Uncanny X-Men.
According to Ultimate X-Men (the coffee-table book, not the text-story
collection or the comic series of the same name), the American branch
of the Hellfire Club was founded in the 1770s by "wealthy trading
company owner Sir Patrick Clemens and his mistress, Diana Knight" who
emigrated from Britain to New York City. The Hellfire Club mini-series
reveals that the American club members were loyalists who battled the
Captain America of the American Revolution. The mini-series also gives
some background on Sebastian Shaw, showing how he transformed the Inner
Circle of wealth and privelege to an Inner Circle of mutants.
The backup story of Classic X-Men #7 introduces the reader to the
previous leaders of the club, namely White King Edward Buckman and his
White Queen, Paris Seville. According to OHOTMUDE, Shaw had up until
then risen to Black Bishop. On the same New Year's Eve when Jean Grey
became the Phoenix, Buckman was telling Sebastian Shaw what a fine Black
King he'd make. However, this was just a ruse to put Shaw in a false
sense of security, since Buckman and Paris actually intended to kill all
mutants, including Shaw and his four associates: Emma Frost, Harry
Leland, Tessa and Lourdes Chantel. In the fight that ensued, Lourdes
Chantel (Shaw's lover, a teleporter) was killed. Retribution was quick
to follow; under Emma Frost's telepathic control Buckman shot all of the
members of the Council of the Chosen before Shaw snapped his neck. Shaw
then took control of the Club, and renamed the Council the "Inner
The club was formally introduced to X-Men readers during the Dark
Phoenix Saga. The Inner Circle was lead by Sebastian Shaw (the Black
King) and telepath Emma Frost (the White Queen). Shaw's assistant was
Tessa, an extremely intelligent human who later joined the X-Men as
Sage (where she displayed newly-found telepathic powers). The Black
Bishop was Harry Leland, who could manipulate mass. The White Bishop was
Donald Pierce, a cyborg who wanted to become White King. Mastermind, who
disguised himself in order to lure Phoenix into the club as its Black
Queen, was an applicant for Inner Circle membership.
The Hellfire Club appeared again in Marvel Graphic Novel #4, which
introduced the New Mutants. Pierce worked against Xavier in recruiting
Cannonball, but Tessa realized that Pierce was a threat to the Inner
Circle, and promised to deal with him. (Pierce was later seen in full
cyborg mode leading the Reavers in the Australian Outback era of
Uncanny. Donald Pierce returned in the Domino mini-series and later
turned up during the Ladronn issues of Cable.)
Years later, around the time of Uncanny #180-190, Selene became the new
Black Queen, after she was introduced by her agent/worshipper Frederick
von Roehm, (the Black Rook). Selene was a type of vampire, and she'd
appeared in New Mutants. Around the same time, Emanuel Da Costa (father
of New Mutant Roberto DaCosta) was recruited to become the White Rook.
Issues of Uncanny also revealed that Emma Frost was training her own set
of younger mutants, the Hellions, who went up against the X-Men before
becoming a longtime rival of the New Mutants.
After the defeat of Nimrod in Central Park, the Hellfire Club
disappeared from Uncanny, but continued to appear in The New Mutants,
where Frost, Shaw, and Selene pitted The Hellions against Xavier's
students. The two teams interacted on a number of occassions.
During this time, Magneto served as headmaster of Xavier's school.
In one memorable story (after the Beyonder killed and resurrected them)
the New Mutants became Hellions (and therefore wards of the Hellfire
Club). Magneto was named to the position of White King. He and Storm
shared the title for a while, and Magneto called himself the Grey King
after Shaw was booted out of the club (circa New Mutants #75).
The Hellfire Club underwent a number of dramatic changes in the 1990s.
In Uncanny #281, the Hellions were killed and Emma Frost was put into a
coma (she woke in Uncanny #314). Soon after, Sebatian Shaw was
overthrown by Shinobi Shaw, who was supposed to be Sebastian's son, but
had mass / intangibility powers more like those of Harry Leland.
Shinobi replaced the entire Inner Circle (some with members of The
Upstarts) and this new Circle is what stands in X-Men Annual #3. The
"upstart" Inner Circle was composed of Shinobi Shaw (Black King),
Benazir Kaur, Reeva Payge, and Benedict Kine (White King). It's only
assumed that the aforementioned ladies held the rank of queen. Circa
Uncanny #319, Shinobi attempted to bring Storm, Psylocke, and Angel in
as members of the Inner Circle, but they refused.
The Club next appeared in Generation X's first annual. Emma Frost's loss
of the Hellions caused her to align with Xavier and train his new team.
This resulted in her abandoning her position in the Club, though she was
still known as the White Queen. Her younger sister, Cordelia, tried to
insinuate herself into Shinobi's Hellfire Club, but she was refused
After Onslaught, Sebastian Shaw was finally able to overthrow his son.
