Shout at the Devil: Irvine talks "Son of Satan"

On June 18th this year Father's day is celebrated and this October horror comic fans will be celebrating the return of a character for which Father's Day is a bit awkward, Daimon Hellstrom AKA The Son of Satan. Hellstrom returns in the five issue "Hellstorm: Son of Satan" mini-series by science fiction novelist and English professor Alexander Irvine and artist Russ Braun from Marvel Comics' Max line. CBR News spoke to Irvine about the project.

"Son of Satan" was born when Irvine traveled to New York last fall. "I was in New York to read at KGB, right before my most recent novel ('The Narrows') came out, and my book editor Chris Schluep came to the reading," Irvine told CBR News. "Afterward we head out for drinks, and he says there's a friend of his over at this other bar who works for Marvel Comics. Off we go, and that's where I met Ruwan Jayatilleke. We talked over comics and books and publishing and so forth, and drank some more beer, and then a couple of months later he called me and we started talking about possibilities for characters that I might want to pitch. That led to a series of conversations with [editor] Axel Alonso, and when Axel and I started talking about Son of Satan, I remembered this story that I had wanted to write for a long time but never could figure out exactly how to do it. With the figure of Daimon Hellstrom, the solution to that problem fell into my lap. So I hammered out a pitch and sent it off, and things went from there."

When he began the project, Irvine knew about Daimon Hellstrom, but wasn't too familiar with the character. "I only knew of Daimon from the times when he came wandering through Dr. Strange's milieu," Irvine explained. "I always loved Dr. Strange, and still do. But until I started working through the process with Ruwan and then Axel, I knew very little about Daimon. As I explored the character, one moment from the existing history struck me: when Satan tells Daimon to seek the holy in the world and then erases his memory of having been told that. What a crisis that must be, to have this longing to do exactly the opposite of what you think your father would want, and to not know why you feel it so strongly."

When he was younger, Irvine had very strong feelings about comics especially Marvel ones. "I was hugely into comics when I was a kid, got away from them for a long time, and then started to come back a few years ago," Irvine said. "When I was younger, I had an odd affinity for Marvel properties that never really went anywhere, including imported stories like 'The Man from Atlantis,' 'Godzilla,' the 'Micronauts,' and so forth. Of course I also loved Spider-Man and Daredevil and Dr. Strange and Thor and the Hulk, but when I look at what survives of my comic collection, what jumps out at me is how much 'Devil Dinosaur' and 'Rom the Spaceknight' I hung onto. Now I follow what's interesting to me, and since I've started working on comics-related projects my interest has been rekindled. But I'm not a serious collector."

Readers don't have to have been serious collectors of the Son of Satan's previous appearances to enjoy Irvine's mini-series. "I think all you need to know about Daimon to enjoy this series is that his father is The Adversary," Irvine stated. "I'm not using any of the other characters from previous 'Son of Satan' stories."

Daimon's complicated relationship with his father is one of his defining character traits. "His defining personality traits are fundamentally in contradiction. He wants to do the right thing in the world, but he also wants to be a good son to his father," Irvine explained. "One of the things that keep him in this constant emotional upheaval is the fact that his father can never, ever be trusted - so even if Satan says do this, Daimon can never be sure that it's the right thing to do or that it's what his father really wants. That kind of ongoing uncertainty eats at a guy, and in this case makes him prone to fits of violence. Which brings us to character flaws -- every once in a while, Daimon snaps in situations that might call for more delicate handling. At the climax of the story, this is the single biggest problem he has to overcome. Bigger even than a horde of enraged demons and a small group of vengeful Egyptian gods."

A city that has been the scene of much tragedy and misery will be the setting for Daimon's battle against his many foes. "The plot involves a huge influx of demons into post-Katrina New Orleans," Irvine said. "They're drawn by the spike of human misery and despair, and they stick around for several reasons, not least of which is a certain myth - having to do with betrayal, resurrection, and a city at the mouth of a great river delta - that seems to be telling itself again.

"There are a lot of demons," Irvine continued "They've infiltrated every stratum of New Orleans, from street gangs to the police force, and they're not known for their self-control, so even when Daimon's father doesn't want them to start something with Daimon, sometimes they do anyway. Along the way he also gets his soul judged at one of the many gateways to the afterlife, with mixed results. There's also the question of what he should do once he finds out what's going to happen on the equinox in New Orleans, and that's tied up with the question that drives Daimon's every waking moment: what is he on Earth to do? From that perspective, Daimon's greatest obstacle is his lineage, and his struggle to come to terms with it and still get through the day."

