- "We are the children of the atom. Radiation gave birth to mutants. What will kill the humans will only make us stronger."
- ―Sebastian Shaw
Sebastian Hiram Shaw was a mutant with the ability to absorb raw energy and redirect it or augment himself.
X-Men: First Class Prologue
In 1944, Sebastian Shaw (under the alias Dr. Klaus Schmidt) was a scientist working for the Nazis. He was present at the Auschwitz concentration camp, where a young Erik Lehnsherr's mutant powers first manifested. Shaw attempted to get Erik to show his power by pretending to be his friend and giving him some chocolate. When Erik refused, Shaw urged him to move a coin that was on the table, but to no avail.
He then threatened to shoot Erik's mother if he did not move the coin by the time he counted to three. When Erik failed to do so, Shaw killed his mother. This enraged him greatly, causing him to lash out with his powers, killing two guards and destroying the room, to the delight of Shaw. He then congratulated the traumatized young mutant, and promised to bring out his power using anger and rage.
During the 1950s, Shaw operated a small gambling establishment on Las Vegas strip called the "Hellfire Club", which served as a front for his ambitions for mutant superiority.
One evening in 1959, Nevada Mafia boss Vinny Lavecchia visits the Club. Shaw had previously refused to pay him insurance/protection money as per Mafia tradition. During a game with Shaw, Lavecchia suspects the former of swindling him, and calls for Emma Frost, his telepathic mistress, in order read Shaw's intentions. To her surprise, she discovers that Shaw is also a mutant; Shaw himself immediately becomes smitten with Emma.
When he once again refuses to pay the insurance money, Lavecchia leaves in anger and quietly orders his men to kill Shaw. Shaw, however, escapes unscathed because of his mutant abilities, and uses the absorbed energy to kill Lavecchia's hitmen. Soon, he makes plans to defeat Lavecchia and "save" Emma. After his associates Azazel and Riptide defeat the security detail around Lavecchia's home, Shaw attempts to "rescue" Emma. However, coerced by Lavecchia, she knocks him out with a psychic concussive blast. He is then taken to a remote warehouse.
At the warehouse, Lavecchia intends to kill Shaw by slowly cutting him into pieces - something that Shaw's kinetic energy absorption power can't adapt to. Emma, however, begs that Shaw be dealt a quick death so as not to suffer. Shaw soon implores Emma to abandon Lavecchia due to her superior status as a mutant, angering Lavecchia and causing him to physically abuse her. In defense, Emma converts to her diamond form and kills both Lavecchia and his bodyguard Santo in a rage.
Now convinced by Shaw's rhetoric of mutant superiority, Emma joins him and his mutant colleagues. Azazel quietly warns that Emma could become a potential threat, prompting Shaw to order him to contact their Russian allies to develop a telepathic-protective helmet.
Three years later, Sebastian is firmly established as the leader of the Hellfire Club, a group of mutants with aspirations of world domination. He was observed in Las Vegas by CIA agent Moira MacTaggert meeting with U.S. Army Colonel Hendry, where he threatens him into supporting the placement of American Jupiter missiles in Turkey, near the Russian border. When MacTaggert witnesses Shaw's henchmen Azazel and Riptide using their powers, she attempts to warn her superiors; but Shaw has Azazel teleport Hendry to a Joint Chiefs meeting where he voices his support of the plan.
Later, when Hendry came aboard Shaw's yacht to collect his payment, he attempts to have him killed. However, Hendry pulls out a grenade and threatens to blow them all up with him if they refuse to let him go. Shaw soon takes the grenade and pulls the pin himself with confidence, displaying his mutant power by absorbing the energy from the blast and killing Hendry himself by a single touch.
That night, a now adult and vengeful Erik Lehnsherr, who had been hunting Shaw, sneaks aboard the yacht and attempts to murder the man who had tortured him, only to be overwhelmed by Emma Frost's telepathy. At the same time, the U.S. Coast Guard arrived along with MacTaggert and mutant telepath Charles Xavier to capture him. Emma used her powers to shield Shaw from him, and they all made their way to his submarine and narrowly escaped capture.
