BUFFY needs to check her copyright information and HELLBOY needs to protect his demonic ass. There is a new slayer in town- DEVIL SLAYER. DEVIL SLAYER is Marvel’s brand new spinoff book for its DEAD OF NIGHT series, and it is so good, I am forced to take back the Marvel-horror bashing that I let out during my DANNY KETCH: GHOST RIDER review. DEVIL SLAYER is horror comics done right.
This makes sense, since DEAD OF NIGHT: DEVIL SLAYER is written by horror novelist, Brian Keene. Keene is famous for his zombie fiction, most notably, “Dead Rising”, a novel, where zombies that are able to talk, drive and fire guns have taken over the world. I read “Dead Rising” a few years back, and it thoroughly scared the shit out of me. Keene is the first high profile horror writer Marvel has imported, who is writing a story that takes place in the Marvel Universe proper. DEVIL SLAYER is part of the Marvel Max imprint, which is similar to DC’s Vertigo line. In the MAX imprint, a writer is free to write without being censored, therefore most MAX titles feature graphic violence and sex as well as truly creative use of harsh language. Keene uses this freedom, as well as his military background, to tell a very mature horror story.
DEVIL SLAYER takes place in modern day Iraq. It follows seasoned veteran, Danny Sylva, who has returned to the front lines, because he couldn’t take living back home, in the States. The first issue, up until the last three pages, is really a vehicle for Keene’s opinion on the current state of the military, and the situation in Iraq. There is an excellent page, divided in the middle that showcases the mindset of Danny Sylva. On the left side of the page are the experiences Danny had, when he returned back home from Iraq, the first time. On the right side of the page are random clips from a nightly news show. As we see the panels on the left side, we notice that Danny just does not belong in the civilian world. He is unable to get a job, because of the current economic crisis and his high school sweetheart has left him for another man. On the right hand side of the page, we see a female anchor mention the rising death toll in Iraq, but then quickly change the subject to more trivial news.
Keene throws in some more commentary, once Sylva returns to Iraq. Sylva runs into one of his old buddies, who never left the war zone. Sylva asks his pal why it seems like such a ghost town at his military base. His buddy responds with: “Things are different. The newbies are old-timers. The short-timers are gone. I just don’t know anymore.” Since this comment isn’t relevant to what happens in the actual story, we know that it is actually Keene throwing in a few things he has either heard about the situation in Iraq, or things he has seen in his own experience. One thing is different from when Sylva was there in the first place. A lot of reporters and military personnel, as well as random civilians have gone missing. Sylva believes the missing people might somehow be connected to a mercenary group, operating out of the warzone, called Bloodstone.
War is Hell, but where are the damn devils to slay? We don’t see any actual devils until the very last page of the first issue. Sylva and his fellow soldiers are sent off to a nearby slaughterhouse, where the possible missing people might be held as prisoners. The missing people are there, alright, but they are not breathing. Sylva’s team is ambushed. Each one of them dies a horrific death, being taken out by snipers. Sylva evades the sniper fire, and makes it to the center of the slaughterhouse. There he finds a horde of devils feasting on the missing people. Surrounding the devils are Bloodstone mercenaries.
Chris Samnee, the artist on the book, does an excellent job balancing the blandness of the Iraq landscape with the hellhole of the devils’ compound. The devils themselves look like your stereotypical cartoon devils. They are hunched over, little red men, with horns and pointy tales. I like the fact that they chose this retro cartoon look for the devils, because it makes them seem even more out of place when compared to the very realistic design for all of the military vehicles, buildings and the troops themselves. It makes the scene when we first see the devils even more jarring.
Sylva doesn’t do any actual ‘devil-slaying’ until the second issue of the series. This is where Joss Whedon (creator of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) should take note. There are some serious connections between DEVIL-SLAYER and BUFFY in the second issue. Sylva escapes the devils, by laying down some suppressing fire. He also gets a little assistance from a mage named Isaac, who had originally claimed to be a reporter for the Daily Bugle, when he first met Sylva. After Isaac’s nice last minute save, the two men escape into the desert. Isaac is able to bring Sylva up to speed on what has been going on behind the scenes.
Danny Sylva was born a devil-slayer, just like Buffy Summers was born a vampire slayer. Both characters have natural abilities that help them exterminate a particular evil force. A devil-slayer, like a vampire slayer is born every generation. Both types of slayers also have a secret organization of magically inclined scholars who watch over them. Like Giles watched over Buffy, Isaac was secretly watching over Sylva. I will have to give Keene some credit here. He is not directly ripping off Whedon. If anything, Whedon might have stolen a few ideas himself. You see, the original version of the Devil-Slayer, who is Sylva’s great-uncle Eric Simon Pane, actually appeared in MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #33, which came out in April of 1977. The original Devil-Slayer has appeared in multiple comics since then, and was even a part of the not so famous superhero team, The Defenders. So the idea of the Devil-Slayer was around for almost twenty years before BUFFY showed up.
One of the best parts of this brand new DEVIL-SLAYER series is the fact that Keene has incorporated a lot of the elements from the original Devil-Slayer story into this modern war setting. The original Devil-Slayer’s arch- enemy, Belathauzer is secretly the leader of the mercenary group Bloodstone. He and his Bloodstone crew were actually killing off all the missing people for a reason. They were trying to bring on Xeogenesis, which is the rebirth of the demon race on the planet Earth. This isn’t the first time Belathauzer has tried to cause this. The original Devil-Slayer would have to take him down every time he would attempt to bring Hell to Earth. It now falls on Sylva to bring down his great Uncle’s arch-nemesis.
Sylva is an extremely interesting character as well. In issue two, after he blasts away at the devils and Bloodstone mercenaries who are trying to kill him, he returns to the slaughterhouse to retrieve the bodies of his fallen comrades. In his narration, he mentions his comrades would have done the same for him. Normally, in an origin story like this, the main character would be so disturbed/frightened by the sight of the supernatural, he would run away or even pass out. Sylva is too devoted as a soldier. He doesn’t allow his fears to prevent him from saving his friends’ honor. Sylva is no doubt what Keene would consider the ideal soldier. Since Keene is an experienced soldier himself, he is able to make Sylva that much more believable.
I take back what I said about Marvel horror superheroes. DEVIL-SLAYER is currently up to issue three. There are three issues left to the miniseries, and thanks to Keene’s writing, I will be back for all three. The story is so intriguing, that I might have to go looking through back issues of old DEFENDERS comics, just so I can see a little more of the old DEVIL-SLAYER in action.