As the Son of Satan, Daimon has a number of abilities at his disposal to help him over come the many obstacles he faces and make it through the day, but with his state of mind they can sometimes cause more problems than they solve. "You'll see some soulfire, and you'll see the trident once in a while, but mostly what you'll see is Daimon wrestling with a rage that gets away from him every so often," Irvine said.

As he confronts both his personal demons and literal ones, Daimon will encounter a variety of colorful characters. "The supporting characters include Daimon's father, a great assortment of demons, a couple of human beings, and some reincarnated gods," Irvine stated.

Irvine has no plans to use other Marvel characters like Satana or Hellcat in "Son of Satan." However, if the series merits a sequel or a follow up, he might consider appearances by other denizens of the Marvel Universe in future "Hellstorm: Son of Satan" stories

History and Historical figures are often prominent forces in the stories Irvine likes to tell. Like his novels, the concept of history will also play a large role in "Son of Satan." "I'd sure like to borrow some of the more prominent characters from New Orleans' history, but that wasn't possible this time around," Irvine said. "The role history plays in this series is kind of akin to the role it plays in a couple of my books (I'm thinking of 'A Scattering of Jades' and 'One King, One Soldier'), in which history is kind of a campfire story that retells itself using whatever materials are to hand. Stories migrate from culture to culture as well as from time to time, and they pick up some local plumage while still hanging onto their ancestry. This is sometimes difficult on the people who are living in a particular time and place that becomes a retelling of another time and place. Nobody in 'A Scattering of Jades,' for example, well, none of the sane characters are particularly happy to be playing a crucial role in what might be the resurrection of a long-dead Aztec god. Likewise nobody in 'One King' really enjoys having Templar assassins lurking in Yankee Stadium and nobody in New Orleans really wants to be caught up in the middle of what's happening there. Except Daimon, and he has his own reasons.

"History connects people to stories because if you're reading a story and it reminds you of another story, that's an instant connection," Irvine continued. "Us pointy headed English-professor types call it 'intertextuality,' but when one story actually becomes a feature of another story that resembles it - say, an Egyptian myth in contemporary New Orleans - it's kind of like a great mash-up. Who knew that Lynyrd Skynyrd and Nelly went together so well, or Nine Inch Nails and 50 Cent? Stories from different backgrounds can collide like that, and create something exciting and refreshing. That's what I've tried to do in my books, and that's what I've tried to do in this comic."

The tone of "Hellstorm: Son of Satan" is a mash-up of horror and hardboiled fiction. "It's fairly dark and serious, but there is humor of various colors," Irvine said. "Really the story is a kind of noir, with the great noir conceit of the loner trying to be better than the world around him, and the humor in it is the kind of humor you'd expect to find in a noir: deadpan, often self-deprecating, almost always ironic."

"Son of Satan" might be a noir tale with a protagonist trying to rise above the misery and suffering that surrounds him, but Irvine is really enjoying working on the series and would be up for telling more of Daimon Hellstrom's exploits. "At root it's a father-son story, and since I'm both a father and a son, it's interesting to me," Irvine stated. "The monsters are an excellent bonus."

Daimon Hellstrom isn't the only Marvel character that Irvine is currently telling stories about. The author is also hard at work on a prose novel starring the premier super team of the Ultimate Universe, "The Ultimates." "I think it's supposed to come out next year. As far as other comic book projects, nothing definite to report. I would love to write more comic books, and think I probably will, but that'll take care of itself. Right now I'm just having fun with this story and getting acclimated to the medium, which is enormously challenging and enormously fun. If anyone at Marvel wants to do a series on the life and escapades of the pirate Lars Skorba before he is apprehended by the Man from Atlantis, though, I'm all ears.

"I can't say enough about how easy and fun people at Marvel have been to work with," Irvine said. "I've always wanted to write comics, and so far it's been a blast. Also I am amazed at how fast things happen in comics publishing compared to book publishing - which doesn't mean that one is better, just that the rhythms are so dramatically different that they take some getting used to. When I sold my first novel, it didn't appear in stores for nearly two years, and it was already written.

From my first contact with Ruwan to the appearance of the first issue in stores will be half that. The pace and energy of the comics world are very exciting.

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