Hasslein Blog: Matthew Sunrich Presents...The Demon #2


Hasslein Blog

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Matthew Sunrich Presents...The Demon #2

By Matthew Sunrich

Morgaine le Fey is a powerful sorceress with a long history.

She was introduced in Geoffrey of Monmouth's The Life of Merlin around 1150. Since then she has appeared in numerous works of literature and has been depicted in various ways by different authors, though she is almost always cast as an enemy of King Arthur. The reason for her hatred of Arthur also varies, but it is usually related to sibling rivalry, albeit in its most extreme form.

The spelling of her name varies, as well, but the meaning remains the same. The word "fay" (also spelled "fey"), as any fantasy fan can tell you, refers to supernatural spirits that dwell, unseen by most humans, in forested areas: fairies, elves, brownies, et cetera. Their proximity to trees suggests that magic (shorthand for the supernatural) flourishes in areas where nature's concentration is the greatest. Deforestation diminishes its power, it seems. Man's interference weakens it. "Fey" can also mean "wild," which is certainly a related term. We frequently use the word to suggest erratic or unpredictable behavior, but let's not forget that it also means "untamed," as in not adhering to the standards of civilized society.

While magic is a difficult term to pin down, it's generally understood as an inscrutable force that permits the existence of creatures and phenomena beyond that which is considered "normal." In the ancient world, it was the go-to explanation for anything unusual. In mythical terms, it is a permutation of the life force endemic to our plane of existence. Its trappings are alien to us because they represent a different arrangement of the elements. (I am referring here to earth, water, wind, and fire, rather than to the chemical elements found on the periodic table.) The ability to harness it is the bailiwick of the wizard and the witch. Tapping into it is certainly a task unto itself, but learning to control and manipulate it is the real rub.

While little is actually known about the druids, it has been suggested that they subscribed to a belief in pantheism, the notion that God's essence permeates all of creation. This is, at its core, a similar concept to magic: the dissemination of the "divine" throughout nature, finding its greatest strength in vessels that can best contain it.

The upshot of all of this is that when we put it all together we come out with Morgaine the Supernatural. Is she by her very nature a magical creature? Something other than human? Her name could be interpreted as such.

In some stories Morgaine apprentices under Merlin, which is interesting because in this way he has a hand in creating his liege's greatest foe. It's difficult to say unequivocally, but in the Arthurian legends it seems that there is no distinction made between what constitutes "white" magic and "black" magic. It all derives from the same source, and a sorcerer's preferences are all that determines on which end of the spectrum he or she operates. The universal, ongoing battle between good and evil that echoes through the ages requires a balance between the two sides; otherwise one would too easily defeat the other. It makes sense, then, that the two sides have access to similar weaponry.

The rivalry between Morgaine and Merlin is about as good as anyone could hope for, and it forms the foundation of Jack Kirby's foray into fantasy/horror.

The Demon #2 picks up right where the first issue left off. Morgaine's forces have infiltrated the catacombs beneath the mysterious Castle Branek and, as such, are struggling with the "resurrected" Etrigan (he has been imprisoned in the body of Jason Blood for centuries). It soon becomes clear that they are no match for him, and Morgaine is forced use her sorcery to subdue him. When the smoke clears, it is the form of Blood that lies unconscious on the flagstones.

When his senses return, Blood finds himself being lifted into a sitting position by three men, including one Inspector Stavic (seen briefly in the previous issue), from the nearby village. They are eager to know what business he has at the castle and what happened there. Blood tells them that they are in Merlin's tomb, and that the "phantoms in black" (Morgaine's men) escaped with "what they came for." The gargoyle statues surrounding the crypt spring to life suddenly but crumble to dust at the slightest touch. At this, Merlin's shadow materializes before the astonished men and apprises them that Morgaine has stolen a powerful spell but that Blood's "memory" will help them find her.

Meanwhile, Morgaine has repaired to Walpurgis Wood, a "place of witches," according to Stavic. As fires blaze and occultists dance around in the throes of sorcery, she removes her mask and begins to weave the spell taken from the crypt, which will restore her youth. Blood and Stavic arrive, but before they can stop the ritual, they are attacked by a monstrous "gorla" guarding the perimeter. Blood is no match for the creature's strength, and the bullets from Stavic's gun have no effect.

Thankfully, Blood's friend Randu, a U. N. delegate from India, senses that something is wrong. Using mystical abilities akin to ESP, he mentally sends the words that summon Etrigan across the thousands of miles to Central Europe. Blood again transforms into his demonic alter ego and dispatches the gorla. He then disrupts the ritual, causing a huge explosion that leaves a smoking crater and no sign of Morgaine or her henchmen.

Back in human form, Blood assesses the devastation, knowing that they've not seen the last of the sorceress. It is clear by end of this issue that the series is already beginning to find its footing. Many of the characters and concepts introduced in the first issue make more sense here, and the story is better structured. Kirby's art is, of course, fantastic and provides the reader with an almost palpable sense of wonder not seen since Marvel's "monster" comics of the late 1950s. It is remarkable just how much he packs into a single issue, into each page. His creative energy, at this point, seems inexhaustible. The dialogue, his frequent weakness, is even effective. Two issues in, we've already gotten to the "meat" of the comic.

The Demon #2 is an excellent representation of Kirby at the peak of his creative powers. As the story unfolds, there is a very real sense of greater things on the horizon. I can't really think of anything negative to say about this issue; sometimes Kirby just got everything right.

Matt Sunrich, a great fan of the Bronze Age of comic books, maintains two blogs: The Other Other Castle, about Bronze-Age sword and sorcery, and Forging the Dark Knight, concerning Bronze-Age Batman.

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