Armagideon Time

The 1970s marked something of a boom time for the Horned One, information pills and not just for his unmistakable influence upon the fashion and home decor fronts. The socio-cultural upheavals of the late 1960s were marked by deliberate repudiation of prevailing mores. Just as the hippies turned against the straight-laced lifestyles of their parents and the eco-crunchies revolted against the environmental effects of mass industrialization, there were a number of folks who sought occult alternatives to the strictures of mainstream Christianity.

Much of this pop diabolism was superficial — bastardized offshoots of tired Crowleyisms or tamely “sinister” justifications applied to the banalities of suburban swingerhood, the theological equivalent of a third grader surreptiously uttering an f-bomb for the first time. As laughably mild as it was, it did find fertile ground to bloom in an era which was undergoing an Augustinian crisis of a fallen world where paranoia about diminished expectations gnawed at the frayed edges of a torn social fabric. (It’s no coincidence that the Christian fundamentalist movement also began to make its presence widely felt during this era.)

The prose-and-film success of The Exorcist — a conservative screed attacking spiritual evil and secular impotence masquerading as a reasonably effective horror tale — transformed Satan-o-mania from a popcult undercurrent to a full blown media phenomenon with a host of imitative fiends seeking a slice of the diabolic dollar. From occult-themed offerings in the Scholastic book club to theaters both respectable and sleazy to the embryonic stages of the heavy metal scene, Ol’ Scratch was doing boffo business in the early-to-mid 1970s.

The trend also happened to coincide with the Comic Code Authority’s decison to loosen its restrictions upon supernatural and horror themed content, thus ensuring not only a (tame) diabolic renaissance in the pages of the remaining roster of “suspense” anthologies but also the creation of anti-heroic, hell-spawned additions to the Big Two’s superheroic universes — Ghost Rider, Jack Kirby’s Demon, and the high-concept hellion of hilarity occasionally known as…

The Son of Satan.

The demi-demonic offspring of a human woman and the Embodiment of Evil she fell in love with, the Son of Satan got his start as a mysterious supporting character in the first two issues of Ghost Rider before getting spun off into a Marvel Spotlight tryout gig followed by a short-lived ongoing series.

Like many (fictional) children born into a position of privilege, Daimon Hellstrom (a name which aggressively emphasizes the bearer’s diabolic heritage even as it devilishly deceives sleep-deprived bloggers into typing “Damian Hellstorm”), was a free-spirited soul who resented the assumption that he would eventually take over the family business. In an act of peevish rebellion, he set himself up as a occult expert and exorcist-for-hire dedicated to thwarting his dad’s various schemes.

“Boy, evil sucks. I hate my dad and everything about him. To show my hate, I’m going to call myself Son of Satan and comb my hair into Maximoff-style devil horns and proudly display the pentagram etched on my bare chest. That’ll show him. Oh yeah, I’m going to keep this bitching pitchfork and hell-chariot he gave me as graduation presents, too.”

I want to say that makes no sense, but my college encounters with trust fund socialists suggest otherwise.

Though clearly intended to be a ambiguous hero in the Golden Age Namor vein, poor Daimon was hamstrung by both his trend-biting nature and high-concept genesis which never managed to achieve the lurid promise of his absurdly over-the-top brand identity. Take away the name, and all that’s left is a goofy-looking occult superhero from an era that was lousy with goofy-looking occult superheroes. While his sister Satana (who will never be the subject of this feature, for the record) at least had the sleazy freedom of a non-code B&W magazine to..um…flout her assets, the Son of Satan was effectively constrained by the same CCA boundaries he was created to flout.

It also didn’t help that the whole notion of the Horned One as a power in the Marvel Universe was directly at odds with an existing roster full of CCA-dodging Satan analogues such as Mephisto, Dormammu, and Satannish. (“See, he’s not really Satan. He’s more Satannish.”) The contradictory continuity gyrations that have been performed to establish Hellstrom’s true paternity have only further undercut the character’s principle selling point. There’s a profound difference between “Son of Satan” and “Son of a Co-Chair of Greater Hell’s Steering Committee Who Once Posed As Satan But Is Actually a Jabroni Who Has Been Schooled By Doctor Strange At Least a Dozen Times.”

