Thursday, October 30, 2014
The Demon has become one of Kirby's more interesting creations, visually exciting, the leaping gargoyle of a hero is at once mysterious and colorfully blatant.
As always with any Kirby creation, the art dominates and the storytelling in the Demon is some of the most effective of Kirby's Bronze Age career. I don't think I got lost for a single panel as the stories rumbled along, often at a beautifully breakneck pace.
The creatures and villains he encountered were recognizable motifs from the classic horror landscape, but all of them had that Kirby panache which invested them with a fresh energy.
The Demon is a character who can successfully play in DC's larger environment, more freely than just about any of Kirby's other Bronze Age creations for the company. The New Gods are defined by their origins and limited as to their focus. Kamandi is isolated in time. But the Demon lives in the heart of Gotham City, a hub of superhuman activity and is free to interact with other prime heroes.
One aspect of the Demon comics which I've neglected is the contribution of Mike Royer. Royer was Kirby's handpicked inker at this stage of his career. Also a denizen of California, Royer was convenient, but it was a union which resulted in some stunning comics pages.
Royer, especially in his earliest days on Kirby cleaved close to the penciled pages and enhanced what was on the page already. Later, as the two got more used to one another you can see Royer asserting his influence a bit more, or perhaps Kirby came to trust him enough to leave some elements in his hands.
Often overlooked in Royer's work on Kirby, but crucial to the overall look is the lettering. Royer's lettering gave the Kirby books a look unique in the DC line at the time, more free form than the typical material. When the Kirby stories started using more and more chapter breaks it gave Royer lots of opportunities to letter massive words, often with fascinating effect.
Reading The Demon over the last several weeks has been enlightening. Some of the comics I haven't read since I picked them up decades ago, and so sat largely unremembered. They are better comics than that, they deserve to be read. The will reward anyone who gives the effort.
No more to come.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
The Demon returned off and on over the decades.
The first and the only one I followed other than the original Jack Kirby run was in the pages of Detective Comics.
Drawn by up and coming superstar artist Michael Golden, this was a pretty successful translation of the series, with a whisper of Wrightsonian style added to the bombast of Kirby's original designs. Golden was a perfect choice as artist at the time, as he somehow successfully blended these two disparate styles in one delicious hybrid.
I no longer own these stories and cannot read them again alas, but I do remember liking them mightily at the time they came out. The Demon lasted only a few issues in the dollar-sized Detective Comics format.
Since then, DC has trotted him out several times in limited series and ongoing ones as well. Growing out of his appearances in Swamp Thing, he even got a run in Action Comics Weekly, a cover for which (see above) was the last time Jack Kirby drew his creation for publication.
He seems to have found some level of success as some of the runs have been impressive, at least in terms of numbers. I cannot speak to quality as I've never read any of them at all.
Here are some of the debut covers.
The Demon has even made it to television. Simplified, but effective, the classic Kirby design holds up well in the animated look.
Heck there are even toys. Sheesh, that would look pleasant under the Christmas tree. Aargh.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
During the original run of Jack Kirby's The Demon, Jason Blood and his demonic alter ego made only guest-starring appearance that I'm aware of, in the pages of The Brave and the Bold #109. That makes perfect sense since the Demon was set in Gotham City, the fabled home base of Brave and Bold's star The Batman.
Written by Bob Haney and drawn by Jim Aparo, the story begins with a bang when a molten murderer rises out of the river at a bridge construction site and viciously attacks and murders a tug boat captain. Later the creature murders a purser on a docked cruise ship.Called into the case Batman ruminates with Commissioner Gordon and neither can find any real motive to the savage slayings.
Meanwhile Jason Blood, alias the Demon entertains Glenda Mark who at this time is still unaware of Jason's dual nature. Randu Singh and Harry Matthews, the latter dressed nautically as they plan an evening on his yacht. After his friends have departed Jason gets a message from Merlin who reminds he will need him later at Tintagel.
Then Jason sees that on the street below Harry has been attacked by the molten creature and assuming the role of the Demon leaps to his defense. A furious battle ensues and the creature proves immune to the Demon's fire. Batman arrives just in time to snare the Demon who thanks to Randu's incantation returns to his Jason identity.