On their way to meet with General Armivolkoff, Emma senses Xavier's enhanced telepathy (through use of Cerebro) and informs Shaw that he is recruiting his own team of mutants, consisting of Dr. Hank McCoy (Beast), Angel Salvadore (Angel), Sean Cassidy (Banshee), Alex Summers (Havok), Raven Darkholme (Mystique) and Armando Muñoz (Darwin). Shaw reveals a helmet he had built by the Russians that shields him from telepathic influence. He asks Emma if she can read his mind, but is shocked and says she can't.
He then orders Frost to meet with the general in his place where he, Azazel and Riptide track Charles and his team to a secret CIA facility called Division X, where they proceed to kill everyone, leaving the young mutants as the only ones left. He then offers them a chance to join him in the upcoming war with humankind, an offer that only Angel accepts. When the others attempt to stop her, Darwin says he will join before he suddenly yells out to Havok. Havok shoots Shaw, but he absorbs his energy blast and kills Darwin with it.
Shaw proceeds to Russia, where he meets with Armivolkoff, as emma had attempted to do, during which she was captured by Lehnsherr and Xavier. He and the Hellfire Club force Armivolkoff to send Soviet missiles to Cuba. It is his plan to goad the U.S. and Soviet Union to use nuclear weapons against each other, which would cause WWIII and cripple human civilization, allowing mutants to rise up and rule. He accompanies the Russian fleet in his submarine to assure that the missiles reach their destination, but is tracked by Xavier and his team. Lehnsherr uses his powers to lift the submarine from the water before they both crash on a nearby beach. Shaw attempts to absorb the energy from the sub's nuclear reactor (becoming a human atom bomb) but is foiled by Lehnsherr.
The two fight, Shaw then tells Erik that without him, he would never have unlocked his true power, adding up that mutants are the future. Erik then admits that Shaw was right. Suddenly Erik manages to remove his helmet, allowing Xavier to mentally freeze his body. Lehnsherr then takes Shaw's helmet for himself and says that Shaw was right about mutants being the future, however, he does not forgive him for killing his mother or even the other innocent lives. He then uses his ability to force the Nazi coin he still kept and puts it through Shaw's brain, killing him slowly. His body was then used by Erik as a means of showing he was now in charge to Shaw's former comrades - Azazel, Riptide and Angel.
Personality and Traits
Sebastian Shaw was an extremely persuasive and charismatic man; many who followed him were unquestioning of his power and authority, and his enemies recognised how dangerous he was even without his powers. Shaw was a skilled manipulator, often winning people over with his words rather than his fists, and resorting to violence when necessary.
During the war, Shaw proved himself to be an intensely callous man; he did not hesitate at all on experimenting on young Erik Lensherr, or gunning down the boy's mother right in front of him. Under a friendly and fatherly façade was a cold-hearted and sadistic man; while he maintained the former while around him as a child, reacting calmly after Erik's grief-induced rampage and speaking 'kindly' to him. He tried to assure Erik that he wasn't like the Nazis, even though his actions proved the contrary beyond a shadow of a doubt. As for the latter, when he reunited with Erik for the first time in years he referred to him as 'little Erik Lensherr'.
When dealing with other people, Shaw maintained a reserved, cool and sophisticated manner, dressing finely at all times and speaking very plainly about what he wanted and what he believed. Remarking that he didn't ask for favours, he was very clear about his intentions towards those he confronted; he dared Colonel Hendry to blow up their boat with him on it, only to casually state that he wouldn't but Shaw would. Shaw never lost his temper, ever, even when in combat with someone. To be fair, Shaw's extremely arrogant nature led him to believe that no man on earth could match him. He was willing to admit when an adversary impressed him, in the case of both Erik and Charles Xavier.
