DCM Vertigo


Return of the Gods

Devil's Reign
by Chip Caroon

Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

Why should I be a superhero? After all, it's not like I'm going to be leaving New York City any time soon, and the city is already full of superheroes . . . Iron Man . . . Batman . . . the Shadow . . . Young Justice . . . Heck, the Avengers League work out of NYC for cryin' out loud!

I guess it's all because of the credo Uncle Ben - god rest his soul - taught me so many years ago . . . With great power comes great responsibility. It's not really guilt of his death that drives me, but the fact that I don't like the idea of letting everything he taught me go to waste.

Besides, being Spider-Man isn't all that bad. It has its perks. Every once in a while, I get to hang out with some of the coolest people on Earth.

But, therein lies the drawback. Usually, when hanging - no pun intended - with the coolest people on Earth, one is required to fight someone else. And for you to be in the presence of so many other great heroes, that usually means the guy's too big for even the Avengers League alone.

And that's where it gets hectic. I mean, you're facing someone - or something - that the Avengers League couldn't take down, and you have to manage to keep your cool exterior; keeping the jokes coming without craping in your pants.

Like tonight. It started out normal enough, with me working late at the Daily Planet. Then, the skies turn red, and the clouds grey. It rained real bad for a while, but then it stopped, and the temperature started to rise slowly . . .

With all that going, we were getting reports of all sorts of weird things, such as demons and monsters. It was deemed safer for the bunch of us still at work to stay there until the crisis was over.

That was until J. Jonah Jameson came down out of his office . . .

Jameson was mad. Madder than usual, it seemed.

"What the heck is wrong with alla you?" he shouted. "Here we are with the biggest story of the year, and you're just sitting on your collective butts, waiting for the story to drop in!"

If I had a nickel everytime we had the "biggest story of the year" . . . Peter thought. I'd be rich, and wouldn't ever have to worry about money.

"But, Jonah!" Perry White interjected. "You insisted that we get the story without getting in harm's way!"

"Does that mean you're going to sit and wait until the story drops in your lap?"

Everyone was silent. Jameson's lips twisted into a cruel smile. "I guess so . . . " he said. But something was different with his voice. It was deeper, evil. Then, his skin started to change to a reddish hue.

Jameson's form changed to that of a devil. "You news people are so predictable . . . " Mephisto said, still smiling.

"I knew it!" Ben Urich exclaimed, jokingly. "Jameson is the devil!"

Jimmy Olsen snapped a picture. Mephisto turned to him quickly. "The essence of a being such as myself cannot simply be contained on mere film!"

Peter Parker sled into another room, ready to change into Spider-Man. He knew he would be needed.

Being a superhero, I seem to have an extra sense about danger. I'm not talking about my spider-sense. That just tells me when I'm about to be harmed.

No, this sense is more like "it's gonna hit the fan, and I'm powerless to stop him, but I gotta try anyway."

If you can comprehend that, you can understand how I felt right then. I was just glad that I wasn't the only one handling the various crises in the city.

Jean stretched her hand out, and used it to guide her telekinetics. Suddenly, the pavement under Etrigan began to buckle, and reform. Cars, buildings, and other debris were all gathered together in a rather odd pattern.

"Mere metal and stone may not hurt me,
You would be wise to just attempt to flee!"

"What's she doing?" Stealth asked to no one in particular.

"Hush," Beast replied. "She saving our butts."

"But, how?"


Etrigan sniffed. He could smell something burning - him. The demon let out a loud roar and flew off into the night once more.

"Nice thinking," the Shadow complemented. "Making a cross out of the raw material around him."

Just then, the gathered heroes could see a building explode. The blast was magnificent, and the showering glass invoked the illusion of a fireworks display. The heroes were tempted to enjoy it until they realized where the blast had been.

"That's the Daily Planet!" the Shadow exclaimed. "And I have a feeling that something major is going down."

"Is would be wise to travel in that direction," J'Onn added.

Mephisto stood among the mostly destroyed building. Spider-Man was standing directly in front of him. Most of the staffers had cleared the building, afraid of what the devil was up to.

"Have you ever danced with the devil by the pale moonlight?"

"How original," Spidey replied. "But, the answer to your question is no, and I don't think I'll be able to tonight. Your gray clouds kinda block the moon."

