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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Introducing the Blue Devil

I think it should be apparent by now that I have a love for the obscure, the unappreciated, and - well, the crap. My favorite comic characters are, in order: Jack Knight, Vic Sage, Ted Kord, Booster Gold, and Speedball - B-level heroes, at best. I also have a soft spot for Shade, the Changing Man - the original, not the Vertigo remake, The Phantom Stranger, The Creeper, and Captain Atom. I am the Justice League International of comic fans.

Given that, it should come as no surprise that Blue Devil has managed to capture my heart as well, in concept alone, without me even having to read one issue of his solo series. I'll admit to reading the latest series to feature appearances by the blue man, the recent Shadowpact, but all the magic bullshit going on in that title doesn't allow me to keep my interest up long enough to even bother to read the issues in order. Although I will say that I have totally fallen in love with Warlock's Daughter - so I keep reading. Don't judge my standards.

What you say? You don't know who Blue Devil is? Poppycock! Surely, you've seen his masterful cameos on Justice League Unlimited? Certainly, you have his one and only action figure displayed proudly on your desk as you read this, inspiring your own dreams of writing high-caliber, yet woefully under-appreciated, comics?

Well, I guess it is a bit silly to assume that everyone is as cultured as I am. After all, I wouldn't be writing this if you did devour every Blue Devil appearance voraciously, because I'm sure that DC would not let a darling character, even a B-lister, escape exploitation for long. Look at Ted Kord, for instance - fucker had to die before we rallied around him. Which reminds me: Dan Didio, you do remember that I've called dibs on Blue Devil: Year One, right? Are we still on for lunch? You never return my calls.

If you do know who Blue Devil is, then you might have only seen him in the pages of Shadowpact. If you enjoy that fine publication, (and I do realize that I am speaking to, perhaps, one person who fits that criteria), then you might be surprised to know that his original form was more - uh, artificial than it is now.

Blue Devil, created by Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn in 1984 as one of the last new heroes to be introduced before the shit hit the fan in Crisis on Infinite Earths, tells the story of Daniel Cassidy, a stunt man who was working on the set of the movie Blue Devil near the ruins of an ancient temple in a remote jungle. When two of his cast-mates decide that there's nothing safer than to go rummaging through a building that's adorned with demon skulls and enough pointy ends to put out an eye just by looking at it, they awake an honest-to-goodness demon who proceeds to tear ass all over the place until Cassidy uses his Blue Devil suit - which has been outfitted with servos and other assorted goodies that increase his strength and stamina - to put the bitch down for the count. Unfortunately, the demon got a chance to zap Cassidy with a bolt of magic, "fusing" the powered suit to our powder-blue hero. When a villain named "Shockwave" (according to the cover of Blue Devil #2, "he likes to break things") leaves his apartment building in ruins while looking for some "super-kryptonite", Cassidy is reluctantly cast into the role of hero when the police mistake him for a new super-powered defender - and are stupid enough to yell it within earshot of the villain, putting Cassidy in immediate danger. Once the "Blue Devil" defeats Shockwave, he begins his quest to find a way to separate himself from his invention, calling on the likes of Superman, Zatanna, and S.T.A.R. Labs, and facing unexpected challenges when the producers of the Blue Devil movie move to sue him for using their trademarked image and name.

What's really interesting about Blue Devil's origins is that it was originally made up as a pitch for Steve Ditko to draw. According to part of an interview that was published in Back Issue magazine that was posted on the forums of

We decided to do something that takes something from every Marvel character we ever loved. Let’s take Iron Man, the guy in the costume; the Thing, the tragedy of the guy stuck in a shape he didn’t want; and a light-hearted, bouncy approach and a character who was going to move like Spider-Man.

And we wanted something like the Green Goblin. How about Blue Devil? We called him that because Dan’s wife is from North Carolina and he was a [Duke University] Blue Devils fan. Then we started creating Blue Devil and thinking, “Ditko is going to love this!” We created this great proposal, and it was everything that we knew was going to set Ditko’s light on high beam. We took it in to Manak and he gave it to Ditko. Ditko looked at it and said, “I’ll do it if I have to, but this is really not my kind of stuff at all.”
Knowing Ditko's personal philosophy, I'm not surprised he didn't want to do it: anything with magic or demons wasn't of interest to him at that point. If you look at all of the things he did in the 1980's, you'll see that there's a lot of science fiction, but nothing that was supernaturally inclined - Speedball, Static, ROM, etc.. This is confirmed over at Occasional Superheroine, where Valerie D'Orazio recounts how Ditko wouldn't draw a story for Batman: Black & White for exactly that reason. C'mon guys, a little bit of research and a little change to the Blue guy's origins, and we coulda had a Ditko Blue Devil!

