“Let those who tore you from the dungeons of the past find their wretched handiwork as I choose to leave it.” --Etrigan
No one really knows where the idea of reincarnation came from or how long it’s been around.
We generally associate it with the Far East, but it’s a belief that can be found all over the world. Although science and religion are often at odds with each other, reincarnation could be related to the idea that matter can neither be created nor destroyed; it merely changes form. It’s not an altogether outrageous concept when you consider it in this framework. Nevertheless, it is by its very nature a mystical process that relies on an inscrutable, seeming erratic mechanism.
Not surprisingly, reincarnation has frequently found its way into popular works of fiction.
In Ghostbusters, when Dana Barrett consults the guys about finding demonic creatures in her refrigerator, Ray suggests that it could be attributed to past-life regression. Of course, the thing about reincarnation is that you don’t always get to come back as a person. You also have absolutely no say in the matter. In Douglas Adams’ Life, the Universe and Everything, Arthur Dent encounters a grotesque being named Agrajag who has reincarnated hundreds of times due to Arthur’s having inadvertently killed him again and again. Amongst other things, Agrajag’s forms include a rabbit, a cow, a fly, and, most memorably, a bowl of petunias.
Jack Kirby explores the concept of reincarnation in The Demon #3, and it comes as no surprise that he gives it a unique spin.
The story opens with an ape-man on a rampage. Having killed the Khendustan (?) delegate to the United Nations, he carves a swath of destruction through the city before being summoned into a parked car by a robed man holding a mysterious sign. The car’s other passenger, a bearded man in a pinstriped suit, holds up a talisman resembling the sign, which he calls the “Master Eye.” As the vehicle drives away, the creature slips into a coma and gradually transforms back into the form of a man, who, upon awakening, has no recollection of what has transpired.
The man in the suit remarks that Randu Singh, the U. N. delegate from India and, as we have learned from previous issues, close friend of Jason Blood, is to be the next victim.
We are then invited to take a peek into Blood’s unconscious mind.
In issue #1, he tells the old wizard that a demon haunts his dreams. We know, of course, that Merlin transformed Etrigan into a man after the fall of Camelot, but the nature of this change is unexplained. Is Blood an entirely different being, or is he just a “shell”? If he is an altogether separate being, where did he come from? Did Merlin create him?
As Blood slumbers, he dreams that he and Etrigan, as distinct entities, are facing an enormous fanged monster. They are bound together by a chain attached to collars around their necks. It becomes immediately clear that Blood is repulsed by the Demon, insisting that he wants nothing to do with him. Blood wishes to flee from the monster, but his infernal counterpart, bellicose by nature, wants to fight it.
Blood’s screams of terror attract the attention of his friend Harry, who happened to be in the neighborhood. As Blood attempts to calm himself, Harry transforms into a murderous pirate and attempts to stab him with a pair of scissors. Blood manages to strike a blow that knocks Harry out just as Randu shows up. As revealed in the previous issue, he possesses a species of extrasensory perception, and it is this ability that reveals to him that Harry has reverted to a past life. Randu realizes that Harry’s regression was brought about by a cult of “Reincarnators” who planned to use the pirate to kill him. Using a talisman similar to the one seen earlier, the Indian changes Harry back to his old self.
Far away, in their secret temple, the cult stokes the flames of its sacred idol and transforms a new subject into a particularly apt form from his past: an executioner. They give him an axe and send him to Blood’s apartment, where he finds Blood snoozing at his desk. Randu bursts in just before the axe falls on his friend’s head and speaks the words that change him into Etrigan. The Demon makes short work of the executioner and then turns on Randu, something the Indian didn’t anticipate.
Before the fiend can get his claws on him, however, the executioner revives and leaps out the window, grasping a cable suspended from a helicopter. Etrigan pursues him and, stowing away on the vehicle’s chassis, watches as the executioner returns to his modern incarnation.
Back at the temple, the cult prepares to broadcast the Master Eye over the television airwaves to cause a mass past-life regression, which will provide the group with a host of new followers. When the chopper arrives, the man who had been the executioner flees from the vessel, and the cult members find the pilot gravely injured. Without warning, the helicopter explodes, and Etrigan emerges from the flames and commences to destroy everything within reach, disrupting the cult’s plans.
The leader of the cult receives his comeuppance when the Master Eye’s beam changes him into some sort of vermin, which Etrigan easily crushes under his boot.
Overall, this is an interesting issue. The idea of reverting to a former incarnation may not be new (I’ve honestly never encountered it before, but I haven’t read everything, after all), but Kirby uses it to great effect here. I kind of wish things hadn’t wrapped up so neatly at the end because I would’ve liked to have seen this concept more fully explored. We didn’t even get to see a woman go through the change, which could’ve been interesting, especially if actual historical figures had been invoked (Elizabeth Bathory, perhaps?).
I like the way Kirby moves the overarching story forward while simultaneously giving each installment its own unique story. Rather than answering all of our questions at once, he gives us bits and pieces a few at a time, which is certainly an effective way to keep readers interested. I am eager to find out how things will unfold as the series continues.