For this weekend’s escapist superhero post Balladeer’s Blog will go with a Halloween theme and examine the Marvel Comics character Gabriel, often called an exorcist and demon or devil hunter. Agatha Harkness shows up in his adventures.
HAUNT OF HORROR Vol 2 #2 (July 1974)
Title: Gabriel: Devil-Hunter
Villain: The demoness Catherine
Synopsis: At Saint Benedict’s Cathedral in Manhattan, Father Lazar realizes that his fellow priest Father Artemis has become possessed and has vandalized the site. When the invading spirit causes Father Artemis to spout blasphemies during his sermon and leap from a height sufficient to break both his legs, Father Lazar (I like to think his first name is Rem) seeks help from an enigmatic, unaffiliated exorcist called Gabriel.
Father Lazar goes to the Empire State Building and pushes the button for the 13th Floor, which does not really exist but IS the way to enter Gabriel’s other-dimensional office. That office is cluttered with occult tomes on exorcism and once Lazar enters, he is greeted by Gabriel’s sultry assistant Desadia.
She psychically sensed him coming and ushers him in to see Gabriel. Expository dialogue between Father Lazar and our main character makes it clear that Gabriel was once a priest under Lazar’s authority. Father Lazar hires Gabriel to exorcise Father Artemis despite some implied hostility between the pair in the past.
Gabriel and the priest arrive at the chamber where the broken-legged Father Artemis is being confined to his bed, like Regan in The Exorcist. Amid the usual hostile and taunting exchanges between the possessed and the exorcist, Gabriel learns that the invading spirit is Catherine, an old foe of our hero. She is the spirit of a woman burned as a witch in Europe centuries ago.
Back when Gabriel was a priest, Catherine possessed him and during that destructive possession she had him literally tear out his own eye and throw a metal crucifix into his fireplace. When Catherine tried making his body commit suicide, Gabriel resisted her, pulled the metal crucifix from the fireplace and branded his own chest with it, thus driving Catherine from him forever. (This crucifix-shaped scar branded into his chest often played a part in Gabriel’s adventures.)
After that, he quit the priesthood, prompting hard feelings between himself and his colleague Father Artemis, who refused to believe Gabriel’s reasons for quitting. In the present, Gabriel wages a spiritual battle with Catherine and in the end drives her out of Father Artemis’ body.
After a terse exchange with the cured priest, Gabriel departs.
HAUNT OF HORROR Vol 2 #3 (September 1974)
Title: House of Brimstone
Synopsis: Craig Miller, PhD, is an expert and author on demonology and exorcisms. At his remote Connecticut home the widower lives with his daughter Veronica. One night she is possessed and begins trying to seduce him while speaking to him in ancient tongues and threatening to kill him through relentless sex.
NOTE: In these black & white magazines, Marvel could get away with toplessness, graphic violence and adult themes. They really leaned into it this issue.
Dr. Miller telephones Gabriel in his 13th Floor office of the Empire State Building. He relates the situation with his daughter, and Gabriel consults with Desadia. She warns him that her psychic insight tells her he will fail this time and she insists on accompanying him.
When the pair arrive at the Connecticut house, they find a despairing Dr. Miller huddled away, with his daughter locked in her bedroom. Gabriel and Desadia fix a meal for Dr. Miller while questioning him about the case.
Daimon, the invading demon, unleashes all manner of poltergeist activity throughout the mansion, plus has blood spill from the ceiling of Veronica’s bedroom and other horrors as Gabriel’s attempts at an exorcism play out. When it seems that Daimon may have the upper hand, Gabriel resorts to a most unorthodox tactic.
Producing a knife, he pretends to be willing to kill Veronica’s body and thereby bluffs Daimon into freeing her. However, the demon possesses her father downstairs and covers Desadia with ectoplasm when she interferes. Dr. Miller proves strong enough to swallow poison, killing himself and taking Daimon with him, and our heroes depart in sadness.
Comment: If the previous Gabriel adventure bore similarities to The Exorcist, this one resembled a haunted house story crossed with exorcism elements.
HAUNT OF HORROR Vol 2 #4 (November 1974)
Title: To Worship the Damned
Villains: Satan and a Satanic Cult
Synopsis: Mrs. Chesterton in England, no first name ever given for her or her husband, contacts Gabriel and Desadia. Her husband became possessed recently and has launched a Satanic cult.
The forces of Hell are determined to stop Gabriel, and our heroes encounter and must exorcise possessed people all the way to the airport and on the flight to England. Some exorcisms are successful and some are not.
Ultimately, Gabriel and Desadia confront Chesterton and his worshipers at Stonehenge as they conduct a ritual. Our main characters attack and realize that Satan himself has possessed Chesterton and his cultists and plans to kill them all through the ritual, dragging their souls down to Hell with him.
Gabriel and Desadia manage to “exorcise” Satan and send him back to Hell. They save the other souls, but cannot save Chesterton, who truly did espouse Satan worship.
Comment: If you want an example of the “feel” of this story, think of the 1977 made-for-tv movie Spectre, which starred Robert Culp as a quasi-Gabriel figure with Majel Barrett as a less attractive version of Desadia and Gig Young as an MD sidekick for Culp.
The telefilm was a failed pilot from Gene Roddenberry that had potential to be the successor to Dan Curtis’ Night Stalker, but that never got the chance to happen, unfortunately.
