Welcome to the latest chapter of my look at Steve Gerber’s Son of Satan, as we now reach the biggest non-sequitur of his run, in Marvel Spotlight #17.
As you might remember from last week, our anti-hero Daimon Hellstrom has traveled to ancient Atlantis to… well, why don’t we let Gerber remind us what happened?
For the second issue in a row, writer Gerber and artist Jim Mooney choose to start this story with a symbolic splash instead of the typical narrative-driven splash that most Marvels of that era used. It’s a logical way of leading the reader into the story, and a popular way of starting stories at rival DC, but it’s surprising that Gerber chooses to go this route so quickly after he last used this method. Whether experiment or new way of delivering a story, it’s an intriguing choice that kicks the story off elegantly.
It’s wonderful, but it is also a bit superfluous because Gerber then proceeds to deliver a wonderful two-page sequence at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper in which two panicked reporters fill the reader in on the back story. This is a delightful sequence for a few reasons. One is that the two reporters have what seems like a fairly professional relationship. Reporter Dan Crandall talks to reporter Tracy (no last name given) as an equal. This shouldn’t be shocking, but chauvinism still reigned in the mid-1970s and it would have been common for female reporters to be assigned the “lifestyle” beat and not to hard news.
Of course, it’s also charming because a newspaper is at the center of the information gathering business. It would be just a decade later when Frank Miller famously included TV screens in the pages of Batman: the Dark Knight Returns, to great acclaim, but here is Gerber playing that same trick perhaps with the eye of an older generation.
The pages are also wonderful because they give Gerber a chance to elegantly set the stakes in a way that’s much more visceral than the scene he presented on the splash page. Though Mooney perhaps over-draws the middle scene, with the unnecessary screaming man at the center, there’s a smooth cleverness to this scene. In retrospect, over 40 years after the comic was first published, it might have been cooler to start with the newspaper scene… but it doesn’t much matter really.
But the future is prologue, to paraphrase the famous quote, and the real story of this issue takes place in ancient Atlantis. And here’s where another footnote has to appear. See, this storyline isn’t quite new to the pages of the “Son of Satan” strip. Before Gerber took on “Son of Satan”, he wrote issues of several other titles that weren’t as well suited for his existential view of heroism. One of those comics was Sub-Mariner, drifting near death when Gerber took it on and proved to be a poor match for Namor’s nobility.
In a back-up story in Sub-Mariner, ending in issue #66 (Oct. 1973), Gerber and Mooney delivered the short “Tales of Atlantis”, starring the same Kamuu and Zatra who appear in this story. This was thus old-home week for Gerber, a year after these characters last appeared, and it was a chance to wind up the story of old Atlantis in style.
That also explains why this Atlantean world is pretty well-formed for it just being a one-shot appearance. It’s clear on some level that Gerber kind of missed that world even if he didn’t have any real affinity for it.
After a series of dramatic battles, Daimon visits the astral plane (maybe he’s connected to Dr. Strange in some mysterious way?) and meets “the stunning Zhered-Na”, as a caption calls her, a mystic warrior woman who knows the psychedelic truth behind the electric sea serpent that risks destroying the future and Atlantis in its way.
I keep reading and rereading this sequence and it makes no sense to me. All this mumbling of “stress throughout the cosmos” and “the earth responsive to psychic emanations” is stunningly odd and obscure, but it kinda doesn’t matter. Mooney draws the hell out of the sequence, with the breakout panel one an especially lovely moment, and it all leads up to maybe the strangest climax we’ve seen so far in this series (and we’ve seen some doozies!).
Yes, it all comes back to Adam and Eve somehow, with Adam turned into this misshapen monstrosity of a man speaking in Thor-like pseudo-Shakespearean syntax. Spyros’s ax strikes the serpent Kometes, and 20,000 years in the future the serpent dies. The future is saved, Atlantis falls (in one small, underwhelming panel) and the world is safe.
It’s a crazy ending. This ending makes no sense. But for another thing, why is so much important action shoved of-camera in panel four on this page (shown above), and what relation does the sinking have to the serpent? Huh? It’s all gibberish. Am I missing something crucial here or am I thinking too hard? Should I let my mind just take it all in and not ask too many questions? Is it just old comics and doesn’t matter anyway?
Marvel Spotlight #17 is a typically delightful, maddening 1970s Steve Gerber comic book. It feels improvised and random, with some moments of beautiful storytelling and some moments of incandescent “what the fuck”s. It’s good, bordering on great, and also terrible.
Young Bobby Murray of Puyallup, Washington liked this comic enough to think about joining the Junior Sales Club of America but never sent in the coupon. Puyallup isn’t far from where I live. I wonder if I can look Bobby up and ask what he thought of this comic… Oh, and nice forging of his mom’s signature, huh? Nobody could ever figure that out!