Mephisto vs.... #1
Issue(s): Mephisto vs.... #1
First, the title of this series in the indicia is "Mephisto vs...." (four dots: one for the abbreviation and three for the ellipsis). The actual titles on the covers each have the super-team that he comes into conflict with, so this issue is Mephisto vs. the Fantastic Four. Stuff like that is always disconcerting to my nerd brain, but my rule is to use the indicia title when in doubt.
Second, this series presents some continuity challenges. I believe this is the first time i was stumped when putting my books in order in realtime, and that was when i was a lot more casual about the details and when i didn't have every book (the more issues you have, the more dependencies you know about). So for starters that means i'm keeping each issue in its own entry for maximum flexibility.
Third, each issue of this series includes an additional credit of "story consultant" which is the writer of the team's book. There's some caveats about that for issues #3 and #4, which i'll discuss in those entries. But for the purposes of credits, i'm giving that "consultant" a partial writing credit, although in all likelihood they didn't contribute much to the story.
Finally, these issues were normal sized ~23 paged books, but they were printed on higher quality paper and sold for $1.50 at a time when regular books were 75 cents and double-sized books and annuals were $1.25.
Now... a mini-series about Mephisto? Weird, right? In the 70s, Marvel did a lot of stories with Satanic themes, like Ghost Rider and Son of Satan. But that had been toned down quite a bit by now.
The question of Mephisto, and what he represented, was something that was already a bit confused at this point. He had revealed himself to be the same as the "Satan" character from Ghost Rider, Son of Satan, and Satana books in Defenders #105. He's also sometimes lumped in with other Hell lords like the Asgardian Hela (and that's directly relevant to this series) and this story also references the fact that his powers had been increased due to the presence of the evil Dire Wraith planet during their attack on Earth, which seems to imply that he's specifically bonded to the Earth instead of a true cosmic being (you could argue that the Wraith attack simply improved his ability to act in this area of the universe, but that's not the way it's presented). However, in Secret Wars II, Mephisto stood alongside the other truly cosmic beings like the Living Tribunal and Eternity, and by the end of that series he was spearheading their resistance of the Beyonder. In fact it was his semi-starring role in that series, which was penciled by Al Milgrom, the writer here, that possibly inspired this mini-series.
That said, don't expect any clarifications about Mephisto's state of being from this series. In fact, you shouldn't expect Mephisto's actions in this series to ultimately make a lot of sense.
Really, considering the continuity problems, the nonsensical plot, and the fact that the characters here are being written by Al Milgrom instead of their regular creative teams, the best way to enjoy this mini-series is by appreciating the art, which is by Mephisto's co-creator, John Buscema.
This first issue, actually, is relatively straightforward and works fine as a build-up. Mephisto already has reason to go after the Fantastic Four thanks to the fact that Franklin Richard disintegrated him a while back. So the issue begins with the team discovering a strange and seemingly bottomless shaft in their new building...
...that emits an "almost supernaturally intense" flame before it gets melted shut. The various members of the team are then tricked by demons into committing sins (e.g. Johnny and Alicia mock the Thing for his jealousy and goad him into "murdering" the Human Torch...
....a fake Willie Lumpkin tricks Mr. Fantastic into tampering with the mail, which is against the law and therefore a sin)(and if you think that's weak, Sue Storm is distracted into being careless while cooking, and "It's hardly a sin -- carelessness -- but in this case we were willing to make an exception").
After committing their sins, the FF (sans She-Hulk) and Franklin wind up in Mephisto's realm...
...where he taunts them in various ways.
He claims that Mr. Fantastic had actually signed a contract with him back in his college days, after Dr. Doom's failed experiment, and that he's responsible for Reed's super-intelligence.
Reed denies it but Mephisto claims that he just doesn't remember because Mephisto willed it to be so, and then he removes Reed's mind.
So he claims to already own Reed's soul.
Mephisto then tells Sue that her own soul is a better prize, being more pure than Reed's, and says that he'll release Reed if she'll give him her soul. And she does agree, after which the rest of the FF are sent home and Mephisto reveals that he was lying.