HAUNT OF HORROR Vol 2 #5 (January 1975)
Title: The Possession of Jenny Christopher
Villain: Unnamed Demon
Synopsis: Desadia goes looking for Gabriel when he does not show up at their 13th Floor office for several days. Her psychic senses at last lead her to a bar where he has been on a drinking binge, trying to drown out the horrors he deals with on a regular basis.
Desadia helps him dry out over the course of the next few days. Meanwhile, Jenny Christopher, the child of a widowed black woman in Harlem, becomes possessed by a demon from Hell. She seeks help from doctors, who call in Gabriel and Desadia.
After another lengthy and strenuous exorcism, our heroes emerge triumphant and exorcise little Jenny.
Comment: Sort of a blaxploitation horror feel to this Gabriel story, which at times felt like the movie Abby aka Disco Exorcist. The possessing demon tried provoking race-hatred between Gabriel and his black clients, in an effective touch.
MONSTERS UNLEASHED Vol 1 #11 (April 1975)
Title: An Angel Felled
Villains: A quintet of demons
Synopsis: Mrs. Ramirez (no first name given), an older Hispanic woman, is shocked to find her husband Esteban, who died three years earlier, lying next to her in bed. He is possessed by several demons.
Mrs. Ramirez reaches out to the police and clergy, resulting in Gabriel and Desadia being brought into the case. While Gabriel is involved in another marathon exorcism in this Ramirez case, one of the possessing demons, Belial, reveals that he is the demon who possessed Gabriel’s wife Andrea long ago and forced her to commit suicide.
Gabriel, in righteous fury, redoubles his efforts and “Esteban Ramirez” is revealed as an illusion as the demons possessing him retreat to his corpse at the cemetery. It is still nighttime as Mrs. Ramirez leads Gabriel and Desadia to Esteban’s grave. Our hero warns Mrs. Ramirez not to watch what happens, as this will be his most dangerous exorcism ever.
Gabriel’s ritual causes the possessed corpse of Esteban Ramirez to burst forth from his grave. Ultimately, our hero exorcises all five demons and Esteban’s corpse collapses back into its grave. Gabriel and Desadia realize that Mrs. Esteban insisted on sneaking a look at the ongoing exorcism and died of fright, but at least she and her husband are now reunited.
FANTASTIC FOUR Vol 1 #222 (September 1980)
Title: The Possession of Franklin Richards
Villain: Nicholas Scratch
NOTE: Marvel Comics brought back Gabriel and Desadia after a more than 5 year absence in this crossover story with the Fantastic Four.
Synopsis: Nicholas Scratch, the evil son of Agatha Harkness, is still trapped in the dimension which Agatha and the Fantastic Four banished him to in the past. (Agatha Harkness is scheduled for her own Marvel tv series titled House of Harkness.)
At last finding a portal back to Earth, Nicholas possesses Franklin Richards at the Baxter Building. When the possessed child of Reed and Sue Richards (Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman) proves able to fight the entire Fantastic Four, the team’s efforts to contact Dr. Strange for help lead to Gabriel and Desadia becoming involved when Strange is absent on an adventure of his own.
The exorcism attempt takes place at the Whisper Hill mansion of Agatha Harkness. Gabriel and the others eventually realize that in order to successfully defeat Nicholas Scratch they must go to New Salem, the secret witchcraft village concealed in the Colorado Rockies.
FANTASTIC FOUR Vol 1 #223 (October 1980)
Title: That a Child Might Live
Villains: Nicholas Scratch and Salem’s Seven (despite what the cover says)
Synopsis: Gabriel flies to New Salem with the Fantastic Four, Agatha Harkness and the immobilized Franklin. Before they can arrive, Nicholas Scratch stops possessing Franklin temporarily to possess a figure in New Salem in order to free Salem’s Seven, a team of supernatural villains that the Fantastic Four first fought back in Fantastic Four #186 (September 1977).
NOTE: The monstrous members of that supervillain team are all children of Nicholas Scratch, making them Agatha Harkness’ grandchildren.
As our heroes arrive, Salem’s Seven attack them. While the Fantastic Four contend with Salem’s Seven, Gabriel and Agatha Harkness manage to free Franklin Richards from being possessed by Nicholas Scratch.
The villains are all defeated and Agatha Harkness says goodbye to the Richards Family, intending to remain in New Salem for a few years.
That wraps up the early adventures of Gabriel: Devil-Hunter. In the 1990s, Marvel Comics brought back Gabriel and Desadia for periodic revivals.
FOR MY LOOK AT MARVEL’S WEREWOLF BY NIGHT CLICK HERE.
FOR MY LOOK AT MARVEL’S BLADE THE VAMPIRE SLAYER CLICK HERE.
FOR MY LOOK AT MARVEL’S GHOST RIDER CLICK HERE.
FOR MY LOOK AT MARVEL’S SIMON GARTH ZOMBIE CLICK HERE.
FOR MY LOOK AT MARVEL’S SON OF SATAN CLICK HERE.
FOR MY LOOK AT MARVEL’S HERO BLOODSTONE CLICK HERE.
FOR MY LOOK AT MARVEL’S SATANA THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER, THE LIVING MUMMY AND THE GOLEM CLICK HERE.
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Thank you, sir!