Top 10 Characters Literally From Hell

A column article, Top Ten by: Jason Sacks

For Halloween, we thought it would be fun to literally journey to Hell to list some of our favorite characters who have come from that godforsaken realm. Come see who we chose for our list of characters from Hell... then come to our forum and share your opinions.

10. Belasco
by Shawn Hill

The first scary thing about Belasco is how suave he is. Dressing somewhere between Christopher Lee's Dracula and the traditional depiction of the devil, he exudes an other-worldly, vaguely European charm. He's got baubles, bracelets, pendants galore to go with his horns and his red skin, his forked tail and his cape. Even his crippling injury (he's missing an arm) adds to his rakishness. But make no mistake, the horns are there for a reason: he's made a pact with Elder Gods, and he plans to give our earth to them.

He's sought various means of doing this over the years, including raping or attempting to use various women as his brood mares for a new demonic race. He attacked Shanna and Ka-Zar, ending up banished to Limbo. From there, he reached out to Illyana Rasputin, only a tiny child at the time. Drawn by Brent Anderson, his conflict with the X-men was memorable for the horrors inflected upon the team all in one issue. Set in an alternate dimension, it was an early example of the worst-case scenarios ("this issue, everyone dies!") that would become more standard in the title.

But given Anderson's veristic art style, Claremont made these early horrors stick. Trapped in Limbo and separated, the various X-men encountered a Wolverine reduced to metal and bones, and a Colossus impaled in a wall, frozen in metallic form with his heart ripped out. Even worse, they encountered a corrupted Cat (Shadowcat, now a sort of were-creature), a perverse Nightcrawler (serving as Belasco's Renfield, he accosts Kitty in a way that disgusts both her and the readers). And worse awaits Kitty, as later she looks on, trapped in crystal, while Belasco rips her skeleton out of her body.

They find one ally in an aged version of Storm, who has spent her life fighting Belasco's corruption while becoming a witch. She helps them get home. The subsequent Magik series chronicles what happened to Illyana while lost in Limbo (though seconds passed on earth, she aged seven years), including further corruptions of Storm and Cat, demonic attacks, zombie resurrections, and murder. Yet when she gathers power of her own devising, her Soulsword, she finds Belasco back to pursuing Shanna and Ka-Zar!? Fickle demons!

In their subsequent battle, she takes on his demonic aspect, and we see a glimpse of the human Belasco at last. He's harder to kill than Wolverine, clearly, and he escapes to ensnare, ensorcel, murder and confuse again, as he likely always will.

9. Satana
by Kyle Garret

For sheer Marvel Comics lunacy, it's hard to beat the '70s. While the summer of love might have been a fond memory, Marvel became more entrenched as a member of America's counter culture, going so far as to dip into B-movie genres for ideas. Marvel killed two birds with one stone when Roy Thomas and John Romita introduced Satana in Vampire Tales #2, appropriately enough published in October of 1973. Not only did Satana pull from the B-level horror movies of the day, she also had a healthy dose of Vampirella about her.

While she was introduced on her own, Satana's appearances over the years have mostly been tied to those of her brother, a guy name Damien Hellstrom, aka the Son of Satan, which should give a good indication as to Satana's own roots: she's the daughter of Satan, albeit a bit more agreeable with their father than Damien.

As is usually the case with comic book bad girls, Satana has been known to switch sides from time to time, occasionally working for the good guys when she's not stealing souls (and maybe even at the same time). Being a child of the devil doesn't just mean exciting soul sucking, it also mean multiple lives, as Satana has died a few times, although her soul returns to hell until she can find a new body to inhabit.

It's Satana's versatility as a character that has kept her around for pushing 40 years, even if she's never been a major player. From her roots in 70's horror comics, to fighting alongside Spider-man, to a stint in Warren Ellis' mature readers' Hellstorm book, Satana manages to fit in just about anywhere in the Marvel Universe.

8. Dormammu
by Jason Sacks

Here are 10 facts about Dormammu, who might be the most spectacular of all the villains that Dr. Strange fought.

