Appearance and abilities
Nergal can take any form he pleases, but generally he looks like a muscular, red-skinned, bald, tall humanoid with sharp claws and fangs. He sometimes also has wings in this form. He has also been shown to have another, hideous form that looks like a series of different species melded together, including flies, humans and dogs.
His position as both a demon and god has given Nergal a certain degree of arrogance, hence his inability to ever come to terms with the fact that Constantine has repeatedly bested him. Like John Nergal is a manipulator and player of games, but unlike John he also has the brawn to tear his enemies apart.
Origin of Nergal
The Epics of Nergal
Nergal was described as a god of war and pestilence. He also was the son of Enlil and Ninli. He then was given the underworld, and was pronounced god of death. Garth Ennis wrote an origin story for Nergal in which he was originally a mortal human who preyed on small children, but this was retconned in future issues.
In 1958 Nergal, disguised as a human child after convincing a man in Liverpool to murder someone, met a young John Constantine and gave him his first cigarette. Nergal was amused to have sown the seeds of corruption in an innocent child until he realised that young John had craftily pick-pocketed the entire pack. (Vertigo Secret Files: Hellblazer, 2000)
Nergal's first major confrontation with John Constantine was in 1979 at The Casanova Club in Newcastle. John and his friends - a group that would later be known as The Newcastle Crew - broke into the club to find its occupants massacred by Norfulthing, a demon summoned by an abused girl named Astra. John summoned a demon of his own to kill the creature but failed to name and bind it. That demon - Nergal - then killed Norfulthing and dragged Astra to Hell as payment. The event drove Constantine completely insane. (Hellblazer issue 11, 1988)
In the 1980s Nergal heard a prophecy that a child of great power would be born on Earth - and that The Resurrection Crusade, a militant Christian army, were planning to co-opt the prophecy to bring about a new Christ. He set down in London and created his own force: The Damnation Army. He also created a monster named Ironfist to murder the Christ-child's prospective mother, Zed, but the creature was killed by Constantine. (Hellblazer issue six, 1988)
After Constantine was hospitalised in an accident, Nergal gave him a transfusion of his own demonic blood, instantly healing John and giving him a taint he would carry for decades. John then made love to Zed, giving her the taint and rendering her unsuitable to carry the Christ-child. Consequently, when The Resurrection Crusade called an angel to their headquarters to impregnate her it flew into a fury and killed everyone but her. (Hellblazer issue eight-10, 1988)
Knowing that the balance had been thrown in Nergal's favour, John then gave up his body so that the plant elemental Swamp Thing might inhabit it to impregnate its human lover Abigail Cable - unwittingly fulfilling the prophecy. Nergal chased John's body around the astral planes but was unable to catch him. John subsequently tricked Nergal into entering the astral planes once more and tempted him up to the borders of Heaven, where a vengeful angel ripped the demon apart. (10-12, 1988)
But demons are notoriously difficult to kill - Nergal even moreso than most - and so he returned to Hell to lick his (considerable) wounds. Years later Constantine crossed The First of the Fallen, who declared that he would take the magus's soul. Nergal made the mistake of speaking out against this and so The First returned him to a mortal soul and cut him to pieces, scattering them across the wastelands of Hell. (60, 1992)
Nergal proved to be a tenacious sort, however, and slowly regrew his demonic form. But upon returning to his throne years later he discovered that his daughter, Rosacarnis, had stolen his throne and left his brother, the impervious Sterocax, unconscious in a pool of poison. Nergal tried to reclaim his lands but his daughter refused to believe he was truly back and had him cut to pieces once more. He regrew a new, smaller body - that of a rat - and fled to Earth. (Hellblazer issue 209-210, 2005)
He arrived back just in time for Rosacarnis to unleash her own plan to kill Constantine: setting the children she'd sired with him on his friends and family. The last to fall was John's sister, Cheryl. Nergal told John that her soul was in Hell and that he would help John get it back if he helped depose Rosacarnis. The pair ventured into Hell, but little did John know that Nergal was actually carrying Cheryl's soul inside himself. He used it to cut open and inhabit the otherwise impenetrable armour of his brother, Sterocax. Now nigh-invulnerable, he turned on both Rosacarnis and John, but his plan was foiled by The First of the Fallen, who killed him, Rosa and two of her children, Adam and Saul. (Hellblazer issue 209-210, 2005)
Back to life once more, Nergal turned away from England and towards his home country, now the war-torn plains of Iraq. There he fed on the anguished souls of those who fell in The War on Terror, using them as chips in a high-stakes game of poker with his fellow gods of Babylonia. That is, until Constantine arrived in the underworld, having been sent to investigate strange goings-on in the Middle East. Nergal promised to let John go if he won the game, which he did. (Pandemonium, 2010)
Nergal wasn't done with him yet, though. Upon hearing that John was to be married to Epiphany Greaves, Nergal did his damnedest to ruin the wedding, ostensibly on behalf of Hell but really because he couldn't stand to see John happy. His minions were foiled at every occasion so eventually he stepped into the breach himself and tore Constantine's heart out. But the victim turned out to be John's doppelgänger, The Demon Constantine, and so John was able to sneak up behind Nergal and rip out his spine - though even John recognised that Nergal would be back sooner or later. (Hellblazer issue 271-275, 2011)
Powers and abilities
Nergal is one of the strongest demons in Hell; controlling a large portion of the underworld. He is also a master of demon magic and is capable of many, almost reality-bending feats, such as being able to create demons from corpses, telekinesis, possession and energy manipulation. He is also impervious to any physical harm such as guns, explosions, torture and even being ripped apart by the First of the Fallen. If he is ever destroyed, he can regrow himself from a small smear of blood. As a god he too has some form of control over reality.
But his greatest weapon is his tongue. He is one fo the most devious and manipulative of Constantine's foes who orchestrated many of the Earth's disasters over the millinea.
In the Constantine TV series
- A demon named 'Black Nergal' appeared in More Fun Comics issue 67 (1941) as an enemy of the occult superhero Doctor Fate. Whether he is the same Nergal who has stalked Constantine - certainly they are both owned by DC Comics - is unknown.