My newest contribution to CFR (that’s what we call Candyfloss Ramparts here at home) gives me an excuse to talk about two things at once: my love of classic comics, and my utter fear of the film “The Exorcist.” How can these two things possibly be related? You will soon see, as we review two vintage comic books. Read on, True Believers (I’ve always wanted to say that)!
First off, why review OLD books? Simple! Because everyone is already talking about Convergence, or the Batgirl/Joker “Killing Joke” homage cover, or why A-Force is a good idea/bad idea (read the comments for knuckle-headed…well, comments). While I enjoy the conversation resulting from these books, I’d like to look at what’s come before. If you are interested in exploring vintage comic book stories, these might be a good place to start, especially if you’re a fan of The Exorcist. Allow me to explain…
First, we have 1982’s Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #1. For those that aren’t familiar, The Legion is DC Comics’s super-team of the future – the 30th century (as of 1982), to be precise. The team is comprised of members from planets all over the galaxy in a fine display of unity and acceptance. They fight aliens, would-be rulers of the world/galaxy/universe, misunderstood monsters…and possessed little girls.
The story opens with Shvaughn (pronounced “Siobhan”) Erin, a Science Police officer, reporting for duty as new liaison officer to the Legion. Of course, the brand-new security system malfunctions *cough*foreshadowing*cough* but Erin is unharmed. Over the next couple of pages, she is escorted around the newly-updated Legion headquarters, and by page five, all hell breaks loose. You see, back on page four, we see Brainiac 5 (go with me here) trying to help Danielle, the young sister of Jacques Foccart. She suffers from “a rare energy-overload on her nervous system” and all the best medical staff can’t help her. Clearly, a guy with “brain” right in his name can think of something, right? Well, he does – he uses technology he’d swore never to use again, with almost immediate and disastrous results. Cue the girl getting possessed by Computo, an artificial intelligence created by Brainiac 5, that once killed dozens of innocents, including a Legionnaire. Computo, from the comfort of its floating hospital waterbed, slowly dismantles the headquarters, then the team itself. It uses the Legion members’ powers and fears against them to incapacitate or preoccupy them as it slowly burns out Danielle’s body, which results in the traditional “hey, I’m possessed” look we’ve seen in so many movies:
Danielle’s voice changes, replaced by the malevolent multiprocessor’s own voice. I imagine it sounds like a Dalek with strep throat. The word balloons used for Computo literally drip with creepiness. Danielle’s eyes turn solid red, her hair, disheveled, she drools, spits, sweats. Computo is perhaps minutes away from killing Danielle and jumping into the Legion’s main computer system, where it would be untouchable, when Jacques downs a shot of invisibility serum (hey, this is a COMIC BOOK) and surprises Computo by injecting Danielle with a sedative to knock her out and allow Brainiac 5 to keep Computo dormant until he can find a cure. Sure, Jacques loses a sister to an induced coma required as a result of some guy accidentally inserting an evil AI into her brain, but at least he becomes the new Invisible Kid and joins the Legion! Silver lining, and all that.
As much as I joke, this is absolutely one of my favorite single comic book stories I’ve ever read. Paul Levitz’s writing and scripting are solid, and it’s easily accessible to new readers, with some minor exceptions which don’t detract from the main narrative. Keith Giffen and Bruce Patterson make a tremendous penciler/inker combo. Giffen peaked as an artist during his early Legion days, and this is a prime example of his talent. There is no doubt, despite the traditional bright and cheery futuristic coloring job on this book, that it’s a horror story, and I appreciate it for that, especially since I can’t watch the movie that clearly inspired it…
The second book reviewed today is Marvel Spotlight #18, from way back in October 1974. Ah, a time when supernatural movies were everywhere – The Exorcist, The Omen, The Touch of Satan. Clearly, the public loved them all, so why not create a superhero exorcist? And why not make him the son of Satan? And make “Son of Satan” his crimefighting name? And make him a ginger? And give him a fabulous red cape?
