"Ashes to Ashes"
Story: Rich Margopoulos
Art: Al Sanchez
"Back" in the year 2108 [according to my conjecture; see Time Frame below] on the Hunter Timeline of the Warrenverse, just prior to Demian Hunter entering Bathory Castle in the area of mutated wildlife nicknamed "Hell" (referred to as the 'Hellands' in this story; see the Hunter story in EERIE #56), Hunter's father, the mutant leader General Ophal, was leading a small contingent of his troops through the area towards an unknown destination. Suddenly, Ophal's head started throbbing as he psychically sensed the near-presence of his son, Demian Hunter. Ophal ordered one of his troops, the respected and feared Sergeant Krath, to take a small detachment of troops and head for Bathory Castle and pose as the general, hoping to deter Hunter from interfering with their quest, and Krath happily obliged, eager to prove himself after losing one of his arms at the battle of Phalmark Phal.
Suddenly, one of the mutant soldiers was distracted when he believed that he saw a bearded human male wearing animal skins standing nearby. Ophal stated that he saw or smelled nothing, and ordered his troops to move on.
Meanwhile, further into the future on this timeline, at some point later in the 24th century [again, according to my conjectures], Darklon the Mystic sat in an interstellar bar, enjoying a gammabsinthe drink that a stranger just purchased for him (the bartender was a Cassiopean, the alien race to which the Pie belonged, thus creating yet another Warrenverse crossover; see my index to "The Pie" elsewhere on this site). The bartender told Darklon that the stranger who purchased the drink for him was an Earthling, and the man was a dead-ringer for the bearded human whom the mutant soldier sighted in the Hellands on Earth centuries earlier. The mysterious Earthling wished Darklon good fortune, and asked Darklon to "do something about those demons." Darklon didn't understand what that remark meant, and when he looked back, he noticed that the mysterious man had vanished.
Just then, before Darklon could react to this mystery, a giant, cloaked and hooded figure suddenly appeared in the bar through a mystically created space warp, accompanied by five armed alien mercenaries, who had been hired from various parts of the galaxy. This hooded figure said that he was known as the Acolyte [no relation to Mike Ongsingco from the MONSTAAH crew! At least, I hope not!]. The Acolyte was the successor to the Nameless One, whom Darklon had slain, and this incredibly powerful being was seeking revenge. Darklon quickly materialized a sword and shield composed of astral light, and attacked the mercenaries, only to find the attack completely ineffective, thanks to a spell performed by the Acolyte. Darklon realized that he needed some assistance, and he determined that the place to look (perhaps psychically inspired by the mysterious Earthling he met) was Earth in the past.
Quickly creating a transtemporal warp in the space/time continuum, Darklon appeared in the Hellands outside of Bathory Castle on Earth in the year 2108, just following Demian Hunter's final adventure (as seen in EERIE #57), and the dark mystic noticed the super-soldier's grave. Darklon was incredulous at seeing Hunter's grave, because according to the history that he had studied, Hunter should now be alive. However, Darklon realized that the grave could not have been dug more than an hour previous, and because it was so soon in the past that the super-soldier expired, he should be able to use his magicks to completely heal Hunter of his wounds and to therefore cause his soul to return to his body. Quickly performing the spell, Hunter was indeed healed from the poison spear wound that Krath, posing as Ophal, had killed him with, and his soul was restored to his body (probably because it had left it only a short time before; people can be revived in such a manner if they are healed from their wounds just a short time after they had been killed). Upon recovering, Hunter was grateful that the mysterious man before him had saved his life, and he offered to assist him.
Just then, a space/time warp heralded the transtemporal arrival of the Acolyte and his five alien mercenaries. Darklon suggested to Hunter that they rush into nearby Bathroy Castle to make their stand there. After entering the castle, Darklon then told Hunter that they should split up to rout their adversaries, and Hunter approved of this stratagem.
After the Acolyte and his accomplices entered the castle, he told his mercenaries to take care of Hunter while the successor to the Nameless One handled Darklon [I find myself wondering why a being as powerful as the Acolyte felt that he needed the help of these mercenaries…oh well, it worked for the purposes of this story, so Hunter had something to do].