The quartet go to Jason's apartment where they fill Batman in on the nature of Jason and the Demon and put their heads together to try and discover something out about the creature. Randu uses his powers of E.S.P. to look into the past and he sees the ship off the coast of Krakatoa in the year 1883 and aboard the captain prepares to hang Jack Dobbs, a murderous sailor but who declares he will not hang. The eruption of Krakatoa proves him right, but he goes down with the ship but does not die. Later a ship named the Lady Claire arrives and Dobbs in his new monstrous form boards it and ultimately it enters Gotham harbor where it sinks, burying Dobbs until the bridge construction freed him to carry out his vengeance on any nautical man.
Batman rushes to engage Dobbs again while the Demon goes to the local museum and gets a mysterious loop of rope. Later during the battle with the creature the Demon transforms back into Jason as Merlin not realizing why his aide has not arrived punishes him. Randu communicates the problem and Merlin chagrined returns the Demon to normal just in time for his to rip off a metal band around the neck of Jack Dobbs and loop a noose about it. It seems that hanging was his destiny after all and with a rope scavenged all those decades before by the crew of the Lady Claire.
It's a boisterous adventure, a rock solid excursion into the Haneyverse with some of Aparo's best artwork. This was valiant effort to promote the character and Aparo's rendition of the Demon has much merit to it, more mysterious in many ways than Kirby's bold version. But alas the plug didn't work as the series came to an end only a few months later.
I can locate two more guest-starring roles for the Demon.
He appeared again in The Brave and the Bold, but in 1977 long after his own series had been cancelled.
Many years later still he guested with in 1984 Superman in DC Comics Presents.
The Demon was a good guest-star and often going without his own regular series, one would've thought he'd have shown up more often.
But alas it was not so.
Monday, October 27, 2014
The sixteenth and final issue of Jack Kirby's The Demon wraps up the storyline but returning the Demon's most implacable foe, the deadly Morgaine Le Fay.
Morgaine Le Fay in many ways is responsible for the centuries spanning Demon, as her assault on Camelot so long before is why Merlin summoned his Demon to begin with.
The story begins with the Demon on patrol in Gotham City when he comes across another of his kind, a demon named Kafir the Horned One who looks rather like a two-legged buffalo. They fight, but the Demon is overcome by magical mist which puts him to sleep.
When he awakes he is the prisoner of Morgaine Le Fay who seeks to make a slave of the Demon and Jason Blood by branding him on the forehead with her mark. She seems successful.
Meanwhile Glenda Mark is practicing with the Philosopher's Stone and begins to realize its great power. She is suddenly confronted by Warly, the old sorcerer who we first encountered in the debut issue of the series and who is a servant of Morgain Le Fay. He tells Glenda that if she follows him he can take her to Jason Blood.
When they arrive at Morgaine's hideout, the Demon is busy entertaining her by fighting an ancient gladiator. The battle is ended Morgaine entertains her guest by showing her control over the Demon and over Jason Blood himself and Glenda for the first time sees the transformation and leans the truth about the man she has come to care for.
Morgaine wants the Philosopher's Stone, but Glenda does not give in so easily and as they banter Warly suddenly snatches it and attacks his former mistress turning her into what appears to be a metallic mummy case. But Morgaine's magic is not done and red tendrils reach out from another dimension and snare Warly who counters with Nether-Flame. The flames get out of control and Jason and Glenda flee when suddenly Jason realizes that he's free of Morgaine's control.
Using his powers as the Demon he gets himself and Glenda free of the flames and ends the menace of Morgaine Le Fay. He then reclaims the Philosopher's Stone and confronts Glenda with the truth that he and the Demon are one and the same. With that revelation the series comes to an end.
It's clear that Kirby knew the this was the last issue and so he was able to give it a send off, though it was a flawed one. We still get no word on Harry Matthews and Randu Singh who had been saved but still suffer from the idea that Jason had turned on them. That plot is not resolved, at least not directly. I do like that Glenda is finally let in on the secret of Jason, and she proves a worthy partner for him in this adventure.
Bringing in Morgaine Le Fay again was smart and I was especially surprised to see old Warly again. This gives the series a nice circular structure and on that level an interesting ending.
That's the end of the series but there's a bit more to come still.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
In the fifteenth issue of Jack Kirby's The Demon we find Jason Blood and the Demon in a real pickle, put there by Klarion the Witch Boy.
The yarn begins with the doppleganger Demon appearing before his creator Klarion but seeking to assert his own power and authority.
