For Those Who Came In Late: Last week, we introduced you to Spidey’s supreme homewrecker, Marvel’s answer to Old Scratch himself, Mephisto. We took a look at Mephisto’s first appearance in the pages of THE SILVER SURFER, and a supremely creepy Mephisto tale from John Byrne in the pages of FANTASTIC FOUR. However, the Mephisto character hasn’t always been used to his best advantage, as we’re about to discover…
Midway through the eighties, Marvel was on a real miniseries kick. With the newly created direct market allowing a larger venue for new books than ever before, Marvel was giving every character in its stable a solo miniseries, it seemed, with perennial supporting players like Iceman, Hercules and Hawkeye, and even third-stringers like Jack of Hearts, finally getting a moment in the spotlight. However, the hands-down weirdest of these miniseries came in April 1987, with the premiere of MEPHISTO VS….
Written by Al Milgrom and drawn by Mephisto creator John Buscema. MEPHISTO VS… featured the Prince of Lies contending with a different passel of Marvel superheroes every months, as he finagled, connived and horse-traded his way to possession of the soul of various superheroes, none of which he really had any right to. The series began with MEPHISTO VS. THE FANTASTIC FOUR, in which Reed Richards finds a mysterious flaming pit within the framework of their newly built headquarters. Although it’s quickly sealed shut, soon all the FF members find themselves confronted by nightmarish scenarios, such as Ben Grimm accidentally murdering the Human Torch:
Soon all of the FF have been consumed by fire and sent down to Mephisto’s realm, where we learn his intended goal: the soul of Franklin Richards:
Once again, we’re treated to Mephisto torturing the Fantastic Four, such as this shot of Mephisto peeling off Ben Grimm’s rocky hide:
It’s early going yet, but even as a kid I wondered who exactly this book was aimed at. It’s not really fun to watch these heroes tormented by the devil; who was enjoying this?
For example, here’s Mephisto removing Reed Richards’ intelligence, reducing him to a drooling dullard. Charming.
In the end, Sue Richards agrees to remain with Mephisto in exchange for his returning Reed’s intellect and releasing Franklin and the rest of the FF. Of course, after the bargain is made, Mephisto reveals that he had no real claim over any of them, that all his assertions had been lies. A lesson that maybe Spider-Man should have figured out as well: bargaining with Mephisto is a sucker’s bet:
The story continues in the second issue, MEPHISTO VS. X-FACTOR. The “X-FACTOR” in question, by the way, consists of the original version of the team, which was made up of the five founding X-Men: Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman, and the then-only recently resurrected Jean Grey. Here we finally learn of Mephisto’s hidden intention: to capture one truly noble spirit, like that of the Silver Surfer, whom Mephisto had repeatedly tried and failed to snare.
Meanwhile, Reed Richards, desperately trying to find a way to return to Mephisto’s realm and reclaim his wife, grasps at straws based on a comment Mephisto made about an “unknown quantity” and decides to call X-Factor for help. Me, I’d have called Dr. Strange back, but what do I know?
Reed and X-Factor meet, and it doesn’t take long for Mephisto to make his move.
Using Sue Richards as bait, Mephisto draws out X-Factor and tries to trick them into trusting him, but before long, Mephisto is back to his standard operating procedure: torture:
After melting Iceman, Mephisto places Cyclops’ wife and infant child in the path of his own optic blasts, reduces the Beast to a mindless monstrosity and swarms the Angel with winged demons. In order to save them all (incuding Sue Richards), and spare Cyclops the pain of choosing between her and his wife, Jean Grey agrees to surrender her soul to Mephisto. Mephisto’s happy, as he’s apparently traded up:
The plot thickens in the third issue, MEPHISTO VS. THE X-MEN, which , it must be noted, features one of the weakest X-Men lineups in its publishing history: Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, Psylocke, Longshot and Dazzler.
By the way, how weird is this book? Having “collected” Jean Grey’s soul, Mephisto puts it in a Mylar bag for protection. Seriously.
I guess she’s lucky he didn’t think she needed a backboard, too.
Having regained his wife, Reed Richards goes about warning other super-groups he thinks might be in danger from Mephisto, with the first call going out to the X-Men. Team leader Storm has the brilliant idea of insisting that the team’s telepath, Psylocke, try to reach out to the Prince of Darkness with her mind. Good thinking:
Later, Mephisto tries to decide which of the X-Men he’s interested in, and we’re treated to a full-page rendering of Mephisto sticking his tongue down Rogue’s throat. Really.
Even worse, it seems she’s into it:
Later, having come to her senses, Rogue races to absorb the powers and consciousnesses of her fellow X-Men before Mephisto can claim them. Unfortunately, it just allows Mephisto to claim them all at once. Confused? Don’t feel bad. Like much of this series, Rogue’s plan doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The writer and artists don’t seem to have a good grip on what’s going on, either. One minute we’re told that for some reason Longshot has no soul:
And the next we can still see him in Mephisto’s demonic clutches:
Not to worry, though — like so much of this series, the cliffhanger is just a tease, as the rest of the X-Men soon fade away as they regain consciousness, leaving only Rogue in Mephisto’s possession.
Why Rogue? Rogue, it turns out, was to be Mephisto’s tool to pry loose the soul of his ultimate goal from the very beginning: the God of Thunder himself, Thor:
Naturally, Thor’s soul is a bone of contention between Mephisto and Hela, the Asgardian Goddess of Death, and soon enough she gets the Avengers involved as her catspaws. Although to be fair, if guys like the Silver Surfer have trouble with Mephisto, Wonder Man and Tigra haven’t really got a chance in you-know-where:
Eventually, Mephisto falls back to his traditional M.O.: First, try to tempt Thor:
Then, try to devour him:
As usual, it’s no dice for Mephisto, and he slinks back to his underworld dimension.
Come to think of it, for a master schemer, Mephisto almost never wins in Marvel Comics, even in his own book. Go figure.