The leader of the mercenary team, a robotic alien called a mandroid, wanted to take Hunter's head for himself, and thus he was the first to enter the chamber where the super-soldier awaited them…only to literally lose his own head.
Following Darklon into the bowels of the castle, the Acolyte discovered the inoperative MX nuclear missile that had been placed there by the Pentagon during the 'Demon Wars,' but never fired. There, Darklon engaged the Acolyte, only to find that his magick was no match for the power of the latter.
In the meantime, elsewhere in the castle, Hunter was having much better luck, and he easily dispatched the remaining four mercenaries in a brief but fierce battle.
Realizing that he had to take extreme measures, Darklon summoned the power of his Orb of Hell (embedded in place of his left eye), and threw all of its great crimson energies at the Acolyte, using its power as never before. However, even this proved insufficient, as the Acolyte simply absorbed the arcane energies of the Orb of Hell and threw them back at Darklon. As Darklon fell to his knees, the Acolyte materialized an axe in his hand, and removed his hood, revealing himself as having a skull composed of black crystal, believing that the dark mage should see the 'face' of his executioner.
With the realization that Darklon couldn't win with his mystical powers, it instead occurred to him to try a different gambit. Utilizing his martial arts skills, Darklon flew into the air and unexpectedly kicked the Acolyte, taking him off guard and causing him not only to miss with his axe strike, but also to fall over the ledge of the balcony he was standing on, landing near the bottom of the missile. Darklon then sent a bolt of mystical energy into the bottom of the rocket, triggering its blast sequence in the process. Managing to seal himself in a protective mystical sphere, Darklon weathered the extreme heat and flames, but the Acolyte was destroyed (though superior to Darklon in might, the Acolyte appeared to be less powerful than the Nameless One, at least at this point in his succession, as it took the destruction of an entire planet to dispatch the Nameless One).
Bathory Castle then collapsed as a result of the explosion, and Hunter escaped just in time. Darklon then appeared alive behind him and told him that they had triumphed. Hunter then noted that the demons were now all extinct, and with their passing, so passed his purpose in life. However, Darklon, who was familiar with the history of this time period, informed Hunter that a group of mutants had indeed survived, in the following manner.
Many generations ago, before the war, the U.S. government had experimented with suspended animation techniques as a means of saving imperiled politicians in case of a nuclear war, and towards that end had created a hidden mountain base chamber of such cryo-cylinders. General Ophal discovered the existence and location of that mountain chamber, and because the mutant race was now being afflicted by a radioactive virus that was mutating the race even further (into creatures referred to as "goblins," which may imply some connection to the goblins from the "Hunter 2" series; see the Index to "Hunter 2" elsewhere on this site), Ophal resolved to make use of the suspended animation chamber. As a result of the aforementioned virogen, Ophal called off his continuing war with the human race and decided to seek out the suspended animation technology, to sleep out the effects of the virogen and emerge to threaten humanity anew at some point in the future.
Hunter told Darklon that they should discover the location of the demons' cryo-chambers and kill them in their sleep, but the mage warned the super-soldier that it was protected by a series of sophisticated traps that neither of them could get through [not even Darklon? This astounds me! Something tells me that he deterred Hunter from doing this simply to let history play itself out as he remembered it…see below].
Darklon then told Hunter that since humankind would need a savior in the future demon wars that would result, the mage molecularly rearranged Hunter's uniform into a new costume (with a skull-like insignia in the middle), along with giving him a brand new helmet. He then encased Hunter in a mystical oval-shaped construct and sent it under the ground, in the area of his grave, and he decreed that Demian Hunter would remain there in suspended animation until the moment that General Ophal and his demons revived from their own suspended animation; then, Hunter's magickal ovoid would dissolve and he would be restored to full consciousness, there to continue his mission of killing the remaining mutants.
Darklon noted, "As I return you to the Earth's womb…it would seem fate had a double purpose in bringing me here! Not only did I need your aid in defeating the Acolyte…but I had to also insure your own survival! For you are my ancestor…and I, your descendant!"
