Monday, October 19, 2015


I like how the horse is all "FUCK. THIS."

In a very knowing tribute to classic horror films - which Kirby's Demon may have been in more than one way - the yellow-skinned Etrigan takes on a werewolf-like Transylvanian terror called The Howler in The Demon Vol.1 No.6 (February 1973).

Traveling through the legendary land of monsters and menace in order to tackle "the spawning ground for every danger unleashed by occult experiments," the Demon's alter ego Jason Blood disguises himself as a callow, souvenir-buying American tourist. When the rest of the patrons of a homey, old-style feudal tavern start bolting the doors against the ominous wailing of The Howler, Blood darts off through the front door. "That's right folks," he tells the assembled throng, who gasp in shock and horror, "I've purchased some supplies and a good horse -- and now I'm on my way back to the U.S. of A." Tsh, tourists.

Naturally, Blood encounters the Howler, which necessitates the incantation of his infernal rhyme - "Peel a banana upside down, see if you can touch the ground, rise the demon Etrigan ... awwww sufragette!" - and a transformation into his horrifying alter-ego. This is roughly where I first learned that Etrigan will use a horse for a battering ram, which is immensely badass-slash-unkind.


The Demon defeats the Howler that night in Transylvania, but unknowingly carries the spirit of the supernatural beast back to the States, which is also why you don't bring fruit across state borders.

While the Demon manages to best the Howler in a second battle, the spirit of the horrid beast escapes and threatens to rise once again, although I'm not aware that it ever happened. This is the tragedy of having someone with a limitless enthusiasm for world-building, like Kirby, in a factory-condition story-production machine; in the glut of stories which are pumped out month after month, year after year, there's not a lot of impetus to build on the premises which Kirby laid out.

After the cancellation of The Demon, so many of the monsters and menaces which Kirby invented disappeared with his departure. Not only the Howler, but also Mannikin, Ugly Meg, the Master Eye, the Phantom Farley Fairfax - and another half-dozen monsters and secret cults which could have dramatically livened up an often moribund shared universe. In fact, with the exception of Morgaine LeFay and Klarion the Witchboy - often reserved for homages to Kirby - the only creature I can recall ever finding his way into another DC title was Alan Moore's take on the Fear Thing.

It's a shame, because everything about the Howler, in particular, is a winner - he's got a great visual (his lower fangs curling like bull's horns is a striking design element, and his ape-like frame just bursts with power) and he's an almost-unbeatable foe by dint of his supernatural component. This is why my preference has been, for years, that the next time they reboot the DC Universe they start with all the Kirby inventions and build offa that.


stavner said...

The Howler reappeared in Alan Grant's Demon revival of the 1990s (The Demon Vol. 3, issues 23-24).

Wooly Rupert said...

Teacher, Teacher. Howler came back in Demon Vol. 3, #23-24. It was pretty cool.

Calamity Jon said...

Sure, and thanks for letting me know about it. What I think I was discussing, more than a character's single reappearance in a revival of the title where he initially debuted, was the use of vigorous ideas to spark world-building in a theoretically shared universe. If the big selling point of corporate comics is that it's a communal toybox from which any combination of characters and scenarios can be built, then it's poorly served by returning to the same well while generally discarding the premises laid down by genuinely imaginative creators.

Continuing to use Kirby as an example, it's a crime that Transilvane has only ever been a "special event" scenario. If just for the absurdity of a tiny planet of miniature monsters reestablishing their identities from the continual rebroadcast of a cowboy musical, this is an idea with legs.

For an industry built on the premise of "world-building" and intersecting mythology, it has a tendency to do things like - as a very specific example - keep bringing the non-starter supervillain Cyborg Superman back when, even rebooted into a wholly new person with new motivation, all he ever does is run a "I hate Superman" treadmill. Imagine instead if the Howler and the forces which created the Howler - again, to use one very specific example - leaked its way into Superman's world, or Batman's, or Ralph Dibny, or Ambush Bug, or Our Army At War, or Omega Men, Amethyst, etc. Or if it was the launching pad for its own related creations, whatever, as long as it wasn't just a checklist item in an unrewarding cycle of reuse.

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