Underworld Supervillains

Underworld Supervillains

(pop culture)
What greater villain could there be than the devil himself? The devil is an archetypal figure in scripture and Western literature, beginning with his appearances in the Bible. In his Divine Comedy (1308–1321), the poet Dante Alighieri depicted Satan as a monstrous, three-headed giant entrapped in the lowest circle of the “Inferno.” The devil's role as tempter of humankind is central to the Faust myth, in which the elderly scholar Dr. Faust sells his soul to Mephistopheles (a name used either for Satan or another devil) to gain greater knowledge. The two most influential versions of the story are Christopher Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus (circa 1593, adapted into a graphic novel by Oscar Zarate in 1986) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's two-part drama Faust (1808, 1832; adapted into comics in Classics Illustrated #167, 1962). In Paradise Lost (1667), the English poet John Milton portrayed Satan as a tragic anti-hero who preferred ruling in hell to serving God in heaven. Comic-book writers have followed the examples set by these classic works in their own portrayals of hell, underworld demons, and the devil. For example, in their Faust comics series (1989–1997), writer David Quinn and artist Tim Vigil created a contemporary version of the classic tale. Marvel's evil sorcerer Belasco (from Ka-Zar the Savage #11, 1982), who resembles a horned devil, once ruled an underground realm that he claimed inspired Dante's depiction of hell. Over the years Marvel Comics has tended not to identify its devil figures specifically as the Judeo- Christian Satan. Marvel's principal surrogate for Satan is Mephisto (introduced in Silver Surfer #3, 1968). Mephisto was eventually established as the “Devil” who transformed Johnny Blaze into the Ghost Rider by bonding him with the demon Zarathos (who first appeared in Marvel Spotlight #5, 1972). As for Daimon Hellstrom, the “Son of Satan,” Marvel later identified his father as a lesser demon named Marduk Kurios. In Daredevil #270 (1989) writer Ann Nocenti and artist John Romita, Jr. gave Mephisto a son, Blackheart, who seeks to overthrow his father. Mephisto also has a daughter, Mephista (from Doctor Strange #6, 1988). Marvel's other obvious substitute for Satan is the demon Satannish (who first appeared in Doctor Strange #174, 1968), who grants mortals such as the Sons of Satannish (from Doctor Strange #175, 1968) mystical power in exchange for their souls. Writer Steve Gerber co-created his own standin for Satan, the horned demon Thog the Nether- Spawn, ruler of the hell dimension Sominus, as an adversary for the Man-Thing in Adventure into Fear #11 (1972). Marvel has also made use of underworld figures from ancient mythologies such as Hela, the Norse goddess of death. One of the leading enemies of Marvel's Thor and Hercules is Pluto, the ancient Greeks' and Romans' god of the underworld, who, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced him in Thor #127 (1966), posed as a moviestudio head. Perhaps coincidentally, under his Greek name of Hades, this god was also the main villain of Disney's animated Hercules (1997), played by James Woods in the manner of a glad-handing but ruthless Hollywood executive. Another of Thor's enemies is the Egyptian death god Seth (starting in Thor #240, 1975). Conan the Barbarian's creator Robert E. Howard gave a similar name to Set, a dark “elder god” in the form of a serpent who is worshipped by evil sorcerers. Marvel writers and artists have also created their own demons. Among these is Chthon, a demonic “elder god” (who first appeared in Avengers #187, 1979), who created the sinister book of magic called the Darkhold. Another demonic entity is D'Spayre (created by Chris Claremont and John Byrne in Marvel Team-Up #68, 1978), who infuses despair into mortals. Claremont also co-created a race of demons, the N'garai, who first appeared in Giant-Size Dracula #2 (1974). DC Comics likewise has a history of creating demons. In Justice League of America #10 (1962), by writer Gardner Fox and artist Mike Sekowsky, the sorcerer Felix Faust freed the primeval Demons Three: Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast. In a Spectre story in Showcase #61 (1966), Fox and artist Murphy Anderson introduced Shathan the Eternal, the ruler of a sinister cosmos called Dis, in a clear analogue to Satan and hell. The ghastly Nekron (from Tales of the Green Lantern Corps #2, 1981) rules the Land of the Unliving, a realm where spirits of the dead wait before being sent to heaven or hell. Starting in the 1980s, though, DC has explicitly presented its variation of the Judeo-Christian version of hell and its underworld menaces. The first being to be condemned to DC's hell was the First of the Fallen (introduced in Hellblazer #42, 1991), who was eventually supplanted as ruler by Lucifer, but who has become the archenemy of DC's supernatural investigator John Constantine. British writer Neil