‘Lost in the Longbox’ with Brad Gischia, Episode 12

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The Demon #5
(DC Comics, 1973)

Written & Drawn by:  Jack Kirby
Lettered & Inked by:  Mike Royer

Greetings from the Wasteland!

The Silver Age is often referred to, not only in terms of its fantastic creativity, but by the creators that were brave enough to change the way people thought about super heroes.  The names of Jerry Siegel and Bob Kane were quickly replaced by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the latter helping to bridge the gap between the two ages, and bringing along comic fans we might have otherwise stopped reading.  Lee and Kirby created some of the most iconic and lasting characters in the Marvel Universe, including the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Incredible Hulk.  Despite their fantastic partnership and tremendous popular success, Kirby came to a point where he felt that he was being mistreated at Marvel, and switched teams.  While Kirby’s stint at DC last only from 1971 through 1975, he created “The Fourth World”, including the titles Mister Miracle, The Forever People, and The New Gods, which still have an impact on the DCU today.  He also worked on single books, such as OMAC, Kamandi, and Kobra, as well as creating the title character in this week’s comic, ripped from the longbox, The Demon #5.

The demon in question is one over my favorite characters in the DCU.  I first saw him in Detective Comics #603, (I’ll not go into it, but keep a wary eye on future reviews, it has a better than average chance of showing up.), and the rhyming demon Etrigan captured my imagination.

In #5 though, he is still fairly young in his evolution as a character, and much more a strong man with pointy ears and horns than an actual denizen of Hell.  He is paired up with Merlin, the Arthurian wizard and his half-brother, and pitted against the Iron Duke and his magical hag, Ugly Meg.

As they fight, Merlin and Etrigan are caught in magical fire and exposed to the “fumes of mortality”, which cause Etrigan to revert to his human form, Jason Blood, and cause Merlin to be unable to cast spells.

The Iron Duke’s plan is to trade thoughts with Merlin, aided through magic by Meg, so that he will be able to bring Merlin’s knowledge to bear in any conquest he chooses to make. (Let’s face it, he wants to take over the world, is there any self-respecting super-villain with a different long-term goal?)  Despite Merlin’s warning, the Iron Duke deigns to have a magic bag put over his head, at which time Meg changes him into an actual statue made of living iron.

During this process Jason Blood is released so that he may be tossed into the moat.  He calls the name Etrigan and turns back to demon form, a battle then ensues in which the Iron Duke, heeding the call of his mistress, rushes over her to get to the Demon and both go tumbling off the wall, leaving the Demon clinging to the crumbling stone.

Merlin is restored to power, and the two discover Somnambula, trapped beneath the castle and the source of Meg’s power, and banish it.  The dream beast is a pictured as a Cthulu-type creature, lots of tentacles and a menacing, gnashing beak of a mouth, though it is quickly disposed of.

The book was written and drawn by Kirby, which one glance at the muscle-bound heroes would tell you.  If you pulled a blue winged mask over the Demon’s face you would be hard-pressed to notice a difference between his frame and that of Captain America, another Kirby creation, but that doesn’t bother me in the least.  The story is similar to all Silver Age books, an evil plot and sinister agents who are pretty easily defeated at the end.  The one thing I did miss was the rhyming dialogue that later became popular with Etrigan, though Meg teases us at one point with a spell, “Pyro-spells that spread and burn…Make the tide of battle turn.”

Here we have an interesting footnote in a crazily successful career.  The man who helped create many of comics most popular Silver Age heroes gets a change to work with a demon, an anti-hero, and make him popular as well.  Kirby left DC to return to Marvel in 1975, continuing the work he had started with Lee years before, but one can’t help but imagine what he could have done if he had stayed at DC?  A Kirby Batman?  Jason Blood was a resident of Gotham…well, one can always dream.  At any rate, The Demon #5 is Jack Kirby at his finest, and easily a good pick should you come upon it.

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Follow Brad Gischia on Twitter:  @comicwasteland

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