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Last updated: February 18, 2002
In the article, "Superman: Judge, Jury & Executioner", I reviewed stories where Superman wrestled with his inner demons and travelled through a personal hell, dealing with the consequences of his execution of the Phantom Zone criminals. This time, I'll review some stories where Superman literally goes to hell, as he battles the demons Blaze and Satanus.
Superman's first encounter with Blaze and her domain is in the three part "Soul Search", which begins in Action Comics #656 (written by Roger Stern, with art by Bob McLeod and Brett Breeding). The issue begins with the bloody and unconscious bodies of Jimmy Olsen and Jerry White being wheeled into the Emergency Room on stretchers.
This story arc was the culmination of a number of sub-plots involving Jerry's problems with the law, his friend, Jose Delgado (Gangbuster), and a church turned nightclub owned by a mysterious socialite named Blaze. The first issue of this arc nicely explains the necessary background, so readers don't need to have read the earlier issues.
We learn that Jerry and Jimmy were shot by drug dealers outside Blaze's nightclub. Although the boys should be recovering from their wounds, they continue to decline. Clark learns of the shooting and goes to the hospital where he meets Perry and Alice White. As Clark stands by the boys' beds, he sees the Black Racer enter the room. For those who aren't familiar with this character, the Black Racer (created by Jack Kirby, and part of his New Gods mythology) collects dying souls to deliver them to their afterlife destiny. He describes himself as a messenger, "When there is an imbalance of forces in the cosmos, it is my lot to deliver the correcting factor."
The Black Racer recruits Superman as the correcting factor in this instance, to save the injured youths and to deal with an entity which "has gained a foothold on this mortal plain". The Black Racer creates a Boom Tube over Blaze's converted church saying, "This once hallowed hall has become a focus of infernal forces. But it shall be the nexus by which we continue our journey!"
Superman is deposited in Blaze's infernal realm, where he sees the tortured figures of Jimmy and Jerry. While Superman is distracted, Blaze blasts him into a molten pit telling him that these are the boys' souls, "and they are mine -- as are you, Superman!"
Superman #47 (written and drawn by Jerry Ordway, with inks by Dennis Janke) is a big all-out, knock down, drag 'em out fight on several levels. Superman battles an onslaught of demons in the underworld, while Gangbuster is recruited by the Black Racer to fight Intergang arsonists who set fire to the packed nightclub. Blaze takes part in both battles -- in human guise on Earth and in her demonic guise in her own realm.
In the hospital, quieter but no less desperate battles are fought. Jimmy and Jerry's bodies continue to decline, and bloody writing appears on Jerry's chest as Blaze marks her name on his soul below. Lex Luthor also chooses this time to appear and tell Perry that Jerry White is Luthor's biological son (another story for another time). This only confirms Perry's long-held suspicions, but he acts true to character when Luthor threatens Alice. Perry takes Luthor out with one punch, telling him to leave Jerry's room. "Alice and I raised that boy. He's still our son!"
"Soul Search" concludes in Adventures of Superman #470 (Dan Jurgens with finished art by Art Thibert), as Blaze possesses Jerry's soul to better attack and demoralize Superman. Superman refuses to give in, but he is clearly having difficulty with the continual attacks. Blaze's attention is sufficiently diverted that Jerry is able to fight off her control and he heroically throws himself at Blaze to save Jimmy.
Blaze welcomes Jerry, "to the eternal damnation of my after-life" and literally sucks the life out of him, body and soul. In the hospital, Jerry's body stiffens, arches and dies. Superman, horrified by Jerry's sacrifice and death, renews his efforts and blindsides Blaze with another attack, allowing him to speed away from Blaze's domain. Jimmy's soul returns to his body and Superman finds himself bursting through a volcano, returned to Earth.
The ending is somber as Alice, Perry, and the other characters (including Luthor) quietly mourn Jerry's passing. However, on the final page, the Black Racer appears in the morgue and summons Jerry's soul. He comforts Jerry by telling him that he has one final journey awaiting him, but, "Have no fear, you have been deemed worthy ... relax and enjoy your just rewards," as they disappear into the light.
