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When horror meets superheroes

By Staff | Sep 24, 2014

DC’s Frankenstein: A face only Grant Morrison and Jeff Lemire could love.

There’s a long, rich history of horror comic books, which would be ideal to delve into for this month’s Halloween issue.

At least it would be if I’d ever really gotten into horror comics. Let’s face it; I’m a superhero junkie.

But horror and heroes have intersected in interesting and unexpected ways over the years. What follows are, to me anyway, some of the more memorable mash-ups.

* Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness. Years ago, devoted Marvel fans were referred to affectionately as Marvel Zombies. A storyline in “Ultimate Fantastic Four” took this literally and the zombie-fied superheroes later spun off into their own set of limited series. Initially written by Robert Kirkman (better known for another zombie-related comic), what really helped them take off were the covers by Arthur Suydam that gruesomely and cleverly mirrored classic Marvel images.

The first couple “Marvel Zombies” limited series featured the decaying characters after having devoured most of their world. They didn’t do much for me, but I got a kick out of the third installment, which went back to the start of the plague with Bruce Campbell’s iconic Ash from the “Evil Dead/Army of Darkness” films trying to turn back the tide.

* Blackest Night. DC’s entry into the zombie game was an in-continuity crossover that saw yet another corps joining the expanding Green Lantern mythos. The Black Lanterns were corpses reanimated by black power rings. Often the undead were heroes or villains, including an Aquaman who commanded zombie sharks.

The core series was better than I expected and actually made for a suspenseful horror story in a mainstream superhero comic. Some of the tie-ins, though, weren’t worth reading. (I get you’re going for horror, but Donna Troy’s zombie baby? Too far.)

* Roadkill. This was the second storyline in the underappreciated “Secret Defenders” series that saw Dr. Strange use a deck of tarot cards to assemble teams to deal with particular supernatural threats. This one was “Roadkill,” a late-night horror TV character come to life who traveled Route 66 in his demonic big rig, leaving carnage in his wake. Strange gets Namorita and the Punisher to help him pursue the maniac, and they’re reluctantly joined by Sleepwalker, one of my all-time favorite Marvel D-listers.

* Frankenstein (DC). Marvel and DC have tried to put their own stamps on the classic monster, but Grant Morrison’s “Seven Soldiers” remake stands out most. Accepting his lot as a monster and taking his creator’s name, this Frankenstein is a tragic character with no interest in being tragic. He uses his supernatural strength to hunt down greater horrors and was an unlikely inclusion in the New 52, surviving the cancellation of his series to become a member of the Justice League Dark.

* Franken-Castle. The Punisher, aka Frank Castle, finally reaps what he’s sown and dies in grisly fashion. He’s reborn as a patchwork creature, enlisted to battle a brutal crusader out to rid the world of monsters. Way too violent for me, the story stands out for its straight-faced embrace of what could have been a goofy, one-off pun and the way it fits into continuity seamlessly.

* Capwolf. Back in the ’90s, Captain America briefly turned into a werewolf. I remember the covers that featured many wolf-themed Marvel characters and Cable, because it was the ’90s. I finally bought the trade at a comic show but haven’t read it yet, in part because I seriously doubt there’s any way the actual story can live up to the campy promise of the concept.

Evan Bevins is the writer of the webcomic “Support Group.”