#26, January 1997
Hell and Back: Part Three
Jack finds himself in a distorted Old West, with demon horses and zombie cowboys. He sees Matt O’Dare jump out a window and start firing at the demons. Jack goes to help him, but they are both overpowered . Suddenly, the two heroes find themselves in the throne room of the Poster Demon, who has Shade as a prisoner (and the fiend has him dressed in white, no less!) The demon offers the three a chance to stop him, and puts them each in a different location, taking a different form for each of the friends.
Jack is taken to a beach in and the demon takes the form of his mother. Jack doesn’t notice the illusion until the Demon makes him recall the last time he saw his mother; playing on a beach before she stopped seeing him, not wanting Jack to see her as her illness progressed and her health faded. The demon asks Jack questions about his childhood, things that he said and did that he doesn’t remember. Among them, that Jack wanted to be a hero like his father more than anything. The Demon Mother shows Jack all the souls that it has captured since making it’s bargain with Merritt and gives Jack a chance to be a hero by offering his soul in exchange for the others.
The Shade is taken to the streets of London and faces the Demon in the form of Merritt. Shade looks around the desolate dark, polluted landscape of Victorian London and remembers all matter of horrible things, like beggar girls without jaws. It is then he realizes the nature of “Merritt”, for he has been taken to his own Hell. The demon accuses Shade of hypocrisy, since he has long sought to bring Merritt to justice for his crimes when Shade has done deeds just as bad or worse. Among them are killing a superhero called The Spider ( See The Shade #3) Shade defends himself, saying that he is not like Merritt and that all of his deeds had justifications and that despite his crimes, he is not as dark a soul as Merritt. The demon dares Shade to prove this by giving up his soul to save those of all those the demon snatched since making his bargain with Merritt. The demon also promises to break his promise with Merritt and make sure that he is punished.
Matt is taken to a desert landscape where the demon confronts him in the form of Scalphunter. The demon threatens to shoot Matt, leaving Matt to question why he was asked to change his ways if he was just going to die now. Feeling ashamed of his past deeds, Matt tells the demon how he came to be the way he was. It all started with him trying to help Murrey Lake: another cop and a friend who was sick and had gotten involved with the Mob. Lake worked as a delivery-man and he asked Matt to make a drop off, begging Matt to do so since the Mob would kill his wife and children if the delivery wasn’t made. For the sake of the cop’s wife and kids, Matt agreed. Murrey later died and the Opal Mob threatened to report Matt for the first delivery unless he continued to work for them. Soon enough, Matt found that he “had a taste for doing the wrong thing”. Scalphunter says that Matt has dishonored the names of both the O’Dares and Savages and asks Matt how he thinks his ancestors feel. (Scalphunter mentions Matt’s great-grandfather, who was a deputy for him. See Starman #54 for more.) Matt says he doesn’t know what he can do except try to redeem himself. The demon makes Matt the same offer: your soul for all the others I have.
All three heroes agree to the bargain, and in so defeat the demon, because demons cannot take someone’s soul unless they barter it away for a gain of some kind. Since the three heroes were giving their souls up to save strangers, there was no profit motive for their actions other than pure decency and demons cannot touch any bargain made unselfishly. The demon notes that he no longer has to worry about Charity and hints that she has some kind of power that might have been able to destroy him. He also notes that even with Merritt gone (he is taking Merritt’s soul as part of Shade’s bargain) it is only a matter of time before he finds someone else to fill Merritt’s role. Matt, Shade and Jack return home, along with all the souls taken by the demon in the last 100+ years. The story ends with Shade noting that with all the people from various times and places now in Opal, “the city may be a little more interesting because of it”