UNDERWORLD UNLEASHED

 
 
UNDERWORLD UNLEASHED cover
Writers: Mark Waid & Scott Peterson
Pencillers: Howard Porter, Phil Jimenez, & J.H. Williams
Inkers: Dennis Janke, Mick Gray, John Stokes, & Dan Green
Colorists: Rick Taylor & Pat Garrahy
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos

SYNOPSIS

Editor's Note: I am going to go ahead and synopsize this one as a trade paperback. Why? Well, I didn't read them as individual issues. Plus, the Blue Devil doesn't play a large enough role in the series to really justify breaking the synopsis down on an issue-by-issue basis for the purposes of this site. Plus, there are plenty of websites out there that can fill you in on whatever I don't get into here. Plus, this mini-series sucked.

The story opens with the Flash's rogues gallery—Captain Boomerang, Captain Cold, Heat Wave, Mirror Master, and Weather Wizard—"rais[ing] a little hell", creating massive explosions that one could, conveniently, see from space were one so situated in, say, the observation deck of the JLA Watchtower. (Quite surprisingly to the rogues—though perhaps not to anybody else—they all die in the act.) The [Blue Devil], located such, notices that the five explosions could be understood as the five points of a pentacle. I already forget the significance of this prologue, though I think it mostly had to do with murdering Flash's rogues gallery because somebody thought that would be pretty cool.

Further connivery on the part of the series's villain leads to the escape of all those kooky super-powered inmates in Belle Reve prison. Meanwhile [The Trickster] catches a newspaper article about the death of all his old rogue chums and decides that he's through with penny-ante cons, and that he'll be holding on for the big score.

You have something you want to say to me.

Neron, the heavy in UNDERWORLD UNLEASHED, who may just be the devil (or possibly Fabio), invites a bunch of villains and even a few heroes to Hell and offers them all deals. Some accept, some don't. Among those who do is the Blue Devil, who in exchange for becoming a Hollywood big-shot, agrees to destroy an unmanned power station. There's no point to this except that as a result, [Marla Bloom], scouting locations for her next film, dies horribly when her helicopter, flying in the dark, gets caught in some power lines. When Hollywood learns that Dan Cassidy is no longer tied to his working relationship with Bloom, agents start calling by the droves seeking to represent him. He sheds a few tears (dumb-ass).

As this all develops, Trickster has tricked his way into Hell and, for some reason that the story never makes totally clear, Neron makes him his favorite pet. In fact, Neron doesn't even offer him a bargain. I guess he just likes the cut of James's jib.

Eventually the heroes decide to take the offensive and two teams infiltrate Hell by different means. They don't do too well. The Blue Devil, a little nutty now having inadvertently caused the death of his best friend, takes it hard to Neron, but finds himself so much charcoal after accepting receipt of a dose of Neron's hell fire. He revives, miraculously, shortly thereafter as a full demon and proceeds to lay hard into Neron, which buys Trickster enough time to tell Captain Marvel how to defeat Neron.

Marvel offers his soul to Neron freely in exchange for "the release of my friends...the release of earth, [and] nothing else." Neron, unable to refuse a good bargain (he had been angling specifically for Marvel's soul throughout the mini-series), takes the deal, but is unable to...I don't know...digest the purity of Marvel's soul, the first to ever be offered for purely selfless motives. This effectively finishes Neron off, at least for the time being.

COMMENTS

From Mark Waid's afterword to the trade paperback:

Probably the single strongest creative motive governing comics over the last ten years has been embarrassment. You know it. You've seen its ruinous effects. Knuckle-headed, well-intented creators ashamed of corny old characters have been, for most of a decade, dragging half-forgotten heroes and villains kicking and screaming into their own little hardware store of creativity. There, haunted by a guilty fear that these ancient superdoers aren't kewl enough for a generation of videogame-entranced readers, said knuckle-headed creators...fool themselves into thinking they're doing them a good turn by bludgeoning all the innocent charm and colorful individuality out of them.
I tried that once.
Learned a lesson.

As you're reading this, you swear that Mark Waid is going to apologize for UNDERWORLD UNLEASHED, but somewhat bizarrely he then goes on to pat himself on the back for his restraint here, and then to furthermore gloat a bit for inventing a popular new character, Neron, who is essentially just a less interesting and less scary Mephisto (or any other literary manifestation of the Judeo-Christian devil).

Up pops the devil

UNDERWORLD UNLEASHED is a mess. Not a complete disaster, but essentially pointless and self-important. Waid continues his afterword by informing us that his original concept was to beef up a bunch of the old, lame DC villains, but then he decided that they were actually pretty cool as they were, so he didn't need to beef them up after all...at least not too much. But...but...why write this story then? Oh! To help them "achieve their potential"? Now I get it. Except...what are the end effects of this mini-series again?

