Etrigan Balances Between Villain And Antihero In The Demon: Hell Is Earth #2
by CJ Stephens
The Demon: Hell is Earth #2 shakes things up and ends with a bang.
There will be spoilers…
Etrigan the Demon may be my favorite Jack Kirby character. He’s a rhyming demon, delivering hellish destruction and devastation with a lyrical flair. He’s got a classically cool chaotic costume and look, with his floppy-toed boots, ragged cloak and onesie, complete with spiked collar and bracelets. I appreciate that his color scheme is the same as Superman’s, with the colors reproportioned to make him look clashing rather than comforting. In addition, his forced connection to Jason Blood is fairly reminiscent of the Hulk and Bruce Banner. He’s like a mash-up of DC and Marvel’s greatest hits. He’s typically presented as a bit of a bad guy, with depictions ranging from that of an impish scamp to a demonic danger to all life on Earth. It’s a tough line to walk, and may have something to do with his intermittent publishing history.
Etrigan’s not always a villain, even though he’s often villainous. But villains often don’t make very good main characters, especially in the realm of superhero comics, as evidenced by the dearth of successful villain-led titles. Sure, we get a mini-series here and there featuring Bullseye or Lex Luthor, but unless the villain is attempting to redeem themselves (as in the current Invincible Iron Man title featuring Dr. Doom), there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of long-term interest in villainous titles. But antiheroes? Superhero comic fans love antiheroes; just look at the popularity of characters like the Punisher and Deadpool, or Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad. So for a title featuring Etrigan to work, the best strategy seems to be to present him as more of a dangerous antihero than a threat to all of humanity.
So how does The Demon: Hell is Earth #2 stack up? So far, so good. Andrew Constant‘s Etrigan is simmering menace with just enough of that impishness mentioned earlier to keep him from sliding fully into evil supervillain mode, although his constant attempts to murder young Alicia, the only survivor of a family vacation from Hell, is somewhat off-putting. Still, he’s got nice rhymes. Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy, and especially colorist Chris Sotomayor do solid work on the art, especially with little hellish touches like the subtle orange glow on Etrigan’s face when he’s huffing and puffing tiny wisps of flame in annoyance, or the way darkness and shadow seem to cling to Etrigan in spite of his garish appearance.
The issue opens with the revelation that the fallout from last issue’s nuclear explosion is being contained in some sort of dark mystic barrier. Within the barrier, normal humans are transformed into fiery shadowy entities bent on death and destruction, and demons are pouring into Death Valley via a rift in the ground. Etrigan and Blood are coming to terms with their new inverted relationship, an apparent result of being caught at ground zero of a mystical nuclear blast mid-transformation. Etrigan, seemingly larger and more powerful, is now in control, with Blood relegated to the role of ghostly adviser. Jason Blood is now free to haunt Etrigan’s existence, just like Etrigan has done to Blood for hundreds of years, and Etrigan’s frustration and annoyance with the situation is oddly endearing.
I especially like Blood’s threat to torment Etrigan with non-stop stories of altruism and love and butterflies if he doesn’t leave Alicia alone. The trio meets up with Madame Xanadu (who is somehow connected to Alicia, although the particulars remain unexplained), and Etrigan gets to shine by beating up some bigger bullish versions of the fiery shadow beings, which is an easy way to make an antihero likable. Etrigan may be a monster, but as long as he fights other monsters, we can cheer for him. Jason Blood manages to keep Etrigan on task, for the most part, and their strained relationship feels authentic, like a married couple that hates one another but for whatever reason can’t get a divorce. But damn, the final panel is a hell of a cliffhanger. Apparently Etrigan’s dreams are prophetic…
I’m hooked. The Demon: Hell is Earth #2 mixes a modern look with bronze age storytelling, and I simply must see how it all plays out.