This is it! If you’ve stuck with us this far, then your patience is about to be rewarded. At last, The Longbox of Darkness has reached the final 5 horror comics on our Countdown List, the five best in LOD’s estimation. But before we get to that, check out the previous posts to whet your appetite for the main course. Here they are:
Without further ado, let’s get to it. Here are The Longbox of Darkness’ TOP 5 Horror Comics:
5. The House of Mystery
DC Comics’ anthology comic The House of Mystery is a nostalgic favorite, occupying the 5th spot on this list. Story and artwise, it is probably no better or worse than its sister titles The House of Secrets, The Witching Hour, and Ghosts. All I can say is that when I was a kid, I owned more issues of HOM than any other title. The long box given to me by a relative on my 5th birthday (and jumpstarted my horror comic obsession) contained more than fifty HOM issues. I read them incessantly during childhood, loving the weird Bernie Wrightson and Nick Cardy covers, the interior art and stories by a plethora of DC’s greatest creators, and the letter columns by the snarky Cain, keeper of The House of Mystery.
When I eventually read the contents of that proto-longbox of darkness to tatters, I set out to collect some of the newer issues, eventually picking up nearly everything from the final three years of the title, 1981-1983. I gushed over the stories of I, Vampire, which starred the doomed nobleman Andrew Bennet and his eternal hunt for Mary, The Queen of The Blood Red Moon. I also loved the backup stories of the final issues, which in almost all cases seemed to ignore the Comics Code entirely. Sure, there was some bad art and disappointing stories, but the majority were good, and many were downright excellent. It is probably the title that I remember most fondly from my childhood. If it weren’t for the inconsistency of the stories, it would definitely break the top 3. Who knows? With subsequent rereading, it still might one day.
4. EC Comics’ Archives of Horror
Tales From The Crypt, The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear. Legendary titles all.
The Cryptkeeper, The Old Witch, The Vaultkeeper. Horror hosts extraordinaire.
Al Feldstein, Harvey Kurtzman, Wally Wood, Jack Davis, Will Elder, Jack Kamen, Reed Crandall, George Evans, Al Williamson, Graham Ingles, and even the incredible Ray Bradbury and Frank Frazetta. Legends all.
Many of EC’s stories have attained legendary status because they broke new ground and dared go beyond what other comic companies in the 1950s deemed the impossible, but what Harvey Kurtzman and Al Feldstein saw as just another hurdle to be crossed. Sure, other comic companies were out there, churning out lurid horror and tales of murder. Their quality was lacking. At EC, the quality was always top-notch, the humor topical, the characters memorable, the twists unforgettable, and the art superlative.
Without EC Comics, the landscape of the entire horror genre, not merely that of horror comics, would not exist as it does today. Their stories influenced countless creators, not least among them folks like George A. Romero and Stephen King. They left an indelible mark on the psyches of a generation and shaped the future of horror because of it. For that, EC deserves our gratitude and our praise.
3. Weird War Tales
It’s cliche to say war is hell and to utter the phrase ‘the horrors of war’ these days, but both maxims still ring true. Just imagine what the experience of war would be like if some malevolent god were to amplify the soul-numbing fear and suffering generated by a conflict between two nations/city-states/tribes, etc., by introducing a supernatural element, usually in the form of a ghost or a monster, into the mix. With all the regular blood, pain, and death that soldiers face, how could they stand it if they have to contend with creatures their bullets and bayonets can’t harm, creatures that make the enemy seem paltry by comparison? This storytelling formula would boost the effect of war’s horrors to an unimaginable degree. That is exactly what DC Comics’ WEIRD WAR TALES did, and did so extremely well.
The legendary artist Joe Kubert produced a huge amount of the covers and quite a fair bit of interiors for the series. At the same time, writer Robert Kanigher wrote scores of stories and a host of other talented DC scribes. Most of the interiors were done by a swath of notable DC stalwarts – Don Newton, Alfredo Alcala, Sonny Trinidad, Tony DeZuniga, Gerry Talaoc, Nestor Redondo, Alex Niño, Ernie Chan, Bill Draut, E.R. Cruz, Marshall Rogers, Joe Orlando, and many others.
The series used the anthology format, and stories often jumped between wars of different eras, though most tales were set during World War II. As a history nut and war story junkie, I was enraptured from the first moment I picked up an issue. To this day, WWT remains my favorite horror anthology title, and that will probably never change. When the Creature Commandos were introduced to the title near the end of its run, the series went from 10/10 to an 11 for me. Even four decades later, there’s still nothing I like better than to spend a Sunday afternoon paging through old back issues. Weird War Tales is always on top of the stack.
