Cult comic heroes take on the macabre
While more than a few superheroes have tangled with things that go bump in the night, there are plenty of characters who, if they weren’t good guys, could headline their own horror movie.
Vampires have been frequent antagonists, as well as heroes themselves. DC’s Andrew Bennett and Marvel’s Hannibal King denied their bloodlusts to hunt their own kind. Then there’s Morbius, the Living Vampire, who was transformed by science rather than sorcery.
As classic monster archetypes go, Marvel also has the Werewolf by Night, aka Jack Russell (yep). Sometimes, Russell is able to control his alter ego. In other cases, the beast has been in the right place at the right time or fighting against malevolent forces attempting to use him.
Both Marvel and DC have their own versions of Frankenstein’s Monster. DC’s has joined the Justice League Dark, while Marvel’s served with the Howling Commandos, a S.H.I.E.L.D. strike team of monstrous creatures that also included the heroic Living Mummy.
In 1971, Marvel and DC introduced Man-Thing and Swamp Thing, respectively, both scientists working on special formulas who died under suspicious circumstances and were resurrected as mounds of swamp matter. Multiple articles have been written about which came first or who ripped off who, but it’s been noted that both have much in common with a character known as the Heap, introduced in 1942.
Horror movie creatures don’t have to be magical to be scary, and neither do horrifying heroes. Vlad, from the cult horror comic Hack/Slash, could easily have turned out a serial killer – an abandoned, deformed child, locked away from the world and raised by a butcher who taught him his way around sharp implements. Instead, he became the muscle and friend of slasher-hunter Cassie Hack.
Blue Devil started out as an actor and stuntman in a horror movie and became bonded to the high-tech suit he created when an actual demon attacked. In DC’s New 52, the suit was the skin of an actual demon, one of a number of artifacts his family had collected and used as props in low-budget horror movies to mock the items and drain them of their belief-fueled power.
The macabre Terror experienced a bit of a comeback recently when he joined Deadpool’s Mercs for Money. After sacrificing himself centuries ago in combat with a demon, he gained its powers … and decaying form. He can replace his deteriorating body parts with those taken from other people and creatures, also acquiring the previous owner’s powers, knowledge or abilities.
Cheating death is the greatest common ground between the genres (followed closely, I suppose, by ridiculous violence).
Take DC’s Deadman. Circus acrobat Boston Brand was murdered and sent back from the afterlife to get justice. Returning as a ghost who could possess others, he became a hero, helping those in need.
Image’s Spawn was a government assassin who cut a deal to get out of Hell after being murdered. As happens often in these situations, things didn’t go as planned, and Al Simmons came back five years later as a Hellspawn, armed with a mystical suit and magical powers. He fights crime as well as the forces of Hell and Heaven.
Perhaps there’s no better horror hero than Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. Not just a demon, he’s the one who’s supposed to trigger the end of the world, but instead he works for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense to protect the world against threats like he could have posed, had he not been raised by BPRD founder, Trevor Bruttenholm.
Evan Bevins is the writer of the webcomic “Support Group.”