Who’d win in a fight between Superman and Spawn? How the f*ck old is Cable? And what in the holy hell is a Megatron? When the tough questions arise, Panels on Pages will gather the facts, but it’s up to the PoP!ulation to draw its own conclusions. So come on… Riddle Me This.
Recently, in New Mutants #30, the long-standing and much-lauded writing team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning told the tale of the titular teens traveling to Hell – two “l’s – by mistake when trying to get to Hel – one “l” – as a tie-in to Fear Itself. Whilst within the old two l-er, they encountered Mephisto, who made a deal with the team: their freedom and safe and expedient delivery to one-l-Hel in exchange for a single date with Amara – aka Magma. Amara accepted, the team was on their merry way, and the debt was left to be collected. Skipjump to New Mutants #37 and time had come to give the devil his due; literally. Abnett and Lanning had laid the groundwork for a great new thread in the title as the kids danced on the puppet master’s strings. What diabolical devices could Mephisto have in mind for torturing the team by way of Amara’s hastily accepted deal?
Then came the fantastic swerve – there was no ulterior motive! Mephisto simply wanted to go on a date. Marvel’s resident devil was cursed with just enough humanity to long for companionship and the experiences we all take for granted. It’s enough that the story took an unexpected turn, but to – in doing so – so deftly devise a whole new layer for such an established and long-running villain? Why… it’s sheer brilliance. Gone is the mincing, hand wringing bastion of pure evil, replaced now by a semi-sympathetic Prince of Lies; a character now possessed of motivations beyond the simple joys of pure evil.
Except, he’s… y’know… the Devil. If anyone, anywhere, DIDN’T need layers and motivation and depth, it’s the Devil. He does what he does because he’s evil. We get it. He doesn’t have to want to save his race like Magneto, or redeem himself like Doom. He’s not fighting on behalf of an ideology like the Red Skull, he’s not in it for earthly power like Kingpin, and it’s not about vengeance (at least not directly) as is the case with so many others. No. He’s the Devil. Torturing and claiming souls – that’s sort of his wheel house. It’s what he DOES because it’s who he IS. And he doesn’t regret it. He doesn’t feel bad about it. He doesn’t hesitate. And he certainly doesn’t pass one up because he has a crush.
So here’s the problem: Abnett and Lanning have added a new layer to a character, and that’s great, EXCEPT that it’s damn near guaranteed we’ll never see this side of Mephisto in any of his other appearances. The next time Loki confronts el Diablo in Journey into Mystery, he won’t be absentmindedly twirling his hair and gazing longingly at the telephone hoping it’ll ring. Peter won’t get a late night visit from a repentant Mephisto looking to set the wall-crawler’s marriage right again because he finally “gets” love. No, in every other corner of the 616, Mephisto will continue to put the evil in devil, and every time I see him, I’ll have this nagging feeling in the back of my mind, wondering whatever happened to the guy who tried too hard to impress a pretty girl.
The question, then, PoP!ulation, is what’s most important to you – the quality of the story in your hands, even if it flies in the face of shared continuity OR the cohesive narrative of the bigger picture, even if it leaves artists stifled creatively? Riddle me THAT!