Issue(s): Hellstorm #1, Hellstorm #2, Hellstorm #3
But editor Fabian Nicieza also saw the opportunity of doing a horror book Vertigo style. In an introductory essay for this series (published, oddly, in issue #2), he says that the goal of this book is to be "the fine line between Marvel's Midnight Sons and DC's Vertigo". He acknowledges that it's going to be a difficult line to walk. The book doesn't manage to walk that line initially, but it does begin to approach it, and eventually we get there when Warren Ellis - who will later write Transmetropolitan for Vertigo (a non-horror book, by the way, and yes i know it was with the Helix imprint first) - takes over with issue #12.
Interestingly, though, the book might have been good right from the start. In the same essay, Nicieza says that he worked out that basic concept for this book with Kurt Busiek. And Busiek was one of four people who submitted a script, but:
What do you do when you have an impossible choice to make? You accept bribes. No, sorry, that was page 224 of the DeFalco Handbook. My handbook says I have to go with my gut. It was a fifty/fifty choice - one half instinct, one half talent - I went with Rafael Nieves as the series writer.
You can still possibly see Busiek's hand in some of the continuity aspects of this site. The first few issues will address things like Hellstrom's doppelganger, the status of his Darksoul, and the horrible costume he wore briefly in his West Coast Avengers appearances, and it digs up Gabriel the Devil Hunter. To be clear, i'm not saying for sure that any of these things were Busiek's idea, but it's a lot of continuity and per the essay we know Busiek was involved in initial planning for the series. But in addition to being a continuity head, Busiek is a good writer, and i think this book might have achieved the Vertigo-ish goal with him on board.
Nicieza says that the choice of artist was easier, and he always had Michael Bair, who he worked with on Alpha Flight, in mind. Bair's art was terrible on Alpha Flight, but that book has some sort of curse on it, and Nicieza says that he wanted Bair "as long as I knew he was inking himself". It does look better here.
Issue #1 has a new variation (at least at Marvel) on the gimmick cover. It's a natural paper cover, or something close to it. No gloss. It definitely stands out. Note that it also features a very Esteban Maroto looking Satana, even though she only appears in these issues as a child in a flashback (and that's in issue #2, not #1). She'll be along later, though.
The story starts with Daimon Hellstrom seemingly bursting out of Hell, with narration saying "He has returned." and that he'll be tested. We then jump ahead "six months" and find a Dr. Avram Siegel making what feels like a Chewbacca argument regarding the existence of Satan.
And we learn that Gabriel the Devil Hunter has fallen to doing fake exorcisms for money.
But Gabriel finds a handwritten note on a book of matches saying "Beware the Black School", and he goes to Siegel to get more information on them. Seigel tells him to go to San Francisco, which is where the cult is. And he tells Gabriel to connect with an associate - he is careful to not call him a friend - named Daimon Hellstrom.
Hellstrom is setting up a new office for himself, and he decides he now likes the name Hellstorm.
The lady in the above scan, Seripha, is looking for Daimon. When she can't find him at his house, she goes to a club called Helzapoppin. The owner of the place, Al Shaitan, also nearly calls Daimon a friend but stops himself. She later finds Daimon, who knows her, but when she asks him for help with the Black School, he tells her to ask her husband.
This is all interspersed with scenes of what seems like Daimon performing human sacrifices with the cult. Gabriel shows up to stop the sacrifices.
But then the real Daimon shows up.
And then so does Satan.
It seems the doppelganger has been promised Daimon's power. But it's really all a ruse by Satan to get the demon back, since the demon managed to escape Hell. Satan takes the demon to the dismay of Seripha, his wife. Daimon doesn't seem to care. After watching Daimon use his powers, Gabriel wonders if Daimon is a mutant. Daimon disabuses him of that, and then says that he's the one that lured Gabriel here, because Gabriel has lost his way and Daimon is going to help him get it back. He says they are two sides of the same coin, and shows Gabriel his chest, which has a pentagram on it. Gabriel has an upside down cross burnt into his, although it's barely visible in the art.
So this is already kind of a mess. The plot hinges on an obscure issue of the Defenders from a decade ago, with little by way of explanation and, of course, no footnote. Nicieza's essay does promise "delicate subtlety and moral ambiguousness" and we do get the latter in Daimon's lack of effort in saving the doppelganger from Satan, but he really comes off more like sullen than ambiguous, and there's no explanation for the change of heart (Daimon let the demon live a human life with Seripha in the original story). Granted the mystery behind the change in Daimon is basically the plot at that start of this series, but we're in a weird place where you kind of have to know the old Daimon to get that, otherwise it's all just kind of confusing and dreary for no reason. Issues #2 & 3 do dribble out recaps of Daimon's origin and history, but they are dry tellings that don't give you a sense for Daimon's personality.