This issue is part one of a two-parter, but I don’t want to give you energy-overload of your nervous system, so we’ll just cover part one. First page is a splash page, one big panel full of…a couple getting out of a car. The gentleman is Hellstrom. Daimon Hellstrom. He and his date, Katherine Reynolds, Parapsychologist, enter a “social gathering” at the home of Dr. Wilfred Noble, head of Gateway U’s psych department – and Katherine’s boss. The partygoers quickly descend on Daimon, recognizing him from his involvement in recent supernatural events in the St. Louis area (not all heroes squat in Manhattan). He is annoyed, and about to go all satanic on them, but he goes outside to get some fresh air. Instead, he finds Dr. Noble’s dog, Cerberus, killed, Lizzie Borden-style. Well, that’s the end of that party. Daimon is awakened the next day by news that Noble’s house burned down, with him in it. Noble survives, but is a mess. Hellstrom decides to investigate the scene because he previously sensed “some vaguely sinister presence” during the party. He uses his “psycho-sensitive trident” to gaze into the previous evening’s events and see a young girl standing in the center of the flames, unharmed. He focuses on her face and…SURPRISE!
Hellstrom uses that handy trident of his to locate the girl in a nearby home. The parents are inside, wondering what to do about poor Melissa, who simply sits in her bedroom looking really really really nasty. Daimon knocks on the door, wearing his superhero garb, which is him, naked to the waist so his pentacle-shaped birthmark shows, plus a red cape and tights and snazzy yellow boots. Oh, and gold bracelets.
He quickly gains the trust of the parents, who tell him that it’s the dad’s fault this happened. Granted, he was a jerk because he hit Melissa after he found her making out with a guy. So yeah, it’s his fault. Jerk. Daimon confronts the daughter and the demon inside her, preparing to perform an exorcism, but before he can start, she gets the jump on him!
They tussle, but Daimon eventually puts enough distance between them so he can actually drive out the demon. Before he can start, the demon bails out of Melissa, leaving her confused, then unconscious. Daimon wonders where the demon went, and is quickly answered as he turns around to find dear old dad being piloted by the demon, with a meat cleaver at the ready! END PART ONE.
This book couldn’t be much more derivative if it tried. That being said, Steve Gerber’s script is great! You get the aloofness of Daimon, the despair of the parents and the nasty attitude of the demon right away. And dat artwork doe. Gene Colan was THE master of atmospheric horror art. There’s a reason his Tomb of Dracula run is critically acclaimed to this day. Between his art on these Son of Satan stories, Dr. Strange and Tomb, you can see some of the best legitimately frightful art in comics history.
At the time I read these stories, I had not seen The Exorcist. My exposure to horror cinema didn’t really come about until the mid-80s, when our VCR was regularly stuffed with the craziest horror flicks we could find. Somehow, I never made it to The Exorcist until it was aired on a local UHF (look it up) station in Tampa, Florida. It was obviously edited for television. And it scared me like nothing I had ever seen before. I didn’t even stay in the room until the end. To this day, I have never seen it. Remember when they had the anniversary rerelease a while back, with extra footage? Remember the TV spots advertising it? I don’t, because I changed the channel every time the commercial started.
I think I know why I like the two comics I’ve reviewed here. I like them because they are as close as I can get to The Exorcist and still be comfortable. True, they are also fun stories with great art, and involve characters I like. But these can give me the creeps without giving me nightmares. I think it’s a nice compromise.
The best thing about these books for those who haven’t read them, is that they are easy to find! You can buy the Legion Annual on eBay for about $5 shipped, and Marvel Spotlight #18 for about the same, maybe a dollar more. Of course, if you end up loving the Legion like I do, you can buy The Great Darkness Saga trade paperback, which reprints a ton of material, including the Annual, and the best comic book story ever in the history of humanity.
So, are you willing to give some classic comic books a try? Or admit to a childhood fear that’s never really left you? Or both? Let us know! Maybe we can console each other while we read Afterlife with Archie or something.