"Perhaps . . . You do have a point . . . Besides, what does that phrase mean?"

"Who cares?" someone asked. Spider-Man turned around and saw the seven heroes hovering behind him. Stealth was the one who asked the question, and he stepped down. "The real question is . . . do you feel lucky tonight?"

The other heroes floated down to the floor.

"Enough with the philosophical questions," the Shadow said. "He's got the Materioptikon!"

"Oh," Mephisto said, a cruel smile twisting his lips as he reached into the folds of his cape, pulling something out. "You mean this . . . " He held out a black box.

The Shadow prepared to lunge for it, but J'Onn held out an arm to restrain his young friend. "He is clearly toying with us, and the move you were about to attempt would have been quite foolish."

"What do you want, Mephisto?" Spider-Man demanded. "Why did you disguise yourself as Jameson, and then blow up the building?"

"My reasons are my own," Mephisto replied. "But if you want this, you'll have to come get it!"

Suddenly, the room started spinning for the heroes, and they began falling asleep . . .

It was crazy. The heroes found themselves in a rather odd place.

"Something feels strange," the Shadow said.

"I believe we are in a dream state," Beast added. "Fascinating."

They all looked around. The ground was red and barren. The sky was a darker shade of red, but still nasty. To the heroes, there surrounding might have been considered to be Martian in nature, except everything was so grotesque.

"It's like Mars from a horror comic or something," William said. "Where the artist tries to put in an air of creepiness."

"This is no Mars," J'Onn replied. "I haven't even seen anything like this in a vision."

Spider-Man took a step forward. His foot landed in something strange. "Oh, disgusting!" he exclaimed, seeing the rotting carcass laying in a hole.

"Mr. McCoy, you said this was a dream state?" J'Onn asked.

"Doctor McCoy, if you please," Hank replied. "And yes, I do believe we are not on any plane of reality we can access by conventional means."

"Are you saying we're in his head?"

Spider-Man turned back to the group. "Looks that way."

"No wonder he's so twisted," Stealth added.

"Shh!" Jean said. "You hear that?"

Everyone strained to hear, even Superman. Finally, they all heard a low hum and chant.

"Strange . . . " J'Onn said.


The heroes turned and saw Mephisto standing behind them. "Do you really think you could even begin to comprehend this place? My mind given form?"

"Attack!" Spidey yelled.

Spider-Man, Martain Manhunter, the Shadow, Beast, Jean Grey, Superman, Stealth, and the boy known as William lunged forward, ready to attack their foe. However, some strange force held them back.

Mephisto laughed. "I say it again! You are fools!" Mephisto disappeared in a flash of brimstone, but his laughter hung on as long as possible.

The heroes picked themselves up and dusted off.

"I suggest we split up into groups," Superman offered. "Try to find out why and how we're here, and how we can get out."

"How small should the groups be?" Stealth asked.

"As much as I would like to have four groups, I believe it would be best if we only split into two groups of four," Superman replied. "It's too risky to go with any fewer. Stealth, if you and William will come with Jean and myself, I'm sure the other four can manage."

"Gotcha," Spidey said. He looked at the three remaining with him. "So, I guess we need a leader-like person."

"You seem to be capable of the job," the Shadow replied.

"I knew you'd say that . . . " Spidey muttered.

"I agree with the Shadow," J'Onn said. "You'll be fine."

"Figures," Spidey grunted.

Jimmy Olsen carefully walked around on the ground floor of the Daily Planet. He heard something rustling in the corner. As he came nearer, he saw a older man, tied up and gagged.

"Jameson!" he exclaimed. "But wait, are you the real Jameson, or that Mephisto guy?"

Jimmy bent down and pulled the gag out of his boss's mouth.

"For God's sake, Olsen, don't you know your boss when you see him?" Jameson shouted.

"Well, sir, you appeared as if you were the devil upstairs."

"Blasted creature! He came to me earlier tonight, and knocked me out. Guess he stole my face, huh?"

"Not only that, but he blew up the building!"

"So I noticed. Now, would you mind getting me out of these ropes?"

Spider-Man looked around the mystical terrain.

"This is unbelievable," he commented. "It goes on for miles, and it's all . . . weird."

"I wonder . . . " Beast began. "I wonder if we are all seeing the same thing."

