Welcome back to part nine of my look at Steve Gerber’s “Son of Satan” in his 1974-75 run in Marvel Spotlight.
This is the penultimate chapter of Gerber’s tenure writing Daimon Hellstrom and there’s a sense of Gerber summing up his work on this project as he draws his two-year writing term to its conclusion. Many of Gerber’s creative obsessions come to the surface in this issue – no surprise for an issue titled “Journey Into Himself!” – and there’s a deep sense of joy on part of both the reader and the writer for him to be able to explore some of his favorite themes.
As we saw last issue, Daimon’s body has essentially been taken over by a strange crone who resents the people who destroyed her psychic business. Her mind is now in the Son of Satan’s body but there’s no way the crone could expect that Daimon already has two separate personalities inside his head. As we explored before, the Son of Satan is conflicted between his father’s pure evil and his own instincts for peace. As such, Daimon Hellstrom’s divided soul can sometimes feel like our own conflicted souls, eternally in conflict between the person that we hope to become and the person we actually are.
Like the best Marvel heroes, the Son of Satan under Gerber represents our all-too-human dichotomies in ways that amplify our own experiences. We all live with the shadows of our own dreams and aspirations, of the young child who lives in each of us nagging us to be the best identity we can be. When Daimon metaphorically encounters himself (in a surprisingly prosaic, all-American setting), it feels like he’s confronting the banal evil in his own soul.
We even see the inner struggle that stirs within him in panels two and three above. I’ve grumbled before about Sal Buscema’s art on this series, but these panels show the graceful simplicity of his work. The body language is wonderful here. Notice how older Daimon seems stooped over, crushed by the weight of his inner dilemmas and the events playing out in front of him. He also looks like he’s stooping over to speak to himself as a child, a nicely symbolic moment.
The page leads to the delightful three-panel sequence at the bottom of the page. The gibberish language and literal demon on Father Gosset’s shoulders are a powerful metaphor for the confusion our hero feels. It’s a simple image well executed that has a surprising amount of power. It also is deeply upsetting: if a priest can carry a demon on his shoulder, what hope is there for the rest of us?
This issue is all about the symbolism as Gerber clearly sums up his run on the series. Ikthalon the ice creäture from Hell, last seen several issues ago, returns to imperil and tease Daimon. Our hero’s flaming chariot, de-emphasized in favor of more human stories, pops up again to give the Son of Satan with some deep confusion. Then the chariot transforms into something even more confounding and frightening on the top of this page.
The three ordinary people from the earlier chapters of this storyline are shown symbolically in thrall to Daimon, literally struggling against the reins and champing at the bit to pull him along in their mutual struggle. We see the pain on his friends’ faces, but that quickly passes out of view as his friends change quickly to his mother and then to the woman he saved in the first chapter of his solo adventures. All the while, Daimon is struggling with his identity, his reaction and the base existential pointlessness of his struggle.
It’s a delightfully subjective struggle from Steve Gerber, the writer who brought emotional doubt to Marvel Comic, emphasized by smart storytelling by Buscema. The last panel on this page, for instance, does a beautiful job of undercutting the words said to Daimon. Linda Littletree might think that he has changed, but the angle of the trident, casting a dark shadow across Daimon’s face, shows the deep inner struggles our hero will need to make to truly cast aside his darker self. Maybe she is more like his mother, aware that she has birthed pure evil on the world
The series of existential ponderings ends where it began, with Daimon riding along with the Ghost Rider. Daimon first appeared in a crossover with the motorcyclist from Hell, so in returning to that cycle, our protagonist is moving metaphorically full circle, returning to his beginnings and to the forces that shaped him into the person he is.
It’s no accident that Ghost Rider has recently come free of Satan, and it’s no accident that he is also the being that gives Daimon the clues necessary to help him move past his possession. When he learns “my own demonic self is attempting to destroy me? Tear me apart from within?” it reads like a metaphor for everything that our hero has experienced.
This all comes to a beautifully Gerberesque conclusion in the last page of the story, where we’re reminded the themes the writer explores have impact on all of our lives. “We four…and the demon within each of us… whom we can never destroy… but only seek to manage. Only after we face that demon and recognize it as an energy force – capable of creative as well as destructive action – only then may the fool’s journey toward enlightenment commence.”
Those are some of the most meaningful words Gerber ever wrote, and as accurate a reflection of his philosophy as any character ever spoke. We all carry an inner pain inside ourselves that can deliver evil onto the world. It’s important for all of us to not just stop that demon from coming out, and to use that inner struggle to improve our worlds, to transcend our petty small childish wounds and aspire to higher ground.
At his best, Steve Gerber writing through Daimon Hellstrom reminds us to be true to ourselves while working to surpass ourselves. Somehow, against all odds, he’s stumbled across a happy ending.