This weekend’s light-hearted and escapist superhero blog post here at Balladeer’s Blog will examine the unjustly overlooked character the Heretic, a NON-Marvel and non-DC character. 

heretic clockTHE HERETIC

Secret Identity: Dominic DeMarco

First Appearance: The Heretic #1 (November 1996)

Origin: Much of the Heretic’s past remains shrouded in mystery. In his early adult life he left the seminary and joined the Brotherhood of Cain, a covert order of religious assassins who presented themselves as righteous warriors crusading against evil.

        That turned out to be a lie, so the disillusioned figure left the order and was branded a heretic, a label he embraced as his nom de guerre. Acting independently, he used the skills and abilities he learned from the order to begin his own war against the crime and corruption at all levels of society, including government and organized religion.

        Gaining bizarre superpowers, the Heretic also battled the infernal forces behind all Earthly evil, from the lowest street crimes to the bloodiest wars. He learned that God and Satan exist. Heaven and Hell exist. And there’s no predicting which side the rest of us will end up on.

heretic stancePowers: The tattoos on the Heretic’s body, a mix of holy and unholy symbols, grant him superpowers. His hands can morph into talons that are far larger than human hands. Black wings can spring from the tattoos on his back, letting him fly. The tattoos on his arms and legs grant this hero a degree of super-strength, a healing factor and superhuman agility. 

        Against opponents who wield supernatural relics that can neutralize his own otherworldly powers, the Heretic uses the custom-made, souped-up vintage pistols that he’s been using since his assassin days. Those guns pack more power than a magnum. Other high-tech weapons in his arsenal are grenades which unleash steel bands that coil around and entrap anyone nearby when they go off.

heretic 1THE HERETIC Vol 1 #1 (November 1996)

Title: And the Word Was …

Villains: Mister Sister and Babylon Corporation

Synopsis: The story is set in Terceron City. Writer and artist Joe Phillips is black but did not elaborate on any link between the city and the word terceron’s racial meaning.

We readers are dropped into the narrative, learning that Terceron City is a hotbed of crime and corruption, with the local economy and politicians in the open and/or covert control of Babylon Corporation. Our main character the Heretic is a former loner who recently joined Allegiance, a Terceron City superteam led by his son, codenamed Intrepid.

(The other members are Hot Shot, Go-Go Girl, the Magistrate and Sista Resista)

While the rest of Allegiance battles a team of their recurring superfoes who are trying to rob a museum, the Heretic senses that Mister Sister, the hermaphroditic villain who killed his wife long ago, is the brains behind the robbery. Our hero catches the villain stealing a priceless object and the two fight it out, making references to their many past battles and the pile of corpses that Mister Sister always leaves in their wake.

mister sisterThe Heretic has the villain down and seriously injured, but his son Intrepid stops him from firing the kill-shot, insisting that with Mister Sister nearly fatally wounded, he should be arrested, not killed. The antihero Heretic and the strait-laced Intrepid have a Wolverine vs Cyclops style argument over this.

The villain escapes with the stolen relic while they are arguing, prompting our main character to quit Allegiance and go back to working alone. We cut to Babylon Tower, home of Babylon Corporation and its CEO Apocrypha, a beautiful woman of Middle Eastern descent.  

apocrypha and the ba ha lyndaMister Sister, more dead than alive, shows up at Apocrypha’s office to deliver the relic, called the Ba Ha Lynda. Apocrypha takes possession of the object, and covertly has the thief put in Babylon Tower’s secret hospital in critical condition.

At Allegiance headquarters, Intrepid, in civilian clothing, is looking through an old photo album of his father the Heretic and his mother, the superheroine called Nike. He discusses with his romantic partner, Sista Resista, his feelings about his mother’s murderer getting away back at the museum, but the couple reaffirm their commitment to law enforcement figures like themselves being held to a higher standard than the villains they fight.

NOTE: This sort of topic is a running theme in the series. It’s made clear that the infernal forces behind crime and other evil activities will always find ways to subvert human laws, so it is necessary to go beyond human laws and be bound only by “morality.” Remember, this was 1996, before virtually EVERY superhero series expressed such dark and gritty sentiments.

mama shant uriel rakshasasLater that night, the Heretic succeeds in finding Mister Sister’s hideout. Naturally the villain is not there, but is near death at Babylon Tower.

The Heretic reflects on how Mister Sister was originally a brother and sister gangster duo who got merged into one body by a mystic bomb during his first battle with them. While searching the hideout for clues to the villain’s location, our antihero is suddenly attacked by three supernaturally powered strangers.

heretic 2 realTHE HERETIC Vol 1 #2 (January 1997)

Title: Fools Rush In

Villain: Apocrypha 

Synopsis: The Heretic engages the three strangers in combat. They are Mama Shant, an elderly black Voodoo priestess, Rakshasas, a demon from Hell and Uriel, an angel from Heaven. They’re working together because the Ba Ha Lynda – in conjunction with an approaching alignment of stars – threatens Heaven, Hell and the human world.