  1. Dude's face is on fire because he's completely made up of mystic energy. He's so strong that he literally has power to burn.
  2. Dormammu's sister is Umar, for whom he has a strange love/hate relationship. It was best explored in the awesome 2005 Defendersmini-series by DeMatteis/Giffen/Maguire, where we saw crazy amounts of sibling rivalry. It's a really awesomely funny mini-series, which cracked me the heck up, so you would like it too I'm sure
  3. Dormammu caused the Great Fire of London in 1666 because… well, it had 666 in its name, I guess.
  4. He looks really bad-ass in Marvel vs. Capcom 3.
  5. He's about the strongest sorcerer in the universe, and can even travel back in forth in time and transmute matter.
  6. He was designed, of course, by the great Steve Ditko. Ditko never gets as much credit as he deserves for his character designs, and he was seldom better than he was with Dormammu. This is a character that absolutely demands attention. The costume design is beautiful, and that flaming skull is completely captures your eye.
  7. He's probably a virgin. Think about it. Imagine the frustration from thousands of years of never even being able to kiss a girl or minor demoness. That would help explain why Dormammu was do "dread", huh?
  8. Another sign of Ditko's brilliance: the terrific, tension-building way that Dormammu was discussed before he actually first appeared. Readers heard about Dormammu for a long time before he made his first appearance, and then when he did appear, he actually lived up to the hype.
  9. Dormammu, for all his ambitions and power-hungry madness, was a noble villain. When Dr. Strange freed the Nameless Ones to invade Dormammu's dimension, the villain turned his back on the battle with Strange in order to save his people. That takes an interesting sort of nobility, which is one of the reasons why Marvels were so beloved by fans in their '60s. Superman's villains never had that kind of nobility to them.
  10. Wouldn't you love to be referred to as "The Dread"? I wish I were called The Dread Jason. That would kick butt. Hmm… I wonder if the Comics Bulletin staff refer to me that way?

7. Spawn
by Dave Wallace

To say that Spawn is a character 'from Hell' is true both literally and figuratively.

The character's backstory sees Al Simmons resurrected from the dead after making a deal with a devil--not the devil, perhaps, but Malebolgia is pretty much Todd McFarlane's equivalent, named after the cavern of ditches in the eighth level of Hell as described in Dante's Inferno, but written and drawn as though he's something straight out of a 1980s heavy metal album cover.

Hell has always been an integral part of the Spawn comic. Spawn's (limited) powers come from Hell, he's part of an army of Hellish creatures that have been sent to Earth since time immemorial, and many of his adventures have taken place in Hell itself. And, as Simmons began to learn more about his role as a Hellspawn (or should that be Hell's Pawn?), an enmity between he and Malebolgia began to grow, leading to an epic war between the forces of good and evil that culminated in Spawn's defeat of the satanic analogue in Spawn #100, allowing him to (briefly) take his place as Hell's ruler.

That's all well and good for Spawn the character on a literal level. However, on an artistic level, it's also arguable that the concept of Spawn is exactly the sort of thing that Hell itself would have spat out. A lot of people--myself included--would probably argue that he represents the nadir of 1990s comics, being pretty much all style and no substance (or, at least, a very small amount of substance that has been gradually eked out over almost 200 issues) and comprising many of the elements that almost led to the collapse of the industry in that dark decade: an emphasis on flashy art over good writing, an overly grim'n'gritty tone, heavily derivative character and story ideas, and an irresistible lure for enthusiastic speculators who thought that buying a few copies of the first issue of a hot comic would enable them to pay for their kids to go to college.

Todd McFarlane created Spawn immediately after he left Marvel for pastures new, straight off a fan-favourite run on Amazing Spider-Man that was most notable for his creation of the villain Venom: a flawed human being with religious hangups who is gifted with a shifting, almost liquid black-and-white suit with giant oversized white eyes, and who struggles to use his power to do good whilst fighting against the more sinister impulses of the alien costume.

McFarlane therefore decided to mark his debut at the brand-new Image comics with something truly inspired and original: a comic about a flawed human being with religious hangups who is gifted with a shifting, almost liquid black-and-white suit with giant oversized white eyes, and who struggles to use his power to do good whilst fighting against the more sinister impulses of his Hellish overlords.