2. The Tomb of Dracula
The first horror comic I bought with hard-earned birthday cash was Tomb of Dracula #70, which was the final issue. The ending of Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan’s epic story blew my mind, and I immediately wanted more. So I started to hunt in the many convenience stores, corner shops, second-hand bookstores, and flea markets in and around the small town of Randfontein RSA, where I grew up. It took me 12 years, but I finally managed to track down all the issues of this seminal series, making it one of the first complete runs I would own.
It just so happened that I had some tattered issues of TOD before buying issue 70, but they were inherited and in such a state as to render most of them unreadable. That didn’t matter, though, because back then, back issues were easy to come by, at least in South Africa. Surplus comics from the States would be shipped to SA in boxes; some comics were often years old. Different stores received different comics from years past. I once entered a corner store selling two spinner racks of only early 1970s Charlton Comics. When I stopped by the following month, it returned to selling Marvel and DC again. Some boxes lay unopened in storerooms for years or until the spinner racks needed filling. I know this because I once asked a store clerk to go in the back and check if they had any issues of a particular series I wanted after he told me how they received their comics. Suffice it to say, he was not amused and promptly told me to get lost. But let’s get back to Tomb of Dracula, shall we?
In the titular novel from 1897, Count Dracula never had an actual presence, save for what we learned of him through the diary entries of the various human characters, all with vastly different points of view. Rather than a character, the Count is presented as a type of near-incomprehensible force that rips apart the lives of the mortals arrayed against him until a combination of tenacity, knowledge, and luck defeats him. The comic book series retains all these elements but adds character to the brew.
The Dracula character from Marvel Comics is arguably one of the greatest villains ever to appear in fiction and, because of this comic, in four-color print. He is frequently murderous, supremely arrogant, and nigh-omnipotent, but at times also sympathetic and charming. He evolves further when pitted against the unique personalities opposing him – the team of vampire hunters that swore to destroy him once he awoke in the 20th century: Frank Drake, Rachel Van Helsing, Taj, and last but never least, the wheelchair-bound Quincy Harker. All are fully realized people; all are essential cogs in the wondrous machine of story that Marv Wolman so elegantly weaved for us, assisted in no small part by the magnificent and atmospheric art of the late great Gene Colan. The series even contains a crossover with Doctor Strange, my favorite Marvel Comics character, so what’s not to love?
1. Swamp Thing Vol. 1 & 2
I saw Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing with my family at our local drive-in theater when I was 6. At my insistence, we went again the following weekend. I became so obsessed with the film that my dad eventually tried to shut me up by buying me some Swamp Thing comics. The issues on the spinner racks at the time were from Volume 2 of the series, written by Marty Pasko and drawn by Tom Yates. It featured very mature stories compared to what I had been reading, but I eagerly ingested them.
The art was eminently disturbing, and the villains were either cadaverous, crazed, monstrous, or all of the above. I was lucky enough to find the first issue and then (with the financial support of my generous parent) managed to collect the monthly issues as they became available. My battered old long box had some of volume 1’s issues, even a few Bernie Wrightson and Len Wein ones, and I voraciously read and reread them all. An old second-hand bookstore in a neighboring town yielded a nearly complete run of the first 24 issues of volume one, albeit in terrible condition. Still, they were readable and cheap.
So, at the tender age of seven, I became a Swamp Thing nut. Alec was my favorite comic book character, bar none. He even eclipsed Doctor Strange and Morbius over at Marvel (my two favorites before Swampy came around). It wasn’t just the fact that he was a monster and I was a monster kid. Pasko and Yates did the character proud, and when they left, Alan Moore, Steve Bisette, John Totleben, and Rick Veitch rocketed him to new heights. Swamp Thing was already my favorite comic before Moore started his groundbreaking run, but he made it into a monthly obsession, a fix I needed badly.
As the years passed, Moore and his artistic collaborators kept delivering, and each issue was better than the one that came before. The series gave us the likes of John Constantine and turned Anton Arcane into the most terrifying antagonist ever seen in print. Body horror, psychological horror, mythological horror, sci-fi horror… you name the sub-genre, and Swamp Thing had it. I wish I could say that Tomb of Dracula was a close second, but it isn’t even in the same ballpark. Alan Moore did something innovative, beautiful, and nasty with horror in the pages of Swamp Thing that remain unequaled today. But don’t take my word for it. If you haven’t sampled it yet, take a look. Trust me; it’ll change your life.
And that’s the list, folks. Can I call it definitive? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. There are a lot of new horror titles out that deserve praise, and might one day bump one of the series mentioned above off the list. For now, though, this is what I’m sticking with.
Feel free to mention your own favorites. Don’t feel obliged to count down from twenty; five or ten will do. Your comments are always welcome, horror lovers.
Thanks for following the list. Keeps your eyes peeled for more horror listicles in the future. Until then, I’ll catch you in the funny pages. Pleasant screams!