When Marvel jumped into the Silver Age it was based on science: go into space, get super powers from cosmic rays; get caught in a gamma radiation bomb blast, get super powers; your dad get caught in an accident at a nuclear power plant, he’ll keep his hair and you’ll get super powers; evolution is going to give everyone superpowers. Extra chromosomes give super powers, not Down’s syndrome.
Don’t have super powers? Use science to build a super powered suit of armor. Put science in the heads of your arrows. Suction cups in your boots and gloves will let you climb walls, even porous ones like brick. Suction cup on the end of a string, you can swing on that.
You know the drill.
But there quickly came a second string that was harder for Marvel to integrate into its shared universe. There is Dr Strange, who is known to superheroes but never fully integrates. Spider-Man and Daredevil both face Kingpin. But how often does Baron Mordo face any hero other than Strange? Surely he’d at least face off against Dr Doom once or twice. Ally with him? And what of Nightmare or Dormammu? They basically stay in their magical corners.
But there have been a few times when the magical and supernatural have full-on entered the mainstream of the Marvel shared universe. Since it’s about to happen again in the movies and it’s Halloween, I thought we’d take a look at an earlier attempt with the Son of Satan.
Satan was worried. He could foresee the end of days when he would face God in the final battle in the big arena (Thor and Loki were in a side area – it’s a big festival). Yet, what if Satan was wrong? If he died, who would take over the business?
So Satan went and found a woman to be the Devil’s baby momma – not that one. He didn’t go to any one of his many earthly followers like Brittany Spears, Beyonce, Marilyn Monroe, Daisy Ridley, or others accused of Satanism for things like holding one hand in front of one eye or giving the OK sign (not kidding).
Still, Satan had options which would cause him no trouble but he had to go find a woman who was pure of heart and didn’t know who her husband was. Victoria Wingate married the Devil, I’m guessing in a civil ceremony. They lived in Massachusetts, which should have been a warning sign right there, and they had a boy and a girl. Sounds like a television family which is about to fall apart. Let’s watch.
And most magical of all, she has a dress which is pink while she’s in the kitchen making a cake, but turns blue as she’s going down the stairs to the basement where she discovers her husband is the Devil and her children are following in his path.
This is so shocking that poor Victoria is driven instantly insane. I am not sure why she didn’t yell, “I knew it!” After all, her married name was Victoria Hellstrom, her son was named Daimon, and her daughter was Satana.
“I just realized my husband is Satan!”
“Really, darling, what was your thirty fifth clue?”
It would have been more realistic.
Also inexplicable, Satan doesn’t kill her outright then and there. He also doesn’t have the kids kill her. Comics Code Authority, I guess.
So Daimon and Satana split. He gets a four color comic and she gets a continuing series in a black & white magazine. I should explain, at the time, Marvel was trying to attract older readers with more mature stories. Since they couldn’t put these in comic books, they put them into magazine-sized periodicals with black-&-white artwork.
Satana got in there and became a succubus, sucking out men’s souls which looked like little white butterflies which she would then eat. Theologically I don’t know how this worked. Perhaps she was eating mortal souls, not the immortal ones. But her series was laced with sex and violence.
Daimon went out and convinced the suffering souls of hell to rebel against Satan. That failed, but Daimon got a devil’s trident out of it. It’s made of netheraneum (spelt several ways over time). He also gets a chariot drawn by three demonic horses.
Thus equipped physically and near-crippled emotionally, with super strength, durability, and magic, Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan (Son of Victoria would have been confusing) went out to battle dark forces, particularly his father. These early comics were somewhat uneven. In addition to the clichés such as those touched on above, the series gathered controversy like that stuff that you can never entirely get off your shoes.
People objected to Satanists and Wiccans not being shown accurately, and others objected to them not being shown as evil enough. When you consider the original idea was to have Satan the protagonist (like Dracula in his magazine), Marvel got off kind of lightly.