Superman's initial encounter with Blaze is mostly a physical one, but when they next meet (two years later in real world time), the battle is both physical and spiritual, as Superman has begun to question his morality and worthiness following his execution of the Phantom Zone criminals. He is more vulnerable to attack because of this, and the unwavering determination and self-confidence that served him so well in "Soul Search" is missing during his rematch.
The Vampire Plague
Superman's second descent to Blaze's netherworld begins with "Night of the Bat!" a two part team-up with Robin (Tim Drake) in Superman: The Man Of Steel #14 and Superman #70. Robin has been investigating a "vampire plague" that started in Gotham and appears to have moved to Metropolis. The vampire, having previously bitten Lucy Lane, returns to her bedroom window to reclaim her. Jimmy Olsen saves her and then, arming himself with holy water, a garlic necklace, a cross, and a stake, goes vampire hunting.
With Superman busy out of town, the two vampire hunters meet in the usual fight and team-up scene. Louise Simonson (with art by Jon Bogdanove and Dennis Janke) has some fun with their introductions as the two pause during their fight and see each other face to face.
Jimmy starts: "Hey! You're not the vampire! You're . ."
"Robin. As in 'Batman and . . !' Who are you?"
"As in 'Superman's pal . . !'"
Unfortunately, when they do team up to tackle the vampire, they find their holy water and crosses useless. Canines exposed, the vampire grins, "I may be a creature of the darkness, but not the Dark Ages! Modern technology has neutralized your danger to my kind." Jimmy finally uses his signal watch to call Superman, who arrives and flies the vampire up, up and away to greet the rising sun. The vampire seems to disintegrate, but as Superman returns to pick up Robin and the injured Jimmy, they hear the vampire's mocking laughter, threatening to return.
Superman #70 (Dan Jurgens with finishes by Brett Breeding) opens with some banter between Superman and Robin until Jimmy insists on turning matters serious, stressing his concern for Lucy. While they talk, we cut to a corner of hell, where Blaze is advised by her demonic accountant that the soul count is short. Some dead souls due from Metropolis have failed to arrive.
Blaze believes that her (so far unnamed) brother is behind these events. Gazing upon Metropolis, she sees a human leaping from a bridge to commit suicide. The man is Sam Foswell, a recently fired editor at the Daily Planet. Blaze decides that she can use this human as her agent. She appears in the form of a ghostly, angelic and scantily clad female and halts Foswell's fall. She tells Foswell that he must pledge his life to her, then disappears and leaves him to fall again -- only to arrange for him to be rescued by Superman.
Meanwhile, the vampire has returned to gather Lucy Lane in his arms, bringing her and a host of his nearly-dead victims to a local cemetery. Robin and Jimmy manage to follow and cause an explosion to get Superman's attention. Superman is ill-prepared for the vampire and the three heroes appear close to defeat until Blaze intervenes.
Still watching from her kingdom, Blaze has learned of the vampire's interference with the fate of souls that should have been hers. She decides that she will be the one to claim Superman's soul, not this "insignificant little vampire". As Lucy Lane's fangs touch Superman's neck, Blaze lets loose a "burst of earthly hellfire" that cleanses the vampire's dark bite from his victims, curing them, "so that I, one day, may claim their souls!"
The vampire tries to flee, but Superman restrains him and the vampire impales himself on a statue of a soldier with a bayonet, dissolves, and vanishes.
Blaze muses that, "This puny distraction was not my brother. No ... my brother wields far more power and cunning than this specimen ... My brother is the accursed Satanus -- and I now fear he desires Superman's soul -- and has taken root in Metropolis to ensnare it!"
The issue ends as a reinvigorated Sam Foswell meets Colin Thornton, owner of Newstime Magazine. Thornton needs a new managing editor since his previous editor, Clark Kent, recently quit. Thornton offers the job to Foswell who thinks, "The angel was right! She's -- changed everything for me!"