Selene returned to the Club as well, bringing with her Trevor Fitzroy
and X-Man's Madelyne Pryor. Madelyne eventually double-crossed Selene
and sought to supplant her as the Black Queen. Issues of X-Man indicated
that Madelyne assumed the title for a short time, and Sebastian Shaw
called her "my queen." This version of the Inner Circle did not last
very long, though. Madelyne soon left to follow Nate Grey (and was again
replaced by Selene) while Fitzroy sent himself to the future as the
Chronomancer (see Bishop: The Last X-Man #1). Tessa also announced that
she was no longer in the employ of Shaw, and later aligned herself with
the X-Men. At one point, Emma's sister Adrienne Frost announced that she
was the new White Queen (circa Generation X #62) but she was never seen
in that role.
Club membership was readjusted once more beginning with Fantastic Four
Annual '99, which established that Black Queen Selene was running the
club with the demon Blackheart (Mephisto's son) as her Black King.
Selene later showed up in X-Force, where she converted Roberto DaCosta
into an HC member. Berto should have inherited his father's White Rook
position, but he's apparently the Black Rook. No current White Hellfire
Club members are confirmed as such.
As if that wasn't enough, there have been quite a few stories mentioning
the (presumably original) London branch of the Hellfire Club. Beginning
in Excalibur #92, Warren Ellis mentioned the London branch. It was
connected to the American Club by name and occassional association,
but the London Club had distanced itself enough that Shinobi Shaw
convinced Brian Braddock (Captain Britain) to enter the London Club and
act as informant for whatever plan was brewing. The London Club used the
colors Red and White for its Inner Circle, as opposed to the Black and
White of the New York Club. During the Excalibur run leading up to issue
#100, Brian planned to enter as the Red Bishop (since his father had
apparently held that position), but he ended up becoming its Black Rook.
The Red King was an Indian man we'd never seen before, and the Black
King was likewise a new character. The Red Queen was sorceress Margali
Szardos, better known as Amanda Sefton's mom and Nightcrawler's adoptive
mother. The Black Queen, named Emma Steed, was a psionic skinner who
looked very much like the Damask character that appeared in the Age of
Apocalypse storyline. (She was also the spitting image of Diana Rigg,
who played Emma Peel in the classic Avengers episode mentioned above.)
The Red Rook, Scribe, was a recorder of sorts, whose body was being used
by Mountjoy, a refugee from Bishop's timeline. She had powers of
intangibility, superior strength, and agility, which may have come from
Mountjoy instead of from her own ability. (It should be noted that
Mountjoy was a refugee from Bishop's future who was revealled to have
snuck through Fitzroy's gateway while riding another criminal. Bishop
became aware of his prescence in the mainstream timeline present and
pursued him in theBishop Limited series by Ostrander and Pacheco).
Excalibur #100 revealed that the London Hellfire Club and black ops
organization Black Air had bribed their way into the pockets of many
important politicians. The Club attempted to utilise the powers of a
demon trapped under London to cause enough chaos that they and their
agents in Black Air could seize power. They kidnapped Excalibur member
Douglock to use as a sort of power conduit, but unfortunately they'd
underestimated the power of the demon and pretty much drove themselves
mad. The Black King and Red King ended up dead, while Red Queen Margali
was snatched into Hell / Limbo by Belasco (see the Soulsword question),
and the Black Queen escaped to parts unknown. The Red Rook, Scribe,
eventually showed up in X-Man #23, where she later battled Madelyne.
The London Club also made an appearance, via flashback, in a story
involving Cable (circa Cable #49). "The Hellfire Hunt" had Cable chase
Donald Pierce and Sebastian Shaw across the Atlantic to prevent them
from stealing Apocalypse's technology. On the flight there, he and Irene
Merryweather read the diary of a previous Union Jack who had battled the
Club in his day. The story also involved the Harbinger, a creation of
Apocalypse (see CABLE #50). These events referenced the events of The
Further Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix. That story--the origin of
Sinister--revealed an alliance between Apocalypse and the London Club of
1889. The Hellfire Club planned to increase strife around the world,
making the world ready for Apocalypse's eventual return.
Obviously, the Hellfire Club and its Inner Circle have deep roots in
the Marvel Universe. In addition to the London and New York branches,
there are apparently chapters of the Hellfire Club in Moscow, Rio de
Janeiro, Tokyo, Venice, and Hong Kong. Jamie Braddock, Brian Braddock,
and Betsy Braddock all had membership through their father, who was a
member of the London Inner Circle. Warren Worthington III had membership
through his father, and his girlfriend Candy Southern was also a member.
Howard Stark, Iron Man's father, was a member, as was Senator Robert
Kelly (see Uncanny #247). The Hellfire Club mini-series indicates that
the Greys (Jean's parents) probably are members as well.