Welcome to Part III of The Longbox of Darkness’ Colossal Horror Comic Countdown. We covered #20-16 of LOD’s favorite horror comics in Part I, and Part II featured #15-11. Today we’ll be looking at the next five titles on the list. Be prepared for cockney British accents, 19th-century street autopsies, the horror of the Spiral, stone-fist sporting demon babies, creepy old codgers, and alluring ladies from Draculon. Read on!
Arguably one of the three greatest horror characters in comics (you’ll have to wait for a future post before I spoil the other two, dear readers), John Constantine was first introduced in the pages of Swamp Thing Vol.2 #37 in 1985. Created by legendary comic scribe Alan Moore and artists Rick Veitch, Steve Bissette, and John Totleben, Constantine’s distinctive look was famously based on Sting, the frontman of the band The Police. A supernatural troubleshooter with detective skills and a Sam Spade trenchcoat, John was often described as a hedge magician – a lower-tier magic user specializing in trickery to get the job done. Battling everything from monsters, phantoms, poltergeists, demons, angels, vampires, serial killers, pedophile priests, and even Lucifer himself, the character’s adventures adversely affected his supporting cast and loved ones, and a lot of the horror stemmed from this. John Constantine has become indelible in the DC Comics universe, and modern creators often cast him as a superhero. This, to put it plainly, is blasphemy and needs to stop.
Possibly the longest-running Vertigo series, Hellblazer was a joy to experience and kept your spine tingling better than most modern revamps of the title.
9. From Hell
I’m not going to lie, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s black & white horror masterpiece FROM HELL is a difficult read. The tale is extremely complex, and only a vague linear narrative anchors us to the plot. Most pages contain tiny panels crammed together like 19th-century tenements, permeating the reading experience with a strong sense of claustrophobia. Using the historical events surrounding the Ripper killings in London near the end of the 19th century, Moore weaves the perspectives and experiences of many characters together in a complicated network. This might sound like a daunting book to tackle, and I admit that I struggled through my first read-through. Still, once the sheer imaginative mastery of Moore’s storytelling machinations reveals themselves, you’d be hard-pressed to untangle yourself from the lives of Mary Kelly, Annie Chapman, and Inspector Aberline. Eddie Campbell’s art is a tour de force; every panel is detailed and meaningful. The experience of reading FROM HELL will leave you changed. Whether for good or ill is up to you.
The greatest of all horror Mangaka, Junji Ito is a creative force and propagator of nightmares unequaled in his native Japan. UZUMAKI is undoubtedly his finest work and my personal favorite horror Manga. Ito excels at rendering beautiful youngsters who encounter horrifying monsters and twisted beings that once were human but who’ve been subjected to Cronenberg-esque transformations by some ineffable power. Set in a small coastal town in Japan, the story revolves around the ominous threat of The Spiral and how it has permeated the lives of the inhabitants of the small town of Kurouzu-chou. Some are driven mad; some undergo extreme disfigurement; a few resort to cannibalism, while others try in vain to escape the terrifying maze their town has become. Only a few characters remain sane and unchanged, providing us unrestricted access to the horrors they perceive and the fear that envelops them. Told in a series of short tales, almost vignettes, UZUMAKI chronicles the slow corrosion of a community and its gradual descent into a type of hell never seen before on a comic book page. An absolutely essential piece of horror fiction that cannot be overlooked.
Mike Mignola’s HELLBOY is the comic that made me fall in love with sequential horror again after I briefly became disillusioned with horror comics during the 1990s. Mignola’s quirky and minimalist art, with its seductive tones and masterful use of color makes scenes of striking old-world horror vivid and impactful. Rooted in folklore and myth, HELLBOY manages to tease out the old horrors of ages past, seize them by their necks, and drag them screaming into the modern age. Whether part of a larger arc or a short one-off tale, every story is utterly compelling and unforgettable. Rereading the entire original series after a decade, I was surprised at how much I remembered and how vibrantly the art still lived in my memory. Hellboy himself is a truly unique figure in fiction. Still, Mignola and his collaborators manage to surround him with a cast of equally memorable sidekicks who generated standalone series in their own right. As a complete narrative, HELLBOY can be consumed quickly, and you soon realize that text and dialogue need not carry the day. The art is supremely capable of conveying atmosphere, events, and interactions that prod your imagination to create your own fanciful scenarios around whatever tale Mignola is telling in a particular issue or collection. That is a rare ability and one much prized among comic book artists. The power of Mignola is that he combines this talent with well-researched and obscure folk tales, so much so that you want to go out and do some added research yourself; maybe even become an amateur folklorist while you’re at it. This is why HELLBOY has enchanted horror fans for three decades and will probably outlive us all, as unique characters are wont to do.
6. The Warren Horror Archives
The anthology horror format has always appealed to me. I love short explosive tales that burst into the mind with twist endings and gratuitous shocks that leave you either laughing or gaping at the final page. However, since we’re talking comics, the quality of the tale is not always enough. The art needs to deliver, too, and Jim Warren’s Warren horror titles delivered on both the writing and the penciling. “Creepy” was pure horror, often focusing on tales set in ages past but also on 20th-century gothic settings. Plotlines hinged on magic or the supernatural, but a sci-fi horror tale would occasionally rear its head.
“Eerie” was different. It had many classic horror tropes, but the scares usually stemmed from fantasy locales, characters, or science fiction ‘what-if’-style thought experiments. Precious little gothic fare could be had, but I would be remiss if I did not mention that there was some overlap at times. The stories run the gamut from ghostly revenge tales to body horror and ‘science-gone-wrong’ yarns – worthy fare for any horror or speculative fiction fan. Unlike Neil Gaiman’s Sandman tales, however, horror was always at the forefront, even in the dark fairytales of Vampirella. Unrestricted by the Comic Code Authority, the stories were often grim and visceral. The stunning black-and-white art and the creative talents of such luminaries as Dave Cockrum, Mike Ploog, Doug Moench, Nicola Cuti, Rich Buckler, Don McGregor, Al Hewetson, Ed Fedory, Bill Black, Rich Corben, Boris Vallejo, Ken Kelly, Paul Neary, and Budd Lewis also meant that Warren publications consistently delivered high-quality content that blew their competition out of the water during the 1960s and 70s.
And that concludes Part III of the countdown. If you’re still riveted and eager to ogle LOD’s Top 5, read our final installment. Until then, never run upstairs, keep those crucifixes handy, and stay away from small Japanese coastal villages, just to be safe.