August 7th, 2014
A funny thing happened after I read Jeet Heer’s twitter essay on the debt popular culture owes to Jack Kirby: I found myself wanting to get some Kirby in front of my eyes again for the first time in a couple of months.
Remembering The Beast Must Die’s classic (#classic) post on The Demon, I decided to start there and I was impressed by the supremely elegant hackwork I found within:
This might sound dismissive, but it’s not meant to be. Mark Evanier’s introduction frames these stories as an attempt to horror comic on demand – “Carmine [Infantino] wants a comic about a demon? Fine. I’ll give him one. I’ll even call it THE DEMON!“ - and compared to Kirby’s Fourth World books or his work on The Eternals, there’s a lack of grandiose philosophical ambition coded into this particular eruption of granite-faced monsters and face-splitting energy blasts.
The Demon is a formula book through and through, with Kirby sweating away to recapture (& literalise) the magic of The Hulk: Jason Blood socialises in glorious Gotham city until an occult menace emerges, prompting the titular Demon into action; after spending a few pages getting kicked around by this month’s threat while his friends trail or pine after him in a state of groovy bewilderment, Etrigan will best his opponent through sheer energy and force of will; eventually, Jason Blood returns to his wonderful social life with a slightly more sombre look on his face:
And yet, there’s an admirable thematic consistency to these adventures, with Etrigan facing off against a series of creatures who have been manipulated (&/or transformed) by magical forces that are far more powerful than they are. The Demon might be able to overpower his enemies in the end, but he can never quite obliterate their resemblance to him.
Just like Bruce Banner with his Hulk, Jason Blood can never seem to get free of Etrigan for long. Even when he manages to quench that fire with ice, circumstances soon necessitate a shocking reversal:
The fact that Jason Blood’s life is not his own – that he is part of a magical war that is much bigger than him and has precious little to do with his swinging social life – strikes me as being a deep shame because I would totally hang out with this man:
His pals are a pretty endearing bunch too:
While Kirby was way beyond drawing or writing “realistic” figures by this point in his career, there’s something to the boisterous energy of these group scenes that’s immediately recognisable and infinitely charming. They crowd Blood, pushing him to the edge of the panel at every opportunity, holding him up when he needs it; their gazes are full of pointed concern and admiration; their cigars, turbans, and glorious foreheads gesticulate wildly at all times.
To channel Gary Lactus for a minute, spending time with them feels like spending time with your own friends, and so it’s occasionally frustrating that they’re not at the centre of the action, having vacated it for this guy:
Still, let’s not pretend Hot Demon Action isn’t what we came here for! Thankfully, there’s plenty of that on display here too, with Kirby’s ability to outdo the wrestling for dynamic twists and turns as reliable as ever:
His figures are so striking in their blocky dynanism that it is genuinely affecting to watch them bend under pressure.
Perhaps this explains why I found myself detecting a strange sort of melancholia in every power-blasted grimace while reading through The Demon again this time. Even if the recipients of Etrigan’s wrath are fighting for nefarious purposes, he has more in common with them than he does with either of their masters.
In the end, he’s just a well-loved weapon.
Looking like this…
…in a universe (which is to say, in an horror/action comic) where appearances count for so much, how could he hope to be anything more?
Lucky for us his adventures in the mystical world are so much fun. Still, I could have done to spend a bit more time hanging out with Jason and his pals in their Gotham apartment all the same:
Worn faces draped in shadow, a mild whiff of cutesy patriarchal condescension in the body language, and yet – look at the way they both just about manage to form smiles in defiance of the story they find themselves in.
I want more of that. I think I will always want more of that.