The next story has Dr. Strange meeting Daimon at Helzapoppin to find out what's going on. The idea that we're trying to make Hellstorm John Constantine is overt.
Strange is reacting to an article about last issue written by Gabriel.
Strange also says that he came to visit three months ago at Daimon's wife Hellcat's request. Daimon was apparently on death's door at the time. Strange wants to know what happened and why Daimon is cheating on Patsy now. When Daimon is unresponsive, Strange says that he thought they were friends. As we saw above, Daimon doesn't seem to like that word, and he freaks out, shouting that they were allies but never friends, and that he is not, and will never be, a man. He says that if he took away Strange's magic powers (no word on whether Strange currently has all his powers or not), Strange would just be a man, whereas he's always the son of Satan.
Daimon then narrates his history to Strange - mostly the scenes from his childhood from Marvel Spotlight #13 mixed in with a symbolic panel showing him with the Defenders. And the Defenders era is dismissed as him being a "buffoon", "living out a childhood fantasy".
So this is a damned if do, damned if you don't situation (no pun intended). If you're not familiar with Daimon Hellstrom's character, you're not going to get that he's acting out of character here, which is the big mystery, let alone be aware of things like the doppelganger. On the other hand, if you do like Hellstrom, this series is telling you that the majority of his appearances were ridiculous and don't count as the real Hellstrom. I guess i'm in the unique and lucky situation of having read all of Hellstrom's previous appearances without really liking the character, but sucks to be just about anyone else. And don't get too jealous: i'm not getting anything out of this book either. I mean i guess the idea is to split Daimon from the superhero elements in order to make him work in the intended genre. And i suppose we also shouldn't take what Daimon says at face value. But maybe just give us some stories with Hellstorm doing some John Constantine stuff or whatever already instead of all this.
Strange tells Daimon he's going to let the matter rest out of respect for their past association, but if he hears that Daimon allows any harm to come to Patsy or Isaac (Gargoyle), he'll come back for him.
Hellstorm then goes home, and we meet Gargoyle, who has changed even more than Daimon.
Why in the world is Gargoyle calling Daimon "master" and "sire" (regardless of whether or not Daimon wants him to)?
And here's Hellcat.
This is about where the series loses me. This depiction of Gargoyle is very much the sort of thing i could see in a Vertigo book, but it's not the Marvel Gargoyle. And Patsy "cheese and crackers!" Walker is a hard fit for this genre - which admittedly is why i never thought much of her relationship with Hellstrom - but to do this to her just seems cruel. If you have to make such drastic changes to fit these characters into your chosen genre, maybe do something else, or pick different characters. I hear Daimon has a brother that could use some work.
We then get back into the recapping. It's noted that Daimon got rid of his "Darksoul" but still had powers, which no one seemed to think was weird at the time but is now noted as a key point.
There's no mention of the situation with the Darksoul from Terror Inc. #1-5 (click the "brother" link above).
Note the continued kind of disparagement of the super-heroics
Granted the new costume was awful (and it was arguably worse than it looks above; the colorist apparently couldn't bear to cover Hellstrom's chest up and "fixed" it), and *i* think Master Pandemonium is absurd, but he wasn't absurd in-universe.
Anyway, it was the costume that initiated the current crisis. After that mission, Hellstorm came home and burned the costume with his powers, but he noted that his powers were waning and it was all he could do to burn it. And he sensed "relief" from Patsy; apparently his powers previously bothered her. They retired after that, but their retirement was interrupted by the arrival of Gargoyle. His love - Hellcat's former housekeeper - Dolly had died and Gargoyle was looking for solace. He had first gone to Dr. Strange, but "Strange's home was overcrowded - demons, disciples, dimensions, and such" so Gargoyle went to the Hellstroms instead. But apparently having Gargoyle around was a "constant demonic reminder". And then one day Gargoyle unpacked a book called the Grimorium Verum.
The book is said to be "almost as powerful as the Darkhold".
Some time after that, Hellstrom started having seizures.
I honestly don't know what's supposed to be happening at the top of that second scan.
Strange said that the problem was that Hellstrom was dying without his Darksoul, and there was nothing that could be done. But after Strange left, Patsy used the Grimorium Verum to summon Satan. Another Vertigo-ish reference: mistaking Gargoyle for the Demon.
Patsy makes a swap: the restoration of Hellstrom in return for her going into the coma. Satan agrees, but asks if Daimon would have done the same for her.
