Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Demon

I was very excited about the upcoming new OMAC series being released by DC Comics in September. This prompted me to read the collected hardcover edition; it was a short lived but wonderfully imaginative and weird series. (You read about it here: OMAC One Man Army Corps) After that I began looking at another of Kirby's creations: "The Demon". Perhaps not surprisingly, my interest in reading the hardcover edition for The Demon was simultaneously sparked by my sudden interest in the New "Demon Knights" series coming from DC.

I'm most pleased with the issues I've read so far, and amazed at how versatile Jack Kirby's artistry really is. You see, the introduction to the volume held a secret I never knew about the Demon series - Kirby didn't originally want to write it! You see, Kirby wanted to edit comics, and help shepherd different series while other writers and artists worked on the actual material. DC was having some good success with horror titles and less super-hero comic books at the time. The creation of Kamandi was a suggestion for Jack to do something similar to Planet of the Apes. Jack was likewise asked to come up with a horror title. Kirby came up with a great concept, and DC loved it. They just wanted Jack to actually write and draw it - no one else would do. The eventual cancelation of his remaining Fourth World books made Kirby's tenure writing and drawing the Demon a surety.

Jack Kirby had a love for a lot of different genres. Demons and sorcery, though he had done issues like them in the past, was not among his favorite genres - especially long term. Yet Kirby never let defeat keep him down - and with the Fourth World canceled, Kirby plunged head first into the Demon character he had created. For a genre not being his first love -- Kirby did a magnificent job of depicting the more adult, adventurous and atmospheric world of the Demon.

The series began with the fall of Camelot. Morgaine Le Fay had won a deciding victory against Merlin and the forces of Camelot, destroying the fabled castle. The castle did not fall easily, though, as Merlin possessed control over a Demon who laughed at danger as he spread destruction over the Morgaine's army. The battle was still lost, but Merlin managed to keep a powerful spell out of the hands of Morgaine, by giving it to the Demon to keep hold of. To help the Demon escape into obscurity, until Merlin needed him again, a mortal form was created - that of Jason Blood.

Jason Blood lived throughout the centuries all the way into the modern age. It was the return of Morgaine that made it nessessary for the Demon to rise again.

Change! Change, O' Form of Man!
Release the Might From Fleshy Mire!
Boil the Blood in Heart of Fire!
Gone! Gone! --- The Form of Man!

When those words are spoken to Jason Blood, he transformed into the uncontrollable Demon Etrigan. While having the blood-lust and thirst for battle of a demon, Etrigan is guided by the spirit force of Merlin - always pointing him in the right direction.

The spell listed above is the long version. Usually the end of the spell, "Gone! Gone! The Form of Man! Rise the Demon Etrigan!" will suffice. To reverse the spell, and return Jason to his normal from, has a little more leeway; sometimes exhastion or defeat from an enemy can revert Etrigan, but for the most part these words are used:

Gone the Demon, Etrigan
Rise, Rise, the Form of Man.

This ending rhyme takes different forms on occasion. The rhyming scheme of Etrigan in fact became one of his most note-worthy traits. For the issues I've read so far, it appears Jack Kirby didn't have Etrigan rhyming all the time -- but over the years, in the hands of other creators, Etrigan began making a rhyme of every single thing he said.

The adventures Kirby wrote and drew where simply spectacular - with his art style flourishing like never before. Maybe it was because the series was more grounded, and not taking place in space or in cities - but the haunting atmospheres of older-style villages, crumbling castles, and scary woods made Kirby's art look more stunning than ever. I suspect Kirby might not himself have been up to date on the real mechanics and lore of witch craft -- but he successfully worked around that, using standard horror-movie cliches, and making it all his own. An adventure facing a werewolf, is a good example -- as Kirby tweaked the concept, by calling it the Howler, a being infected with a primordial curse from ancient times. It was still a werewolf story, but it became something much more haunting and dynamic as envisioned through Kirby.

