Demon, Barf

The Demon: written by Matt Wagner; illustrated by Matt Wagner, Art Nichols, and Bernie Mireault (1986-87, 1992; collected 2013): Matt Wagner’s done fine work on his own characters and on characters for DC. Alas, his work on The Demon, while sometimes lovely to look at, is also a wordy, needlessly labyrinthine, bleak mess.

As originally conceived and executed by writer-artist Jack Kirby in the early 1970’s, Etrigan the Demon was a surprisingly jolly demon who enjoyed beating the Hell out of supernatural menaces but otherwise seemed like a loveable scamp. Kirby’s Demon is the clearest, most obvious forerunner of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, another good demon.

However, when Alan Moore reimagined Etrigan in a thrilling, disturbing three-part story in Saga of the Swamp Thing in the early 1980’s, the ramifications of that reimagination would be an eternal souring of the pot. Moore’s Demon was a barely controlled monster. He also spoke in rhymes all the time, where Kirby’s Demon only rhymed to cast spells. Thus was unleashed thirty years and counting of an astonishingly misguided reinterpretation of an enjoyable but minor Kirby character.

Wagner’s 4-issue-miniseries revamp of Etrigan makes Alan Moore’s version look like a sun-filled romp in a jolly, jolly park by comparison. Jason Blood, the Demon’s ‘host,’ is now a bumbling, easily manipulated fool whose personality in no way resembles either Kirby’s dedicated occultist or Moore’s tragic, sardonic hero. Etrigan is a monster who speaks in rhymes that often, in their utterly confusing diction, pretty much form an airtight case for why Etrigan should not speak in rhymes all the time. At least not when Matt Wagner’s writing him.

The art has some flashes of surreal brilliance, especially in a sequence in which demons invade an apartment through the walls.  The annoyingly intrusive frame narration becomes an unwelcome Greek Chorus very, very quickly. The whole thing is dense and unpleasant, and that narrative density serves a story that’s actually paper-thin.

Alas and alas and alas, the depressing view of Etrigan has won out over the last 30 years. A Wagner-penned and illustrated standalone issue from the Demon’s early 1990’s series is a lot looser and more fantastic artistically. Unfortunately, the whole thing is narrated by Etrigan in a series of rhymes. Somebody please make sure Matt Wagner never, ever writes anything in rhymes again. It’s horrible. Wagner can be a compelling writer and artist, especially on his own wonderful Mage and Grendel books. Seek those out, not this. Not recommended.

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