You know, I somehow get the feeling that McFarlane didn't have to strike a deal with the devil for the inspiration to come up with that one.

6. Ghost Rider
by Robert Tacopina

Halloween. The haunting holiday brings forth a bevy of vivid images to mind at its mere mention: Trick or treating, jack-o-lanterns, monsters like vampires and ghosts, delicious candy, and horror stories that fill the young mind with fear. However, it also conjures up the memories of some very cool comic book characters who embrace the darkness that thrives on the primal fear aspect. There are so many to choose from whether they be kid friendly like Casper or downright nasty like Dracula himself. Yet for me the most encompassing of all is Marvel Comics Spirit of Vengeance; Ghost Rider!

Ghost Rider is an easily identifiable character due in part to the visual aspect that he projects. Not only does he ride a bad ass motorcycle, but he does so in a cool leather outfit with accents that are reminiscent of the Old West; which is a tip of the hat to his roots dating back to the Phantom Rider (who says there is no legacy within the Marvel characters?). Yet the definitive image of the Ghost Rider is that flaming skull of his that just embellishes the evil hellish appearance of the character.

Initially Ghost Rider was believed to be an entity spawned from the depths of Hell. Johnny Blaze became the host to the entity when his father was ridden with cancer and Johnny sold his soul to the demon Mephisto in order to cure his father. Of course there is always a catch when dealing with creatures from Hell and though his father was cured of his disease he died attempting a motorcycle stunt. This sealed the agreement and Mephisto attempts to collect Johnny’s soul but is denied so when Blaze’s love interest Roxanne professes her love for Johnny. This action of pureness denies Mephisto of the soul he craves to own outright. So he bonds Blaze’s soul with that of the demon Zarathos. By now controlling some aspect of Johnny Blaze Mephisto transforms him into the Ghost Rider and uses him as his own personal attack dog to punish those he deemed evil. Which is kind of ironic as Mephisto is the embodiment of all evil himself.

In recent years it has been revealed that while the Ghost Rider was believed to be an agent of Hell he was truly being manipulated by the angel Zadkiel who had an agenda all his own. This served to add a new wrinkle to the long convoluted history of Ghost Rider. Johnny Blaze and Daniel Ketch are the two Ghost Riders in the Marvel Universe and they are actually long lost brothers. As it turns out the family line is bound to the Ghost Rider legacy. Whether they truly are on the side of the angels or minions of Hell remains to be seen yet one can not deny the sure awesomeness of the Ghost Rider!

5. Hellboy
by Zack Davisson

For being the actual honest-to-goodness Beast of the Apocalypse, Hellboy is a pretty down-to-Earth guy. 

And that is the point of the whole character. Whereas most of your other Hell-born heroes are drowning in their own angst, quoting Milton and Mikhail Bulgakov, torn between their hell-soul and their pure love for a human woman, or whatever other dark/light split the writer can think of, Hellboy just takes it all in stride. When confronted with a towering War Pig he pulls Aggrippa's Charm Against Demons from out of his coat pocket and gets to work wailing on the beast. He is a blue collar hero, a working stiff who also happens to be the harbinger of Ragnarok.

Hellboy is only his given name. Like any proper demon, he has a true name that can be used to command him in the right circumstances.Anung Un Rama is the name he was born to. The literal translation of his name is "...and upon his brow is set a crown of fire..." but it is informally translated as “Beast of the Apocalypse. ” Conceived 300 years before his birth, he is the product of a union between the witch Sarah Hughes, and Azzael, a Babylonian demon Prince of Sheol. Amung Un Rama waited in the nothingness as a “power waiting to be born” until he was summoned to Earth by Nazi sorcerers towards the end of World War II. 

