Issue(s): Hellstorm #12, Hellstorm #13, Hellstorm #14
Len Kaminski's truncated run prior to these issues was much better than i would have ever expected, but things improve even further with Warren Ellis' Marvel debut (Ellis had done a few things in the UK prior to this, most notably the Lazarus Churchyard story). It's always difficult for me to express exactly why i think writing is good. Plotwise, this first arc at least doesn't stray much from previous stories in this book. The plot of this arc has Hellstorm going after a guy trying to bring a devil to Earth by murdering magicians and wearing their flesh. Ok, that's weird and gross, but it's honestly not a stretch for this series (or even Marvel's Midnight Sons line). So if the plot isn't the main thing, it must be the script. The dialogue is definitely edgy and has an acidic underground aesthetic and sick humor, but the exact same thing could be said of Gregory Wright's scripting (e.g. on, say, Morbius). And Wright is at best a mediocre writer, whereas the same "tone" from Ellis feels really fresh and engaging. I guess Ellis is just able to write with a more natural flow.
The fact that Ellis later becomes a superstar writer didn't guarantee that this series was going to become a hit. In the lettercols, Ellis writes that the book is already in trouble saleswise and basically begs readers to spread the word to save the book. But it will nonetheless be cancelled by the end of 1994.
Ellis' run begins with the unusual decision to jump forward "months" beyond the cliffhanger in Kaminski's run. But Ellis doesn't seem to be doing that just to ignore previous continuity; in fact, the results of the Son of Satan's confrontation with his father is used as an underlying mystery for the series. Hellstorm has definitely come back changed, and exactly what occurred will unfold as the series goes on (sometimes in weird little ways, like a revelation that he now has a degree of control over electrical devices).
That said, Ellis does start his run with some changes to the status quo. The first is Gargoyle shedding his overly servile nature.
The second is the death of supporting character Avram Siegal. He's one of the victims of the magician killer. Siegal himself wasn't exactly a magician, but he was investigating the death of a friend, a man named Emeneya Nkrumah the Obeahman, said to be "Africa's finest magician", and the killer returned to the scene of the crime.
The third involves Hellcat. Her situation evolves over these three issues so i'll cover it further down.
Gargoyle convinces Hellstrom to go to Avram Siegal for some counseling after whatever happened during the confrontation in Hell, and that's how Daimon learns that Avram was murdered. As Hellstrom investigates the murder, we see that Ellis is not dropping the idea of making the character a John Constantine imitator (which has been the case since the start of the series).
Hellstrom makes a police officer investigating the deaths, a Detective Gunyon, tell him everything about the case.
Pretty brutal, and Hellstrom's action here won't be without repercussions in the series. In fact, even in this arc we'll see Gunyon driven to desperation trying to find Hellstrom.
Hellstrom continues his investigation and senses the presence of a demon named Zahgurim, the Armorer to Satan.
The killer is a worshiper of Zahgurim, and the murders are his way of worshiping. Hellstrom and Zahgurim fight, but Hellstrom tells Zahgurim to "Go to Hell." during the fight, and Zahgurim takes it as a royal command, allowing him to flee home.
Hellstrom tries to get further information on Zahgurim's agent via a network of Satanists in New York. He doesn't get much information, in part because their proximity to his father makes it hard to read their minds, and in part because the New York Satanists are not really an organized network. So Hellstrom winds up having to go to San Francisco to meet up with the national leader of the Satanists, Anton Devine (who is at least the fourth Marvel counterpart to real life Satanist Anton LaVey after Anton Lupeski, Anton Vierkin, and Danton Vayla).
Devine is currently being stalked by an angel.
He's saved by a Goth/Vertigo Death-looking woman named Jaine Cutter.
Hellstrom goes to Al Shaitan's club in San Francisco. He meets Jaine and Anton there. It turns out that Jaine made a deal with the same devil, Zahgurim, that Hellstrom is concerned with. But she's not otherwise related with the serial killer. She made her deal in order to gain magical protection so that she can hunt both angels and devils. Anton - who claims he's being hunted by the "man upstairs" agrees to help Hellstrom. Jaine is going to help as well (and also become an ongoing love interest / sex partner). They determine that the murders are occurring in a pattern that matches Zahgurim's symbol.
Meanwhile, the killer continues his spree, first killing a magician named Dust Johannsen, said to be a love to an unnamed New York based super-heroine.
He then kills a "minor adversary of Doctor Strange".
Issue #14 is illustrated by Gross (who also illustrated much of Kaminski's arc). Leonardo Manco's art is more at home here than it would be anywhere else at Marvel, but i much prefer Gross.
Hellstorm and Jaine track down the killer, noting that it's too late in the night for New York's super-heroes to help.
They arrive as another magician, Jakita Wegener, is about to be attacked.
The killer's flesh-armor, since it's made from magicians, protects him from magical attacks. But Jaine has received her powers from Zahgurim.
Unfortunately, Jaine's face isn't protected.
Using his control of electrical devices to pull up some cables from beneath the street, Hellstrom actually makes short work of the killer.
The killer dies trying to tell Hellstrom what his name was, but Hellstrom cuts him off, saying he doesn't care. But the killer did manage to complete his ritual before he died, allowing Zahgurim to return. But Jaine turns out to survive, and kills him.
