However, the scariest characters in any comic book universe still wouldn’t be truly frightening without a good story behind them. That’s why your Splash Page team has put together this long list of some of the most terrifying tales they’ve ever read. Editor Rick Marshall and writers Brian Warmoth, Caleb Goellner and Josh Wigler have each assembled a list of the scariest comics that have stuck with them through the years and skulked in the dark recesses of their comic book memory.
From supernatural threats and viral terrors to alien invasions and sadistic supervillains, these books offer the perfect scary stories to celebrate Halloween.
Horror tales from “30 Days of Night,” “Tales from the Crypt” and others have made their ways to movies and television, but the list of comic book tales with the capacity to really frighten is not very long. Getting a writer and artist who both have the skill to win your affections and then hold them hostage in a convincing enough manner to make a great horror tale work is a huge accomplishment.
The following five books are my top picks for terrifying tales on the shelf at the local comics shop, and they’re perfect for any late-night Halloween reading plans you may have.
Neil Gaiman’s now-legendary Vertigo series melded fantasy with Gothic horror as well as anyone has ever done in literature, comics or film, and this volume from the series cut to the core of the fears and anxieties that can fester inside of any aging social misfit.
His dark villain the Cuckoo and lushly illustrated fantasy pals clash effectively on this tale’s pages, which manage to resonate in chills because of the lush, scraping artwork, in addition to Gaiman’s grounded human story beneath its more fantastic elements.
This graphic novel mines its goosebumps almost entirely by keeping the story’s momentum in a constant tailspin after focusing early on on the endangered children in Fialkov’s script who become mice in a frighteningly imaginable small-town horror story.
“A SMALL KILLING” by Alan Moore (W) and Oscar Zarate (A) — Dark Horse
This early Alan Moore graphic novel works in much the same way Alfred Hitchcock did, generating fear from what the reader doesn’t know about what’s going on around the central character. A rising ad man experiences paranoia through every step of his life, and for as much as he accomplishes can’t seem to shake the ominous taunts coming from every direction.
If you’re not familiar with the honed lines of Charles Burns, “Black Hole” is thus far his standout masterpiece. It’s the story of how an insidious sexually transmitted diseases infects a group of kids in a suburban Seattle community, causing creepy growths and mutations.
The effects of the disease are made all the more scary by his ultra-sharp shadow effects.
The number of superhero comics that qualify as legitimately scary could barely fill a short box, but Grant Morrison and Dave McKean did it with this Batman graphic novel about the Joker and the citizens of Arkham Asylum taking over their home.
More similar to a “Sandman” read than it is to any other Batman story on the shelves, this is a true horror tale that truly defines the Arkham setting that became the backdrop for “Batman Begins” and this year’s critically acclaimed video game of the same name.
I’m not the easily scared type—or, more accurately, I’m not scared by what most people find traditionally scary. It’s not necessarily the jumps and sound cues that get my heart pumping, nor am I particularly moved by the whodunnit motif or the what’s-under-the-bed gimmick.
Instead, I’m afraid for my beloved characters when their lives are threatened. My stomach turns at the thought of something terrible happening to somebody that doesn’t deserve it. When I imagine myself in the shoes of a person on the business end of a traumatic encounter, it’s all the more real for me.
With Halloween fast approaching, I’ve been thinking about the aspects of life reflected in fiction that truly terrify me. In the spirit of that, here are five comic book stories that have rocked my nerves to the core.
I watched the Brandon Lee-starring “The Crow” before I read the graphic novel created by James O’Barr — and while both versions certainly stayed with me, I was definitely more frightened by the comic book.
Sure, the tragic tale of Eric Draven is made all the more real by Lee’s own tragic fate, but the way Draven meets his end in the novel—a truly chance encounter on the side of the road, where he and his girlfriend are causing no harm to anybody—filled me with absolute dread. I’ll never forget the first time I read that scene.
Admittedly, I didn’t get around to Joe Hill’s critically acclaimed “Locke & Key” until fairly recently — but thank god I did, because it’s one of the best horror comic books I’ve ever read.
