At its best, Steve Gerber’s run on “Son of Satan” is one of the most memorable series he produced at Marvel during his ridiculously fertile 1970s period. As we saw in last week’s column, Gerber’s approach on this series is sure-handed and smart, adding a level of intensity and very very 1970s style realism to his tale of a man fighting between the evil of his father and his placid nature within.
Last week’s story, first published in Marvel Spotlight #14, beautifully showed our hero’s dual nature in a way that both helped readers feel sympathy for him and made us angry feel at him. We discovered in that story that Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan, is continually battling his father’s evil legacy, imbued inside himself. We readers explored that dichotomous nature, especially in Hellstrom’s relationship with the beautiful Dr. Katherine Reynolds. Reynolds is fascinated by Hellstrom, who may be the most perfect bad boy ever conceived, but she’s also repulsed by his literally devilish nature. A vicious slap at the end of that issue added to their complicated relationship and opened the door for their story to go in any number of different directions.
Marvel Spotlight #15 begins with Hellstrom literally struggling with his father’s terrible legacy. In a beautifully Gerber-esque touch, that metaphysical struggle happens not in a man who in deep contemplation, but in a man under ruthless attack in symbolic ways. In this symbolic fight, Daimon has grown large in the middle of an abandoned city – a potent and lovely metaphor – and encounters a demon who wants to pay Hellstrom in order to purchase the soul of the devil’s son. All the while the hero engages in a deep reverie about the nature of his existence:
I have served both heaven and hell… and now I see all too clearly… neither has any use for me! I am neither demon nor human – I am both – and the whole is less than the sum of its parts!
Hellstrom is a man at a crossroads. He has two possible paths he can walk. Daimon can choose the route that his father has laid out for him, into evil. Or Daimon can choose the route that his heart says he should follow, towards a more balanced life and towards a life that transcends his upbringing. That struggle between making your own way and following your father’s guidance is a battle that many a young man has made in his life, with stakes that feel as important as the choice between hell and freedom.
It’s thus easy for readers to empathize with Hellstrom even while his specific dilemmas are so different from our quotidian lives. We can imagine ourselves breaking away from our legacies, embracing our greater natures, feeling the pull of the comfortable even while that comfort kills us. It’s clear from his passionate writing in this comic that Gerber is feeling that split as well, and that’s why this comic has such a spark.
Once again I have to mention the lovely, delightfully plain nature of Jim Mooney’s art here. Though Mooney’s art appears ordinary or even dull compared to work by masters like Gene Colan (we’ll look at Colan’s work in a few weeks in this column), Mooney might be the perfect artist to pull off scenes like the one above, with the quote from Michelangelo flowing into the terrified look on Daimon’s face as he wakes up from his dream. Shit has changed, and it’s not clear what those changes mean. Daimon has good reason to feel afraid.
As Hellstrom awakes, his father visits him and reveals that the events we just witnessed have not been a dream but instead are brutal reality. “Henceforth your very existence shall be one of unending anguish,” the Devil says, “as your two opposing natures battle for possession of your soul.” Our hero is now facing a life of torment with no ease of escape. He’s forced to live in his own skin, experience his own life without dad’s close influence over him. Like a teenager leaving the house to live on his own, Hellstrom is bereft, without excuses or refuge, forced to grow into his own man.
And as you might guess, a lot of Hellstrom’s existence is indeed going to be his attempts to be his own man. A dinner with Dr. Reynolds and one of her students at Gateway U leads to a bizarre journey to a Satanic ritual. Again Mooney’s art emphasizes the horror of the moment with an understated grace as we witness a sacrifice in the making, one that seems to scare Dr. Reynolds and intrigue Hellstrom. The hooded men, faces suffused in black, represent a kind of merciless anonymity under Satan’s thrall that is darkly frightening.
These aren’t just kids playing at sacrifice. These are people whose actions could damage reality – and shred Daimon’s world. They’re metaphysical threats that portend existential horror.
After bitter struggle and a terrifyingly intense battle that resurrects some profoundly spooky creatures, Daimon triumphs – at least kind of. Satan can only be beaten for a moment, after all, a fact Hellstrom acknowledges by saying “I shall be free of your loathsome presence – for a time, at least.” Nobody can ever truly be free of their heritage, especially when the presence is so evil.
As the story ends, Dr. Reynolds quickly embraces Daimon. Again there’s clearly that spark of romance as the pair walk off panel arm in arm. Reynolds had been coldly professional to Daimon during earlier scenes, perhaps afraid of being sucked into Hellstrom’s evil. But as his good side wins out and Satan is exiled back to his dark realm, Reynolds comes back alive and the spark returns. We have no idea where this relationship will go, but its emotional push-pull is compelling.
Marvel Premiere #15 feels like a transitional issue, a clearing of the boards before this story embraces a new direction. I hope you’ll join me next week as we see in what direction this story will go.