From Avengers and Shazam to Immortal Hulk and beyond, the biggest threats to today’s comic book universe are devilish demons like Mephisto.
From the Avengers fighting Mephisto to John Constantine’s misadventures with demonic forces, those heroes who oppose evil often find themselves helpless against the ultimate evil, the devil. The Lords of Hell are basically proto-supervillains who and serve as the ultimate adversaries for heroes to face. And in recent months, demons, devils and the other residents of Hell have all returned to prominence in a major way across mainstream superhero comics.
Since Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness kicked off a new Avengers series in 2018, Mephisto has been a looming background threat who’s shaped numerous conflicts, even going so far as to be declared the team’s ultimate adversary. While imprisoned in a cell in Nevada, the devil Mephisto plots to destroy the Avengers–and the world–haranguing the heroes across time despite his captivity. When Tony Stark travels back in time to the year 1,000,000 BC, Mephisto is there and torments Stark with visions of his own father serving the devil. Moon Knight is tormented by visions of Mephisto’s plans, and he even took down the Avengers to give his god Khonshu the strength to protect Earth from the coming horrors.
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Mephisto is just one of Marvel’s devils to feature in recent years. Johnny Blaze, the original Ghost Rider, has since taken the throne of hell for himself as its reigning king in his most recent solo title. Meanwhile, Al Ewing and Joe Bennett’s The Immortal Hulk has introduced a new devil, the One-Below-All, a mirrored inversion of the One-Above-All. This ultimate evil has opened a doorway into the world with the power of gamma energy, where he’s manipulated the Hulk, his allies and his enemies as part of his dark schemes. Even the MCU which has focused primarily on science fiction, released the Hulu-original series Helstrom about the titular Son of Satan.
At DC, there has been a similar resurgence of devilishly dark stories. The entire concept of the Dark Multiverse from Dark Nights: Metal is a cosmic re-imagining of infinite hellish realities filled with demonic versions of Batman who serve the demon-god Barbatos. John Constantine wakes in bed beside Lucifer in Tom Taylor and Darick Robertson’s Black Label series Hellblazer: The Rise and the Fall. In Tim Sheridan and Eduardo Pansica’s Future State: Shazam, the protagonist just made an even darker deal with the devil Neron. The child Billy Batson has the purest heart of any DC character, which allows him to magically turn into the Shazam, but Neron separates Shazam from Billy, and the “hero” leaves the innocent boy chained to the Rock of Eternity to be tortured by devils.
While the Marvel and DC Universes have only really just started re-embracing the more devilish aspects of their worlds after spending decades focused on events or stories that cast superhero as part of the military-industrial complex, it’s not the first time hellish heroes, villains and ideas have taken on such prominent roles.
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, the Marvel and DC Universe were filled with devils and demons of all stripes. Near the peak of their popularity, the X-Men and New Mutants spent years building up to the massive demonic invasion of the crossover “Inferno” in the late ’80s, and Ghost Rider’s massive success spawned the entire Midnight Sons publishing imprint in the early ’90s. Meanwhile, DC stories like Underworld Unleashed and Vertigo titles like Hellblazer, The Sandman and Lucifer all spent considerable time dealing with the Forces of Darkness.
Beyond Marvel and DC, devils and demons were a staple of mainstream independent comics throughout the ’90s, from Todd McFarlane’s Spawn to almost every character published by Chaos! Comics, Top Cow’s Witchblade or The Darkness, or even Mike Mignola’s Hellboy.
Beyond superhero comics, Carmen Maria Machado with art by Dani‘s The Low, Low Woods, published by DC’s other mature imprint Hill House Comics, sees fires burn eternally in the subterranean caverns beneath an old mining town as the mines’ hellish working conditions have become literal hellfire. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine introduces Lucifer as a David Bowie-inspired rock god, the first deity readers get to know. Meanwhile, Brian Hawkins and Raffaele Forte’s The Devil’s Dominion from indie publisher Blackbox Comics keeps the spirit of the ’90s hellish tales alive with a story about Devlynn St. Paul, who broke the deal she made with a demon and now using her Satanic powers to do good in the world.
From creator-owned independent series to comics’ biggest superhero icons, comic book heroes and villains are being confronted by some of the darkest forces imaginable. And with powerhouses like Mephisto, the One-Below-All and Neron around, comics’ heroes are going to have a hell of a time trying to save the day.
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