In 1977's "Marvel Spotlight" #33, readers met Eric Simon Payne, also known as Devil-Slayer, a man who battled both demons both personal and real. This September, in the pages of the four-issue "Dead of Night: Devil-Slayer" series, from Marvel Comics' MAX imprint, acclaimed horror author Brian Keene ("The Rising") and artist Chris Samnee ("Daredevil: Blood of the Tarantula") introduce a new character who will pick up where Payne left off. CBR News spoke with Keene about the project.
The seeds for Keene's "Devil-Slayer" project were planted years ago when the writer was still a boy. The writer told CBR News, "When I was six or seven, my Dad bought me issues of 'The Defenders' and 'Captain America.' I didn't know who Steve Gerber or Jack Kirby were. Hell, I barely knew who the characters were. But I read them, and my brain was filled with Nebulon, the Headmen, the Kill-Derby, the Madbomb, and that damned elf with a gun. That was pretty much it for me. By the time I'd finished reading them, I wanted to write comics when I grew up! Somewhere along the line, I got sidetracked and ended up writing horror novels instead."
Keene was able to use his experience writing Bram Stoker Award winning horror novels like "The Rising" to help fulfill his childhood dream of writing comics. "I queried Tom Brevoort and Warren Simons about writing for Marvel, and they invited me to pitch a few things," the writer said. "I had some ideas for Ka-Zar, Gargoyle, and a few other second-stringers, but they really liked my Devil-Slayer pitch (which featured the original Devil-Slayer). Warren asked me if, instead of going with my initial take on the character, I'd like to take a stab at inventing a new version instead. And I said, 'Sure.'"
The original Devil-Slayer had been one of Keene's favorite characters in the "Defenders," especially during writer J.M DeMateis's stint on the book. "Devil-Slayer was a conflicted, disturbed character, full of contradictions," Keene explained. "He was a Vietnam veteran turned Mob hitman turned occult assassin turned superhero turned born-again warrior for God. I mean, here's this guy who believes that he's doing God's will, but he's doing it while hanging out with the Antichrist (Damion Hellstrom), other gods (Valkyrie) and Earth's sorcerer supreme (Doctor Strange). His interactions with his wife and non-costumed friends were always fascinating--and very human. If I'm not mistaken, his was one of the first interracial relationships in comics (which isn't such a big deal now, but it was pretty groundbreaking back then).
"To me, the most fascinating aspect of the character was always his dark side," Keene continued. "This is a superhero who struggled with alcoholism, clinical depression, and ultimately, insanity. Today, the Marvel Universe has plenty of that to go around--Moon Knight, The Sentry, The Punisher. But back in the day, Devil-Slayer was, in my opinion, the most emotionally and mentally unstable hero Marvel had in their line-up. How many other superheroes tried to commit suicide at the edge of the Negative Zone?"
In "Devil-Slayer" #1, Keene introduces readers to Danny Sylva, a new and different character who takes up the mantle of Devil-Slayer but exhibits some of the same traits as the original. "Without giving too much away, when Danny graduated high school, he had the world by the balls--engaged to his high school sweetheart, college football scouts fighting over him, etc," Keene explained. "But Danny decided instead to serve his country, and joined the Army. After his first two tours of duty in Iraq, he returned home a changed man--angry, depressed, and alcoholic. His fiancee left him. He couldn't find a job. So he goes back to the only thing he knows how to do--being a soldier. The book opens with him returning to Iraq for a third tour of duty. He finds that things have changed since his last time there."
Another major shaping force on Danny's personality was the time he spent growing up in the Marvel Universe. "We've seen new generation heroes that grew up watching the original Marvel characters. And in the original 'The Hood' miniseries (which I thought was brilliant) we saw a young man who'd grown up idolizing the super-villains," Keene said. "Danny is neither of these. He's grown up to loathe the costumes running around. To him, the real heroes are the people fighting on the front lines--our soldiers, police, teachers, firefighters, etc. But he's starting to lose faith in those heroes, as well. The world is a pretty messed up place, and Danny blames the heroes.
"At the same time, he's lost his faith in just about everything else--his God, his country, his one-true love," Keene continued. "When we first meet him, he's bitter and cynical. Despite this, he keeps trying. He refuses to give up. He wants to believe that it's worth it to keep fighting the obstacles life throws at you."
The original Devil-Slayer could call upon a number of psychic powers to help him in his battle against evil, but Danny isn't as lucky. "He has no powers. No mutant abilities. No Super-Soldier Formula or gamma irradiation or possession by Captain Universe. Danny has to rely on his wits, his training, and his own sense of right and wrong," Keene explained. "That being said, there are some similarities to the original Devil-Slayer. He has a cape, of sorts. Non-magical, but a cape nonetheless. And in Iraq, he's got access to just about every type of weapon you can imagine--and some you can't."
All four issues of "Devil-Slayer" take place in Iraq. The action primarily unfolds in Baghdad and the Green Zone, but Keene will take readers to the outskirts of these places as well. "I served in the Navy, and never went to Iraq, but I have a lot of readers serving both there and in Afghanistan," the writer stated. "They've been really helpful with filling in the little details."
Danny's Iraq adventures make up one complete arc that chronicles his transformation into the new Devil-Slayer. "We start with a man who no longer believes in anything, and then we give him a reason to believe again," Keene remarked. "He might not like the reason, ultimately, but it's there, just the same."
Keene has lined up a number of adversaries to test the new Devil-Slayer's mettle. "Belathauzer, the original Devil Slayer's arch-enemy, returns to menace this new Devil- Slayer," the writer remarked. "We'll also see a new incarnation of Xenogenesis, a sinister version of Bloodstone, and hints of some other things going on within the darker side of the Marvel Universe."
"Devil-Slayer" also features a cast of supporting characters who could both aid or impede Danny's exploits in Iraq. "There's Danny's fellow soldiers, of course, as well as a media embed named Isaac, who works for the 'World Gossip Weekly' (which was the tabloid Gabriel the Devil Hunter used to write for. Remember him from 'Haunt of Horror' and 'Son of Satan'?)."
"Dead of Night: Devil-Slayer" is dark, grim and horrific series. Being a MAX title, Keene availed himself of the opportunity to use violence and other mature content to enhance the feel of the series. "I won't be gratuitous with it, but if the story calls for it, I'll go with what's required--or at least stretch the boundaries as far as they'll let me," Keene stated.
Keene is having a great time writing "Devil-Slayer" and hopes to produce further comic work for Marvel. "I've got about a year's worth of Devil Slayer storylines already plotted in my head; so sure, I'd love to do more with him. As always, I guess that will depend on fan response and sales. And I'd love to cut loose on some of Marvel's other characters: Skull the Slayer, Ka-Zar, The Defenders, Deathlok, The Legion of Monsters, and--well, I could sit here all day and name characters I'd love to work on. For now, I'm just happy to be invited to the party."
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