If you caught the first season of “Helstrom” when it dropped Oct. 16 on Hulu, you may be wondering if it’s a Marvel TV show. The answer is yes, but at such a remove that you can be forgiven for asking.
For one thing, there is only one minor reference to Marvel’s other screen efforts in the entire 10-episode season. “Helstrom” even forgoes the usual opening Marvel credit scene (of pages flipping by). The only direct Marvel reference is the appearance of a Roxxon gas station; Roxxon is Marvel’s ubiquitous evil energy corporation that has made the leap from Marvel Comics to screens large and small.
If you squint, there’s one more reference: the character Caretaker (Robert Wisdom). That’s a name and character usually associated with Ghost Rider — who isn’t mentioned in “Helstrom.” Sam Elliott played Caretaker in the movie “Ghost Rider” (2007), and the character’s function, but not name, also appeared in the form of Moreau (Idris Elba) in “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” (2011).
The reason for this is that “Helstrom” wasn’t planned as a stand-alone venture. It was initially part of a projected spooky subsection of TV shows named “Adventure Into Fear,” with an announced “Ghost Rider” show, and hints of other horror shows to come. But that plan was scuttled when Marvel Studios absorbed, and dissolved, Marvel Television. “Ghost Rider” and whatever other shows Marvel TV had planned were all spiked. The almost-completed “Helstrom” was left as a vestigial tail.
“We are not tied to the MCU,” Helstrom creator and showrunner Paul Zbyszewki told the YouTube show “Fanboy Factor.” “We are our own separate thing.” By necessity.
But make no mistake, Daimon Helstrom arises from Marvel Comics, where the character has a long, rich and really weird history. The TV show lifts elements from all of the character’s iterations, even the silly ones.
After the draconian Comics Code Authority lightened up in 1971, comics publishers like Marvel introduced darker, horror-themed characters such as Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan.
Yes, Hellstrom with two L’s, not one like in TV’s “Helstrom.” And his succubus sister was named Satana, not Ana. And where the TV show was coy about who, exactly, Daimon and Ana’s father is, the comics proudly named the feature “Son of Satan.” Subtle, it was not.
Years later, Daimon became something of a murderous, cynical anti-hero in a 1993 book titled “Hellstorm: Prince of Lies.” The TV show lifts the tone and muted colors of this book, plus Daimon’s taste for high fashion (which was transferred to Ana). For better or worse.
And it might be for worse. Reviews of “Helstorm” haven’t always been kind. And given the show’s provenance, the first season of “Helstrom” could be the last. I hope not, though. While “Helstrom” isn’t up to Marvel’s usual standards, I was entertained. It also opens up the occult corner of the Marvel Universe, currently occupied only by Dr. Strange. Let’s hope that “Helstrom” comes back long enough for Ghost Rider to guest star.
I don’t even care which one.