Also in these issues, Gabriel the Devil Hunter continues to suffer from a personal crisis of faith. He's approached by someone named Ingenuity Lee who deals a drug called K. Users of the drug are called "Narconauts" (which feels very Ellis/Transmet). They take the drug at a place called the House of Blue Lights. While Gabriel is under the influence of the drug, he's visited by entities called Fix Angels. Gabriel confesses to them that he was a "lousy" demon hunter. They promise to make him better, in return for joining them.
As for Hellcat, we begin with her coming out of her coma enough to start ranting.
Her ranting then becomes more coherent, and then she wakes up for real.
Meanwhile, we're introduced to this series' version of Deathurge (which follows from his depiction in Marvel Comics Presents #138, and, more generally, the revelations that Mark Gruenwald made about him in Quasar which said that he was a personification-type entity and an agent of Oblivion).
Feeling guilt and disgust about saving Daimon's life...
...Patsy attracts the attention of Deathurge, and she accepts his "help".
Satana also continues to appear in this series, but nothing around her is developing into a plot yet, exactly.
Pretty strong stuff all around. I've said before that i was only reading the Hulk at this point, and looking at what was coming out i mostly don't regret that. But this would have been an exception if i knew about it.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: It's been "months" since the end of the last arc. The next arc also seems to jump ahead a bit, with Hellstorm mourning Hellcat's death with some heavy drinking.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showAl Shaitan, Anton Devine, Avram Siegal, Bruno Coffee, Deathurge, Detective Gunyon, Gabriel the Devil Hunter, Gargoyle (Defender), Hellcat, Hellstorm, Jaine Cutter, Satana, Stephen Loss
"Jakita Wegener" sounds a lot like "Jakita Wagner" from Planetary. I wonder if Ellis knew someone with a similar name and was doing little homages to her, or something.
Posted by: Andrew | October 6, 2017 4:51 PM
I think that he just like the name and wanted to use it in another content. I read some of his stufff from the 2099 line and I recall that many of the characters there share names and concepts that Ellis would later use in his wildstorm comics like Stormwatch, the Authority and yes Planetary.
Posted by: Big V | October 6, 2017 10:34 PM
Curious about the heroine who dated Dust Johanssen. It could have been any number of them. She-Hulk comes to mind, more so than any others. Dazzler, maybe? Of course, we'll never truly know at this point.
Posted by: Andrew Burke | October 7, 2017 9:16 AM
Ellis is unusual at this point as a new, professional freelance writer in an era where Marvel mostly eschewed freelance writers in favor of editors or ex-editors. (Marvel always did that, but in the early-mid ‘90s it seemed to be almost all editors who were second rate, st best, as writers.) The writer on Dr Strange would be another example, I guess.
Ellis is a pro, and that comes through in the superior execution in each component of the writing: as you say, Fnord, the plot could be any Midnight Sons book, yet this is just done better. This is also a writer-driven book in a way we haven’t seen much of from Marvel in recent years: it’s the first sign of a changing tide.
Yet I don’t share your esteem for Ellis, even though I recognize his skill. Even at this stage one of his characteristic quirks annoys me: he introduces pet characters who are immediately foisted on readers as oh-so-cool and more hardcore than anyone created before Ellis. I also just find the whole cool, edgy pose of Ellis as a writer to be grating. Maybe it’s meant to be ironically unironic or something, but it’s something I don’t enjoy.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | October 7, 2017 10:08 AM
I tend to like Ellis and this stuff seems good!
As for whom Dust Johannsen dated... land me a job at Marvel and I'll make it a point to explain it in one book or another! :)
Posted by: Piotr Witkowski | October 7, 2017 4:26 PM
I agree with Walter Lawson about Ellis’s quirks. Despite his talent, I read his early Marvel work through gritted teeth. He too clearly resents having to play in someone else’s sandbox of shared continuity. It’s only later when he is given free rein in books like the Authority than he really gets to shine. As for it being unusual for Marvel to bring in such an outsider, having missed the boat with Moore and Gaiman and Morrison, I’m surprised it took them this long!
Posted by: Andrew | October 8, 2017 8:22 AM
Ellis' discomfort with shared continuity was likely exacerbated during his tenure on EXCALIBUR, which of course fell under the large umbrella of X-titles. Likely why when he wrote the "Not Dead Yet" fill-in story for Wolverine, he agreed to do so as long as he could do a story without being tied to X-continuity. Similar to his brief "Worldengine" run on THOR with Mike Deodato. As an aside, I'm more a fan of Ellis' creator-owned work, namely TRANSMETROPOLITAN at DC/Helix/Vertigo with Darick Robertson on art, and MINISTRY OF SPACE at Image with Chris Weston as his artist/partner.
Posted by: Brian Coffey | October 17, 2017 10:23 PM
Ellis seems to get over any shared continuity phobia at some point; his later Marvel stuff is littered with clever little Easter Eggs. I'm sure he doesn't care much about a shared universe, but he's definitely professional about working in one.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | October 18, 2017 6:27 AM
The Wilma vs Betty debate is possibly stolen from an episode of Red Dwarf that would have aired five years earlier to the publication of this issue...although that episode comes to the opposite conclusion that Wilma would never leave Fred.
Posted by: Justin Z | November 8, 2017 9:04 PM
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