Horror Comics That Changed My Life #4

Classic literature has left a long legacy of prose and writings concerning the battle between heaven and hell that hails all the way back to the renaissance. The battle for earth and all of her souls was the source of prose by Milton, Bunyan and Shakespeare alike. By taking a sharply Jungian turn on this subject, Editor-in-chief at that time Tom Defalco and writer-Rafael Nieves launched the famed reboot of the classic Son of Satan title as “Hellstorm-Prince of Lies.”

This was 1993 and the current comic book explosion was at its very peak. Image Comics and Vertigo were absolutely killing. Dark Horse had come along and taken a gigantic chunk out of the market. Your regular costumed superheroes were considered passé by comic publishers and everybody was looking for that NEXT Alan Moore/Frank Miller. I think Marvel started to feel kind of left out of this new “Comics are good literature” idea that was taking over pop culture and college lectures worldwide.

So they hire Rafael Nieves to clean out all of the detritus and extra baggage that Damian Hellstrom was carrying around from years with The Defenders. He gave Damian back his Hellfire and trident by restoring the Darksoul. Mrs. Hellstrom, nee Patsy Walker (aka Hellcat), had been driven insane, slipping in and out of a coma and was now being nursed by Isaac the human gargoyle. Bust mostly we see that Damian had grown cynical of his costumed superhero ways and became dark, deep and brooding (no, I mean really…).

The second stage of this series sees writer Len Kaminski steer the plot into a strictly literate realm, illustrated over several issues as a loose retelling of “Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan. By the use of some Jungian devices, such as collective unconscious, Kaminski quite beautifully illustrated our spiritual crisis in modern western culture. Important questions were asked, like: Is homosexuality a sin? And: Is everyone able to surrender their ego in order to enter heaven/the great collective? Are angels really aliens and is the afterlife of heaven or hell a subconscious decision made long before ones death? This was not your everyday, run of the mill comics’ content for sure. This stuff was crucial at the time and after a few missteps, Kaminski had the book headed in a decidedly good direction.

Maybe this is why Marvel decided to shut him down? Maybe Marvel was afraid that this book might be too good? Perhaps the upper management at Marvel was sniffing glue? If they were so desperate to get into the “adult market” at the time, why did they move Kaminski over to “War Machine?” But the real question is, did they know what would happen when they handed the book over to a young British writer by the name of Warren Ellis?

With Damian Hellstrom fresh back from hell and a battle with his father Satan, Ellis dispensed with all of the Jungian drama and replaced it with some truly gothic sturm und drang. The evil undertones became overtones and Hellstorm began to really revel in his own sin and evil nature. Ellis simplified the plot and removed the effluvium that was littering the edges of this story. No more emotional heartrending over his role as a superhero. There was full acceptance of his role as the Son of Satan and the guilt had been removed.

This simple move made it possible for Ellis to explore the idea of good and evil and all the grey areas in between. The protagonist moved into a more active role as the agent of change that gave readers that action hit they so desire. As a result, the comic picked up the pace immediately by introducing a two issue mystery that brought in new characters. In addition, Ellis, in quite a humane maneuver, finally put down poor Patsy Hellstrom. I for one was happy to not have to see his wife rolling around in bed in a lunatic haze, issue after issue.

With the death of Hellcat, Damian was now able to slut around with whatever sexy occultist he chose without making the reader uncomfortable. The human gargoyle Isaac was revamped as well and became a more central player who acted as a separate conscious for a man without one of his own. But the best thing he did for me was the introduction of two concurrent themes: Demons who through jealousy of his lineage or by hubris crossed his path and a fight on Earth between Angels and the occultists who were devoted to protect her.

Underneath it all is Damian’s sister, Satana pulling the strings in an attempt to gain favor with their father. Sibling rivalry! Wow, all of this metaphysical fighting and violence is all about sibling rivalry. The simplicity of it is just one of those moments when you sit back with a smile on your face and say No Shit! This is the series that set Ellis up as one of the premier writers in the industry and at the ripe old age of 26! It was nice to see Marvel comics lose control for a short while and produce a book with teeth. Here’s to days long gone.

 

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Morbius: The Living Vampire #1 (October – 1992 – Marvel)

Morbius #2

I’m re-reading these as I review them, and as I read the new issues of the re-boot of this title, and I have to say they are like night and day.  There is a attempt at revealing the seedy dark underbelly of New York in the re-boot of Morbius that is out now, that this comic accomplishes far better.

The plot of this issue find Morbius trying to get his shit together after the death of the woman he loved (at his own hands), and a whole lot of drama that came with the entrance of the Spirits of Vengeance into his life.  The one thing that is holding him together is his choice to only prey on the corrupt.  Even with all the moral ambiguity that comes with being not just a vigilante, but a vigilante that lusts after human blood, the decision to only kill those who “deserve” it give Morbius a purpose that allows him to focus on his other problem, a cure.

To that end he returns to the home of his only remaining friend, Jacob.  When Morbius tells him of his new plan to use his need to feed only on the wicked, Jacob accepts the idea and sets out to do whatever he can to help Morbius.

Meanwhile forces are alining against Morbius.  The corpses that he is leaving behind get the attention of the police, one of whom places a call to a mysterious man in South America, who immediately gets a plane back to the States.  Not to mention that Spider-Man already has Morbius on his radar.  Thought that feeling is mutual.  Morbius wants to meet with Spidey again, because once that radio active blood of his alleviated the symptoms of his disease for a while.

Writer Len Kaminski knows his way around the vigilante story.  Having written for other horror titles like Lady Death, Hellstrom, and Scare Tactics, he knows his way around the horror genre too.  The internal debate that Morbius is constantly having concerning the physical action that he needs to take to remain alive gets a chance to be aired outside of the inner monologue.  The introduction of Jacob gives Morbius a Devil’s Advocate that has enough of a callous demeanor to him that it seems to push Morbius further towards that vigilante mindset.

Ron Wagner provides a dark canvas to tell that story on.  All of the characters seem jagged and textured to the point that they just ooze humanity and darkness.  The black borders to all of the pages gives it an even darker feel, like there might be something lurking on the edge of the pages.  The art in this is done just right, and the menial thug that Morbius feeds on this issue doesn’t look like he fell out of Mad Max, so that is a bonus.

It is hard for me to divorce nostalgia from this review, but I have to say that even without the veneer of, “I loved this as a kid,” this is a really solid title.  There is a palpable sense of desperation in Morbius about what he is going to have to do to stay alive.  There is a disconnectedness from Jacob that is a touch disturbing, as far as voices of reason go he isn’t the best and seems very enabling of Morbius.  It will be interesting to see as the title goes on if it maintains this sense of darkness and urgency as traditional super heroes are introduced into the fray.  I for one am excited to re-read on!

Next Time:  Baltimore: The Plague Ships TPB