Tuesday, November 3, 2015

...'Til Midnight Do Us Part

As often as the character of Mephisto has been put to use and made appearances in any number of Marvel's line of comics, it's still difficult to disassociate the character with his co-creator, artist John Buscema, who brought him into existence in the now-classic Silver Surfer #3 from late 1968.

With Buscema, writer Stan Lee breathed life (and surely fire) into a new demon-like character who, for all intents and purposes, "stood in" for the biblical character of Satan and operated in much the same manner--tempting mortals and taking sustenance from the souls of the damned.

Satan would begin making appearances in Marvel's comics soon enough--but for the time being, Mephisto's brand of evil and sadism filled the role quite well. Lee would supply a simple formula to bring Mephisto into conflict with "threats" to his existence--those whose aura of goodness might influence mortals to such a degree that the steady supply of corrupt souls being added to his realm might suffer as a result. The alien Silver Surfer, the antithesis of mortal greed, ambition, and cruelty, therefore made for a natural target of Mephisto's ire--as did the Thunder God, Thor, who spent much of his time on Earth, maintaining a high profile of honor and setting an example for all mortals of the heights they could attain.

In adapting the character of Mephisto to comics, however, Lee took him a step further--often having him facing opponents like the Surfer, Thor, et al. in direct battle, as well as even striding city sidewalks and attacking in disgust and impatience. With Mephisto possessing virtually unlimited power, Lee gave the demon carte blanche as far as where his whims would take him and the beings he would confront.

Yet by far, the more enticing and dramatic aspects of Mephisto were to be found in his manipulations of his intended victims, and the web of lies and deceit he would spin to accomplish his goal. All too often, a story would take the expected route of a hero overcoming temptation and thus denying Mephisto his prize, which diluted the character of Mephisto to such a degree that it became difficult to regard his entrances with any sense of anticipation. And so Mephisto is probably cackling in delight at the direction Marvel has evolved in, where character precedent and continuity are things of the past, and evil and villainy have been granted an editorial decree to score solid hits in the win column from time to time. Whether Marvel's shift in direction and policy has been a good thing for its comics line remains a matter of debate--but it could very well be (of all things) a godsend for Mephisto, who need no longer spend his time basking in his evil for effect or wildly rage against the beings whose purity he cannot abide. Instead, this demon can return to the shadows of temptation and guile, relishing his role and toying with the vulnerabilities of those souls that catch his interest.

You can find an excellent example of this "new" Mephisto in the "One More Day" storyline which took place in the Spider-Man books published in 2007. In Peter Parker (and his wife, Mary Jane), Mephisto has found a situation ripe for his machinations, where he places his victims in a no-win situation and yet leaves its resolution entirely in their hands. At the point Mephisto steps in, Peter is out of options: his aunt, May, is near death, and nothing he has tried--no resources that he's tapped--can help her. And so Mephisto offers the couple a final straw to grasp, one guaranteed to bring about May's recovery--but that offer comes at a price, and one neither Peter nor any reader of the "old" Mephisto's exploits expects.

In brief, in exchange for May's recovery, Mephisto will arrange it so that the marriage of Peter and Mary Jane "never happened"--and, to sweeten the deal as a result of certain concerns raised by Mary Jane, he'll also restore the secret of Peter's Spider-Man identity as well as reset Peter's life "just as it was." That last condition is rather dangerously open-ended when dealing with a being of Mephisto's twisted sense of humor and irony, but we've seen the result: Peter returns to his lifestyle of days past, while remaining in 2007. Though Mephisto reserved the right to attach a condition of his own:

And Peter and Mary Jane agree to Mephisto's terms, a clear and seemingly everlasting victory for the demon. Many readers at the time--and many still--had problems accepting this storyline for the way Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada seemingly bailed on the marriage of Peter and MJ. At 545 issues of the main Spider-Man title and counting, "One More Day" loosely translated for many readers to mean, "We're coming up blank as to how to write Spider-Man as an adult and with a wife, and people probably aren't interested in those aspects of him anyway, so we're going to wipe the slate clean and return to the basics." Yet if we set aside the lack of creative motivation, the company's financial investment in the character, and other practical considerations, "One More Day" stands out as a riveting story, with Mephisto fitting it like a glove and offering more dramatic impact than any direct slugfest he could engage in with the Surfer, or Thor, or Galactus, or any other confrontation with a being where bolts of power are flying to and fro. "One More Day" offers the perspective that there are uses of power that are far more satisfying to Mephisto--and ways of inflicting suffering on mortal souls that don't involve their capture.  It's a perspective that Lee often alluded to in those early stories involving the Surfer, but which Peter and MJ unwittingly helped to bring full circle.

1 comment:

Super-Duper ToyBox said...

there's no doubt the 2007 version has some realistic draftsmanship, but somehow Buscema still appeals to me more.

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