Darklon then noted that his ability to tap mystical forces resulted from the half-breed genes of Hunter [actually, if you read Darklon's origin story, this power supposedly came entirely from the Nameless One replacing his original body and left eye with conjured replacements, so this new explanation is probably apocryphal]. With that noted, Darklon created a new mystical transtemporal space warp to bring him back to his own time period.
Appearing behind him was the same bearded man that he (and that mutant soldier) saw before…and this man revealed himself to be Quarb, the immortal progenitor of the entire human race, and he apparently manipulated Darklon's intention to return to this time and place to save Hunter so that Quarb's beloved human race would stand a chance against surviving the future mutant attack. Quarb then recovered Hunter's original helmet, knowing that Hunter 2 would wear it in the future, and he placed it back on Hunter's grave, awaiting the time when a young warrior named Karas would find it and become the second Hunter.
Comments: This story, written during the last few years of Warren Comics' existence, was obviously intended to bring a Marvel-style resurrection to Demian Hunter, who was Warren's fourth most popular character after Vampirella, the Rook, and Pantha. It's likely this move was done to make way for a new Hunter series in the future, since Warren was trying to concentrate its efforts into creating more super-heroes as the popularity of mainstream horror comics were starting to wane (except in the underground), so it may have made sense to them to revive one of their greatest anti-heroes. It's possible that Rich Margopoulos, who wrote the first Hunter story (as well as the second and third), was even planning to write a new Hunter series, and so composed this story to lead into it. Of course, Warren would be gone in less than two years after this story was published, so no new Hunter series was ever able to materialize. Warren wasn't in the habit of reviving characters who had previously died, unlike its rivals Marvel and DC, so this move was clearly inspired by the competition. Demian Hunter wasn't seen again after this story, so his future fate remains unknown. I will let the fan boys decide if resurrecting Demian Hunter was a wise move, as was connecting him to Darklon the Mystic [with nary an explanation] or undoing his final heartfelt confrontation with his father, General Ophal.
This story established Darklon's future time period as occurring on the Hunter Timeline, further into the future than either Hunter or Hunter 2 had lived. It also established that Demian Hunter was somehow the ancestor of Darklon, though how closely they were related-and in what manner their family trees intertwined-was never established (especially since connecting the two characters genetically was probably never part of Darklon creator Jim Starlin's intention). It's probably no coincidence that Hunter's new costume resembled a garment worn by a super-hero much more than a military uniform.
Thus, after Derek Schreck, Darklon was the second character initially created with no connection to Demian Hunter for whom another Warren scribe later decided to bring into the Hunter Timeline.
One good thing about this story was that we finally really got to see Darklon's powers in action, something we didn't adequately see in his own series. He appeared to be at least as adept in the mystic arts as Dr. Strange, likely even more so, considering his ability to travel through time and space. Admittedly, the latter ability appears contrived, but was necessary for the purpose of this story. Just how powerful Darklon was has never been calculated, but it was made clear that his power was dwarfed by an elder god like the Nameless One, and the latter's successor, the Acolyte. Precisely how the Acolyte succeeded the Nameless One was never explained, because the former was created simply to fulfill the needs of a villain in this story, specifically one who could surpass Darklon's powers.
Darklon likewise never appeared again after this story other than very briefly in the Vampirella and the Time Force story in EERIE #130, so it's unknown if Warren had any further plans for him (evidently, Jim Starlin didn't).
Al Sanchez was a decent enough artist, with a style that was more reminiscent of an artist working for Marvel, which probably wasn't a coincidence.
This story revealed the presence of Quarb, the immortal progenitor of the human race, as a presence on the Hunter Timeline. Quarb first appeared in the Rook story in EERIE #98, where his full origin was told. This story therefore features yet another Warrenverse crossover, this time with the Rook strip.
Time Frame: It's my conjecture that Darklon's appearances in his own time period took place perhaps a year following the end of his series, at some point in the late 24th century on the Hunter Timeline, giving the Acolyte enough time to succeed the Nameless One. Upon going back in time, Darklon appeared in the year 2108 on the Hunter Timeline, less than an hour after Demian Hunter was buried in the last story of his series in EERIE #57.
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