You know comic book writing: our hero fights the trio, they all get to demonstrate their powers, then ultimately decide to work together to recover the stolen Ba Ha Lynda from Apocrypha’s clutches at Babylon Tower.

babylon towerApocrypha’s scholars are still hard at work translating the ancient markings on the disc-shaped relic in question. She does a Villain Rant to her underlings about how her plans will soon involve Faith Hillwalker, a Native American spokeswoman whom we see leading protests against Babylon Corporation’s excavation of Kawatchi Mounds for a construction project. Her protests and speeches are all over the news.

Meanwhile, the Heretic leads Mama Shant, Uriel and Rakshasas in a break-in at Babylon Tower. While he is using his computer hacking skills to access the corporation’s records on the Ba Ha Lynda they are all caught by Apocrypha and her security goons.

Amid bantering between Apocrypha and our heroes, they fight their way out of Babylon Tower. Once they are on a rooftop far away, Mama Shant shocks even Uriel and Rakshasas by killing the Heretic from behind. 

heretic 3THE HERETIC Vol 1 #3 (February 1997)

Title: On Borrowed Wings

Villains: Apocrypha and Mister Sister

NOTE: In the first two installments, the Heretic was wearing his entire costume, including a shirt, and was using only his pistols, grenades, and the greater than human strength, speed & agility he was granted by the Brotherhood of Cain. In this issue he gains the holy and unholy tattoos which grant him all the other superpowers I mentioned above. He must remain shirtless in action from now on for the tattoos to be able to do their thing.

uriel heretic rakshasas mama shantSynopsis: Mama Shant, in her folksy Mother Abigail way, informs Uriel and Rakshasas that after killing him, she has intercepted the Heretic’s soul in one of her handheld relics. She needs to have the angel and the demon inflict the tattoos on the antihero’s body while there is no soul inside it to be tainted by those tattoos which are unholy.

(I’m assuming because usually a person willingly has such eldritch tattoos applied to their skin, consciously sinning and thereby damning themselves.) 

heretic getting the tattoosThe tattooing ritual starts as the sun rises and takes all day. Elsewhere in Terceron City, the members of Allegiance watch news coverage about the debate scheduled for that evening between Apocrypha and Faith Hillwalker, the Native American spokeswoman, at the Kawatchi Mounds. 

apocrypha lyingApocrypha decides to counter what Mama Shant is doing to the Heretic by performing her own ritual to amp up the dying Mister Sister’s powers to equal the Heretic’s new ones. Apocrypha slaughters the medical staff looking after Mister Sister and kills the dying villain, to raise them in their new, more powerful state.

The Native American spokeswoman and her supporters are at the Kawatchi Mounds waiting for Apocrypha to arrive for the debate. She is delivering another speech about the villainess and her corporation’s crimes against humanity around the world.

mister sister over hereticMama Shant now returns the Heretic’s soul to his body and he tries out his new powers. Departing, he arrives at the Mounds but is detected by Apocrypha’s underlings. She sics the reborn Mister Sister on the Heretic and the two panic the crowd by engaging in a very destructive battle using their new supernatural abilities. The members of Allegiance see news reports on the chaos and get ready for action.

allegiance arriveApocrypha uses her increased energies to subdue Uriel and Rakshasas and revels in the power she will gain from the coming mix of infernal and divine energies with the star alignment. 

Back at the Mounds, the Heretic’s attack eventually has the unintended effect of separating Mister Sister’s component being into the brother and sister gangsters that they were before their mystical bonding. He is now against two foes with enhanced powers, but he beats them both.

As a cliffhanger, Allegiance arrives on the scene and Intrepid tells Heretic/ his father that he is under arrest.

heretic 4THE HERETIC Vol 1 #4 (March 1997)

Title: Redemption

Villains: Apocrypha and Mister Sister

Synopsis: The power Apocrypha is gathering to herself is noticed around the world by scientists who realize the Van Allen Belt is burning. Also by the Pope in Vatican City where he begins praying and crying in pain from stigmata forming on his body and gushing out blood.

The deepening crisis is also resulting in plagues of locusts around the world. As a revelation that the Heretic’s series is set in the same world as Hellboy’s we see the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense detecting the world’s Ley Lines going haywire from what Apocrypha is doing. 

Back at the Kawatchi Mounds, the Heretic is holding his own against the entire Allegiance team while they try to talk him into surrendering. They have no clue about what is really going on, so our antihero continues trying to fight his way free of them so he can go after Apocrypha.

apocrypha picThat villainess has arrived inside the Kawatchi Affairs Center with her human lackeys and the subdued Uriel and Rakshasas, who are bound to her by mystic chains that feed her even more power. Mama Shant and Apocrypha come face to face and we learn that Mama’s first name is Cassiopeia and she is Apocrypha’s great-grandmother. 

