Halloween may be behind us but there is always a time to scare and be scared. And other than classic movies and rare TV, scary characters have found no better place to exist than the pages of comic books. They’re sometimes heroes, sometimes villains, but all the time frightening. In no particular order, here are my ten favorite spooky comic characters.
1. The Creature Commandos
Either the original incarnation that scared the hell out of the Nazis or the more recent additions to the New 52; they are soldiers and scientists that somehow became altered into the image of classic monster forms like vampires, werewolves, patchwork monsters, and more. These shared and almost universally feared creatures have a profound effect and will make even the hardest soldier think twice about pointing a gun at them.
DC’s Jonathan Crane is the most famous character to don this archetypal image from many agrarian childhood nightmares. Crane carries it further by specializing in the use of chemicals that tap into the fear sensors of the brain. He has also run the gamut from being cold and intellectual to crazily spouting nursery rhymes. Between that and the tattered and distorted mask, it is enough to make almost anyone stay out of the cornfield.
3. Werewolf By Night
Jack Russell (nee Russoff) got his powers the old-fashioned way… he inherited them. The victim of a family curse, Jack would change into a werewolf at the full moon. This gave him super-strength, agility, razor-sharp claws, and ultra-keen senses. Over time, Jack has learned to control his changes and can change fully or in part at will. He has also gained some adeptness for magic.
4. Frankenstein’s Monster
Whether he be the shambling monster made so famous by the Universal Studios film, the self-taught vengeful man from the Mary Shelley book, or even as the impossibly large gun touting Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Frankenstein’s monster has been a mainstay of comic books from the beginning. The monster (often erroneously called Frankenstein) is frequently portrayed as a villain but occasionally gets the treatment of the sympathetic, misunderstood creature, or even a hero. Regardless of the portrayal, the monster is always a fascinating inclusion in the story.
The king of all vampires has never been handled so well as in the pages of Marvel Comics in Tomb of Dracula. The book not only explored the life and history of the famous movie and literary vampire but also introduced such characters as Blade, Hannibal King, and Francis Drake, as well as various descendants of the Van Helsing family. Dracula also crossed paths with Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, and the X-Men.
6. Demons, Devils, and Satan
Out of the many characters born from our nightmares, demons, by far, are the most prolific of all the haunts. Marvel has used Mephisto to tempt many of its characters and created Son of Satan, a hero most of the time and the original First of the Fallen, Lucifer himself, who found life on Earth to be worse than hell. While Marvel has had its share of demons and devils, DC has surely brought the widest array. These tricksters include Abnegazer, Rath, and Ghast who bugged the Justice League, Blaze and Satanus who bedeviled Superman, Etrigan the Demon who might be a hero or villain depending on the rhymer’s mood, and Neron who made deals with a number of heroes and villains to make them “better”. By far, the most well-known demon these days is Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. The cigar-chomping, gun-toting hero has been dealing with the craziness of the world through comics, movies, and animation. These are but a few of the denizens of the dark that have blackened the four-color pages of comics.
Like demons, witches have not only been a comics mainstay, but the word “Witch” as a descriptive term has been stretched to cover any number of characters with powers that either was or seemed magical. The Three Witches made famous in Macbeth found themselves as horror hosts in the early 70s. Zatanna and Zatara were a magic-wielding family that fought crime with their magical skills, Zatanna’s mother being a member of the innately magical Homo Magi, a secluded offshoot of humanity. The mutant Scarlet Witch used the name but didn’t wield true magic until much later in her career when she met Agatha Harkness, once the nanny for Franklin Richards, child of Reed and Susan Richards. Amora the Enchantress often drove Thor, and later the Avengers, to distraction with her magic, and even in recent times, characters like Traci 13, Madame Xanadu, and the Teen Titan Raven have kept things interesting for their spandex-clad friends. Even the kiddie books got into the mix with Wendy the Good Witch and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Regardless of where they fly, witches have been tossing magic through comics for some time.
Zombies had never been more than easily dispatched henchmen and fodder on the way toward the main villain. Solomon Grundy had been the only vaguely zombie-like character of any renown. Two events changed this trend. First was the gimmick turned cannon Marvel Zombies where most of the major characters had been overcome by a zombie outbreak. The move was so popular that it has been revisited several times and, in fact, is now one of the “worlds” in Marvel’s multiverse. The second was the creation of The Walking Dead by writer Robert Kirkman and original artist Tony Moore, which has become a phenomenon. The story follows the survivors of a worldwide zombie outbreak and has since spawned a hit television series. The rise of zombie based books, movies, and television have caused zombies to become the “it” genre in recent times.
Although ghosts have not had the illustrious past of some of their colleagues, there have been a few true ghosts of note in comics. Of the noteworthy ghosts that populate comics, Gentleman Ghost was a true spirit that bedeviled Hawkman through a number of retcons, and Boston Brand, the Deadman, used his spectral powers to balance the scales of right and wrong. Perhaps the best-known ghost in DC Comics is the Spectre. The murdered Jim Corrigan is brought back to punish the guilty as the “Vengeance of God”. Dark Horse has the most attractive of all spectral characters simply named Ghost. Of course, no look at ghosts could be done without a mention of Casper and his ghostly uncles, who are often our first exposure to ghosts as children.
10. Muck Monsters of the Swamp
Although the Creature From The Black Lagoon never really made a dent in comics, there have been three very prominent so-called monsters that have emerged from the swamps. The first is the aforementioned zombie-like Solomon Grundy whose personality is based on gambler Cyrus Gold and has been retconned to have different aspects of Gold’s personality. The Swamp Thing, the most famous of the muck-encrusted characters was originally believed to be the transformed scientist Alec Holland, whose formula was believed to have mixed with the swamp. It was later revealed that he is instead the newest Earth elemental for the Green, and comics, movies, and a TV series have propelled the Swamp Thing to mossy stardom. The similarly green Man-Thing was scientist Ted Sallis, who was attempting to re-create the super-soldier formula that empowered Steve Rogers to become Captain America. Set upon by agents trying to steal the formula, Sallis injects himself and tries to escape but instead crashes his car in the swamp. The formula and the inherent magic of the area transformed him into the slow-moving and mute Man-Thing, who is hurt by negative emotions and whose touch burns all who know fear. He was drawn to the Nexus Of All Realities and became its guardian. He has since become the transportation for the redemptive villain team, the Thunderbolts and continues to appear in comic groups to this day.
Whatever the origin or motivation of these characters, it is important to look at them as reflections of their time and of the human condition. In the Frankenstein monster, we find the desire to belong. In the werewolf, our unbridled passion set loose. With Dracula, our own need to survive and thrive at all costs. We not only create the monsters, we are in fact the monsters ourselves, hidden behind masks of society and civility. The monsters we create and enjoy allow us to experience our inner darkness, from the relative safety of the four color pages.