In The Rundown, Deadshirt dives into our cardboard long boxes to shine a light on important, unusual or otherwise remarkable comic runs (mainstream or otherwise) from a specific creative team or teams.
The Demon (Vol. 3) #1-58, The Demon Annual #1-2
Written by Alan Grant and Garth Ennis (special issues by Matt Wagner, Dwayne McDuffie, and more)
Art by Val Semeiks, John McCrea, and more
At a Glance
Alan Grant, who had his hand in the darker side of DC throughout the 1980s and 90s, dives head first into Hell with the third series of The Demon. Etrigan (a.k.a. The Rhymer, a.k.a. Hell’s Hitman) is a yellow, web-eared demon, and the son of one of Hell’s great rulers. This little devil, however, is too evil and wily even for hellspawn, so during the Medieval era, his father creates another son to control him, a magician you may have heard of: Merlin. The Arthurian legend limits Etrigan’s power by binding him to Jason Blood, a human who is now immortal thanks to his tethered passenger. Jason and Etrigan are forced to share their existence on the mortal plain, making Jason’s long life quite tortuous. Every once in a while, however, you need a demon to solve life’s more savage problems, so Jason need only chant, “Gone! Gone! The form of man. Rise, the Demon Etrigan!” to summon his crazy counterpart.
In the first few issues of this series, Etrigan and Jason find themselves finally separated from each other. Unfortunately for Jason, they wind up in a Hell full of nightmarish creatures conjured up by artist Val Semeiks. And this, as they say, is only the beginning. Alan Grant writes a rollercoaster of a series, constantly testing the limits of weird. Klarion the Witchboy and his familiar, Teekl, show up very early to set the creepy bar high, and Lobo careens in and out of the series every time Etrigan needs a violent partner to pal around with. When Garth Ennis eventually takes over writing the title, he steps even further into Etrigan’s freakshow aspects, and creates a launchpad for his next series with John McCrea: Hitman.
Etrigan, or just “The Demon,” was originally a creation of Jack Kirby who first appeared in The Demon #1 in 1972. Initially created as a horror character, Etrigan evolved into somewhat of a wildcard, choosing to be good or evil on a whim but most often aligning with the chaotic column of the grid. This nineties series showcases his more oddball qualities, as well as his classic habit of speaking in rhyme, but hesitates to explore the character on a deeper level with the exception of a few issues. Writers love to use Etrigan in other titles because he acts as a fantastic foil, or in Batman’s case, a mirror. Likewise, it’s when other heroes guest star in The Demon that Etrigan burns brighter as a character.
The Demon was never collected into trades, but issues 1 through 7 would be your Volume 1 equivalent, taking Etrigan and Jason to Hell and back. Everything about these flagship issues is wonderfully weird and fun, setting the wacky tone and introducing most of the main characters for the series. While Etrigan is busy organizing the hordes of Hell to overthrow its three rulers (for kicks and giggles), Jason is running around, wallowing in general misery and thinking he’s going to die whilst trying to get in touch with Merlin so he can get back to Earth. Eventually, he finds his friend, Harry, who has been turned into a cushion by Etrigan’s father, Belial. Meanwhile, Klarion and Teekl torture Gotham citizens while awaiting for the return of “Uncle” (Klarion’s affectionate title for Jason). There is even a musical issue, taking place during Etrigan’s climatic battle for the crown, which is narrated by a minstrel faun, and all the dialogue is sung to familiar tunes.
Matt Wagner wrote and illustrated the four-issue series of The Demon in 1986, leaning more gritty and grim than the nineties run. He returns to those roots for a magical one-shot story amid Alan Grant’s storyline. A punk and pierced Gotham witch is spited by another of her kind. To seek vengeance, she summons The Demon to wreak havoc on her enemy, but Etrigan isn’t the type to hand out favors or be controlled. Wagner weaves a tale of tragedy in a few pages that feels utterly complete; anyone could pick up this issue, even knowing nothing about Etrigan, and follow the story. His art style feels timeless, and the wonderful dark and light color contrasts provided by Bernie Mireault and Wagner himself feel so right for Etrigan as fire burns from inside him against the Gotham twilight.
A staunch and wealthy conservative builds a machine to conjure the perfect Republican candidate for President and gets…Etrigan! Static creator Dwayne McDuffie takes over the story for these four issues, as the Demon campaigns for the most powerful office in the country. Etrigan, as it turns out, truly is the perfect candidate, and is adored by right-wing voters, even when he lashes out violently on camera. Superman sees all of this political mayhem on the news and decides he’s going to stop all the madness, but when the Man of Steel picks a fight, the Demon wins with the most powerful weapon of all: Democracy. Superman can’t argue with the fact that Etrigan’s success is nothing more than Democracy in action, and thus goes back to Metropolis to pout and watch the election play out. The issues feature President Bush (that’s H. W.), and satirically approaches the media and politics in a way that feels unexpectedly relevant and timely despite being more than twenty years old (and a comic about a yellow hellspawn).