Shaw was intensely cruel to other human beings, treating them contemptuously whenever he had the chance and sparing no thought to slaughtering them. When faced with a battalion of humans, he flatly called mutants the more evolved people and proceeded to mow through all of those in his path without a second's thought. He spoke rather sarcastically to Colonel Hendry after revealing his true power, remarking on his 'astuteness' and describing how his powers kept him young was 'boring' compared to what he could do with the energy once he'd got it.
Shaw was motivated by his belief that mutants were stronger and better than humans, and that they were the future of the human race. When faced with Erik Lensherr for the last time, Shaw calmly explained his worldview to Erik, offering him a place at Shaw's side while they ruled mankind. This was done so persuasively that Shaw's greatest enemy actually agreed with every word he said, and acknowledged Shaw as his creator. Shaw favoured his own advantages, with his last conscious act being to reach desperately for his helmet before Charles Xavier paralysed him.
Powers, Abilities & Weaknesses
- Energy Absorption - Shaw was able to absorb energy in all its forms, proportionality augmenting all his physical parameters until finally metabolizing it. This made him extremely difficult to defeat in battle, as all the kinetic force from an enemy's strike or projectile assaults is another form of energy that would ultimately be nullified while simultaneously strengthening him.
- Enhanced Strength - By absorbing energy, he could enhance his physical strength to inhuman levels, to the point where no human strength could harm or faze him. This ability allowed him to overpower people with only his hand, send them flying through the air at great speed and effortlessly smash metal constructs. This also proportionately increased his natural resilience and durability, unaffected by falling debris.
- Kinetikinesis - Once he has the energy, he is able to produce and release it in powerful and destructive ways. He can focus it in various ways, including simple bursts, stretching shockwaves, and even concentrated balls. The strength of these attacks was shown powerful enough to take down an entire room in one strike.
- Nigh-Invulnerability - As long as people attack him using force, he is invulnerable to any form of damage. He does not even get injured or scratched from extreme ballistic & combat wounds. When paralyzed by Professor X, Charles hinted he could only control Shaw for so long and demanded Moira be quiet. This implies Shaw has some very limited resistance to Psychic control or Professor X had not fully mastered his power.
- Self-Sustenance - The accumulated energy also acts as a form of sustenance, keeping him rested, nourished, and healthy. This allowed him to no longer need to eat or sleep beyond personal joy.
- Decelerated Aging - His body metabolizes energy to rejuvenate his youth, thereby extending his youth, vitality, and overall lifespan proportionate to the accumulated energy. With the continuous absorption of energy, he possibly could have even lived forever.
- Multilingual - Shaw was fluent in several languages - including English, German, French, and Russian.
- Skilled Leader - He is very good at leading his own army, during battles.
- High Intellect - He is very intelligent of knowing about wars, technology and strategizing.
- Kinteticless Assault - If someone does not apply any measure of force while attacking him, he can easily get injured or killed. This was proven when Magneto killed him with a coin moving at a very slow momentum, thereby not applying any kinetic friction, whatsoever.
- Darwin † - Enemy and Victim
- Edie Lehnsherr † - Enemy and Victim
- General Armivolkoff - Enemy and Former Ally
- Magneto - Experiment, Enemy, and Killer
- Robert Hendry † - Former Ally, Enemy, and Victim
- Vinny Lavecchia † - Former Captor, Enemy, and Attempted Killer
- Banshee † - Enemy
- Beast - Enemy
- Havok † - Enemy
- Humans - Enemies
- Moira MacTaggert - Enemy
- Mystique - Enemy
- Professor X † - Enemy
- In the comics, Shaw's powers are slightly different, since he can only absorb kinetic energy and transform it into physical strength.
- In the video game X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Shaw is revealed to be the owner of the cybernetics lab. His company, Symstemized Cybernetics Lab, is responsible for manufacturing for Project WideAwake under Bolivar Trask. Senator Robert Kelly is mentioned as one of the backers of the company by Raven Darkholme.
- The filmmakers had only two choices for the role of Sebastian Shaw: Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon. They decided to go with Bacon as he was American and seemed more menacing than Firth.