"Big vast red landscape?"

"Not just that. We are in a dream-like state in Mephisto's mind. Dreams are made for interpretation. It's nearly impossible for two people to have the exact same dream."

"But if they do," Martain Manhunter said, "they usually pull different meanings out of it, correct?"

"Exactly," Beast replied.

"But how does that help us against a guy who is . . . well, the devil?" Spidey asked.

"Is he?" Beast wondered.

"Beast, you seem like a cool guy, but I don't think now is the time to have a really thought provoking discussion about theology."

Beast stepped closer to the webbed wonder. "What would you rather do? Walk around in someone's head, trying to find someone you can fight, and end up getting your butt kicked?"

"If it means getting back to reality, then yes!"

J'Onn stepped between the two, and put his arms up. "Calm down. Beast does have a point. Besides, that discussion does sound interesting, and it does beat having to fight Mephisto."

"Very well," Beast said. "Now, as I was saying, it is very possible that Mephisto is not the devil. If you take the basic Christian belief that he was kicked out of Heaven for trying to take it over, do you really think he would be stupid enough to try it again? After all, that was how he lost his 'godly' form and became stuck as a human for the past few decades."

"Sounds like you've done some research," the Shadow commented.

"Thanks to Jean's telepathy, and my own pool of knowledge," Beast replied. "Anyway, if he was stupid enough to try to take over Heaven and fail, why would he attempt it again?"

"Maybe he had help." J'Onn suggested.

"Are you reading my mind? Because that is almost exactly what happened. Another angel named Asmodel came up with a very similiar scheme."

"But what does this all have to do with our 'debate' of sorts?" Spidey asked.

"I'm getting to that, but I have to set something else up first. For some reason, I have this nagging feeling that something is not right in the universe."

"Like maybe it's all happened before?"

"How did you know?"

Spidey shrugged. "I've had some weird deja vu at times."

"What if we aren't the only universe out there?" Beast hypothesized. "What if it's really a multiverse? Or what if . . . " His voice dropped to a near whisper. " . . . this universe used to be a multiverse?" His voice returned to a normal volume. "So, let's say we have a multiverse, whenever, be it now or in the past. That means we have dozens of 'devils.'"

"But what does that say about God?" the Shadow asked.

"He is omnipresent. He's everywhere, a multiverse means the same as a universe to him."

"But isn't the devil on the same kind of level as God?" Spidey asked. "Heaven and Hell, total opposites."

Beast pondered for a second. "Interesting debate. A shame that it must end now. I can't think of anything to come back with."

J'Onn hadn't paid much attention to the last few sentences. He saw something beyond them. "Look!" he exclaimed.

"Mephisto!" Spidey exclaimed.

Lex Luthor looked out at the city from his bedroom. He couldn't help but wonder what kind of power could change the appearance of the sky as it did.

He noticed the lack of a Daily Planet globe. Naturally, he had sources, and knew what had happened. He only hoped that it would be soon corrected, because he wanted that globe to be his.

I look around at my madness . . .

So this is my mind, given material form. Interesting . . . How long until those pesky heroes find me?

"We found him!"

Odd . . . I heard that in stereo.

Mephisto turned his head to the right and saw the group led by Spider-Man. Turning to the left, he saw Superman's group.

"Nice timing," he said to both groups. "But I tire of this dream world."

The heroes found themselves back in the newly restored Daily Planet. They heard Mephisto's voice and laughter trailing off.

"Looks like you've failed again . . . "

The Shadow groaned. "I guess we better split up again."

"A wise move," Stealth said. "Besides, my pal and I have to be somewhere . . . "

Peter Parker returned to the Daily Planet city room moments later.

"What happened?" he asked.

Lois just shook her head. "I couldn't tell you. In fact, I'm not even going to worry with a story."

"Non-Pulitzer material, huh?"

"It was like a badly plotted comic book . . . "

Elsewhere, Stealth pressed the buzzer. The door opened, and he walked in, with William following. A woman was floating in front of them. She wore a long red robe, which flowed down her back.

"William, this is Clea. She's the leader of the Visionaries," Stealth said. He then turned to Clea. "I believe you called?"

Next: Find out what Quasar has been up to since he disappeared in chapter two! The answer is in Return of the Gods #9.