Horror is a complex genre where stories can deal with straight up slasher summer camp run-arounds or deep Lovecraftian mysteries. A genre that has found success in books, movies, and TV shows. Comic Books are another entertainment medium where this genre has grown. The Walking Dead. American Vampire, and These two different genres, when used well together, create groundbreaking storytelling.
Horror has this sense of the supernatural and fear that plays into it, even in more light hearted takes, from where to grow. Meanwhile superhero books have a core of hope and adventure that you don’t find in most horror stories. This supernatural doesn’t have to be the generic undead or voodoo or magical variety either, you can add it with Sci-Fi or Romance or any genre really, but there’s been an uptick of horror and dark thriller storytelling in recent superhero comics. That deserves noting.
What about Spawn?
The arguably original, or at least the most historically popular, horror superhero is probably Spawn, which still runs today. Despite numerous tries, I’ve failed to get into the character, not because he’s poorly written or anything, I just haven’t latched on yet. I’m sure I will, other platitudes, etcetera. If you like Spawn let me know where to start otherwise enjoy this article that mostly mentions recently started horror superhero comics.
The Immortal Hulk
Let me be the eight hundredth person to tell you that Al Ewing and Joe Bennet’s Immortal Hulk, with covers by Alex Ross, is the best comic coming out right now. this series is about monsters and deciding which one to root for. The ones that want to stop the Hulk or the Hulk himself, who has a goal to destroy the world. Outselling Batman two months in a row and one of the most engrossing yet terrifying tales in comics ever. The Hulk has always been a monster, but this run shows how far that goes. This Hulk can’t die or, more accurately doesn’t stay dead. Each issue shines a light on a more terrifying part of the Hulk mythos, even taking him to Hell and back. The series moves smoothly between the superhero and horror genres. Where one issue he’d be going toe-to-toe with the Avengers and in another he’s literally getting his heart eaten out.
Highlighting the many aspects of the gamma affected Marvel characters like Absorbing Man, Sasquatch, Betty Ross, and more in new horrific spins! Other than Jacqueline McGee, who’s still connected to his past, all essential characters were introduced in previous Hulk stories and reused for horror. The series has a way of making you comfortable with the superhero story and then, like a Hulk Smash, breaks the entire concept of the story only to peace it back together in another awesome series of metaphors with so many Hulk personalities it’s as if Hulk became Moon Knight. In the end this is a good book to make your skin crawl and get a good gore themed monster fight written by a master wordsmith.
Batman is considered the best by many for multiple reasons. He smarter than the smarties and tougher than the toughies and Ducktale’s reference aside there are a lot of great Batman stories. Ones where he’s the Dark Knight, others where he’s the Caped Crusader, a few where he’s the World’s Greatest Detective and now where he’s a human being. Tom King’s run is sure to go down in history for a lot of genius things the writer did with an army of awesome artists changing from arc to arc, arguably, but the touches of horror he’s added in should also be noted.
Most of the run focuses on the humanity and philosophy of Batman in one way or another. The concept of Gotham, suicide, and the threat of Bane being a few, but moments the Swamp Thing crossover, drawn in beautiful detail by Mitch Gerads, aptly titled “The Brave and the Mold”, and the creepy kid that killed his own parents so he could be like Bruce Wayne, and the Knightmares arc shows the horror in Batman’s own mind that makes him even more compelling. One prime example of horror in the tale is the “I am Bane” Arc where Bane defeats the Robins first issue and slowly takes out the rest of the Bat family, the current arc, “City of Bane” is this times ten.
Then there’s the horrifying “War of Jokes and Riddles” where Joker and Riddler kill people while saying… jokes and riddles. I’m really underselling it, but I promise it was scary. That said the scariest thing in King’s Batman run aren’t the villains or threats, but how relatable this Batman is. In “I Am Suicide” where, through internal monologue, Batman remembers a suicide attempt after his parents death before he took the cowl, then in Cold Days where Bruce has to convince a jury that Batman isn’t perfect, and the phenominal wedding issue where Catwoman left him at the altar. This series shows Batman dealing with horror and fears that we deal with and that’s even more terrifying because if Batman can’t beat it then how can we?