There must have been some miscalculation; instead of bringing about Ragnarok, Amung Un Rama arrived as a cute devil baby with a full grown right hand. Made of stone instead of flesh, that right hand would be revealed to be the Right Hand of Doom, the right hand of one of the great spirits that watched over the creation of Earth as well as the creation of the dragon Ogdru Jahad. The Right Hand of Doom is the key to awakening Ogdru Jahad from his slumber and bringing about Ragnarok. Little Amung Un Rama was rescued from the Nazis by Professor Trevor "Broom" Bruttenholm who took the little tyke under his wing, named him “Hellboy” and raised him to be one of the good guys instead of the harbinger for the End of the World. Oh, and Hellboy is also somehow a direct descendent of King Arthur and the heir to the Throne of Britain.

That, my friends, is a Hell of an origin story. And a Hell of a character.

What I love the most about Hellboy is that he is a creature of folklore more than religion. Mike Mignola has a passion for those legends that spring organically from the soil rather than from an organized church. Mignola sends his hellspawn roaming the globe to encounter fairies, witch queens, vampires, Baba Yaga, Jenny Greenteeth and any other Bog Monster that Mignola happened to have read about recently in some obscure text. And like the best of weird fiction writers, like Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, Mignola has built his own mythology around Hellboy. Liberally borrowing from other sources, Mignola forged all of the influences together into something unique and new yet old and familiar all at the same time. Every panel of Hellboy represents hours of homework from Mignola, and it shows.

But Hellboy is more than study time for Joseph Campbell. One of the great strengths of the character is that, in the middle of a world full of weirdness, of fishmen and fire-starters, Hellboy remains the most human character of them all.

4. Lucifer
by Jason Sacks

Lucifer, in the Vertigo Universe, is a complicated figure. 

He first really rose to prominence in my eyes in the Sandman story "Season of Mists". Lucifer is not a member of the Endless family, but has existed for about as long as the Endless. Shortly after Creation, he fell from grace and took possession of Hell. By "Season of Mists," Lucifer is tired of ruling Hell and has decided to walk away from the job.

"It's over. I am leaving, and I have closed down Hell. … Ten billion years I've spent in this place. That's a long time. And we've all changed, since the beginning. Even you, dream lord. You were very different back then." In a stream of eloquent explanation, the fallen angel walked away from the place that he had ruled for an eternity, walked into a completely different life.

And talk about a different life. From Hell he moves to Australia and then to Los Angeles (a shorter distance from Hell, ha) and opens a piano bar, of all things. We discover that the Devil is a charming and sophisticated man, but what do you expect from the devil?

He's a magnificently complex and intriguing character in a complex and thoughtful series. In the Vertigo series Lucifer, Mike Carey delivers a world – no, a universe – that exist in fascinating counterpoise to any other universe in comics. He's an asshole – a manipulator who's intolerant of others and willing to do anything to get his way – but there's a charm and a grace and a power to Lucifer's personality that makes him thoroughly compelling. His attempts to move outside of Yahweh's world are intensely interesting on multiple levels, and provide endless grist for deep thought.

Lucifer under Neil Gaiman and Mike Carey is proof that even the Devil has a little bit of a soul sometimes.

3. Etrigan
by Thom Young

Jack Kirby's The Demon Etrigan has been my favorite denizen of Hell ever since I discovered the character's first series in the fall of 1977--which was about four years after it had been canceled in the fall of 1973. As with all of Kirby's creations at DC and Marvel, I came to the party late. However, I always had a good time once I got there.

When Kirby first went to DC in the early 1970s, I was just starting to collect comics, and I didn't know who Jack Kirby was. Additionally, his Fourth World titles and his subsequent series--The DemonKamandi,Omac, and Sandman--were not carried by the stores in Bend, Oregon (where I was attending elementary school at the time). Actually, even if they were appearing on the spinner racks I probably wouldn't have paid attention to them because, to be honest, when I was a kid, I thought the only comic book creator worth following was Neal Adams. Thus, Kirby's work would not have appealed to me back then.

I eventually discovered Kirby's work by way of Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers. In 1977, Englehart and Rogers were teamed on Detective Comics and were producing my all-time favorite Batman stories. They then worked together on four issues of a revival of Kirby's Mister Miracle series (#19-22), which I eagerly bought.

After their first Mister Miracle issue came out in June of 1977, I quickly started buying the back issues of Kirby's first 18 issues. I was a completist when I was a kid, so even though I thought I might not like Kirby's issues I wanted to have them because I enjoyed Englehart's Mister Miracle so much. 

