BHOC: SON OF SATAN #8

This was another comic book that I purchased out of the drugstore’s Big Bin of Slightly Older Comics, books that had been reported destroyed but which had actually been sold “off the back of the truck” to my drugstore at a cut-rate price. I almost certainly picked up this issue to fill out a grouping of five so as to maximize my buying power (as well as to eliminate the chance that the cashier, not knowing any better, would charge me full cover price for the books.) I must have liked the one other issue of the series I had read well enough to go in on another one–or else, it just seemed to be the best fifth-book option on that particular week. There was a constant turnover in that bin, as new issues were added. But this meant that there were always a lot of copies of issues that I’d already bought in the thing as well.

This was the final issue of SON OF SATAN, and it was a fill-in issue as well–one that looks to my eye as though at least some of it may have been crafted so that it could run in one of Marvel’s rapidly vanishing Black and White magazines as easily as in the color comic. I’m not sure why it was decided to extend the run of the series an additional issue to publish this story–possibly people just really dug the excellent art job that Russ Heath provided for it.

There is definitely the evidence of other hands all throughout this story, and it also looks to me as though the ending was completely rewritten–possibly to turn what was intended as the first part of a multi-part adventure into a one-off. But there are shifts in art style and even lettering style all through the piece, indicating that a bunch of corrections were done, either exclusively in house or due to the edicts of the Comics Code. This issue contained one of the most egregious changes the Code mandated, causing a page of the original story to be pulled out at the last minute. So late in the process did this happen that there wasn’t time to color separate the replacement page that John Romita drew up, and so it ran in the issue in black and white. This gave that moment an interesting effect, but it also drew more attention to the fact that something had been altered.

The story is relatively straightforward–it’s really Heath’s depiction of the underworld that makes it memorable. Daimon Hellstrom has been summoned to a remote castle by a shade that seems to be the spirit of his dead mother, who escorts him on a tour of hell, his father Satan’s domain. Along the way, there’s a bunch of fighting (as you would expect) and also a bunch of pontificating on the nature of good and evil–as perhaps you might also expect.

But the whole thing is really an artist’s showcase for Russ Heath, and he delivers in spades. There are a ton of memorable images in this story, such as that fish-eye lens shot of Daimon in the first panel of this page. It also looks as though Heath was channeling some of the Filipino artists who had come into the field working for Jim Warren and over on the DC titles–or else, somebody from that camp was involved with reworking bits of the story, possibly Tony DeZuniga. Everything worked fine in color, but I suspect it would have been sharper and more impactful in black and white, which is what makes me wonder whether that was what the story had originally been intended for.

Now we come to the page that the Comics Code cut–an action and even a sequence that also points at this tale originally having been created for one of the B & W magazines that weren’t bound by the Code’s strictures. on the upper left is the lead-in page and the replacement black and white page that John Romita whipped up. On the far right, is the missing original page. Clearly, it was the depiction of the crucifixion that the Code objected to–and who could really blame them? There was a panel on the top of the following page that pretty clearly had been revised as well, though this page was able to appear in color, go figure.

And as I mentioned previously, the ending of the story was rewritten as well–and it’s really this ending that I recall the most vividly. Russ Heath doesn’t seem to have had any hand in this final page. The acting and pacing looks to my eye like al Buscema breakdowns under a heavy finisher, possibly Jim Mooney. But as a kid, I loved this wrap-up, and the idea that the whole story had been a nightmare that Satan had been experiencing while the world celebrated Christmas. It was a fun twist, though who knows what writer Mantlo thought about it (and whether he was involved in scripting this final page at all, or whether it was handled by editor Archie Goodwin, as the drop-in page had been.

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