Hellstorm: Prince of Lies #1 (April – 1993 – Marvel)

Hellstorm: Prince of Lies #1

Damion Hellstrom one of the flag ship characters of Essential: Marvel Horror Volume 1. His books from the 70’s exude that paranoia bestowed on the American psyche by The Exorcist that behind curtain and around every corner there was a demon waiting to possess you.  Those come across as pretty standard super hero fare.  Even though Hellstrom is the son of the Devil, and constantly fighting against the Devil’s forces (because unlike Satana he wants to be free of his father), he is basically a hero in a cape there to fight against the forces of evil.

The re-boot of this title finds a darker and more sinister Damion Hellstrom in its pages.  It would seem that the internal struggle of Damion against his darker demonic self is now external  .  He is no longer a man with something deep inside of him longing to get out, he is actually two entities.  One that wants to crush the forces of evil and another that wants to herald the return of Satan to earth.  There are two people on the trail of the evil side of Damion.  Damion himself, and a former priest and exorcist named Gabriel (also from Marvel’s bullpen of 70’s horror characters).

There are points in this where the plot is a little muddled, and the hints at  back stories and other characters alluded to make it a little obvious that this is just supposed to be an introduction to the title.  Because of that, as a single issue it is a little unsatisfying.  The writer, Rafael Nieves has some clunky passages in here, and some of the exposition seems a little forced.  It is almost like he was being forced to tell the story of one and a half comics in one comic.

Artist Michael Bair has a sketchy and intense style that fits the title really well.  It is almost a throw back to some of the pre-code horror titles, while maintaining the same feel as other Marvel horror titles from the 90’s.  That style made more dark and intense by full bleed, and full black pages.  This is the look that I loved when I was in middle school reading all of those Midnight Sons titles, I’m not sure how I never picked this book up when I was a kid.  Discovering this later in life I can see the flaws in it, but overall I do enjoy it.  I will be interested in seeing where subsequent issues take the plot.

Next Time:  Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities and the Orm of Loch Ness #1

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Essential: Marvel Horror Volume 1 (TPB – 2006 – Marvel)

Essential: Marvel Horror Vol. 1

Collecting: Ghost Rider #1&2, Marvel Spotlight #12-24, Son of Satan #1-8, Marvel Two-in-One #14, Marvel Team-Up#32 & #80-81, Vampire Tales #2-33, Haunt of Horror #2, 4-5, Marvel Premiere #27 & Marvel Preview #7

When I was a teen there was a man named Bob Larson, and Bob Larson was very very afraid that my generation was going to be kidnapped in the middle of the night, taken to fields  sexually assaulted and then sacrificed in a black mass to the Devil.  To that end he released several books warning of the evils of heavy metal music, certain symbols and of course Satanic comic books.  One that he was particularly miffed by was Son of Satan.  It seems that Mr. Larson never actually read the title, but he was pretty sure that it was going to make Satanists of all nerds.

Here in Essential: Marvel Horror Vol. 1 we find a treasure trove of Son of Satan comics.  So much so that I’m sure the very presence of this book causes Bob Larson to have panic attacks, but if he took the time to get to know Damion Hellstrom he might be a little surprise by what he found. two thirds of this Essential is dedicated to Son of Satan comics, and in that run you get very familiar with the Hellstrom saga.

Damion Hellstrom is born of a human woman, and his father Satan, and he hates it.  The evil that lies deep inside of him that longs to reach out and destroy everything has been suppressed into a separate personality inside of Damion, and that separate personality is something that Damion is constantly trying to keep control of.  Hellstrom wants nothing to do with his Satanic heritage, instead he sought the priesthood  and specifically the path of exorcist, because he longs to defeat the forces that reside inside of him once and for all.

The issues that are collected here show that struggle, as Damion gets close to various people, who are then all attacked by the forces of the Devil.  He is always on his heels, always trying to help people, but instead, through their involvement with him, people are hurt.  He takes it all to heart, and his desire to help is often coupled with his desire to push people away.  He is truly a conflicted anti-hero, and the levels of nuance that was afforded this character in the writing is a little surprising.  The regret that Hellstrom feels when his darker half takes control of his powers.  The fear that he has that he will always be inching closer and closer to being like his father.  All of these tropes of trying to slough off the heritage of his birth make for very good reading.

Lets be really clear about one thing though, Son of Satan looks silly.  His outfit is stupid, and the fact that Marvel tried to make him superheroish, even down to his devil trident that he can use to fly.  Sometimes the title can be a little corny, and the combat dialogue is a little heavy handed with Son of Satan often coming across as poorly modernized Shakespeare.  There is a lot of that in all the titles that were coming out in the 70’s though, so what can you do?

The last third of the book lives up to Bob Larson’s view of the evils of comics a little bit better than the Son of Satan, with his active pursuit of denying his Satanic heritage, ever did.  The last third of the book is all about Damion’s sister Satana.  When Damion’s mother discovered her husband in the basement teaching their daughter how to sacrifice cats to the Devil, she snapped.  She was removed to a mental institution and Damion was sent to an orphanage, meanwhile Satana was with her father, in Hell.  There she gained the powers of the Succubus and something called The Basilisk.

The story catches up with her banishment to earth and her separation from her father.   She is stuck on Earth with no ability to get back to her home in hell, due to the spells of a group of sorcerers called The Four.  Unlike Damion, Satana embraces her dark side and in each issue finds herself sucking the soul out of a hapless (usually fairly vile) victim while she is hunted by deranged exorcist priests and the demonic forces of The Four.  Not all of the issues collected here are comics either.

There are two short stories that tell tales that were intended to be comics, but due to crazy artist/publishing happenstance ended up not being done that way.  There are also two essays about Satana, the first is an article about the origins of the title itself, detailing the writing process and the artist that was lined up lined up to do the ongoing issues.  The second essay is about how all of that fell through and none of it worked out.  It literally comes across as the writer begging the audience to flood Marvel with letters until they bring Satana back.

Another strange aspect of the format of the Satana stories that are collected in this work is that they are part of magazines as opposed to comics.  In the 70’s to get around having to get the comics code seal there were several horror magazines that started coming out (Like Eerie and Creepy that I talked about a few reviews back), so books like Vampire Tales and Haunt of Horror were Marvel’s version of these magazines.  They were larger and had a couple of stories or reoccurring characters in them, so the covers that are included show what look to be other amazing stories that were in them, but the actual content isn’t included in Volume 1.   So about half of the magazine is missing in a lot of cases, but most of that content appears to be collected in Essential:  Marvel Horror Volume 2, which I’m enjoying right now.  That also means that the content and the art is significantly more risque than you would expect from this era of comics.  Satana is straight up sexy, not in the comic book super heroine way but in the object to be desired way.  She is a succubus and her main power is her sexuality, and they do not beat around the bush with that in a lot of these issues.  The art in them is far more reminiscent of EC, and in a strange turn for me, seems to lose something by not being in color (I’m hoping to slowly hunt them down because they are really solid and I would love to see them in vivid color).  There is some bold stuff in the Haunt of Horror and Vampire Tales though.

In general this is a really decent collection.  Because the Essential’s are by their nature meant to be comprehensive there is no distinction between good story lines, or specific themes or anything.  This is just all of the 70’s era Son of Satan books, and all of the 70’s era Satana (which other than a few one shots, and a short run in the 90’s for Hellstrom is most everything about the two characters), so at that goal it does its job.  If you want to read the best of these comics, they are in there, but right next to issues that are pretty pedestrian.  You get it all in a Marvel Essential, the bad with the good.  Just like you would if you were picking them up at the comic shop month to month.

Next Time:  Hellboy: In Hell #1