Klarion will have none of it tormenting his creation by changing him into a tree of all things. Put in his place the evil Jason Blood agrees to serve Klarion and his familiar the "cat" Teekl.
Confident of their victory over the Demon, Klarion and Teekl celebrate and Teekl changes form becoming a weird woman-cat creature. The two dance and cavort and eat to their hearts' content, but then the police arrive at Jason Blood's apartment. They find only a frog, a cat, and a picture of Klarion, the Witch Boy having successfully hidden himself and his aides.
The police had been sent by Glenda Mark who despairs when they report back to her. She then wonders about the Philosopher's Stone which she had gotten from Jason, unaware that the Demon in his ghostly guise is in her apartment at that moment. Her wish holding the Stone that Jason return is enough to magically cause the Demon to come back from the ghastly shade condition Klarion had put upon him.
The Demon rushes back to confront Klarion but finds himself battling his own doppleganger again. Ultimately his magical might overcomes his duplicate and proves too powerful for Klarion's spells. Casting his own spell the Demon opens a window into the "Beyond Region" and Klarion, Teekl, and the doppleganger are all swept away into the mysterious realm. As the window closes the phone rings and the true Jason Blood answers the call from Glenda.
This one was a rouser. There is a bit of the problem with the Demon in that he's just as powerful as he needs to be at any given time, but it's enough to assume that Klarion got over on him earlier because he was caught off guard. Knowing his enemy the Demon is able to bring all his power to bare.
It's odd that we get no update on Harry Matthews and Randu Singh in this issue, as they've been in every one to this point. The last time we saw them, they had been assaulted by the evil Jason and might still believe their friend is not to be trusted. It's a loose thread.
One more issue to come.
Saturday, October 25, 2014
The fourteenth issue of Jack Kirby's The Demon brings back one of the series most popular characters, Klarion the Witch Boy, and he's back for some vengeance.
The story begins with a nightmare as Jason Blood in his Demon guise of Etrigan confronts the mult-headed menace of Gargora.
When he wakes from that dream Jason Blood finds Klarion the Witch Boy and Teekl his "cat" familiar at the foot of his bed. Klarion is polite but makes it known he's back from the exile the Demon put him in and he's not too pleased with those who sent him there. He introduces Jason to a zombie and while they have breakfast a whole legion of zombies appear as Klarion casts his spell which creates a duplicate of Jason Blood. Jason and his evil duplicate fight but it all comes to naught as Jason sees that he is slowly vanishing.
Changing into the Demon he leaves his apartment because Klarion has promised to do harm to his friends. The Demon first finds the evil Jason Blood trying to throw Harry Matthews off a building roof and saves his friend. Then he rushes to Randu Singh's house and rescues him from a fire. Finally he heads to Glenda Mark's house but as he arrives the evil Jason is menacing her though the Demon can do nothing as he is nearly disappeared.
Great characterization in this one. Klarion comes across a real menace, one who delights in tormenting his victims. In the Witch Boy, the Demon has an opponent who really seems to be unafraid of him.
More to come.
Friday, October 24, 2014
The Baen's Big Book of Monsters is an absolute hoot. I snatched it off the racks when I first clapped eyes on it. It's full of vintage stories of giant monsters with new material sandwiched between. The new stuff I can take or leave, but the old stories, many from Weird Tales are some I've long wanted to read.
Highest on that list was "Ooze" by Anthony Rud, which appeared in the very first issue of Weird Tales. This yarn which slowly reveals its menace is well crafted though any monster fan will see it coming a mile off.
Many of the stories in this collection seem to have been written to order because of an evocative cover. That's certainly the case with Curt Siodmak's "The Eggs from Lake Tanganyika".
That seems to be the case with Murray Leinster's "Planet of Doom" also.
Henry Kuttner's "Beauty and the Beast" works hard to create a story which will justify this cover of a dinosaur crashing into the Captiol. What I didn't realize is that this story almost certainly inspired Ray Harryhausen's 20 Million Miles to Earth, though there is no mention made of that here.
Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror" is included and I'm always ready for another go at this seminal and potent monster story. Likewise "The Valley of the Worm" by Robert E. Howard which is on hand.
Also included are "The Shining Ones" by Arthur C. Clarke, "The Island of the Ud" by William Hope Hodgson, "The Monster God of Mammurth" by Edmond Hamilton (his first published tale), and "Greenface" by James Schmitz.