Sunday, March 13, 2005

BLOOD OF THE DEMON #1

I knew better than to look at this. I really, really did. In the week I finally decide that I've had enough of Judd Winick hurting my brain with Green Arrow, I go and look at John Byrne's latest reinvention of the wheel. Because, apparently, I needed the reminder that any Jason Blood is not better than no Jason Blood.

Byrne's interviews leading up to this series should have been sufficient warning -- he may be borrowing some of the names, but as far as he's concerned, there is no history for Jason Blood and Etrigan the Demon that he is to be bound by. And no reason for Etrigan to speak in rhyme. *twitch*

I've long had a soft spot for Jason and am perfectly happy with Garth Ennis's series (heck, even Matt Wagner's) standing as the foundation of current continuity. So is everyone else who has used Jason -- Kevin Smith (Green Arrow) and Joe Kelly (JLA) being probably the two most recent and most notable, along with Joshua Dysart's ultimately disappointing Demon: Driven Out mini from the other year.

According to Ennis, Jason was originally a peasant farmer in Arthur's England who ended up being the human container for Etrigan, Merlin's demon half-brother. In the Zero issue of that series, absolutely recommended, Jason's life since that moment is given in brief -- a history of mental manipulation, torture, debauchery, and struggle. Jason was Etrigan's prison, but Etrigan was running the show, altering Jason's memories and willpower to suit his aims and the two moved through history as one opportunistic and powerful grifter. Jason and Etrigan hated each other and schemed to be rid of the other, Jason becoming a learned mage and Etrigan a master political animal in the depths of Hell, where he eventually earned promotion to the rank of rhyming demon. Jason came to Gotham early on in its existence and, centuries later, developed a friendship of sorts with Batman, each man seeing the other as a kindred spirit even as Jason's inner demons are a bit more literal.

Jason and Etrigan are interesting because of the way each has perverted the other -- Etrigan has been known to do good deeds (not for noble purposes, admittedly) and Jason used to freelance for Lucifer -- and because their struggle to be rid of the other is neither easily resolved nor toward any good end; it was never really clear if either could survive a true separation (not the kind that had them both running around in Hell, Jason usually sans pants). Etrigan is no dumb beast -- he does not love chaos for its own end -- this is what Dysart missed -- but always toward a purpose; he wants what his father, the demon king Belial, has. And Jason, too, has grown used to his immortality and power; his studies may have started out as a means to defeat Etrigan, but they have their own attraction now.

Of course, none of this will matter now that Byrne has taken over. Jason is a thinly veiled copy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's brooding Angel, complete with facial transformation and cache of pointy things. Will Pfeifer is nominally the scripter here, although as he disappears so quickly from the series, one wonders how much of a role he plays. This is really Byrne's show. Which is a shame because while Pfeifer has never really knocked my socks off, I think we'd have done better than random alien dudes, a farcical Randu, and the rest of what goes on here. As a writer, Byrne has always been a great penciler.

Retcons should have a purpose -- they should fix something that's broken, not just be a vehicle for a writer to say 'I like my own ideas better than yours'. There was nothing in need of repair in the Jason/Etrigan story, nothing outmoded or rendered incompatible with the Post-Crisis DCU. The end result is just John Byrne looking arrogant and lazy for deciding that he will rewrite what others have created and he hasn't bothered to read.

Milehigh is having a sale (additional 20% off if you know the codeword) and you can pick up the Ennis Demon series for well under $1 an issue. It'll make a better investment and far better read.

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