Comics

Get Behind Me, Satana

This week’s Guest Star Sara Century is a horror writer, podcast host, and a critic. You can find out more at www.saracentury.com

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The Hulu series Helstrom introduced a lot of new people to the enigmatic twins, Daimon and Ana Helstrom, but those two have a wild history in comics dating all the way back to the early ‘70s. Fans of Marvel’s wild horror line have known about these two for years, but it has been a heck of a ride through fluctuating personalities, endless Satanic rituals, and, you guessed it, baffling family lineage.

Many critics agree that Ana Helstrom was the breakout character of the new series, and it’s true that Sydney Lemmon did a bang-up job of bringing out beloved Daughter of Satan to luxurious life at long last. Still, Satana’s comic book counterpart has been through some ups and downs to say the least, and there’s no end in sight.

Satana is the younger sibling of Daimon Helstrom and the daughter of Marduk Kurios. Kurios was once believed to be Satan, but is now known to be simply one of several Hell-Lords that attempted to seize power in Hell after a paradigm shift. Marvel’s complicated and highly under-explained politics of Hell aside, Satana bonded with her father early on, while Daimon… did not. When their mother Victoria discovered them doing secret blood rituals in their home, she is said to have “gone mad,” though that’s fairly harsh criticism for a woman who just found out that her husband and two children were literal demons.

While Daimon grew up hating his demonic side, Satana embraced hers, and she went to Hell with her father where she studied and trained to become the best demon she could be. Early on, she was possessed by a demonic entity known as the Basilisk (like Satan, there is more than one Basilisk in the Marvel Universe.) Satana benefited from the power boost that merging with the Basilisk gave her, but the entity required that she feed on “wicked men” in order to survive. Thus, the beginning of her journey as a succubus. This is where we met her in her first appearance, lurking alleys and attacking men that accosted her.

Though her appearances throughout the 70s and early 80s are fairly scattered, there was some progression. She moved to Los Angeles and even formed a strong friendship with a roommate, though that didn’t end great for the roommate. When she met up with her brother Daimon, they were already on adversarial terms, which is usually what you see of them even today. The TV series specifically played up that aspect of their interactions.

While it may seem obvious why Daimon would distrust Ana, she has equal reason to tread cautiously around him. Daimon sought out his sister’s assistance in ending the Basilisk only to turn on her when he realized it had bonded with her. When she succeeded in conquering the Basilisk and escaping the death her brother had intended for her, she broke ties with him completely for many years.

Satana’s complicated morality came into play once more when she assisted Stephen Strange and ended up sacrificing her life to help him in Marvel Team-Up #81. Despite having recently appeared in direct conflict with her brother and declaring herself evil, she behaves selflessly here and Strange, Clea, and Spider-Man all briefly mourn her passing. Though her death was very temporary, ever since, her appearances have been sporadic, and her characterization has been across the board.

From the beginning, trying to parse Satana’s allegiances was difficult, and it certainly hasn’t gotten easier over the decades. Her personality shifts from self-interested, totally unrepentant villain to well-intentioned antihero and back again. Writers struggle with characterizing her beyond a basic stereotype, and she often flies in wildly different directions as a result. When she shows up in a story, you never know where she’s going to go or whose side she’s going to be on. Though she was once loyal to her father, those days are long gone. Even in her early appearances, she barely interacted with her father and was instead focused on the Basilisk. More often than not, she’s at odds with her father just as much as Daimon is, yet their difficulties in working together only exacerbate the threat their father poses to them. Though Daimon and Satana did spend some time together in the Hellstrom: Prince of Lies and Spirits of Vengeance series, their relationship remains just as complicated as ever.

Satana is the one of the very few queer characters to appear in the MCU, (which apparently the Helstrom series does exist within.) In comics, her status as a succubus and her general indifference to men makes for an interesting juxtaposition, though again it’s one that we seldom explore on the page. Her queer interactions have been limited to subtext with her roommate Ruth in the late ‘70s, flirt-fighting with Jennifer Kale and Topaz in the Witches series, and a passionate kiss with the warrior Angela in Strikeforce. Headcanon is that she has a wife that she keeps secret from the world because she knows her enemies would use her against her, but that’s just my read.

Somewhat surprisingly, Satana has served on many teams, from the questionably “good,” like Dark Avengers, Legion of Monsters, and Thunderbolts, to the explicitly bad, like the Masters of Evil. One assumes that the intelligent, methodical Satana has deeper reasoning for her allegiances than we tend to see on the page. Still, her strange alliances are a big part of what makes her stories so fun. In Witches, though she argues with Jennifer Kale and Topaz, she does ultimately view them as allies by the end of things. She seems to find Doctor Strange a bit annoying, but she respects him as a sorcerer and has helped him out of tight spots more than once. She teamed up with X-Factor when she realized she would need their help to defeat her father and the other Hell-Lords. In Dark Avengers, she shows special reverence for Man-Thing and goes out of her way to ensure that he is comfortable. She even married Deadpool once, though it was a marriage of convenience to say the least and ended up being very much a “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” type situation.

Regardless of where she’s been or where she’s going, Satana has always been a lot of fun. Though it can be frustrating to watch her character fluctuate wildly from appearance to appearance, wondering where her next incarnation might lead us is just part of being a Satana fan. Introduced as a fairly uninspired monster-of-the-week anthology villain, transformed into a complicated antihero, Satana has always been a bit of a mystery, and maybe that’s a good thing.

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