It's also worth noting that, unlike many of Kirby's previous youth-filled series - The Demon took a change of pace with a more adult atmosphere in Jason Blood's personal life. He essentially had an entourage of friends; Randu was an Indian UN Delegate who also possessed ESP powers; and for the non-occult crowd we had Harry Mathews, and Blood's romantic figure Glenda. While a bunch of middle-aged men and adult woman don't scream "Excitement" - Kirby used this cast as a sounding board against all the strange happenings in Jason Blood's life, which gave the series a much needed sense of normalcy; but only to ground you and prepare you for the regular leaps into the macabre and supernatural!

The Demon only lasted 16 issues before being canceled. Over the years there have been some attempts to rise the Demon concept - but Etrigan eventually feel into the roll of an often-used guest star.

He's appeared in a wide arrange of titles, from Supergirl, Green Arrow, Batman, Justice League of America, Neil Gaiman's the Sandman, and many many more.

One revival for the Demon stands out for me, though - and that's John Byrne's time on the title. I never had the chance to read those issues, but I've heard good thing about it. One thing I remember reading about is how Byrne wanted to return the concept of Jason Blood only being a created-person to house Etrigan. Over the years, and in different media, it's been interpreted differently as to weather Jason Blood is a real person or not. So that at least sounds like Byrne was trying to bring back the Demon more like when Kirby used him.

Another character in The Demon series worth noting is Klarion the Witchboy! He appeared only sparingly during Kirby's issues, but left a definite impression of readers and creators. The mischievous Witchboy wanted to learn more powerful magics, against the wishes of his fellow Witch Elders, who did not like seeing a boy become more powerful than them. A vicious hunt was had in the search for Klarion, which soon involved Etrigan. Klarion immediately latched onto Jason Blood for protection from his elder statesmen. The kid was annoying and off-putting - but a delight to read.

The character can bound between just being mischievous, and sometimes being a spoiled brat (with powerful magics to employ in a temper tantrum) One such turn was illustrated by Peter David, where Klarion transformed all the Superhero adults into children, and all the child superheroes into adults. It was a great deal of fun to see role-reversals like Batman now being as young as Robin, or Star Girl suddenly being the only adult around to take care of a gaggle of child-like JSA members.

Klarion got a huge boost in visibility when Grant Morrison recruited him for his Seven Soldiers series. Klarion's origins where changed, but from what I've seen they remained true to who the character is. After that four issue mini-series Klarion became, like Etrigan, a frequent guest star in DCU titles.

The Demon has also proved quite successful as a guest start in DC Animation. The Demon and Klarion are introduced in an episode of Batman. The merging of Bruce Timm's style of animation worked perfectly with Kirby's angular art style. The Demon made a return in a two part episode of Justice League, where he helped the league battle the machinations of Morgaine Le Fey. This is where the idea of Jason Blood was altered the most -- as Jason was introduced during the days of Camalot, and was the one who was seduced by Morgaine into letting her take siege of the castle. As punishment Merlin bound Jason to Etrigan.

Etrigan didn't get as much screen time in the next Justce League series, JL: Unlimited - but he had quite a memorable appearance during an episode where heroes where reduced to the age of children; and that included Etrigan, who made an adorable little baby Demon!

Etrigan also made appearances in episodes of Batman Brave and the Bold. The best episode was when Etrigan, Batman, and Sherlock Holmes teamed up to defeat the Gentleman Ghost.

The new series coming from DC, titled "Demon Knights" is going to be written by the wildly talented Paul Cornell (Doctor Who). The series is going to be set in medieval times, hundreds of years after the fall of Camelot. The Demon is supposedly going to be leading a group of medieval heroes - ala the Magnificent Seven. Reading these interviews Cornell did really psyched me up for the series: Comic Book Resources Interview, and An Interview on the DCU Blog.

Along with OMAC, I feel like this DC Restart is featuring a mini-Jack Kirby renaissance. I feel bad that I almost skipped past Demon Knights, as I figured it wasn't taking place in the present day, and thus wouldn't be as important. There is a ton of hype around Cornell, and it's well, well deserved. So I hope everyone might give at least issue #1 of Demon Knights a try!

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