Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
If I asked you to think about “Marvel Comics in 1993,” what would spring to mind? X-Men #300, post-Claremont? Cable’s first solo series, the rise of X-Force, and the publisher’s slide into grittiness? What if I asked about just “comic books in 1993”? Image, Spawn, and yes, the grittiness?
Amid all that (and the return of Superman; eat that, grimdark!), you probably shouldn’t forget about the Rise of the Midnight Sons — capitalized and italicized because that was actually the name of a crossover that featured Ghost Rider, Doctor Strange, and more, and launched solo books for Morbius and the Nightstalkers. The success of that group paved the way for related character Daimon Hellstrom, the so-called “Son of Satan” to get his own, whopping 21-issue series.
Marvel has collected the first 11 issues of the book you probably don’t remember happening, and it’s simultaneously of its time, but also way ahead of the curve.
Hellstrom: Prince of Lies (renamed from Hellstorm: Prince of Lies) finds the character in an odd place. Well, a couple of odd places. I think. Like many characters of that time, the totality of Hellstrom’s continuity was convoluted by then. And like many stories of the time, writer Rafael Nieves tries to clean it all up and consolidate in the first few issues, whereas a modern telling would probably just hit the ground running with something fresh and let Wikipedia sort it out. Okay, not so prescient on this count.
But, at the same time, this attention to the major parts of Hellstrom’s life, and how Nieves uses them to push the narrative forward, is eerily reminiscent of Al Ewing’s Immortal Hulk. And don’t be surprised if you also get a Lucifer vibe from the debonair demon.
Much like the Midnight Sons line resurrected some classic Marvel horror characters from the ’70s, Hellstrom brings a few more back to the future, including his sister Satana, Gabriel the Devil Slayer, and even Simon Garth, the original Zombie. Nieves does jump on the bandwagon a bit, too, introducing Soulfire, yet another Ghost Rider analogue, one whom I’m fairly sure has made no other appearances.
The thrust of Hellstrom seems to shift slightly when Len Kaminski takes over, starting with issue #7, but not necessarily for the worse. Kaminski brings Gabriel the Devil Hunter, the former priest who lost his faith but still fights the occult, back into close contact with Daimon, who’s investigating a faith-healer who seems to be reviving vegetative coma patients. This causes Gabriel a momentary crisis of disbelief, until the awful truth is revealed.
The rest of the volume is full of heart-wrenching character studies that ask if Nazis following orders were truly evil, why God sends gay people to Hell when he’s the one who made them that way, and is Heaven really what we think, or is it more like the Thomas Aquinas “merging with God” idea?
Remember, this is all in a mainstream Marvel superhero comic. In 1993. Two years before Preacher started at Vertigo.
Michael Bair illustrates the first six issues, Leonardo Manco tags in for #7, and Peter Gross takes it (most of) the rest of the way. The art is still remarkably consistent, akin to the sharp lines you’d expect in the other Midnight Sons books (though Manco’s is a little more stylized), with the only hiccup being a rough few fill-in pages by Mark Badger in issue #9. The colors of Janet Jackson, Ariane Lenshoek, Evan Skolnick, and Ashley Underwood also tie the whole thing together.
Where the hell did Hellstrom: Prince of Lies come from? And why does no one remember it? Unlike a lot of other recent Marvel trades, there’s actually some interesting backmatter in this one, including some excited words from editor Fabian Nicieza, calling this “Ghost Rider meets Sandman,” and damnit if that isn’t apt. Hellstrom is shockingly good, better than you could expect, and thank the orange reflecting pool of Heaven that the Hulu series gave the publishing division an excuse to collect it.
One more question: Why can’t we get this rebooted as a TV tie-in? Jason Aaron, I know you’re interested!
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