Tales From The Long Box – The Demon #1 (1987)

Every other week, Jason Shayer will highlight an issue or a run of issues pulled from the horde of comic book long boxes that occupy more room in his house than his wife can tolerate. Each of these reviews will delve into what made that issue or run significant as well as discuss the creative personalities behind the work. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.

Today’s guest Tales From The Long Box columnist is JP Fallavollita.

The Demon #1
January 1987
“Direction from the Darkness”
Writer and Illustrator: Matt Wagner
Inker: Art Nicols
Published by: DC Comics

“Gone, gone the form of man, rise the demon Etrigan!”

Fresh from a memorable guest appearance within the pages of Alan Moore’s critically acclaimed Swamp Thing series – an appearance that served to rejuvenate the character – the demon known as Etrigan received his own four-issue mini series in late 1986. Written and illustrated by Matt Wagner, at that time best known for his independent comic book work, this Demon series followed directly from the Moore interpretation: a gothic-inspired, vicious, manipulative…and rhyming demon!

Find out more about The Demon after the jump!

Inspired by the comic strip Prince Valiant (in which that main character wore a mask that resembles the visage of Etrigan – horns and ears and all!) and originally created by the legendary Jack Kirby in 1972, the first monthly series of The Demon lasted 16 issues. It’s been said that although Kirby had no real long-time interest in horror comics, the first issue sold well and the artist/writer was asked to continue the series as the expense of his Fourth World projects. (We’ll have to save the Fourth World series of titles – the work that brought Kirby to DC Comics from rival Marvel – for another time!)

No stranger to writing magical-themed stories (as he had in the Comico series Mage in 1984), Wagner kept the ferociousness and cunning disposition fans recognized in Etrigan, he also focused on the humanity of the character’s human host, Jason Blood. Under Wagner, Blood is a tired man at the end of his rope. Lost is his hope for ridding himself of his fiendish alter ego and living out a normal life.

Etrigan, you see, was a servant of Merlin in the court of Camelot and was bound, in a time of need, to the body of young acolyte Jason Blood. Well, that’s according to one origin. Blood, never aging, has missing pieces of his life – times and memories that cannot be recalled due to Etrigan taking over his body.

Cool. A sympathetic, magically influenced hero, running around fighting evil in the DC Universe proper.

But why the rhyming demon?

Neil Gaiman, the writer of the critically acclaimed Sandman series explains this personality trait in the first story arc titled Preludes and Nocturnes. The denizens of hell have rank, you see. And those demons that have the ability to speak in rhyme hold a high rank. Think of them as Hell’s Captains, I suppose.

From the first issue, Etrigan, upon being summoned forward by Jason Blood, states: “And, so, once again the words of metered rhyme…fling the fetter’d waif of hell into this bleak and fridgid clime.”

Wagner, to the betterment of the character, wisely kept this function of Etrigan. Not only did his rhyming speech place him from a very different time and place, but it also held power over the reader. You couldn’t easily skip over his word balloons. Everything he said, often bitter and biting, was important to both his character and to the story.

Since that four issue mini series, The Demon has remained a beloved character in DC’s stable of b-list characters. He has had various series published over the past few decades (both limited and ongoing), including one that lasted uninterrupted for five years.

He currently stars in the ongoing, ensemble cast series, Demon Knights.

Unfortunately, his rhyming has somewhat faltered of late. Perhaps it’s the result of a hellish demotion?

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