However, much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed Kirby's work a great deal. By the fall of that year I had bought and read all of Kirby's Fourth World work, so I moved on to The Demon after being directed to it by the owner of my comic book shop in Kansas City.

Of course, with The Demon, I knew I was once again reading a series that had already been canceled--with issue #16. However, in those days before the Internet, I went into the series completely oblivious about how it all would end. I kept hoping Etrigan would be revealed as a minion of Darkseid--a denizen of Apokolips rather than one of Satan's minions from Hell. 

I kept hoping that Kirby had found a way to continue his Fourth World work while pulling a fast one on the publisher who had canceled his Fourth World saga. However, that's not what Kirby had in mind. Instead, he had crafted a series filled with black magic and monsters. It was more a revisiting of his and Joe Simon's Black Magic series from the 1950s than a return to Apokolips. 

For some reason, despite numerous attempts over the decades, the Demon has never caught on as a successful character--much like all of Kirby's other creations for DC from the 1970s (except for Kamandi, of course). His work from that period has its die-hard fans, like me, but revivals of those characters (including Kamandi) never seem to last for more than five years (if that).

Other than Kirby's original stories, the best version of Etrigan was scripted by Alan Moore when the character made several guest appearances in Moore's Swamp Thing run in the 1980s. At the time, I thought Moore had created the concept of the character being a “rhymer” (a demon that speaks in rhyming couplets--usually in iambic pentameter). However, I recently re-read all of Kirby's original run and I was surprised to discover that Kirby actually had Etrigan speaking in rhyming couplets through the first eight or nine issues of his run before mostly abandoning that effect in the later issues of the series. Moore was merely continuing what Kirby had initially conceived.

Finally, as most die-hard fans of the character know, Kirby actually based Etrigan's look on a “demon” that Hal Foster created in his “Prince Valiant” comic strips. In a sequence from 1937-38, Valiant masquerades as a demon by fashioning a mask out of the skin of a goose he slaughtered--using the bird's feathers as tusks and its webbed feet as ears. 

Of course, DC later had their own “Viking Prince” that was partially inspired by Foster's character. I think it be great to see a revival of Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert's Viking Prince in which Etrigan would make an appearance as an obvious homage to Foster's Prince Valiant sequence from the 1930s. That trick would surely be a great treat.

2. Daimon Hellstrom
by Jason Sacks

Way back in 1973, when The Exorcist was the hottest movie in America, Marvel launched perhaps their most improbable hero. The man who would soon fight on the side of good was a man named Daimon Hellstrom. He was the son of Satan.

As he revealed in his origin story in Marvel Premiere #13 (appropriate issue, huh?), Daimon's mom, Victoria Wingate was an ordinary human woman who had been tricked by the devil into falling in love with her. In the early '50s, the devil conjured up a beautiful house in the tiny town of Fire Lake and then took human form there. He was the most handsome man in the town, so Daimon's mom quickly fell in love with the devil-as-human and quickly took up blissful domestic life, having two children. But the devil has horns, and quickly domestic bliss was destroyed as mom discovered dad and daughter bonding by sacrificing a cat.

Mom went crazy, Satan left town, and Daimon was sent to an orphanage, where he studied to enter the priesthood. But on his 21st birthday, Daimon discovered the truth about his family, and began his long and torturous journey.

That origin shifted over the years – maybe Daimon's dad wasn't the devil but a minor demon, but I'd like to think he really is the literal son of Satan.

Part of what made Daimon's journey so torturous is that he's had such a checkered publishing history. I'm a huge fan of his series from the 1970s, especially the issues written by my favorite comics writer, Steve Gerber. Gerber essentially created the world of the Satan-spawn, setting him in St. Louis, of all places, bringing in his spectacularly spooky Hell-spawned chariot and delivering some really amazing stories that involved topics as broad as an exorcism and the fate of the universe.

