Who is Mephisto, anyway?
We all know him as the guy who took away (and… ate?) Spider-Man’s marriage as part of “One More Day”, which made him the literal embodiment of Joe Quesada in the Marvel Universe for many fans. But he’s been around for decades, always causing random trouble. He’s also recently been dating Magma from the New Mutants at around this point in time, which he casually mentions during this issue. This is a showcase for him, really, following him around exclusively as he tells his recent adventures to a random barkeeper, who in turn just wants to get to the end of the story with his life.
Mephisto sets himself up pretty quickly here as being all about performance. He makes a showy entrance, burning off the rain from his jacket into steam and demanding that the bartender act like he’s just another customer. “Ask me about my day!” he yells, and when the bartender complies Mephisto happily launches into his story without a second thought. His story, as it is, simply recounts him asking everybody for their thoughts on Fear Itself. He talks to a few gods, a few demons, a few conceptual embodiments, that sort of thing. He travels a long way to conduct a vox pop, and his conclusion is that nobody is willing to really do anything.
Not that he’s doing anything himself, but he’s highly judgemental of everybody else for their choice to stay out the fray. Much like when you overhear your parents dissing your aunts and uncles for the first time, it’s gloriously entertaining to hear a bit of gossip, and Mephisto scatters it through the issue like catnip for the reader. He makes fun of Dormammu! And Cyttorak! These aren’t things you’ll see anywhere else – JiM is the only place where you get to hear bitchy comments about the various lords of hell, none of whom spark much inspiration for Mephisto.
The best idea in the issue is also the most important one: that Hell has a power vacuum right at the top of the chain. Mephisto rejects the title of “The Devil” when sat amongst a council of satans, each of whom feel they have some kind of claim to the throne of Hell but each of whom are too weak to be able to entirely seize control of the countless backstabbers, betrayers and traitors of the realm.
Mephisto rejects it essentially for show, intent on setting himself apart from the other satans through his wholesale dismissal of the Devil concept. Again, we’re not used to this sort of thing – the throne of hell is usually something characters claw for, but here we’re shown again that Mephisto just isn’t really that bothered. Everyone else can fight for an empty throne, but he’d rather sit on his more comfortable chair with a sassy Cabernet. He lets them know that he’s working on lots of different plans (in the process forcing them to start creating their own countermeasures for whatever he might be up to, which will keep them busy) and winds them up for some fateful and notable shenanigans in the near future.
What is he actually doing, though? Very little, in practice. He sets himself above the other lords of hell, and has a little extra information they didn’t know about because none of them use his methods – but he doesn’t exactly offer them any kind of plan to move forward with. Instead he’s working with what’s already been done by other people, and setting everyone up against one another to see what’ll happen. His advice to the hell-lords is to sit around and enjoy it; his advice to Nightmare is to scrabble around in whatever aftermath is left after Fear Itself concludes and grab some scraps. His goal basically seems to stay exactly where he is, yet convince everyone around him to lower themselves and play themselves into weaker positions.
He’s so much fun as he manipulates everyone in gleefully blatant, delighted ways that you start to forget he’s actually evil. It’s nice to see him show a little wordplay and trap the bartender into willingly agreeing to die, and again it’s an example of the character persuading other people to show their cards and agree to do what suits him best. That’s where his power seems to lie, and it leaves you realising at the end of the issue that he’s actually already done this to Loki. His actions in previous issues seems intended to just cause mischief and a little chaos, but he’s actually been busy ensuring that the ground beneath Loki’s feet is ready to give way just as soon as he needs it to.
He basically snitches on Loki, and that’s all he needs to do to completely weaken his half-ally, half-rival. He doesn’t even sign his name to the letter, and has someone else take his dictation – brilliant the demon doing so says “as you wish, my dictator”, which is very clever indeed. Loki’s manipulation is pretty blatant, and Mephisto works in a similar way. His advantage, however, is he’s not worried about showing any kind of honour or friendship. He’ll sell you out to anyone just as soon as he’s bored, or somebody forgot to get him any bar snacks. In a series full of sneaks, Mephisto is the laziest – and therefore the most dangerous.
Journey Into Mystery #627
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Richard Elson
Colourist: Rachelle Rosenberg
Letterer: Clayton Cowles