But, alas, that is not how things went. Now, don't get me wrong; I said I liked Blue Devil and I do, but that's despite the supernatural elements. I think that stories which use magic as a device will always get mired in logical difficulties, and they tend to be quite cheap int heir execution - the late Arthur C. Clarke liked to say that sufficiently advanced technology was indistinguishable from magic, but I prefer to think that sufficiently contrived magic is indistinguishable from coincidence - that is, magic will usually present itself in whatever form is necessary, and doesn't have a clear identity. It can be whatever the writer wants it to be at a certain time, whereas Science Fiction technology may be fantastic, it is still limited: a transporter can only function in the ways that the creator has declared it to function - it cannot, for example, be used to make a smoothie unless it is modified considerably, and then it ceases to be a transporter. This, of course, does not apply to the U.S.S. Enterprise's deflector dish, which I have determined to have been brought into being using a lock of Spock's hair and a summoning circle - that shit is magic.

But I believe that any "magical" conceits can be overcome by making other elements of the story even more fantastic. A well-developed character can overcome even the dumbest of plot devices, and, luckily, Blue Devil is just interesting enough to make you forget that he's only there because DC accepted the "it's magic, it doesn't have to make sense" defense.

The concept was interesting enough that DC brushed aside the Ditko rebuff and handed it off to up-and-coming artist Paris Cullins, who would go on to provide art for much of the Blue Beetle series in 1986 (this series featured Ted Kord, a Steve Ditko creation, thus proving that the comics industry is actually a creative time loop).

But before he would grace our comic store shelves in the first issue of his own series, Daniel Patrick "Blue Devil" Cassidy was introduced to comic fans in a 16-page preview that came bundled into Fury of Firestorm #24.

With the clunky title of "The Costume Makes the Man? Man! What a Costume!" the Blue Devil preview takes place before he's been made the victim of demonic hoo-doo and concerns the villainous Trickster's attempts to steal Cassidy's power suit before he's finished adding all the different bells and whistles to it. The Trickster's motivations don't seem to go beyond "he's built something that I couldn't," but for a 15-page comic, I suppose it's enough.

So Trickster heads over to "Vernor Brothers Studios" to steal the suit straight from the set, only to discover that the suit's out and about on the lot during a promotional photo-shoot. Unfortunately, no one's bothered to fax over the memo that explains that the suit's just a mock-up, and the actor wearing it isn't Cassidy, but the star of the Blue Devil movie, Wayne Tarrant. Wayne was roped into the job through the standard Hollywood method: first, stroke the actor's ego through begging.

When that doesn't work, tell him he's worthless and threaten to shit-can him.

It's a bit like the Kubler-Ross model, but the only thing that's dead is your dignity.

Once alerted to the problem, Cassidy decides that the suit has enough gadgets to be able to hold its own against a man whose trademarks include striped pants and pointy shoes, and hops aboard his magical broomstick rocket trident to chase the freak down.

What ensues is a beautiful ballet of two special-effects geeks trying to out-nerd each other with their frivolous applications of technology. Soon enough, though, Cassidy's had enough with that shit, and rushes the Trickster. You'd think ol' James Jesse would have some experience with a man running straight at him, since he is a member of the Flash's Rogues' Gallery, but maybe it's just that he's not used to Superheroes who don't give him time to pull a new trick out of his bag when they're busy mouthing off at him. That'll be a bit of a trademark with Blue Devil over the first few issues: he don't take, nor talk, no guff. He's got things to do, man.

The fight teaches Cassidy that his suit isn't anywhere near as powerful as it needs to be, and returns to his lair to begin modifications. So, congratulations, Trickster: you have inadvertently made sure that Daniel Cassidy gets trapped in a form that could - and will - kick your ass.

The Blue Devil series lasted through 1986 and ended up with 31 pretty fun issues - so he was more successful than Blue Beetle or Booster Gold, but he wasn't quite a Captain Atom. Once his series was canceled, he was turned into a stupid git who made a deal with the devil to became a famous movie star in the Underworld Unleashed miniseries in 1995, and in so doing, became an actual demon somehow.

Hey, shit happens.

Today, you can see Blue Devil regularly in the Shadowpact series, but it's not very good, and doesn't let the Phantom Stranger actually do anything, so I don't know if you'd go for that. Buy the trades, at any rate, and see if it's up your alley.

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At 23/3/08 11:50 PM , Blogger Stephen said...

So his trident is a rocket?

For some reason blue devil has always appealed to me also in a way i think of him as dc's luke cage. Basically because his old costume is really goofy and like luke cage his new costume is a black t-shirt and jeans.

I'm a fan of shadowpact for blue devil, detective chimp, and ragman. the series has gotten progressively lame but the day of vengeance mini series is awesome.

At 24/3/08 12:03 AM , Blogger BlackmarketPies said...

His trident used to be a rocket back when it was just a gadget. His new trident comes from Satan himself, so it's probably safe to assume that it doesn't contain any pyro.


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