When all is said and done, I only remember three villains who actually got a power-up from this: Grodd, Blockbuster, and Copperhead. And actually, Grodd and Blockbuster simply became smart again, so essentially Waid merely restored the status quo. As to Grodd and Copperhead, I don't really know what became of them after this series, but as regards Blockbuster, I am willing to give Waid a sort of indirect thank you for providing Chuck Dixon a worthy foil for his protagonist over in NIGHTWING.

But you didn't come to this site in order to find out what I think of Mark Waid. I'm being sort of a dick in any case. It's an interesting concept for a story, and the resolution involving the Trickster beating Neron at his own game was a clever turn, but the execution in a few areas fell short. For being only three issues, there was a bit too much that seemed superfluous, and the details are too muddled. Anyway, let's talk about the Blue Devil.

Let's just get this out of the way: yes, the Blue Devil becomes a true demon as a result of his bargain with Neron. I don't know why. And to my knowledge nobody has ever really bothered to explain this. Presumably, as a result of losing his soul, the demonic energy with which [Nebiros] blasted him (fusing Dan Cassidy into his Blue Devil costume) took over and Dan was, essentially, a pure demon the moment he made the bargain (sort of like what happens if you remove Jason Blood from Etrigan). The destruction of his physical body, then, was a necessary step towards eliminating the vestiges of his humanness. Or something. Does that make any sense? Damned if I know. On second thought, that's too dark, and I don't care to believe it.

It also wouldn't explain current events in SHADOWPACT in reference to [Jack of Fire] so...ah well, it's just funny books. They don't have to make sense.

If you're a Blue Devil fan, you're probably going to be pretty vexed by Dan's portrayal in this story. Gone is the light-hearted character who always tried to make the best of a bad situation. Here the plot has him selling his soul to the devil. For what? Why, fame and fortune of course. There's really no nice way to say this, so I'll just say it: that's retarded.

From the narration starting the second issue:

Some people believe in the afterlife...that souls live on after death. Some don't. Daniel Cassidy belongs to the latter group. That's what makes this easy.
What Cassidy does believe--has believed since he was eight--is that the only way souls live forever is if they're captured on film. All his life Cassidy wanted nothing more than to be a celluloid star--but the day a demon stuck him inside a Blue Devil suit, his chances of ever being a leading man dropped to dead zero.
Oh, he's since been the heavy in plenty of movies...B-pictures...all of them headed up by Marla Bloom, Cassidy's producer and best friend. Bloom believes she's a mover and a shaker. Cassidy knows better...bust still he stays loyal to her and her alone. That's the kind of man he is. In fact, his secret, fondest dream is to make it big so he can take her with him. So they can be a Hollywood team.
Neron offered to make that possible. He promised Cassidy that he'd be the star he wants to be--no tricks--in exchange for the simplest of favors. All Cassidy has to do is destroy an unmanned power station out in the middle of Nowhere, California.
Danny weeps for the loss of his friend and his soul

Let's put aside the stuff about Dan Cassidy, a good Irish Catholic, not believing in the soul, and just think about this for a minute. Assuming he'd actually be stupid enough to make this bargain, he gets one wish, and it isn't to be released from the Blue Devil costume? There's really so much wrong with this characterization that I'll simply leave it at that and let you all make your own decisions.

Within the context of the larger story, the Blue Devil's tragedy is really more an aside than anything else, since his action on Neron's behalf only really affects himself (and, of course, Marla Bloom). It's almost as though Mark Waid singled the Blue Devil out for a f--k-over. As a fan you're sort of happy to see him used at all, but at the same time, if this is how he's going to be used...

The Blue Devil didn't really have enough pathos for the 1990s (or the 2000s for that matter). His one major tragedy was that he was stuck in a Blue Devil costume for the rest of his life. I think you and I can agree that this is fairly significant, but the fact that he could always make the best of it meant that he simply didn't understand that in the modern age of adult comics, it's no longer okay to be a hero because it's fun or because you can—being a hero must be something like a pathological compulsion derived from a deep, personal pain, always urging you to continue. Or anyway, you should never have a good time, let alone get off scott free from the curse of terrible repercussions that most heroes suffer to their personal lives.

Don't get me wrong—that stuff has its place, but in the 1990s it seemed as though nobody was spared from the effect of Extreme Angstover™, and in a lot of ways, it's only getting worse as superhero comics increasingly do what they can to appeal to an aging readership.

This page last updated 22 July 2006.


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