After Gerber left the series, it wandered into a kind of mid-'70s blah, with the exception of one of the finest single comics of the 1970s, Son of Satan #8. That amazing comic, by Russ Heath and Bill Mantlo, is a mind-boggling surrealistic journey that shows Daimon walking a Biblical passion that represented his intense inner struggles.

Since the '70s, Daimon has lived a kind of pathetically mediocre life in the pages of various Marvel Comics. He was a member of J.M. DeMatteis's emo Defenders, married the Hellcat because… well… she had "Hell" in her name, joined SHIELD, and appeared in a phenomenally hated Hellstorm: Prince of Lies. (really, just google it – you'll be amazed by the hate it created.) Finally he appeared in 2007 MAX revival that I hear was pretty good.

But the story of Daimon Hellstorm to me is one of lost potential. Despite his pretty wacky beginnings, Daimon had some real potential. He coulda been a hellish contender, but in the end he kind of ended up being a bum.

1. Mephisto
by Justin Carmona

THE DEVIL'S IN THE DETAILS: Some know him as Satan or Lucifer. Others call him the Devil, but the inhabitants of the Marvel Universe mutter their name for him in hushed whispers, “Mephisto”. Created by Stan Lee and Jon Buscema back in 1968 with his debut in Silver Surfer#3, Mephisto has become synonymous with pure evil. Mephisto isn't just a character who's literally from Hell, he's its one and only ruler. And he's responsible for countless evils deeds that have brought torment and pain to many of the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe. 

ACTS OF EVIL: One of Mephisto's first documented acts of evil was against Norrin Radd, the Silver Surfer. In an attempt to enslave his pure and noble soul for all eternity, Mephisto offered the Surfer vast wealth, beautiful women and even his very own kingdom to rule. The only provision was that Norrin Radd must forever devote his services to the Demon Lord. Ultimately, Mephisto was unable to corrupt the pure and righteous Silver Surfer and cast him aside vowing to one day possess his soul forever. 

Another one of Mephisto's earliest transgressions was against the gypsy witch Cynthia Von Doom, mother of Victor Von Doom. In a failed attempt to steal all of Mephisto's power and make it her own, Cynthia Von Doom was instead driven mad and killed, only for her soul to be acquired by the Prince of Evil himself. Her son, who eventually became known as Doctor Doom, attempted for many years, and always on Halloween, to free her soul once and for all, only to be thwarted each and every time. That is until with the aide of Doctor Strange, Doom was finally able to steal his mother's soul back and send it to heaven. This is one of very few occasions were Mephisto has been bested. 

While Mephisto is also responsible for stealing the soul and intelligence of the Fantastic Four's Reed Richards, striking a deal with motorcycle stunt rider Johnny Blaze which resulted in Blaze bonding with the demon Zarathos thus turning him into the avenging spirit, Ghost Rider, and driving the Scarlet Witch mad by reabsorbing the souls of her twin children, the Dark Lord's most recent and controversial act was in The Amazing Spider-Man storyline, One More Day. 

As Peter Parker's Aunt May lay on her death bed, the result of an assassin's bullet meant for Spider-Man, Mephisto appeared to Parker in the form of a young girl claiming she could save Peter's beloved Aunt. The catch was that Peter had to sacrifice not his soul to Mephisto, but something far more valuable, his love and marriage with his wife Mary Jane. For Aunt May's sake, the couple reluctantly agreed, not only dissolving their marriage, but their very memory of ever being together, thus changing the world of Peter Parker forever. 

POWER: Mephisto, a master of lies and deceit, possesses a vast amount of supernatural power which has aided him in his quest to condemn souls for his own amusement, including magic manipulation, possession of deceased human beings and immortality, to name a few. 

HELL SPAWN: Mephisto has two children Darkheart, his son and Mephista, his daughter. 

THE BOTTOM LINE: While the Marvel Universe has its share of villainy, none come quite as cruel, treacherous or evil as Mephisto, the ruler of Hell. The Demon Lord thrives on the pain and suffering of those who cross his path. Pray you never have to strike a deal with the Demon Lord himself. 

"The greatest joy in doing evil is to be rewarded by the sight of those who suffer its consequence!"
-- Mephisto, Silver Surfer #3

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