The second annual marks the next chapter in the series, as Garth Ennis takes the helm and pushes the demon’s cruel and crude nature to the extreme. Etrigan decides that he no longer wants to be good at all, and while he’s caged up in Jason’s mind, he insidiously convinces his counterpart to let him loose for a while. John McCrea’s more gnarly art style, with its slumped but hulked-out body types and impossibly long capes, is the perfect fit for this new twisted take on the series.
This is is also probably the only key issue in the run, featuring the first appearance of Tommy “Hitman” Monaghan. Monaghan comes to Gotham as a contract killer, and ends up getting powers from an alien parasite. [Editor’s note: DC’s “Bloodlines” crossover centered around new characters gaining superpowers from these attacks]. In arguably one of the most gruesome and heavily rape-themed origin stories in the DCU, the giant parasite, Glonth, bends Tommy over and, from behind, inserts its tube-like mouth into the back of his neck (yeesh). When Tommy wakes up in the hospital, he’s got x-ray vision and enhanced murder abilities, so he calls himself Hitman and decides to go kill monsters. After The Demon ends, Ennis and McCrea go on to create Hitman’s own 61 issue series.
The Bottom Line
The Demon never pretends to take itself seriously, and for good reason. This series is nothing but rollicking escapism that occasionally, but not often, develops its main character into something other than a violent jester. Etrigan gets reinterpreted nearly every time he shows up in comics, but this feels like his main event and quintessential personality. The only low points, though it’s difficult to fail when the bar is not exactly set high, are at the end of each of the two main authors’ runs. Both Grant and Ennis’ runs end with storylines that feel overly drawn out and spiritless as they push their next projects (Grant goes on to write Lobo, and Ennis, Hitman), and even the fan letters at the back of the issues reflect this. At its peak, however, this is the story Etrigan deserved as a character, to simply be let loose upon the world (and the underworld).
It’s been a quite a ride exploring the Demon’s more wild side, though it feels most right when he teams up with the Dark Knight. I’ve loved Etrigan ever since I first saw him on Batman: The Animated Series/The New Batman Adventures, meaning I was a middle school church kid when I became a fan of a demon. It’s difficult to say why I’m so drawn to the character, but I’m guessing it’s because Batman vouched for him. Jason Blood and Bruce Wayne have a lot respect for each other because they’re both men who deal with inner demons (in one way or another), and Batman treats Etrigan as an ally and an equal because he sees the potential underneath the hellion’s unpredictable nature. Once I got into comics and started hunting down Etrigan’s appearances, I realized I enjoyed every interpretation of the character because he seems to succeed in any mold. I love him best, however, as a villain who pretends to be a hero and accidentally becomes one.
- Detective Comics #601-603, also written by Alan Grant, precedes The Demon, and gives some fun insight into the relationship between Etrigan and Batman. In The Demon #23, Etrigan saves Robin from the Howler, and then creepily asks the young Boy Wonder if there’s “something like me deep inside” him (to which Robin gets appropriately wigged out), which is a reference to this Detective Comics arc. Batman faces a problem only a demon can solve, so he goes to Jason Blood for help. When Etrigan is released, he defeats the enemy but then turns on Batman, nearly killing him. Etrigan only stops when he realizes that there’s something inside of Batman very much like himself. Then the demon laughs and kisses the baffled Dark Knight on the face, before bounding away (into my heart).
- Matt Wagner’s The Demon (Vol. 2) and the aforementioned issue #22 of this series were collected into a single trade called The Demon: From the Darkness. It’s interesting how the same character can feel accurate as either a clown or a brooding creature of the night, and Wagner channels the latter characterization in his run. This series also shines the light more on Jason Blood’s life and struggles dealing with his literal personal demon.
- At the launch of the New 52, Etrigan was tossed back into the dark ages in Demon Knights. Jason Blood is still in the picture and is still tortured by his wicked passenger, but now we get to see Jason in his more natural medieval element. There’s a great cast of characters that team up with the reluctant duo, and the story basically evolves into a series of D&D campaigns. The title only ran for 23 issues, plus a belated issue 0, and can often be found in dollar boxes at your LCS.
- Etrigan has recently returned to Gotham to fight alongside another Bat-person in a team-up called “The Unknowns”. The story began last October with Batwoman #35 and will wrap up this spring, and features other supernatural DC characters such as Ragman and Nocturna. This is the first Etrigan appearance in recent memory that really feels like a callback to Alan Grant’s run on The Demon.
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