Hell and its denizens have a pretty muddled past in the DC universe. The Comics Code prevented a lot of demons and ghosts and damned souls from showing up too frequently in the setting, but of course, Jimmy Olsen found a way, defeating the devil by feeding him angel food cake during one of his many batshitinsane head-trauma storylines. This was pretty par for the course for the devil's early appearances - all horns, no cattle. After the Code eventually crumbled, the legions of the damned began to work their way into the universe in fits and starts. Toss in Alan Moore's later mystical ramblings and the DC/Vertigo split, and you end up with Hell as a setting that's just as mixed up as the rest of the universe.
First thing's first - there is a Heaven and Hell in the Drewniverse. While this then implies there's a Judeo-Christian God as well, we'll be following the long example set down by simply not thinking too hard about that. We'll keep it at Heaven and Hell are dimensions close to us, each ruled by a host of powerful beings who have some connection to humanity via the soul. I have not decided whether or not aliens have souls. This is an important and weighty decision, one that will require much more beer to resolve.
Hell, or at least the Hell that corresponds to Earth, is a twisted mirror of our own planet. Maybe this can tie into the Why Is Earth So Special? question we've been toying with. If you as a dimensional traveler discover a realm that happens to be laid out much like another, you'd think the two linked. If you found two realms linked to a common one, you'd think the one in the middle was pretty dang important. Could it be the fields that draw Heaven and Hell so close to us? Possibly.
Anyways, at some point in the depths of mystical history, there was a rebellion in Heaven and the losing side got cast out and ended up in Hell. We'll twist on Milton a bit by saying that Lucifer and his group were not technically the rebels. They were ambitious, sure, but think of them more like forward thinking folks whose plans got way too big for their britches and ended up being taken out by the more conservative traditionalists. This, I think, helps explain why the demonic always seems to be fiddling with humanity more than the angelic - the former are just more proactive by nature.
Still, history is written by the victors, so for all intents and purposes, Lucifer and his gang were the rebel angels and they ended up in Hell. Except Hell was not empty when they showed up. Still pissed off from what they saw as a betrayal, the fallen angels (now devils) subjugated the locals (demons). The Devil/Demon distinction is important, almost like a class thing like Patricians and Plebeians in ancient Rome. Neron is a Devil, Trigon is a Demon. Anyways, after years of battle, things sort of settled down into a tenuous peace. A new government came into being and eventually even social mobility (via souls) became possible.
Hell is controlled by the Triumvirate, a ruling body consisting of three infernal powerhouses. The current Triumvirate is:
- Lucifer - The First Fallen, Lord of Light. He's the David Bowie incarnation straight out of Sandman and Lucifer. Defacto ruler of Hell by writ of power.
- Azazel - Prince of the Bottle, Archdevil of the Thorned Path. The most recent addition to the Triumvirate, this devil won his place, usurping the devil Neron, by being one of the first to truck with humanity as more than just a source of souls. His daughter Nada mated with the hero Champion (now known as the wizard Shazam) to produce the surprisingly powerful Lord Satanus and Lady Blaze.
- Beelzebub - Lord of the Pit, Magister of the Infernal Bank. The highest ranking demon in Hell, Beelzebub has his bloated fingers wrapped around the infernal economy. He's the Crassus to Lucifer's Pompey and Azazel's Caesar. Cautious, Beelzebub tends to operate through demonic agents like Nergal or Nebrios.
Of course, there are other factions within Hell that rise and fall over time. Some of the ascendant powers currently include:
- Belial - The Smiling One. Facilitator of the Infernal Circles. Smooth and charming, this devil is the father both of Merlin and Etrigan. Perhaps powerful enough to claim a spot on the Triumvirate should one of the three falter, he has said that he doesn't want the headaches that come with the job.
- Trigon - Thane of the Borderlands. Watcher of the Worlds. A demon who aspires to godhood, Trigon is the ruler of a savage expanse of Hell. Though powerful, he's viewed as uncivilized, a barbarian whose armies are nonetheless much valued by the infernal powers. Bound to his realm when the fallen angels invaded, he seeks his freedom to destroy as is his wont.
- Neron - The Crooked Candle. Prince of Lies. Once Neron sat at Lucifer's right hand, but some act caused him to lose favor. Only three beings know what that act was, but neither Lucifer nor Neron nor the Phantom Stranger are talking about it. He has recently returned from his self-imposed exile with a new consort, Lilith, to reclaim his dominions that his lord steward Asmodel had kept for him.
- Abaddon - The Hungry One. Devourer. One of the demons that refused to bow to the new order thrust on Hell by the fallen angels, Abaddon swims deep in the Pit, devouring all those it encounters, shitting them out in new and more terrible forms. Is it building an army down there? Beelzebub says things are well in hand.
- Eclipso - God's Wrath. Vengeance Upon All. If Abaddon is a demonic predator, then Eclipso is its fallen counterpart. Once Eclipso acted as God's Wrath, but he went too far and lost the job to The Spectre. As the Songs of Heaven still hum beneath Eclipso's skin, he is best able to cross the veil between Hell and Earth, sometimes ferrying others for a price.
- The Demons Three - Tripontiff of the Leaden Tower. Seers of the Underworld. Abnegazar, Rath, and Ghast are partially seers, partially spiritual leaders of the inhabitants of Hell.
Still, after all that background, it'd be a shame to waste it all. So rather than wait for the infernal to come to the Drewniverse, let's send a person down there. Faust (#31/52) is the story of Sebastian Faust, son of the corrupt sorcerer Felix Faust, who was given power at a young age when his father sold his son's soul for power. Lucifer, the devil called in for the deal, was annoyed that his time was being wasted by something as trivial as this ("This is much more Neron's forte. Why couldn't you have called him?") twists the deal and gives the power Felix bargained for to his son.
So it's no huge surprise in Issue #1 when Lucifer summons Sebastian to Hell to perform a favor. In return for his soul, Faust must solve a murder. Lucifer's. Someone has killed Lucifer in his role as Triumvir. While this doesn't mean that Lucifer is dead or anything (he's fine), it does mean that he's no longer in charge of Hell. A vacancy on the Triumvirate is a scary thing as it means the chance of civil war is pretty high. Last time, Lucifer was able to hand-pick Neron's successor, which kept things pretty stable. But, having been removed from his role in governance, he can't do that this time around. Think about the phrase "The King is Dead, Long Live the King" - though the person who was king is dead, the office still remains. Now reverse it and you have what's going on here.
Faust has a host of suspects from the lists above. The demons like Abaddon have always resented the devils and would love to kick out the fallen from Hell entirely. Old enemies in Heaven, such as the angel Zauriel, still exist, as some wounds of war never heal. Neron certainly wants a seat at the Big Table again. Sebastian's dad is not the sort to forgive a slight. And don't forget how Lucifer once abdicated his rule in the DC universe itself. Could this be more of a suicide than a murder? Plus there's the whole how that needs to be figured out, which will likely tie into the failing veil of magic that Zatanna and Constantine are looking in to in Badge of Fate.
Questioning the living and the dead, the saved and the damned, is bound to piss some people off, so young Faust will probably have to pick up a sidekick/bodyguard to help keep him safe. What he uncovers will no doubt shake the spiritual foundations of the Drewniverse and could actually lead to one of our 5-7 permitted Big Events.