Mama Shant kills her great-granddaughter’s second in command, Randolf, and Apocrypha strikes down Mama Shant. Apocrypha now takes the stage with Faith Hillwalker and they begin exchanging sharp insults. Eventually, as Heretic’s battle with the once-more conscious Mister Sister carries over to the Kawatchi Affairs Center, the audience is frightened and flees.

Apocrypha knocks out Faith Hillwalker and binds her to a ceremonial altar to be sacrificed as our villainess prepares to consummate her assumption of all the power offered by the Ba Ha Lynda. Next she restores life to all the dead Kawatchis in the Mounds, unleashing a zombie riot on Terceron City on top of everything else.

Apocrypha morphs into her new form as a several story tall blue goddess with no more legs, just a serpentine lower body with suction cups like octopi and squids.

mister sister faceThe Heretic must leave his battle with Mister Sister to stop Apocrypha from killing Faith Hillwalker. Our main character and the villainess engage in a destructive clash. At length, Apocrypha realizes she misinterpreted the meaning of the Ba Ha Lynda’s inscription – it was the Heretic she should have sacrificed in order to permanently assume the relic’s massive power.

Through a poorly explained comic book contrivance, the Heretic momentarily steals the power of the Ba Ha Lynda, then expends it all in one burst at Apocrypha. This destroys her, ending the global crisis, returning the Kawatchis to death and sending Uriel back to Heaven & Rakshasas back to Hell. In the aftermath of the night’s destruction (and Mister Sister’s escape), the Heretic ignores Allegiance and goes off to solitarily contemplate what he has become.  

the heretic tpbTHE HERETIC TPB (2008)

Title: What Fresh Hell is This?

Villains: Vernach and the Tel E’Stur Druids  

Synopsis: A cult of Druids, called the Tel E’Stur, are thousands of years old and don’t like the fact that the Heretic gained his powers without having to give up his soul, since it was outside his body when the ritual empowering him took place.

To see if he is “worthy” of his new powers, they lure him to their hidden temple in which they have an arrangement of stones similar to Stonehenge. They maneuver our antihero into the middle of the circle of stones and produce a huge, ancient, skeleton including a horned skull.

heretic coverFrom that ancient skeleton they bring a giant purple demon called Vernach back to life to battle the Heretic. If Vernach kills our main character he will get to add his powers to his own and remain in the world of the living.

As the Heretic and Vernach clash, we learn the creature was once an acolyte of the Tel E’Stur who no longer wanted to serve the dark entities worshipped by the cult – he wanted to BECOME one of those entities. He was transformed into a demonic form and eventually slain.

Our antihero goes on to destroy Vernach once and for all, but the gathered Tel E’Stur Druids wear forehead jewels that make them immune to the Heretic’s powers. So, the edgy Heretic simply draws one of his souped-up pistols and shoots the Chief Druid through the head, killing him.

heretic pictureFeeling he has taught the Tel E’Stur not to ever “test” him again, the Heretic departs.

COMMENT: Unfortunately, there were no further adventures of the Heretic even though creator Joe Phillips churned out a large amount of work in the years afterward. I feel the series had potential even though the artwork and writing were up and down in quality in every single installment. Over time it could have become a classic.

Sadly, the potential crossover story with Hellboy never materialized.




Filed under Superheroes

31 responses to “THE HERETIC (1996) – NEGLECTED SUPERHERO

  1. “Shrouded in mystery” because (1) few worthwhile stories spring into existence with complete backstory and (2) given (1), as all characters breathe, as the color worn by [by leading characters’] normal and supernatural personas, both, the author in his/her/its supporting role understands characters, who and why they are who they are, or to readers’ delight ask themselves what happened in the past. Shazatz! Now I have to start reading superhero posts? Ah well, I guess a third cup of coffee while clearing my reader wouldn’t hurt.

  2. Lulu: “Our Dada says he would have a lot of trouble not reading ‘Mister Sister’ as ‘Mister Sinister’ all the time.”
    Lulu: “I don’t know but probably nobody I would want to meet.”

    • Wow! I almost forgot all about Mister Sinister. Not to mention Mister Mister. And Burgomeister Meistoburger. Thanks for the laugh from your pets this morning!

  3. I t think Heretic is great character. Well shared ☺️

  4. Sounds like it would’ve been an interesting series if it continued. I like the part where he just shoots the druid ― kind of like Indiana Jones with the big swordsman in “Raiders”, or, you know, Scott Evil’s ignored advice to his dad in “Austin Powers” …

    • Yes, the Indiana Jones and the swordsman bit was what I thought of too, about that part. I agree it could have been pretty good if it continued. Joe Phillips just needed to become consistent with the artwork and writing. He had plenty left to work with, not just with the Heretic himself but the members of Allegiance.

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