In some ways, Helstrom‘s debut on Hulu October 16th will be bittersweet. The series marks the last Marvel Entertainment production for television — oversight of TV has moved to Marvel Studios — and represents the one success in an attempt to bring some of Marvel’s horror characters to the streaming platform. But as the cast and the producer of the series point out during a Comic-Con@Home panel on Friday, those facts were not much an issue.
In fact, executive producer Paul Zbyszewski used the occasion to start a discussion about systemic racism. As co-star June Carryl put it, “I have to calculate how fast I’m walking, if I’m walking with some, are my hands doing the right thing — all to figure out if I’m safe [outside].” Nevertheless, she is still astonished it took people watching the murder of George Floyd “to see it is all the same damage and all the same death.” She felt the discussion tied back to the show because, as Carryl sees it, “it is about people discovering who they are in the light of pure evil.”
“You want to be good, be good,” she added. “You have to put skin in the game and you have to stop making it all about you.”
Fellow co-star Robert Wisdom thanked Zbyszewski and Carryl “for the things they said from their hearts” before adding that systemic racism “we’ve all come to recognize” is real. “A long time, that’s been in denial,” he said. “It’s unleashed anger and despair. For some, a righteous anger to dismantle it.” Wisdom recalled the little ways the system works: like a teacher complaining about his lack of a smile. “I smiled to make her comfortable,” he said. “And I was told I was intimidating and so that smile became my mask. I realized I was making myself small to take away others’ fear. The irony is, we are all wearing a mask.” He applauded the young people fighting for changed, but reminded everyone it will not be an overnight thing. “There is no finish line,” he said.”But I am very confident that, one day, we will all be free.”
Ariana Guerra noted the troubles of border towns and immigration struggles. She also encouraged viewers to vote.
Afterward, the cast took a first look at a teaser trailer for the series (above), which stars Tom Austen, Sydney Lemmon, and Elizabeth Marvel as the Helstrom family. Each has been touched by evil and must come to grips with it as a new darkness encroaches on their lives.
The darker tone was something Zbyszewski gravitated toward immediately. “It’s a bad father story,” he said, reminding the audience that the Helstrom characters comes from a comic called The Son of Satan. That series, he said was “rooted in emotion” he recognized and understood. Those emotions became the driving force for the series even as it developed into a more grounded world than the one in the comics. And despite the evil surrounding the Helstroms, Zbyszewski added it is a family story, not just of the three principles, but of an extended family that will emerge throughout the season. “It’s [about] all of these character being part of this family, dealing with their own personal demons, and figuring out how to relate to each other and get through these things.”
For Austen the “vulnerable” dynamic between Daimon, his character, and Ana (Lemmon) is one of the most interesting explored because they are simultaneous the closest characters are the show and the furthest apart. “They built their own families,” he explained. “[And] try to meet each other again as adults and as victims of childhood trauma.”
“I’m not quite sure what you’re talking about,” joked Lemmon.
“They’re just plagued by their history,” she explained. “Ana is characterized by what she’s overcome and how she’s responded to the traumas and crap that’s come barreling at her.” She said they are different because they react to the crap in different ways, but ultimately want the same thing: safety and understanding. These concerns and methods play out in the way they make their living. Ana is a art dealer while Daimon is a professor and an occasional demon hunter.
“And they can do things other people can’t do,” Austen teased.
Victoria Helstrom (Marvel) meanwhile, may not have a life resembling anything like those of her children — she spends a lot of time in a mental facility. Nonetheless, Marvel believes Victoria loves her children, even if “something overtakes her.” The actor felt it echoes the relationship alcoholics have with their children, just with some added Marvel Comics trappings.
Caretaker (Wisdom) is one of those trappings; a figure in the Marvel Comics realm associated with Ghost Rider and the secret society known as The Blood. In the series, he spends a lot of time with Ana and Victoria. As Wisdom put it, “[he’s] tending her soul, which [he] witnesses being shattered.” Those bonds with the Helstrom women will lead to something magical for Caretaker, Wisdom teased. Zbyszewski also noted the character has been re-invented for the series, so fans may be surprised by who he is here and what will become of him.
Alain Uy plays Chris Yen, Ana’s “henchman.” Although, the actor clarified a shared past in the foster care system makes their bond more profound. “Trust is a big issue [with foster children],” he said. “In that regard, Chris and Ana found themselves in a world where they have to survive.” The pair end up running an art gallery; which is something of a “unicorn” event according to Uy’s sister, who works with survivors of the system.
Gabriela (Guerra) is, for better or worse, part of Damon’s team. She’s also an agent of the Vatican whose faith will be tested by being assigned to Daimon. According to Guerra, she sees him at times as unknowable, but will also find empathy for him as she learns about his family.
Carryl’s Louise Hastings is also part of Daimon’s group, though the actor said she “inherits” him and is “unprepared” for who Daimon really is. “I keep looking for the center of this person,” she added. “It flip-flops between combative tough love and gentle ‘come on, you can do it.'” As with Caretaker, getting to know Daimon will help Louise figure out who she is.
Though the series may be a more grounded than its Son of Satan origins would suggest, Zbyszewski noted it will be filled with Easter Eggs for the Marvel faithful — it’s probably a safe bet that Damon and Ana’s father will show up at some point. Also, scares of various flavors will abound as this is, after, the Marvel horror show. Hopefully, its success will mark a happy closer to the Marvel Television story.
Helstrom debuts on Hulu October 10th.
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