Welcome to part eight of my look at Steve Gerber’s “Son of Satan”, published in Marvel Spotlight circa 1975.
When last we visited Daimon Hellstrom, he was under a curse from a strange old lady who used the tarot to tell our hero’s fortune and somehow also seal his fate, as the tarot cards somehow came to life under the power of the curse.
Speaking of which, there’s the old crone, now appearing on a random rooftop in St. Louis, where she stops by to conveniently visit Daimon’s semi-girlfriend Katherine Reynolds and college coed Christine while also reminding us of her curse. Thank you, crone! She reminds us that part of her tarot reading involves the ten of swords, and somehow – conveniently (or is it?) the son of Satan finds himself under thread by ten men holding swords.
Thankfully those men are nihilists, though they’re not German and this comic appeared years before Lebowski. They did appear a few weeks back when strange mystic holes appeared in a St. Louis park (the resulting investigation of which sent Daimon back to ancient Atlantis because why the fuck not) but at that point the nihilists were odd and kind of scary. This time they still are odd but they’re not scary, more inept. Look how Daimon escapes!
Yes, they all close their eyes before swinging their swords, which is a little like closing your eyes before attempting to parallel park though it’s questionable which puts the attacker at more of a risk to life and limb. It’s an odd decision by Gerber, and one that seems total reasonable on the surface, but also an idea that makes no damn sense in the practical sense. Still, it’s great that nihilists had their own special enemy in 1970s Marvel Comics.
Of course, Daimon escapes – after he magically summons his trident to spirit him away. Meanwhile, the crone also wanders off. Coincidence… or something more?
Daimon wanders to the apartment he’s renting, where he finds his friends but also discovers that there’s been a bizarre execution. It seems the nihilists have “accused the clerk of boarding demons in this hotel – then they skewered him” with ten swords, as a police Detective reveals.
Our hero wanders off, confused by these activities. As Gerber puts it in one of his typically flowery and wonderful captions, “The air grows chill – the wind biting. And a moment later, white flakes dot the grimy pavement. Snow. From out of a sky that was clear minutes before. Daimon pulls his cloak tight about him for warmth and sits pondering, engulfed by despair, barred from his texts. He has nowhere to go. No notion of what to do.”
We’re reminded in that moment that Daimon Hellstrom isn’t a super-hero in any sort of conventional sense. He doesn’t fight evil super-villains or foreign spies. Instead Daimon Hellstrom is a deeply conflicted man who is simply trying to make his way in the world and hold back his father’s incredible tide of evil as much as he can.
That makes the sequence above delightful. The hero has hit bottom, and like many people who hit bottom, he has found refuge in a church. He finds unquestioning love and acceptance, no matter how outlandish or strange his own view of the world might be. Here Gerber is indulging in some wonderfully interesting storytelling, presenting Hellstrom as a man very different from his father (who is literally Satan). He craves love. He’s willing to be led. And he desperately wants to be happy.
Of course we know this story won’t have a happy ending, as we find that the next tarot-related event has happened. It seems that St. Louis has a water tower that’s shaped like a Corinthian column and that column is being imperiled by the crone’s evil. In their confrontation, we find out her name, her life status (currently dead) and why she’s so set on destroying the life of a young college girl.
Sure the scene is hokey (especially the melodramatic image in panel five above) but it also sets the milieu of the Son of Satan in a larger context. We learn where our hero fits in his world and how he’s perceived outside of his little eighteen page bi-monthly story. It seems he’s thought of pretty damn well. Good for him.
After a bit of a mindfuck, where Daimon perceives the whole world as being upside down; and a bit of a physical fuck, where he’s shot by police officers while he’s flying through the air, this issue ends with a bit of an existence fuck for Daimon Hellstrom, which is to say that somehow his mind has become detached from his body and he literally is standing next to himself as his unconscious body is taken to a police station.
“Journey into Himself”, next week, promises some prime Gerber writing, seeing as how the comics writer as always so well known for his heroes’ existential doubts. I only hope the character moments are as resonant as the best moments here in this story. Marvel Spotlight #21 screamed out for more length, more explanation of Daimon’s experience at the church and more of the crone’s experience as a pariah. It’s tempting to say that a more modern writer might have composed these scenes differently, but that’s a moot point because a more modern writer would never have come up with such an off-the-wall scenario.
Steve Gerber’s “Son of Satan” was a picture of its times, and a glorious picture it was.