Monday, November 24, 2008
Jack Kirby's The Demon
I didn't buy The Demon comic book back when it originally ran in the early 1970s. I hadn't yet reached my obsession with the work of Jack Kirby and I didn't feel the need to own every comic he produced. Also it was a (or I perceived it as) a horror comic. Not my cup of tea at age 10 or so. I was a big fan of The Demon's companion series Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth. But that's a post for another time.
Over the years I never quite managed to amass a complete run of The Demon. I would buy the comic if I spotted it at conventions, but it wasn't something I went actively looking for. As a result I ended up with eleven issues out of the sixteen issue run.
DC Comics' latest release in their Jack Kirby Omnibus series is a nice, heavy, hardcover book containing all sixteen issues of The Demon. And of course the best thing about it for me, is that there are five issues of the comic that are new to me. New Kirby art. New Kirby concepts. New Kirby! I'd forgotten how much I loved to see new things spiral out of Jack's imagination. His incredibly creative mind is just one of the things that made and keeps him the King of Comics.
A good example would be issue six's villain, The Howler. This is Jack's take on the werewolf legend, but of course it gets the Kirby spin. The bestial baddie isn't someone bitten and cursed by a werewolf. No he's actually possessed by a primal beast spirit. Look at how the Howler is portrayed on the cover. Not the lean Bernie Wrightson sort of werewolf, but instead a massive creature of terrifying strength and power.
In case you're not familiar with the series, The Demon is Etrigan, a demon summoned by Merlin back in the days of Camelot to aid the wizard in his struggle with Morgan Le Fey. After the fall of Camelot, Merlin disguises the demon by giving him human form as the ageless Jason Blood. Blood lives through the centuries awaiting Merlin's return. When we catch up with him in the 1970s, Blood is a (what else?) demonologist and collector of occult relics. When a horribly aged, but still dangerous Morgan Le Fey appears in the present, Merlin shows up too and calls in his demonic servant.
Kirby used the series to run his own riffs on classic monsters like Frankenstein, The Phantom of the Opera, and werewolves, but he also created his own supernatural menaces. I read through the entire volume over the weekend and was very impressed with Jack's handling of a supernatural book, not his usual thing. There are a couple of truly chilling concepts and Etrigan himself is actually pretty creepy. He's as ruthless as you'd expect a demon to be, killing his enemies with glee.
The character of the demon has remained a favorite of artists and writers who have followed Kirby. He's shown up numerous times over the years in other DC comics, including a recent series by John Byrne and appearances on various Warner Brothers cartoon series. Etrigan was probably best served in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, where he is portrayed as a more classical demon figure. And I have to wonder how much effect Kirby's Demon had om Mike Mignola's Hellboy.
Anyway, after reading the entire series, I now think that this is one of Kirby's most underrated books. The Demon is one of his best written series. And now you can have it all in one hardcover book. Next up in the series is, I beleive, The Losers, Jack's handling of a DC World War II comic. Looking forward to it.