Monday, October 28, 2013

1986 - Matt Wagner's The Demon

The Demon #1-4
Writer – Matt Wagner
Artists – Matt Wagner/Art Nichols
Back in 1986, Etrigan the Demon had last enjoyed a regular series 15 years earlier by his legendary creator, Jack Kirby. Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing was rekindling the darker corners of the DC universe and a memorable guest appearance by Etrigan in that title was enough to convince DC to give their rhyming demon another chance.  

The Powers-That-Be called upon the services of Matt Wagner who was one of the more prominent Indy creators in the 1980s with his creator-owned series, Mage and Grendel. It’s not difficult to see how the themes that Wagner explored with his own anti-hero Grendel and his own dark world were exactly what DC was looking for.

The first thing that struck me upon re-read was the sheer amount of narration in the first few pages, in particular title/credit splash page. The first issue was a bit slow as Wagner really dug deep into the characters of the Demon’s alter-ego, Jason Blood, and his girlfriend, Glenda. A brooding Jason Blood is wrapped up in a blanket of self-pity because he’s eternally bound to a demon and has all but given up on a way to escape from the curse.

Wagner has fun with the relationship between Blood and Glenda and she fights through his best defensive tactics, as Blood is trying to keep a safe distance between Etrigan and Glenda, to convince him to keeping trying to find a way to break the demonic curse. Her persistence and determination pays off and Jason relents, agreeing to let her help him. She then summons up her lover’s demonic form, Etrigan, and confronts him. It turns out that Etrigan is also eager to free himself of Jason Blood and Merlin’s curse.

Along this quest, Glenda is captured and Blood takes the forefront. Wagner taps into the Demon’s supporting cast and has Harry Matthews help Blood summon Etrigan’s father, the demon lord Belial. Unfortunately things go horribly wrong and Blood gets Glenda back, but at a terrible cost. They aren’t deterred from their quest as Etrigan gives them a crucial clue on how to defeat Merlin.

The story, in its fourth and final issue, does a full circle with Blood returning to Merlin’s sanctuary in England. Blood asks Merlin to release him from the spell, but Merlin refuses. That refusal forces Blood to put Merlin in a trance and make him leave his sanctuary. Blood leads Merlin into a Hawthorn bush which proves to be an effective magical bane. As Merlin fades from existence, Blood and Etrigan are split apart as their curse is finally lifted.

The series ends with a significant cliffhanger with Etrigan roaming free and a glimpse at Merlin being held as a prisoner. Unfortunately, a regular series wouldn’t be published until mid-1990 with a new creative team. I can’t help but feel that Wagner had prepped this series as a launch pad for a new ongoing series, but for whatever reason, it never happened. While I really enjoyed what Wagner did and the pieces he put in place, this miniseries was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of he was trying to and not seeing that come to fruition saps a bit of the energy from this story.

In January 2014, DC will finally reprint this series as well as The Demon (1990) #22 also by Wagner, in a trade paperback called The Demon: From The Darkness.

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