Collects: Demon (1987 series) #1-4 and Demon (1990 series) #22.
Ah, Etrigan the Demon. Here’s a character of whom I’ve been meaning to review more material, especially considering my review of Demon Knights #1 back in 2011, where I went on an overblown and overlong rant about the history of the character. It feels weird to devote so many words to a character I obviously feel very strongly about, and then not bring him up since. I mean, if I can give Satan’s Six (Kirby’s somewhat justifiably lesser-known entry in the 70’s Satanism craze) a big overview on this site, I should review more Etrigan comics. I intended to review the four issue Matt Wagner series from 1987, problem is; while looking though my storage, I found that I had all issues except the third, so I kept putting it off. Surprise, surprise though, DC actually reprinted the whole series recently, along with a bonus story!So with no more excuses, it’s time to get out the chalk, black robes, candles, jagged daggers, bound young virgins and call up some fiends from the netherworld to help me review this sucker.
This limited series takes place shortly after Alan Moore and other writers established that Etrigan was a purely evil creature (something that Kirby could never make up his mind about in the original run) and that Jason Blood was some poor guy who had been bonded to him by Merlin, like a supernatural version of Rick Jones and Captain Marvel (In the original series, it was more of a Thor/Don Blake scenario, with Blood just being an illusion/construct). Naturally, Jason is pretty pissed about this whole situation, but after centuries, he’s grown more or less resigned to it and gone to live at Merlin’s tomb in England, cutting off contact with all of his friends. However, Glenda (Jason’s former love interest) isn’t happy with this:
She’s also been learning to use the Philosopher’s Stone, although she isn’t very good at it yet:
Whatever her skill at sorcery though, Glenda has found what she thinks might be a key to freeing Jason from his curse. After looking through an old grimoire, she came across a woodcut featuring a demon that bears a startling resemblance to Etrigan:
Even though Jason doesn’t see any resemblance, that’s clearly the result of some sort of mental block the curse has on him, so the two go on a quest to find answers, with lots of cliffhangers and attacks by demon guards along the way, who Jason has to turn into Etrigan to fight off. Eventually, they find out that the demon in the woodcut is Belial, and not only is he Etrigan’s father, but Merlin is Etrigan’s half-human brother. Thus, if Jason wants to end his curse, it’s Merlin who he has to deal with. However, is Etrigan also willing to be freed?This series is a pretty cool deconstruction of the original. Here, the villain isn’t Morgan Le Fey (or “That bitch Le Fey”, as Jason calls her), but Merlin himself, previously depicted as a kindly mentor figure. Jason’s characterization is also very unusual; he wants to be freed of his curse, but it’s gone on for so long that it really isn’t his #1 priority anymore. In his own way, he’s come to accept his situation. The main reason he even starts to take the final steps to salvation is less for his own sake, and more because Glenda ends up kidnapped.
Glenda is also interesting. She’s no longer the damsel in distress of Kirby’s series, but an aggressive, no-nonsense chick who has had it up to here with the occult weirdness in her life, and refuses to let Jason just accept his curse. At the same time though, there’s also the implication that she isn’t doing this because she gives any particular fuck about Jason Blood, but because she’s thrilled at the idea of having the chance to pull one over on a demon and the most famous wizard in history. She’s had a taste of wielding occult power with the Philosopher’s Stone, and even if she doesn’t necessarily want more of the same, she at least wants a big pay-off to her occult ventures before she goes back to being a normal person.
As much of a deconstruction as it is, there are still some fun shout-outs to the Kirby series. There’s a mention of that weird Golem-thing from the first issue, a reference to Klarion the Witch-Boy, and even word by word quotes from the famous Camelot prologue. Most writers doing deconstructions of characters usually hand-wave the sillier or stranger aspects of a character’s past to fit their take, or revel in them to the point it becomes obnoxious (I think you can take it for Granted who I’m talking about), but Wagner manages a fun balance, even if some things, like the fate that befalls Harry Matthews (the comic relief character from Kirby’s run, and an obvious Kirby self-insert) feel a bit mean-spirited (During the Alan Grant series, Harry came back, and he ended up becoming perhaps the single weirdest supporting character in the history of comics).
The series is not without flaws though; Etrigan’s rhyming sounds more like poorly-written limericks to me, and gets really forced at times (Although Wagner is still better at it than some other takes I’ve seen). The big showdown with Merlin also happens so abruptly, so mechanically that it feels underwhelming, not to mention the fact that the whole series is told as a flashback by Belial, who has claimed Merlin’s soul and is recounting to him the events that led to his downfall while he tortures him. This would have worked better if it was unclear at first who it was being tortured, but it’s so obviously Merlin that you wonder why Wagner attempts to hide it. This move kills a lot of suspense. Also, even though Merlin is clearly meant to be seen as a hypocritical scumbag who gets his comeuppance, he does so little throughout the series (He mostly just sleeps) that his gruesome fate never feels all that satisfying.
On the plus side though, Wagner’s art and storytelling abilities are at their absolute peak. Some of his panels have an almost Toth-like quality. Take out the color from the art, and it wouldn’t look out of place in some Warren magazine.
Speaking of taking things out of the art, the scene with the woodcut has an interesting history. It’s from a real 1483 German manuscript depicting Belial called “Belial at the Gates of Hell”, but here’s the thing; in the original limited series, there was nothing depicted on the page!
Apparently, no one got the memo to include it, and when Wagner noticed the error, it was too late to make corrections, and since it fit the dialogue, they left it in (That wasn't the only printing error, they also misnumbered the second issue as number four). Nice to see they added it in here.Also, interestingly enough, the same anonymous German artist who did that woodcut also did another woodcut featuring Belial, and in it he’s colored yellow.
There’s also a different edition of that book which also colors Belial yellow in the “At the Gates” picture:
That’s---eerie. I’m going to shut up about this now, because this is the kind of stuff of which Creepypastas are made.
As for the bonus story from Demon #22, it’s a simple, to-the-point tale told in rhyme about a witch who forces Etrigan to save her beloved familiar/pet from a rival. It has a nasty, EC-like vibe where everyone gets screwed over. In some ways, it’s actually more entertaining than the 4 issue limited series because of how compressed it is. Wagner’s more mature art is also brilliant, although it seems to have picked up a bit of a Mignola-esque quality to it.
Yes folks, Wagner drew that Cock--with a cock
This isn’t an earth-shaking volume by any means, but considering how rare it is for DC to acknowledge, let alone reprint obscure material like this, it’s definitely worth a blind-buy, and if like me you’re a fan of the character and artist, a must-have. 4/5 for what it is.