Having failed to establish himself as a viable solo act, Damon Hellstrom embarked on a long, tedious journey as an occasional supporting player. He has died, been reborn, been depowered, been repowered, served time in the Defenders, married a former teen humor comic character turned feline-themed superhero turned demonic-powered feline-themed superhero, played a vaguely defined part in the low point of the Punisher’s career, been given a “grim and gritty” MAX imprint outing, and still turns up in the margins of this week’s big crossover event.

Granted, that’s better than most d-listers get, but the funnybook incarnation of the Anti-Jesus ought to be held to a higher standard.

All brimstone and no fire, the “Son of Satan” sounds like a weak punchline from a syndicated sitcom gag about comic books…which is why I’ve cast this flotsam of a fleeting fad into the lukewarm pits of Nobody’s Favorites.

Recommended listening: The Swing West – Fire (from GS I Love You: Japanese Garage Bands of the 1960s, 1996)

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The Devil went down to Osaka.

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9 Responses to “Halloween Countdown: October 3 – See you burn”

  1. Elijah Fly

    In a few recent things i’ve seen him in, such as Jason Aaron’s Ghost Rider run, Hellstrom has been pretty decent. He strikes me as what good (or potential for good) is trapped within a goofy costume. Much like if Psylocke were to put on a pair of pants, their might be something there if he’d wear an actual shirt.

    That said, there isn’t really much to him that Dr. Strange isn’t already taking care of already.

  2. Jordan Levells

    Wait, are you saying Satana has a fanbase? I always thought she was a fellow margins-dweller liker her brother. Oh well. Excellent article as always.

    P.S. While I was reading, I started wondering if the mediocre Mr. Hellstrom would work better if he were truly ashamed about his demonic origins. Make him a softer, church-going version of Penance. And has reverse of Matthew Mccounaghey syndrome.

  3. rnrk

    There was actually a pretty decent Hellstorm ongoing series by Warren Ellis back in the ’90s. It was my first exposure to the character, so I’ve never been able to think of him as quite as lame as everyone else does.

  4. bitterandrew

    Jordan: A fanbase of one.

  5. Cary

    Elijah, he did have a shirt/mask costume that was really sweet. In that costume I saw him for the first time (in some Avengers book), and I found myself intrigued by the concept, but alas I’ve never seen anything great featuring him.

    But at least he’s smart enough not to sit directly on the demon-horse.

  6. Brad

    And let us not forget that Daimon and Patsy were the inspiration for Soulsearchers. The legend has it that Peter David wanted to do a book featuring Mr. and Mrs. Hellstrom and furnish it with Marvel’s spare oddities – Howard the Duck, The Impossible Man, Harold H. Harold, and that college girl witch from Vision and Scarlet Witch who Mooney drew to look like Supergirl and later showed up in Witches. When the Marvel proposal fell through, David filed the numbers off and created Soulsearchers. Which Marvel also-ran corresponds to which Soulsearcher is an exercise I leave for the reader.

  7. Jim Kosmicki

    I was always intrigued by ol’ Daimon – but we can chalk a lot of that up to a strict Catholic upbringing. Reading a comic book about the Son of Satan seemed pretty damn rebellious at the time. I probably bought more issues of this book than most other Marvel monster books, but even then – I have maybe six in my collection total. I did find reading the entire run in the Essential Marvel Horror collection to be interesting mainly in admiring Sonny Trinidad’s art in some of the later issues of the solo book and to see the writers trying so hard to come up with a way to tell stories within the original premise. He really did work best as a low-rent, slightly more sinister Dr. Strange type character in the Defenders.

  8. jason

    One of Marvel’s all time bests!

  9. jason

    @Jim,
    yes, the Defenders were awesome and The Son of Satan was one of their best along with Nighthawk. What a great comic. I collected all of them. It’s so sad about today’s comics sorry sad state. It’s a mockery of the brilliance of the 70s and 80s.

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