And yet there were also elements which were unusual for the day, like the two issue arc where a crone lays out the Tarot cards and the plot takes them and makes them literally true. The deck used was the one designed by Arthur Edward Waite and drawn by Pamela Coleman Smith. In the story the meaning and images of the cards are both used. The Waite-Coleman (aka Rider-Waite) deck is by far the world’s most popular. Writer Steve Gerber knew which deck to choose.
The artwork of the story does not rise above mediocre. And perhaps partly because of that the story is often overlooked. But it did what many stories in comics fail to do. It combined genuine occult concepts with an adventure story. If redrawn it could be recognized as one of the little, overlooked gems people enjoy discovering.
There were other touches. At one point, Hellstrom promises a demon safe passage in return for release of a hostage. The demon lets the hostage go but when he leaves, Son of Satan blasts him with ‘soulfire.’ The demon asks how he did this, and the expectation was a Superman-style convoluted explanation of some loophole in the promise. Hellstrom’s answer? “I lied.”
But Son of Satan failed to find a market. In this it’s tempting to say he suffered Dr Strange syndrome: a small, very appreciative audience who just aren’t enough to make title financially viable. This is what E-Man suffered from in Charlton (though I think he has a better chance now) and the Doom Patrol in DC.
But I don’t think that was the real problem. More that having created an idea and seen the idea almost succeed, the powers that want to be kept changing the idea to see what would click. The whole title seems to have been thrown together quickly and not enough thought went into thinking where the story was going.
So Satan wasn’t Daimon’s father, it was a demon whose real name was Marduk Kurios. Still later, he was the son of Satannish, which made him the grandson of Dormammu. Hell got reorganized and he was stuck with the reorganization. Now there were several demons claiming power. Daimon had to lose his dark soul and when that didn’t work, he had to get it back. He got married, she died, she came back, she left, and so on and on. There’s a limit to how many times you can rewrite backstory.
It was never clear whether Daimon should be a superhero and face villains or, as he increasingly became, an occult figure facing demons and monsters and eventually being a demon and monster.
So his best period was as a member of the Defenders. Here he got to play off other characters in a way he never did in his own series. He met Patsy Walker, Hellcat, and coincidence in name aside, he fell in love with and married her. But editors almost never like a superhero marriage and it ended.
In his own comics he was frequently withdrawn and usually surly. You didn’t see him smile, he had allies rather than friends. I don’t know about anyone else but I never got the impression that he put his trident in the lockable trident case, hung up his cape, put his boots and wristbands away, finally put his tights in the laundry, and then sat down and read a comic book, watched [product placement here], had a coffee, or just decided on a night out.
There was a sameness, here. Every demon was his enemy and there was no real variation between them. Burn them with soulfire and send them back to hell where they would no doubt be punished for failing to take inadequate resources and do an impossible task.
With the Defenders he had a greater mix of villains to face, something he sorely needed. On his own it was basically him versus his father, then Satan, or one of his father’s henchdemons. In the Defenders he faced the Sons of the Serpent and helped find the lost parts of Eternity. There was a greater variety and that made it easier to identify with him.
On his own, Son of Satan was played as other and distant, angry rather than trying to deal with things. And good as that sometimes was, there could have been more.
In his very first appearance he rallied damned souls to rebel against Satan. They risked worse punishment for a chance to be free. Couldn’t he do that again? What if a demon had taken on an ordinary life, with an ordinary wife, with ordinary kids, and was making a good fist of it? What if someone came to destroy his happy life and family?
It could have just been a fight, it could have been that demon getting rid of his darksoul just as the Son of Satan had to do in his own story.
But the writers took the easy path, and instead of going deeper into the idea they had, they switched it around. With the Defenders they did a good job. Seriously, check out that run of issues. Like many dark and brooding characters, Son of Satan does better when he has happier people to play off of. Think of Wolverine, who was the best at what he did and best you not ask what that was. But he had a long run of bright, perky, female sidekicks against whom his darkness was helpless.
