For Your Consideration: Marvel’s Mephisto: Speak of the Devil

Robert Greenberger

Robert Greenberger


by Robert Greenberger

Mephisto: Speak of the Devil

Mephisto: Speak of the Devil


Stan Lee never thought small, his ideas were huge and star-spanning, willing to go from the cosmic to the supernatural, mixing, matching, and blending them as he and a cadre of writers and artists created the Marvel Universe. In 1968, seeking an antagonist to torture the Silver Surfer, he took his cosmic hero and pitted him against a lord of hell: Mephisto, based on Mephistopheles (not the cat, a character from the Faust legend). Ever since, the lord of the underworld has plagued the heroes of the MU and now many significant tales are being collected in Mephisto: Speak of the Devil, a 456-page tome collecting the lead from Silver Surfer #3, Thor #180-181, Fantastic Four #276-277, Amazing Spider-Man #274, Mephisto vs… #1-4, Daredevil #266, Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom – Triumph and Torment, Silver Surfer #45, Black Panther #4-5, and New Mutants #37

Silver Surfer #3

Silver Surfer #3


As conceived by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott in December 1968, the red-skinned demon was tall and powerful, but accustomed to his role, lounging on his stone throne as he tormented soul after soul. In his initial appearance, he captured the Surfer’s beloved Shalla Bal, hoping to turn Galactus’ former herald to his side. The Surfer, like Orpheus, followed her to his realm, and his noble nature managed to resist all manner of temptation. Unable to corrupt him, he banished the Surfer to Earth and returned Shalla Bal to Zenn-La, keeping the lovers apart.

So the stage was set for all subsequent tales, as quickly in the Thor two-parter in the wake of Jack Kirby’s defection to DC Comics. Neal Adams and Sinnott joined Lee, who had trapped Thor’s soul in Loki’s body and banished the trickster to Mephisto’s realm. It’s Sif and the Warriors Three to the rescue. Adams’ Thor is good, of course, but the Buscema covers give you a taste of the greatness to come.

Fantastic Four #277

Fantastic Four #277


Although the demon played a part in the Marvel Universe ever since, the reprints jump decades, resuming with appearances beginning in 1985 as professional exorcist Elspeth Cromwell accidentally unleashed Mephisto on Earth when she attacked the Fantastic Four, thinking them demons. Mephisto wanted the innocent soul of young Franklin Richards. Without the Thing, trapped in Secret Wars II, writer/penciller John Byrne and inker Jerry Ordway turned the tables on the villain, letting Franklin’s powerful mind win the day.

At much the same time, the Beyonder made a deal with Mephisto: he would spare the universe if a single hero could maintain his life’s purpose despite overwhelming adversity. Cue the wall-crawler. With the demon Zarathos sent his way, Writer Tom DeFalco, aided by Ron Frenz (layouts); Jack Fury (art assist); Tom Morgan (finished pencils); James Fry (finished pencils), Joe Rubinstein (finishes); and John Romita; Russ Steffens (background inks) must overcome visions of those who he feel he failed, bringing him to the brink of despair. Never underestimate Spider-Man.

Mephisto vs... #2

Mephisto vs… #2


A year later, Mephisto gained his own miniseries as writer Al Milgrom, penciller John Buscema, and inker Bob Wiacek (Milgrom #3) pitted the demon once more against Marvel’s first family. He brings the FF to Hell where Sue, attempting to save her family, offers up her soul in exchange for their freedom. Reed Richards recruits X-Factor for help in rescuing his wife with Jean Grey offering her soul for Sue’s. Reed then summons the X-Men, bringing Rogue to Mephisto’s attention and his collection continues to grow. He decides it’s time to raise the stakes and goes for Thor’s soul, bringing in the Avengers and the Norse god of the underworld, Hela. The two gods had a rivalry already and he was trying to even the score here with disastrous results.

For a change of pace, 1989’s Daredevil has the hero sharing beers with Mephisto in a Manhattan bar thanks to Ann Nocenti, John Romita, Jr., and Al Williamson. What’s noteworthy here, beyond the story, is Romita’s redesign: a bloated creature with short legs and a demonic head, no cape needed.

Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom – Triumph and Torment

Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom – Triumph and Torment


In Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom – Triumph and Torment, from Roger Stern, Mike Mignola, and Mark Badger, the heroic sorcerer supreme and mystically-powerful despot find themselves in an uneasy partnership to thwart Mephisto and free Cynthia Von Doom’s soul. This little-seen gem has solid writing and strong art.

In 1991, it was inevitable that Jim Starlin would take a shot at this larger-than-life figure and it was appropriate for this to happen in the pages of Silver Surfer #45. While the story, with art from Ron Lim and Tom Christopher, is mostly a flashback, it reminds us of where it all began.

Marvel Knights gave the king of Wakanda to Christopher Priest in 1999 to write and he made his mark in this celebrated run. In Black Panther #4-5, with art from Joe Quesada, Mark Texeira, and Alitha Martina, Priest sent T’Challa and Everett K. Ross to Hell. When Mephisto knocked on his door, Ross was not wearing his pants and when the demon provided him with a pair, he freaked out that he had sold his soul for pants. Instead, T’Challa arrived and spared Ross by agreeing to give Mephisto his soul, tricking the god, since the Black Panther’s soul was forever tied to the Panther God, a keen reminder of how many forces there are to reckon with.

New Mutants #37

New Mutants #37


Another change of pace story was found in New Mutants #37 from writers Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, David López, and Alvard López. While Dani Moonstar was in Hela’s Hel, the team found themselves accidentally in Hell. Mephisto offered to send them to Hel in exchange for a date with Magma. This is the story of that date which began a short covert relationship between the two.

While a collector of souls and powerful beyond imagining, these stories show he can be challenged, even beaten. But, he’s immortal and can take each defeat in stride since he is playing the long-game, and continues to be a threat to every living soul. These stories, from across the decades, are a testament to his enduring presence.

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