So that's the mystery solved; we now know why Patsy is in a coma and Daimon is all sullen.
I thought issue #1 was bad but it's at least a plot. Issues #2&3 are an basically expository backstory delivered very slowly and accompanied by still shots and ambiguous poses. It's also worth noting that characters like Avram Siegel and Al Shaitan were introduced in - or more like dropped into - the series early on and then we went on this history tour in issues #2&3 and, looking back, it's like "what were they about?". Even Gabriel disappears. We'll see more of them in the future, of course. But it's weird, lackadaisical plotting that takes it for granted that readers are going to stick around.
I'd say that Kurt Busiek might have done that story better with issue #1, with a little more care about how the history was introduced. But there's only so much he can do without the artist's cooperation. And what i'm seeing from Michael Bair with the flashbacks in issues #2&3, maybe it doesn't matter who is writing. Just very undynamic storytelling. On the other hand, what a boring bunch of stuff to ask an artist to draw. It's one step above a Marvel Saga. So any way you look at it the creative team just wasn't meshing and we're not off to a good start.
Quality Rating: D
Chronological Placement Considerations: A week passes between issues #1 & 2, but i wanted to put these introductory issues all together, and it's not like Hellstorm is appearing elsewhere at this time. Hellstorm has his Darksoul in these issues, and it seems that he's meant to have had it for six months prior to the start of the series. That complicates matters regarding the character Hellfire who appears in Terror Inc. and is meant to have Hellstorm's Darksoul. Hellfire continues to appear in Terror's series through issue #13, which has a Jul 93 cover date compared to Apr 93 for Hellstorm #1 (and remember that Hellfire is meant to get the soul six months prior to that). Terror Inc. #11-12 are part of a For Love Nor Money crossover with Silver Sable and Cage, and #13 is kinda-sorta part of Infinity Crusade, so this has implications for those books as well. It's odd that editor Fabian Nicieza and Terror editor Marc McLaurin didn't communicate on this since they share a fondness for continuity, and you'd have to figure that news of a Hellstorm series would trigger a reaction from McLaurin. But anyway, i'm going to push this arc forward in publication time and let Marvel's compressed timescale take care of the "six months".
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (3): showAl Shaitan, Avram Siegal, Bruno Coffee, Dr. Strange, Gabriel the Devil Hunter, Gargoyle (Defender), Hellcat, Hellstorm, Hellstorm Doppelganger, Jack Riley, Satan, Seripha Thames
Hm. It's both very 90s and quite Vertigo-ish to take an existing character and claim that all his appearances until this point sucked... Moore / Gaiman styled deconstruction, but without the needed depth and subtlety.
Posted by: Piotr W | October 20, 2016 4:52 PM
I loved this book...but I hated what happened to Patsy. I also liked the return of the Hellstrom double from DEFENDERS #118, along with Seripha. Nice that Nieves pulled them out of obscurity.
Posted by: Andrew Burke | October 20, 2016 4:52 PM
Fnord, I don't think the idea was that Patsy went into the coma because of the deal- I think the idea was that she went crazy upon seeing how evil Daimon was with the Darksoul back in him.
Posted by: Michael | October 20, 2016 7:56 PM
Rafael Nieves was primarily known for writing "Tales From the Heart" for Slave Labor Graphics and later Epic.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | October 21, 2016 3:44 PM
Hellstorm freaks out every time somebody calls him "friend", but he has no problem calling the Gargoyle friend?
Posted by: Mark Drummond | October 22, 2016 12:27 PM
I will say this: I always thought that Hellstrom's '70s get-up/not-quite-costume was corny, but that may have just been the art styles of the time because here the '70s outfit actually sort of works... it looks almost regal.
Nothing can help that WCA look though. Although here it looks better than Milgrom's version.
Posted by: Jeff | October 24, 2016 10:45 AM
I bought the first issue when it came out. I had only been reading Marvel regularly for about four years at this point, and the lack of nearly any explanation concerning Daimon Hellstrom's past left me hopelessly lost.
Posted by: Ben Herman | October 24, 2016 2:31 PM
Regarding what Avram Siegel says about religion and super powers, Superhero comics were banned in Spain during Franco´s Dictatorship. The Censor´s Office reasoned that those powers put the characters "Too close to God" and therefore bordering blasphemy.
Posted by: Jay Gallardo | December 22, 2016 6:43 AM
First Spanish Spider-Man edition.
Posted by: Jay Gallardo | December 22, 2016 6:46 AM
Could they fit any more references to DC/Vertigo characters in?
Posted by: The Small Lebowski | February 17, 2018 6:46 PM
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