The Demon King of Diptera

Article by Jonathan Wojcik

   Hundreds of years ago, when ancient Hebrews encountered worshipers of the philistine god Ba'al, they respectfully tolerated the minor differences in customs and terminology, realizing that whatever we have faith in and whatever name we slap it with, we're all the same human beings just struggling to live and love on the same planet.

   Haha, no, but seriously...the God Ba'al was quickly parodied in Hebrew texts under the name Ba'al Zebub or "Lord of the Flies," implying that his followers were no better than ignorant insects circling a pile of dung. The name was later adopted as one of Satan's myriad titles, as all "pagan" deities were considered alter egos of the prince of darkness himself.

   At some point in time, occult writers established "Beelzebub" as a specific demon in Hell's fictional hierarchy, later illustrated in 1863's Dictionnaire Infernal with this now iconic etching. The insect anatomy is actually pretty impressive for its time, though true flies, belonging to the bizarrely diverse order Diptera, are defined by only a single pair of wings. This decidedly more wasp-like creature is even adorned with Jolly Rogers and a tiny crown!

   The final legacy of this convoluted history? A whole lot of really cool fantasy monsters. Beelzebub may have once been nothing but a mean-spirited joke about someone else's religion, but today, it's a beastly bug-eyed monster in an assortment of video games, comics and cartoons. Today, we're going to go over some of these appearances both large and small!

   One of Beelzebub's earliest video game roles was as a boss in Final Fantasy II, designed by Yoshitaka Amano as a huge fly with a fanged, menacing demon face. Residing in the dark palace Pandaemonium, the monster wields deadly poisons and arcane magic to protect a legendary suit of armor.

   This boss would get a more insectile facelift in later remakes of the game, which I have to say is pretty nice. I love the multitude of bristly teeth, the densely spiny limbs and regal purple cape, not to mention the sheer bulk of this thing.

   Surprisingly, Beelzebub appears in Final Fantasy: Four Heroes of Light as a hideously infant-faced octopod. Though lacking any fly-based features or powers, I can somehow totally buy this thing as a demon master of feces-eating insects.

   In Ghouls n' Ghosts, sequel to the arcade hit Ghosts n' Goblins, Beelzebub is the second to final boss before Lucifer, reflecting its role in Occult lore as one of hell's highest ranking demon lords. The design is a lot cooler in the Arcade version (left) with more realistic fly-like mouthparts, seemingly misinterpreted as teeth in the Sega Genesis remake. The original concept art has both of them beat, however, with its detailed hairiness and creepy human musculature. This monster's primary attack method is to split apart into an entire swarm of tiny flies, merging back into a single body to propel toxic eggs from its gaping abdomen!

   Beelzebub would make his most disturbing and probably most famous boss appearance in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, where the player battles an entire swarm of demon flies breeding within a gargantuan, festering corpse! Only the destruction of this carcass could end the onslaught of the buzzing insects, each far larger than a human themselves. As you can see, the flies are patterned faithfully after the Dictionairre Infernal illustration, and look very menacing with their blood red eyes and abdomens.

   In the Dragon Quest universe, "Belzebub" or cleverly "Beelzebuzz" aren't boss caliber foes, but lower level enemies in the insect family, with vicious, irregular teeth set in their otherwise fly-like lips. While only their names seem at first like an overt reference, these creatures are produced in the Dragon Quest Monsters series by cross-breeding the "bug" and "devil" families!

   Beelzebub seems to be a particular favorite of Atlus games, appearing in almost every installment of the Persona and Devil Summoner series, sometimes as a title's ultimate boss. The traditional Atlus Beelzebub appears as a huge, hulking insectoid retaining many features of its classical depiction and adorning itself with human skulls and even tiger skins.

   I'm sketchy on the details, but at least one Atlus title (at least, I'm pretty sure this one is Atlus) featured this lovely fly-devil, not based on Beelzebub, but on the fascinating Zoroastrian legend of Druj Nasu, a spirit of death and disease who often took fly form.

   In Devil Summoner's more Pokemonesque Demikids or Devil Children spinoff, Beelzebub or Zebul has the upper arms and head of a humanoid goblin, but wears a cool mask matching the rest of its classic Beelzebub anatomy, adding a devilish face to the abdomen.