Gaiman was apparently following Milton's lead in conceiving his updated, antiheroic version of Lucifer in Sandman #4 (1989), who has since become the star of his own comicbook series (2000–present) for DC's Vertigo line. Having wearied of ruling hell, Lucifer has created his own universe instead. Among the “archdukes” of DC's hell are Belial, the “Father of Lies” (from The Demon vol. 1 #2, 1990) who is the father of both Merlin and Etrigan the Demon, the character created by Jack Kirby; Beelzebub, the “Lord of Flies” (from Sandman #4, 1989), who is an adversary of Kid Eternity; and Nergal, a long-time enemy of John Constantine (from Hellblazer #6, 1988). The demon prince Neron endowed various supervillains with increased power in exchange for their souls in DC's Underworld Unleashed (1995–1996). Other demons of DC's hell include Abaddon the Destroyer, Asteroth, Azazel the Abomination, and hell's enforcers, Agony and Ecstasy. Vulnerable to supernatural forces, Superman has contended against the half-demonic siblings Blaze (from Action Comics #655, 1990) and her brother Lord Satanus (from Adventures of Superman #493, 1992), who proved to be the evil children of Shazam, the wizard who mentors the original Captain Marvel. DC has even portrayed Islam's counterpart to Satan, Iblis, as the menace of the JLA Annual in 2000. Demons and dark figures exist in comics outside the Marvel and DC Universes, as well. The title character of Todd McFarlane's Spawn (1992–present) made a Faustian bargain to serve the demon Malebolgia, ruler of hell, but later slew him. Another of Spawn's foes is the minor demon Clown, who transforms into the monstrous Violator (who first manifested in Spawn #2, 1992). Chaos! Comics!' character Lady Death (who debuted in Evil Ernie #1, 1991) was once an innocent young girl. Through the machinations of her enemy Lucifer, she died, became the ruler of hell, and for centuries sought to wipe out all life on Earth before finally forsaking her genocidal quest. Demons even infest Japanese comics and animation. The heroine of the 1999 manga series Chrono Crusade, which was adapted into anime in 2003–2004, is sixteen-year-old Rosette Christopher, who lives in 1920s Brooklyn and belongs to the Magdalene Order of nuns, who exorcise demons by shooting them with special “gospel bullets.” Rosette's partner Chrono is himself a demon, and their greatest enemy is the demon Aion, who captured her brother Joshua. According to Devilman (created by Go Nagai as a manga series in 1972, and adapted into anime three times, in 1972–1973 and then in 1987 and 1990), demons rule Earth before the coming of humankind. Now Satan intends to lead the demons in bringing about Armageddon. But a teenager, Akira Fudo, takes on the power of the demon Amon, thus becoming Satan's adversary, Devilman. There are an extraordinary number of other examples of devils and demons in comics from around the world, far too many to list in this entry, including the devil's appearances in Foolbert Sturgeon's 1969 underground comic The New Adventures of Jesus, in writer Garth Ennis's Preacher Special: Saint of Killers (1996), and in Bill Sienkiewicz's Stray Toasters (1989); as the childlike title character of Harvey Comics' Hot Stuff (1957–1994); and as Philip, the Ruler of Heck, who has been punishing minor sins in Scott Adams' strip Dilbert starting in 1989. The devil has continued to appear as a villain in prose fiction, including Stephen Vincent Benet's short story “The Devil and Daniel Webster” (1937; in film in 1941), Nikos Kazantzakis' novel The Last Temptation of Christ (1960; in film in 1988), and Stephen King's Needful Things (1991; in film in 1993). In modern times devils also show up on film and television. Walt Disney's most powerful portrait of evil is the colossal demon Chernobog in the concluding segment of Fantasia (1940). The devil was a powerful off-camera presence in his two biggest movie hits, Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973). Novelist and filmmaker Clive Barker created his own versions of devilish characters, the Cenobites, led by Pinhead, in the Hellraiser movies (beginning in 1988). The devil appeared in various episodes of the original Twilight Zone (1959–1964), such as “The Howling Man” (1960), and turned up briefly as the witch Angelique's master Diabolos on Dark Shadows (1966–1971). There is also a tradition of treating devils as comedic figures, dating back to medieval drama. Modern versions include Mr. Applegate in the musical comedy Damn Yankees (1955; in film in 1958); the devil in the movie Bedazzled (1967, remade in 2000); the “Evil Genius” in Terry Gilliam's film Time Bandits (1981); Darryl Van Horne in John Updike's novel The Witches of Eastwick (1984), played by Jack Nicholson in the film (1987); the title demon in Tim Burton's movie Beetlejuice (1988); and the ludicrous Satan of television's animated South Park (1997–present). In other words, in one form or another, the devil and his underworld minions have pervaded the popular culture.