We loved to see him squirm as well as train and guide.
With Son of Satan in the Defenders, we saw much the same thing. We were for that. But comics and Hollywood like a couple forming, they don’t like it to exist. I don’t know why, because the Phantom married Diana Palmer years ago and they have the twins now and the story is improved.
Son of Satan also had another problem, his terrible name. It isn’t ‘Satan’, it’s ‘Son of…’Not only is Son of Satan long, it kind of sounds like the typical Marvel hyperbole of the day. Guess he was lucky not to be named Senses Shattering Son of Satan, but he did come close.
This was recognized and they started calling him Hellstorm. Better. They got rid of the chariot and he could use his trident to fly, projecting soulfire out the pommel. Improvement. They put a shirt on him, and a mask, and made his trident smaller so it was more like a handgun than a rifle. Bad. His cape went from red to yellow, and the symbol on his shirt was a trident not an inverted pentagram in a circle. This made him more fully a superhero.
That could have worked. But I’m sorry to say it didn’t. Part of the issue with many of his issues was this was the son of the personification of evil and there wasn’t anything really scary about him or his enemies. Demons were all physical. They were hominid forms, they got hit with soulfire and they dissolved like ice in heat. There was no parallel to the realms Dr Strange explored under Ditko.
There might have been a chance for Son of Satan to take hold. What made it not work was he was shirtless. It was too critical for anyone who didn’t already have abs. Painting them on works better on a sound stage. The usual trick of a shirt with padding in the shape of abs doesn’t look as good when it’s supposed to be a bare chest. And when you get into those shirts, you have a problem matching the skin color of the cosplayer.
Cosplay might have given the character some essential visibility and a new context. Though the majority of cosplayers go for the popular characters like the Joker, Batman, Captain America and the like, there are a number who prefer secondary characters.
In part this can be the lesser competition. A different costume lets you stand out. And sometimes it helps if the costume is easy to duplicate. So there are a number of Rorschachs, Black Widows, Zatannas, and Hellcats. Among ten Supergirls, the solo Hellcat stands out.
This is apart from personal favorites. Those who really like a particular character will gravitate to their costume, period.
Hellstorm has an easier costume to recreate. Shirt (which can be ab-padded), mask, simple device in the trident. Easy stuff to recreate. Certainly not more difficult than Hellcat’s bright yellow onesie, with blue boots, gloves, mask, and sash belt.
In the end, conventions did not see Son of Satan cosplayers. It also didn’t see Hellstorm cosplayers. Clearly not only did the character not take with audience numbers, it did not reach deeply into the hearts of that audience. By contrast, Hellcat is fairly popular. There are a number of photos of people going as her.
Since Hellcat was at one point wife to Son of Satan, the cosplayers can be taken as being likely to know who Son of Satan is. In no case does someone thought to go as the married couple from the comics. No Son of Satan goes with Hellcat.
I think we’ve shown that there was something there, but it just didn’t quite take. The character was surrounded by stools and still managed to fall to the floor. But there is another chance.
Hellcat is popular in cosplay. Considering she is only a supporting character in a not very successful series, that says something. That may have been part of the reason why Marvel put Patsy Walker, as Trish Walker, in Jessica Jones. There she is played by Rachael Taylor.
I assume they will give her powers and turn her into Hellcat. This opens up another possibility.
Son of Satan’s best run was in the Defenders, which is what the various current solo series are building up to. Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Daredevil. Iron Fist. It seems to be a combination Defenders and Heroes for Hire. The occult can break out there, and then they would need not only Hellcat but a reconstructed Hellstorm. They got rid of Luke Cage’s silk shirt, they can put a more practical costume on Hellstorm (better name). If he starts appearing in cosplay, it will help show Marvel it succeeded.
Hellcat stands out.
This is apart from personal favorites. Those who really like a particular character will gravitate to their costume, period.