Tuesday, February 12, 2013

1981: The Defenders Go Demonic Part III: Demon Ditties and Semi-Seraphimic Saviors

By Jef Willemsen (clarmindcontrol.blogspot.com)
In part three of the Defenders versus the Six Fingered Hand, the team gained a new member in Devil Slayer as they closed in on the demonic cabal. But not before running across a satanic singing sensation and a spiritual guru who wasn't all that holy after all. All that plus page after page of a Comics Code approved giant sized Man-Thing!

Meet Asmodeus Jones, heavy metal singer and self proclaimed king of devil rock. His millions of fans just love his act, thinking it’s just that… However, Jones’ demon worshipping chants are more than mere entertainment, thanks to Fashima of the Six-Fingered Hand.

That’s Johnny Blaze, better known as the human half of the Ghost Rider. Blaze had been working as a roadie on Asmodeus’ 1981 To Hell And Back tour, but now he was fascinated by the pulsating demon form on stage. And he wasn't the only one. After returning home from their battle against the Hand in Transylvania, Strange spent many hours meditating in hopes of determining where their enemies would strike next. Let’s see what he came up with…

The combination of Detroit, Ghost Rider, a guitar, and a fierce looking demon were reason enough for Strange to teleport the team to the motor city, yet again violating the laws of space/time. Once there, it didn't take long to run into Ghost Rider, who wasn't exactly willing to answer their questions, which led to the obligatory hero versus hero fight scene.

The fight came to an abrupt end when Daimon Hellstrom performed a ritual that briefly negated the demon Zarathos’ influence, allowing Johnny Blaze to return and tell the Defenders what he had seen during Asmodeus’s shows. A concerned Doctor Strange immediately took off in his astral form to investigate.

In return for fame, fortune and power, Asmodeus “Ozzie” Jones allowed himself to serve as a conduit for Fashima’s mind control powers. This deal meant that in a single night, the Six Fingered Hand would gain over 16.000 mindless followers.

“Doctor Strange has a plan!”

That plan was rather simple. During Jones’ next show, it’s up to Ghost Rider to distract Asmodeus so the Defenders can catch the singing demon channeller off guard. By attacking him with their various energies, Strange hoped to overload his conduit to Fashima, thereby ending his threat. And wouldn'tchaknow... it worked. 

However, there are prices to pay and as Jones’ manager Felix Palmer mentioned earlier: he was the one who made the deal with the demons. That meant he had to pay the ultimate price, in a truly chilling scene that really relies on the readers’ power of suggestion to make it work. A simple black panel was all it took to tell the story. 

His brother too? That sad revelation was enough to startle even a wizened sorcerer supreme, an immortal gargoyle and one of all father Odin’s most trusted valkyrie… 

However, Hellcat, America’s sweetheart turned super heroine, had a slightly… different reaction to the news.

Laughing at a man’s death isn't exactly normal behavior, so Doctor Strange spent the opening pages of # 97 inside Patsy’s mind, hoping to find what’s wrong. She might still be under the influence of Avarrish, after all. But, Patsy wasn’t exactly eager to help…

Once inside her mind, Strange discovers his teammate was still being haunted by evil. Not just that of Avarrish, but a deeper, underlying darkness was rising in her soul.. Before he can dig deeper, another key player entered the fray…

Meet Devil Slayer, better known as Eric Payne, a former Vietnam vet turned professional, well, devil slayer. Equipped with a teleporting shadow-cloak that doubled as an armory of any imaginable weapon past, present and future. The inclusion of ‘DS’ was typical of writer DeMatteis’ take on the Defenders, as he revealed to this blog:
My motto was:  the more obscure the characters, the better.  That gave me room to really push characterization and make them my own.  That’s one of the reasons you saw characters like Devil Slayer and Son of Satan come into the book.  You didn’t have to worry about anyone else complaining about their evolution; you could do what you wanted.”