This horror centric ode to classic comics by Jeff Lemire is an eerie ode to our favorite comic book tropes wrapped in the aesthetic of a Twilight Zone episode. The mystery is so engaging with developments between the towns people and the reason they’re there that reminisce Twin Peaks old school pulp stories with a mix of golden age comics. With compelling characters like Golden Gail who’s an old lady Shazam-parody that turns into a little girl and Barbalien who’s essentially a gay Martian Manhunter who’s an outcast on both worlds. The story flashes between their origins, slowly telling the tale of how they got there, and the town.
This book has spun out into several other mini-series as Lemire builds his own little Universe all carrying the same level of mystery and thrill while paying homage to classic comic book tropes like Strange Adventures, Kirby’s Fourth World, Cthulhu, and more. They’ve even started a crossover with Justice League that is sure to delve into the mystery of it. If you like this check out Lemire’s other superhero horror Plutona, let me know if it’s any good.
Justice League Dark
James Tynion IV is doing his dream job with the help of Alvaro Martinez Bueno in the form of a new Justice League Dark. Putting a magic-based covert action team together under the leadership of Wonder Woman to go against a now acting up magic. The team includes such DC supernatural classics including Zatanna the backward speaking sorceress, Swamp Thing the monstrous guardian of the green, Detective Chimp… a detective chimp, and the classic Batman villain Man-Bat as the token science guy in the magic book. John Constantine joins later with his own exotic flare of mysticism and fears.
The book especially delves into the magical horror of Wonder Woman’s upbringing including the Greek goddess Hecate and other darker sides of her story. The book has a lot of potential considering DC’s massive magic library and the natural cost magic brings with it. The Otherkind is the new terrifying threat the JLD face and seems to be Lovecraftian, or Tynionian, monstrosities from the writer’s own dark imaginings. Including Upside-Down Man, The Conjoined, The Offspring, The Rip, and the Soup who, despite their playful names, are quit terrifying. The way of putting heroes like Wonder Woman and Zatanna against eldritch horrors is both compelling and terrifying like reading watching Superman fight Stephen King’s It. But instead it’s a rag tag team of kind of mystics and off their game masters of mysticism versus five Its instead of the one. The book somehow carries the hope of a true JLA story while scareing readers to their core.
The epic return of Eddie Brock penned by rising star Donny Cates and the creepy elegant art Ryan Stegman should be more than enough to sate anyone’s craving for pure action horror. Cates went back to basics with Eddie only to introduce an entirely new spin on the character including a God of Symbiotes named Knull. With this space opera of horror meeting street-level super-anti-heroism we also get some of that emotional relatable stuff like in King’s Batman. Eddie grows as a character realizing his relationship with the symbiote has been toxic and discovering he has a son.
Venom has never been more terrifying and moving, the constant twists and turns of the series like the Vietnam Venoms and symbiote gods and the Maker? I.E. evil Reed Richards that survived the Ultimate Universe. With Absolute Carnage event looking equally horrifying with terror-riffic potential.
Joshua Williamson, already proven horror prodigy from his hit series Nailbiter, and comic book artist veteran Howard Porter have been telling the most nerve racking run of The Flash I’ve ever read. Focusing on Barry Allen’s Flash in DC Rebirth Starting with the speedster serial killer Godspeed then leading into a horrifying Shade story and the overall tone of the book is hopelessness.
Sure, this isn’t every arc and so far Barry come out on top, but the tones of horror persist. In the just finished Flash: Year One arc Barry accidentally runs into a dystopian future and later gets shot because he wasn’t fast enough to dodge or phase through bullets yet. This series also goes toe to toe with Immortal Hulk for best cliffhangers.
Never the End
The best horror I’ve ever read has always been in the pages of comic books. After years of honestly basic horror movies that usually go to slasher or, with few gems of cinema in-between, it’s been nice to read fully freshed out monster in twenty-two page issues. Make those a mix with the superheroes fans also love and you get beautiful series like these in a vastly underrated medium.
Did your favorite Horror Superhero mix get mentioned? What’s your favorite horror book? What superhero do you think would do better with a more horror toned series? Let us know in the comments.