The Hellfire Club comic book series was the brainchild of John Byrne and Chris Claremont, first introduced in the Uncanny X-Man #129 in January 1980. The gentlemen were inspired by the club of a similar name which was a part of the Avengers 60’s television series from Britain in particular episode where Claremont was inspired by The Hellfire Club of the ’60s British TV series The Avengers in the episode “A Touch of Brimstone” where Mrs. Peel, played by Diana Rigg was dressed up as “The Queen of Sin”.
In fact, the Hellfire Clubs have a long standing in British history and can be traced back to the 18th century in the UK where they were regarded as elite social clubs. The real purpose, however, more greatly surrounded clandestine sexual practices under the guise so that the high standing men of the time could be left to their devices without suffering moral or social repercussion. They were highly evolved brothels, essentially and over time, should one hear of a club that bears the name Hellfire, they might make the casual assumption that it operates under the same premise, although that may or may apply. The club motto for the original was “fais ce que tu voudras” which loosely translates to “do whatever you wish”. Others in that time period had also supported clubs of a similar nature under different names such as Ben Franklin and the Phoenix Society at Oxford in the late 1700’s.
The club included well respected men and women, often descending from royalty with a very high moral code to maintain and used it to indulge any sexual excesses that might be disapproved. Beyond the general membership was an ever greater obscure group that ran the Hellfire Club, and they were called the Inner Circle. They were a very small group of members with the greatest degree of influence and their secret nomenclature mimicked the names of chess pieces – rooks, bishops, kings and queens under black, white or red divisions. The most powerful club member was the Lord Imperial.
Mostly, in the comic stance, the Inner Circle was dominated by mutants although there were a few other members that were not mutants. They had the greatest influence over the activities of the other members and their primary goals are to achieve greater wealth and power.
In “The Dark Phoenix Saga”, the Hellfire Club and the Inner Circle made their first appearance in an effort to undermine Jean Grey of the X-Men. At this time, the primary leaders of the Inner Circle were White Queen Emma Frost and Black King Sebastian Shaw and they would hold these positions of stature for many years. The Club continued to be featured in the X-Men series and formed something of an uncomfortable alliance which didn’t last due to ongoing power struggles among the members of the Inner Circle. The club was featured in Wolverine and The X-Men and X-Men: The Animated Series but were referred to only as The Inner Circle so as not to conflict with the use of Hellfire that was being used in other animated occurrences that were more focused on a younger audience.
It was an effort not to make the connection to the sexual connotation that is attached historically to Hellfire. The club members also made an appearance in 2011’s X-Men: First Class as the primary foes, with Emma Frost and Sebastian Shaw as leaders. At some point in the comic series both Iron Man (Tony Stark) and the Green Goblin (Norman Osborne) received invitations to the Hellfire Club.