Before teleporting the rest of the team away, Mephisto tells them that "only an unknown quantity has any chance" to defeat him.
Thanks to the FF's prior history with Mephisto, this opening issue feels less arbitrary than the middle two issues, but the situation with the "sins" is still contrived.
Quality Rating: C+
Historical Significance Rating: 1
Chronological Placement Considerations: Both the Thing and She-Hulk are shown to be in the FF at this time, and Johnny Storm refers to Alicia as his fiancee. So this definitely takes place before Fantastic Four #300, and since Mephisto attacks the Thing by manipulating his anger over their upcoming marriage, it works best before the Thing reconciles with Johnny and agrees to be his best man in FF #299. It is possible that some space occurs between this issue and the next one, with Mr. Fantastic trying to find a way to find Mephisto's dimension before he remembers the "unknown quantity" clue that triggers him to contact X-Factor, but the FF obviously shouldn't appear elsewhere between this issue and the next one.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (1): showFranklin Richards, Human Torch, Invisible Woman, Lyja the Lazerfist, Mephisto, Mr. Fantastic, She-Hulk, Thing
This is a fairly bad limited series. A bit high concept, which isn't bad, but fails in execution. I don't like metaphysical villains in stories like this against ordinary heroes. Mephisto is appropriate in mystical ties or very high cosmic ones. As an actual villain, as opposed to flavor, he should be reserved for only a few powerful and thematically appropriate heroes like Dr Strange. For more basic four color heroes, a much lower powered antagonist is preferred.
The trouble with any top level devil like guys is that to make sense in their interactions with people, some basic philosophical rules need to be employed. Myth and legend is very clear that the devil must operate by certain rules. If you don't go by that, you leave these kind of charming folktale stories for actual horror, in which case you need to scale down the power of the foe dramatically to give the heroes a chance.
The pencils are great, but I don't think Wiacek's inks work well with Big John. Strange as I normally like them.
Posted by: Chris | March 1, 2014 7:23 PM
Critics at the time were extremely angry at the doubled price for this book, as well as for the FF vs. X-Men and Avengers Vs. X-Men limited series. One in particular listed the dubious improvements in the production, and concluded with "Ask yourself if that makes Mephisto Vs. Everybody worth a buck and a half. I thought not."
Posted by: Mark Drummond | March 1, 2014 7:38 PM
Despite what most people thought about this series, it was certainly unlike other mini-series. For one thing the "star" wasn't a hero. Also, who he went after wasn't as important as what the heroes did to fend him off. I did think the art was very striking.
Posted by: clyde | March 1, 2014 10:33 PM
I didn't mind paying the $1.50 when the story was good. Stern's 3 issues of Avengers vs X-Men was worth it. The X-Men vs FF was good, but debatable. This was now, and I didn't buy it.
Posted by: Chris | March 1, 2014 10:33 PM
you combined "significance" and "grade" together. Sort of wonder if this had any significance, most likely no but would still be good.
Posted by: Ataru320 | March 2, 2014 11:21 AM
Fixed that, thanks Ataru. In terms of "significance", nothing in this series really has any impact on anything else. But it did occur to me when reading issue #2 when Mephisto was offering to retroactively merge Jean Grey with Madeylne Pryor that Marvel published a hardcover trade of this not long after Brand New Day. So maybe they were trying to tell us that this series establishes that Mephisto has a penchant for mucking with continuity. ;-)
Posted by: fnord12 | March 2, 2014 2:45 PM
Amazing Heroes #115 joke listing:"Mephisto Vs. Four Real People"-The Insidious Lord of the Netherworld unleashes a sinister assault on the United States by attacking four of its most famous citizens. In this premiere issue, it's Mephisto Vs. Mary Lou Retton! Coming up: Madonna, Michael J. Fox, and Nancy Reagan!---Milgrom/Romita Jr./Wiacek
Posted by: Mark Drummond | June 13, 2014 5:19 PM
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