The 1970s marked something of a boom time for the Horned One, information pills and not just for his unmistakable influence upon the fashion and home decor fronts. The socio-cultural upheavals of the late 1960s were marked by deliberate repudiation of prevailing mores. Just as the hippies turned against the straight-laced lifestyles of their parents and the eco-crunchies revolted against the environmental effects of mass industrialization, there were a number of folks who sought occult alternatives to the strictures of mainstream Christianity.
Much of this pop diabolism was superficial — bastardized offshoots of tired Crowleyisms or tamely “sinister” justifications applied to the banalities of suburban swingerhood, the theological equivalent of a third grader surreptiously uttering an f-bomb for the first time. As laughably mild as it was, it did find fertile ground to bloom in an era which was undergoing an Augustinian crisis of a fallen world where paranoia about diminished expectations gnawed at the frayed edges of a torn social fabric. (It’s no coincidence that the Christian fundamentalist movement also began to make its presence widely felt during this era.)
The prose-and-film success of The Exorcist — a conservative screed attacking spiritual evil and secular impotence masquerading as a reasonably effective horror tale — transformed Satan-o-mania from a popcult undercurrent to a full blown media phenomenon with a host of imitative fiends seeking a slice of the diabolic dollar. From occult-themed offerings in the Scholastic book club to theaters both respectable and sleazy to the embryonic stages of the heavy metal scene, Ol’ Scratch was doing boffo business in the early-to-mid 1970s.
The trend also happened to coincide with the Comic Code Authority’s decison to loosen its restrictions upon supernatural and horror themed content, thus ensuring not only a (tame) diabolic renaissance in the pages of the remaining roster of “suspense” anthologies but also the creation of anti-heroic, hell-spawned additions to the Big Two’s superheroic universes — Ghost Rider, Jack Kirby’s Demon, and the high-concept hellion of hilarity occasionally known as…
…The Son of Satan.
The demi-demonic offspring of a human woman and the Embodiment of Evil she fell in love with, the Son of Satan got his start as a mysterious supporting character in the first two issues of Ghost Rider before getting spun off into a Marvel Spotlight tryout gig followed by a short-lived ongoing series.
Like many (fictional) children born into a position of privilege, Daimon Hellstrom (a name which aggressively emphasizes the bearer’s diabolic heritage even as it devilishly deceives sleep-deprived bloggers into typing “Damian Hellstorm”), was a free-spirited soul who resented the assumption that he would eventually take over the family business. In an act of peevish rebellion, he set himself up as a occult expert and exorcist-for-hire dedicated to thwarting his dad’s various schemes.
“Boy, evil sucks. I hate my dad and everything about him. To show my hate, I’m going to call myself Son of Satan and comb my hair into Maximoff-style devil horns and proudly display the pentagram etched on my bare chest. That’ll show him. Oh yeah, I’m going to keep this bitching pitchfork and hell-chariot he gave me as graduation presents, too.”
I want to say that makes no sense, but my college encounters with trust fund socialists suggest otherwise.
Though clearly intended to be a ambiguous hero in the Golden Age Namor vein, poor Daimon was hamstrung by both his trend-biting nature and high-concept genesis which never managed to achieve the lurid promise of his absurdly over-the-top brand identity. Take away the name, and all that’s left is a goofy-looking occult superhero from an era that was lousy with goofy-looking occult superheroes. While his sister Satana (who will never be the subject of this feature, for the record) at least had the sleazy freedom of a non-code B&W magazine to..um…flout her assets, the Son of Satan was effectively constrained by the same CCA boundaries he was created to flout.
It also didn’t help that the whole notion of the Horned One as a power in the Marvel Universe was directly at odds with an existing roster full of CCA-dodging Satan analogues such as Mephisto, Dormammu, and Satannish. (“See, he’s not really Satan. He’s more Satannish.”) The contradictory continuity gyrations that have been performed to establish Hellstrom’s true paternity have only further undercut the character’s principle selling point. There’s a profound difference between “Son of Satan” and “Son of a Co-Chair of Greater Hell’s Steering Committee Who Once Posed As Satan But Is Actually a Jabroni Who Has Been Schooled By Doctor Strange At Least a Dozen Times.”
Having failed to establish himself as a viable solo act, Damon Hellstrom embarked on a long, tedious journey as an occasional supporting player. He has died, been reborn, been depowered, been repowered, served time in the Defenders, married a former teen humor comic character turned feline-themed superhero turned demonic-powered feline-themed superhero, played a vaguely defined part in the low point of the Punisher’s career, been given a “grim and gritty” MAX imprint outing, and still turns up in the margins of this week’s big crossover event.
Granted, that’s better than most d-listers get, but the funnybook incarnation of the Anti-Jesus ought to be held to a higher standard.
All brimstone and no fire, the “Son of Satan” sounds like a weak punchline from a syndicated sitcom gag about comic books…which is why I’ve cast this flotsam of a fleeting fad into the lukewarm pits of Nobody’s Favorites.
Recommended listening: The Swing West – Fire (from GS I Love You: Japanese Garage Bands of the 1960s, 1996)[audio:121003sw.mp3]
The Devil went down to Osaka.