Marvel Spotlight #12
Way back when I was in middle school, we had a family move in next door who practiced a far more conservative brand of that old-time religion than I had been exposed to before in my laid-back Lutheran upbringing. These folk weren’t the type to protest at soldiers’ funerals, but I don’t think they were too many steps removed from the Westboro Baptist crowd. Their son, who was my age, told me hair-raising tales of eyewitness accounts of demons terrorizing innocents, rampaging through towns and sowing destruction. Even at the age of twelve I knew to smile and back away slowly when the conversation drifted down these avenues, but he was the only kid I knew that was my age in the one-stoplight town I grew up in that I didn’t need to beg a car ride to go visit, so we hung out a lot. I’m proud to say I did get him started playing Dungeons and Dragons, a pastime I’m sure he hid from the folks at home, but he never lost his, ah, religious fervor.
One day while visiting my house he noticed an issue of Marvel Spotlight I had found at a flea market some weekend before. The title character caught his eye– The Son of Satan! He picked the book up, flipped through it, soaked up a little of the dialogue, then said in an ominous voice: “This book is… evil!”
Suddenly the Son of Satan grew ten times cooler in my mind.
A recent trip to Half Price Books rewarded me with a big bundle of Daimon Hellstrom’s series in Marvel Spotlight, including his debut issue, for a mere pocketful of change. It was the first time I’ve read a bunch of these issues together, and they make for an entertaining if erratic reading experience. Daimon may have been one of those characters they didn’t know exactly what to do with, despite having clearly gone completely off their rockers when the CCA restrictions were loosened enough that they could slap Beelzebub’s name on the masthead of a book and put it on the spinner rack. (They had completely lost their stones in the 90’s when they tried to revive the character, calling the book “Hellstorm” instead.) They go through a series of writers and artists in the span of twelve issues, and while I have nothing but respect for Claremont and Sal Buscema, and awe and reverence for Gerber and Colan, the premiere issue by Ghost Rider scribe Gary Friedrich and master of occult illustration Herb Trimpe (uh, okay, maybe not, but…) carry a helluva lot of charm, so that’s what we’ll be discussing today.
Daimon Hellstrom doesn’t make his first appearance here. The previous character to be featured in Spotlight was Ghost Rider; when Satan’s cyclist (I love typing that) made the move to his own first issue, a subplot was introduced in which a mysterious occult specialist, seen only in shadow, is called in to help investigate some paranormal event. I’m missing Ghost Rider’s second issue, so I have no idea how that mysterious figure got locked in a wooden shed by a couple of American Indians, but his alter-ego makes his first appearance bursting out of that prison on the first page of his premiere.
It’s 1973, so this fearsome character gets to demonstrate his awesome powers for the reader by obliterating a rogue biker gang. (Seriously, I could do a series of posts on early 70s Marvel comics featuring biker gangs getting creamed by supernatural characters.) Not only does the scene demonstrate Hellstrom’s powers for the reader, it also drives home his identity as the Son of Satan, because he keeps shouting it over and over. He actually comes off as a bit of an asshole, but he is, as he says, the Son of Satan. The purpose of the battle is to rescue Roxanne Simpson, girlfriend of Johnny Blaze, who then points him to where her boyfriend has been kidnapped– dragged into Hell by Daimon’s dad.
It’s Daimon’s first ever solo issue, and he’s invading Hell to battle Satan. I’ll confess I would have saved this plot for later, since following it the next issue with bank robbers or Stilt Man is bound to be anticlimactic. Then again, they didn’t know how successful these characters would be when they tried them out in these anthology titles, so might as well go in with guns blazing, I guess. Daimon battles Satan and the legions of the netherworld while Johnny Blaze politely sits this one out, since his name isn’t on the book anymore. When Daimon does rescue Blaze and reunite him with his girlfriend, Blaze still complains about his unfeeling manner. That’s a brilliant piece of characterization; a guy must be a real prick if he rescues you from Hell and you still think he’s cold and uncaring.
An unexpected (okay, entirely expected) treat from this series is the letters pages. These were the days before the internet, and apparently the local public library was lacking in occult reference material, so the writers and editors do the next obvious thing: they invite any Satanists who might be reading the series to write in with any information they have on their practices. A riotous series of letters flows in in the following months, from cultist geeks demanding the pentagram on Daimon’s chest be drawn properly (it does get changed) to readers who accuse Friedrich and Gerber of being pawns of the devil who seek the corruption of America’s youth. One of the issues in the pile I brought home had a scar upon it I hadn’t noticed until I started reading it: a puncture, dead center on the cover, piercing all the way through the back… as if someone had driven a stake through the heart of the comic. If that issue had ever circulated around my hometown, I have an idea who might have done that.