   Our last Atlus example may be the best looking here, a meticulously detailed sprite improving upon the original etching with its wildly colorful eyes and grotesquely fleshy, Freudian mouthparts! This beauty isn't a character itself, but summoned by Bristol-D for his "Horrid Swarm" attack in Groove on Fight, part of the Power Instinct series.

   The chitinous fiend is perhaps at his most magnificent in the mass multiplayer Ragnarok Online, with what appears to be more than six wickedly clawed limbs, psychedelic eyeballs and a grotesquely swollen abdomen, spurting mucus as he, er, repeatedly strokes it. Classy. With 6,666,666 hit points, an entourage of nasty "hell flies" and an arsenal of devastating powers, Beelzebub is one of the fiercest opponents in the expansive Ragnarok world, and clearly knows how to slaughter gamers in style.

   In Army Corps of Hell, a tactical fantasy game on the Playstation Vita, the pudgy Beelzeboon is technically the weakest boss in the game himself, but so well protected by his swarming fly minions that his battle can be one of the toughest and most frustrating. As a Square/Enix property, the resemblance to Final Fantasy's Beelzebub may not be coincidental.

   This page was at least a year old when the action-RPG Soul Sacrifice previewed its own Beelzebub as downloadable content in 2013, which I immediately had to edit in. This bastard is simply gorgeous, especially the contrast between his dank, decrepit body and dazzlingly colorful face. The accompanying demon flies are downright comical, with their protruding teeth and what appear to be decorative feces on their backs, but getting eaten alive by the little scamps is no laughing matter. In this setting, Beelzebub was apparently a slothful prince who watched his entire kingdom die of famine, selling his soul to become lord of the flies and maggots who moved in to his empty manor. Was there a downside I'm not catching? This explains why the smaller insectoids not only fight for him, but carry him through the air. He can't even be assed to use his own huge wings!

In Other Media

   While video games have embraced Beelzebub the most as a unique character, they were hardly the first - his true debut in geek culture was as the villainous Baalzebul in Dungeons and Dragons, a surprisingly underwhelming humanoid with what were either insect eyes or an insect-eyed mask.

   Realizing they could do better, Wizards of the Coast eventually retooled Baalzebul into a proper invertebrate, but in an inspired twist, opted for a gastropod rather than an insect. Supposedly cursed with this new form by rival demons, the slimy, slithering freak's repugnant stench and continuous excretion of waste has made him a true "Lord of the Flies" whether he likes it or not.

   Beelzebub has also featured as a recurring villain in Neil Gaiman's popular Sandman universe, a primordial Demon King who rules over the forces of decay and was at one time one of the three rulers of Hell. Unusually, this being often manifests as little more than the huge head of a fly, with a single pair of sometimes humanoid legs!

   Now, I'm not that big on most anime, but nowhere has the Lord of the Flies been characterized as much as in the manga and anime Yondemasuyo, Azazel-san, which I checked out only recently and found myself reasonably entertained. Joining the main cast from nearly the beginning, Beelzebub or "Bee" to his friends spends most of his time in the comical guise of a chubby, fly-winged penguin, though he shows his threatening side through some rather disturbing powers. His handsome, seldom used human form form is regrettably the form most fans have chosen to latch onto, though it's rather entertaining that whatever his shape, he still has a housefly's taste in food. Hope you brought mints, fangirls.

   Fortunately, this Beelzebub's true face is the sort of infernal insect we love around these here parts, with eyes like glass lanterns, birdlike wings formed of fly wings and creepy, human teeth hiding under his proboscis! Unfortunately, this only has sporadic appearances in the manga and this single brief image in the anime's intro. I suppose I still love the idea that the human mind distorts him into a fat seabird, but it's a shame we don't get to see him tearing things up Mothra-size in animated form.

   With their hundreds of clustered eyes, hairy little bodies and love of decomposing matter, flies have always been creepy to people who aren't me, and make a far more alien - but still unsettlingly familiar - template for the forces of hell than a bunch of red guys with horns. While a giant fly-monster has no real basis in religion or folklore, all it took was a bit of intercultural name-calling to spawn an enduring and monstrous fantasy character, one of my personal favorite gaming tropes and a role model for evil, supernatural bugs everywhere.



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