DeMatteis certainly didn’t waste time fleshing out Payne’s backstory. While his mixed marriage to Corry Payne had already been established, DeMatteis used it to set up the next phase of the war against the Six Fingered Hand. Devil Slayer arrived with a note from Corry, that said… well, hey, you can read it yourselves… 

Strange, still disturbed by the things he saw inside Hellcat, agreed to teleport the Defenders to the Israeli desert where they encounter David Kessler just as he wa curing the disabled with blessed baptisms. Even the paralyzed Nighthawk was restored to full mobility by this Messiah. Upon reuniting with Devil Slayer, Corry recounts David’s origins to the Defenders…

Now, for those of you familiar with the bible, the tale of David Kessler might seem familiar.  After all, doesn’t a peaceful, loving teacher known to his disciples as the messiah, capable of healing the sick and performing miracles remind you of anyone?

Surprisingly enough, DeMatteis insisted David Kessler was by no means intended as an analogy for a certain carpenter’s son from Nazareth. 

I didn’t see David Kessler as a Jesus stand-in.  He was a cult leader, a spiritual figure, but  he was essentially a flawed human like the rest of us.”
One of those flaws had to be rushing to judgement  Upon arriving in Israel, Doctor Strange had cast an illusion spell so the team could pass as ordinary looking people. Kessler saw through these illusions  and immediately figured the Defenders were devils sent to destroy him. Before Strange could calm him down, Kessler summoned an army of guardian angels, complete with biblical burning swords.

However, Strange revealed to David that the angels were in fact hordes of horrific demons who were beyond his control. This shocked Kessler so much that his sanity gave way, allowing another member of the Six Fingered Hand a proper reveal...

The fight against Hypokkri (either short for ‘hypocrite’ or ‘hypocrisy’) ended as soon as it began. Whatever was left of David Kessler regained control long enough to throw himself on one of Devil Slayer’s daggers. His death drove Hypokkri out, but also undid all of the ‘miracles’ David had performed… which, rather sadly, also meant Nighthawk was paralyzed once again.

Issue # 98 finally kicked the war against the Six Fingered Hand into high gear when, just as Strange teleported everyone home from Israel, the Avengers called in to report that the town of Citrusville, Florida had disappeared off the face of the planet, only leaving a giant, smoldering chasm in the shape of… a six fingered hand.

Reason enough for Strange to transport everyone to Florida on the double.

There, they discovered several disturbing holes in the fabric of space/time. But before they could investigate further, they were attacked by Citrusville’s unofficial protector, the swamp-walker Man-Thing… only now he was giant-sized and controlled by another member of the Six Fingered Hand: Unnthink.

Doctor Strange was getting fed up with the hand’s routine of hiding behind (and inside) innocent victims. Switching to his astral form, he entered Man-Thing’s psyche to confront Unnthink who proved more powerful than the mage.

However, Strange’s actual plan was to empower Ted Sallis, the human scientist who shared his form with the creature. Sallis defeated Unnthink, but had a surprising request for Strange: he wanted to be returned to the nothingness the Hand had consigned him to when they took over Man-Thing.

Preferring oblivion to remaining trapped inside the body of the muck monster, Sallis begged to be euthanized. Strange, for better or worse, agreed to this request and ended Sallis’ existence. Pretty heady stuff for 1981!

Returning to his body, Strange found that Man-Thing had reverted to his normal size and was lumbering back towards the swamp, now more mindless than ever. With Citrusville still missing, the Defenders debated the wisdom of entering through one of the remaining rips in space/time… 

As one, the valiant five entered the unknown, ready to defend Earth against all that might await them on the other side. Wait, wha… Five? Where did Hellcat go? And for that matter, why isn’t Devil Slayer wearing his shadow cloak?

More on that and the outcome of the team’s rip roaring round trip in the fourth and final part of The Defenders Go Demonic: Six Fingered Finale

1 comment:

  1. Defenders #98. Beast meets the team. He's a smart guy, and on that meeting you'd imagine he'd stay away from them. Much less join them :)

    Another great stroll down memory lane. Will have to read the issues again soon. Amoung the first Defenders comics and comics in general that I owned.



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