Saturday, October 4, 2014

Demonology #1 - Rise Etrigan!

The debut issue of Jack Kirby's The Demon featured the "King's" usual style filled with bombast and bristling energy. "Unleash the One Who Waits" begins in the distant past, in the magical time of Camelot.

The sorceress Morgaine Le Fay attacks Merlin's castle with the intent of gaining access to his "Book of Eternity" which will she hopes give her immortality.

Rising in defense of the castle is Merlin's demon Etrigan, a ferocious creature. Merlin gives a scrap of the book to Etrigan and then explodes the castle leaving the unconscious form of his servant to rise and transform into a man, a man who has forgotten his true nature.

The scene shifts to the modern day and Jason Blood, a demonologist confronts a sorcerer named Warly who attacks Blood leaving him unconscious and then he and his mistress Morgaine Le Fay, alive yet but exceedingly aged leave. Jason is found by a policeman, but remembers little.

Meanwhile a continent away a strange creature descends into a hidden crypt. The scene shifts again to the Gotham City Men's Club where he and his friends Randu Singh, a United Nations delegate and Harry Matthews, a advertising agent trade blows and barbs. A party is arranged for that evening at Jason's apartment and Jason's date is Glenda Mark a beautiful blonde who is stuck how much like his ancestors Jason looks.The same mysterious giant who entered the crypt appears at Jason's door and he ends the party abruptly to head to Europe and specifically Branek Castle. There he comes under attack by Morgaine's agents but is aided by his giant companion. Descending into the crypt he finds Merlin's tomb which is also the "Book of Eternity" and once again becomes The Demon.

Kirby's take on the supernatural is singularly muscular. His style is not open to the moody atmospherics of a Berni Wrightston or Pat Boyette, but he nonetheless finds a way to infuse this story with a sense of shadow and menace. The Demon is supposed to crouch, a crooked creature opposed to the upright Jason Blood. This compact powerhouse pre-dates Wolverine and is in fact a common element of Kirby's heroic cast.

Page only available in the omnibus collection.
The core of the Demon seems to be energy and power, a wild kinetic sense which imbues each panel and page with life. The premise is pretty wide open after the initial story, the only one Kirby originally planned to draw himself. We have a Jason Blood who has lived for centuries and is afflicted with amnesia, but who might've become the Demon many times before.

It's also interesting that like the New Gods, this story begins at the end. We see a mighty battle and its aftermath is what bespeaks of the adventures to come. Kirby really got the big scope of heroism, the nature of change over time. It gives his work a weight and grandeur other comics of the time sorely lacked. 

The story does end on a cliffhanger, which will be picked up in issue two.

More to come.

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  1. I've made this point before; it's always astounded me how Kirby could bounce back, in this case from the impending cancellation of his magnum opus, and start over with a totally original and powerful new world. The pencils of the first Demon cover have a little box in the corner where he wrote something like "Fourth World Shocker!" When I eventually saw that I thought, well, of course the Fourth World never really ended for Kirby, because he WAS the Fourth World.

    1. Nice way of putting it. Kirby was a "demon" at the drawing board true enough.

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  2. Great post, Rip!
    I liked this series myself. It has a lot of weird charm to it.
    In the brilliant Justice League cartoon series, they brought in the original-style Etrigan for a couple episodes, and he was just as you say: crouched-over, bent, ill-tempered, and thankfully, not speaking in rhyme.
    Not to knock Allen Moore's take, which I also liked.
    One thing that always interested me was how D.C.'s version of Merlin changed over the years. In Kirby's run, he reminded me of Odin, but later he became as twisted and evil as Etrigan became, until Garth Ennis just had Tommy Monaghan shoot him in the head to put him out of everybody's misery. I don't care for that version, of either Merlin or Etrigan. It spoiled this stuff a little for me, to be honest.
    I guess it was inevitable, later writers figured since these two guys were semi-demonic in nature they should damn-well act like it (no pun intended).
    Funny thing, in SWAMP THING, they drew Etrigan looking like a big yellow cat. That was my introduction to the character, and so, I thought he was a big yellow cat.
    With distemper.

    1. Not at all familiar with Moore's variation. Believe it or not I've read only a sample issue of his run on Swamp Thing, maybe.

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  3. Looking forward to the rest of your reviews. Great series!


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