“Locke & Key” focuses on an unassuming Massachusetts-based estate called Keyhouse, which is populated by several doors and keys that lead to all sorts of spine-tingling ends — not the least of which is a magical doorway that, once crossed, instantly rips your soul from your body. These elements, combined with a fantastically sympathetic cast, make “Locke & Key” a must-read for terror junkies.
From a man who could kill Satan with a single bullet to a sex object made out of meat, there’s no shortage of twisted scenes in “Preacher,” but in the end, it’s the final arc — titled “Alamo” — that had me most worried.
As I mentioned before, I’m particularly upset when my favorite characters are put in harm’s way, and “Alamo” was chalk full of these moments. From Cassidy facing down his horrible past to Jesse Custer taking one last stand, “Alamo” was truly a sickening affair to behold for longtime lovers of “Preacher,” even if it didn’t end too terribly — well, depending on who you were rooting for, I suppose.
Like “Preacher,” Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” contains plenty of horrifying scenes. That’s unsurprising given the comic book’s focus on a zombie-ridden world — but the real terror comes in the form of the remaining humans, as epitomized in the “Made to Suffer” story-arc.
Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors come face-to-face with a sect of bad, bad men and women — a face-off that’s so dangerous, in fact, that many of the book’s main characters don’t make it out alive. It’ll be very interesting to see how this arc gets handled in AMC’s planned adaptation of the series.
Count me in amongst the crowd that thought Zack Snyder’s alteration of the “Watchmen” ending was a mistake. I can hardly count the number of reasons why I love Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel so much, but the shocking reveal of the infamous squid is easily my favorite moment.
It comes out of nowhere upon the first read-through. It’s still hard to fully grasp upon subsequent readings. But sense isn’t what matters when it comes to the squid — it’s the very fact that the creature’s New York arrival brings about a senseless act of mass-violence that’s resonated with me until this day. Of every comic book I’ve ever read, no scene has left me as utterly gutted as this one.
I’d like to think I’ve seen some things in my time. The grim ’80s, the gritty ’90s and the…uh…whatever the 2000s will be called, have all gifted comic readers with their share of terrifying moments. Of course, some are more terrifying than others and in less-blatant ways. After following a steady diet of horror comics since my teens, I’ve come to expect scares to manifest in certain ways.
That’s why I love a genuine surprise. A shock to my sometimes complacent reading system reinvigorates my appetite for genre fare and keeps me emptying my wallet at the comic shop. Here’s just a few things I’ve been happy to shell out the cash for in recent memory:
You know things are bad when the Guardians tell their Green Lanterns to straight up run from their posts. Unfortunately, the GLs watching over Captain Comet’s home planet rejected fear when they should have embraced it and paid the price.
After decimating an entire world with her army, the nefarious Lady Styx tortures the remaining heroes, rounding the evening off with a power ring snack that shocked readers everywhere.
20 years ago this month, Garfield creator Jim Davis took a week off from having his lazy feline kick Odie off of tables for a bizarre existential narrative exploring the inescapable dread of loneliness. The strip came out of nowhere, and effectively scarred a generation of fans by not only reminding them just how frail their own psyches are, but also by elevating a typically casual read to intellectual heights it would never really reach again.
Oh well, “Monday” jokes are fine too.
After being imported from the affable classic “Superfriends” animated series into the mainstream DCU, Wendy and Marvin took up with the Teen Titans as a way of rebelling against their criminal father The Calculator.
Unfortunately, their techno stewardship of Titans Tower leads to Marvin’s shocking death-by-hellhound, with Wendy sent into a coma from her injuries and mental trauma. I guess I should have seen it coming given the Titans’ astonishingly high mortality rate, but this one blindsided me.
Former “Catwoman” artist Jim Balent has been gothin’ it up for a few years now on his supernatural title “Tarot.” Of course, the Internet at large wasn’t familiar with this niche title until Chris Sims dissected its pinnacle storytelling achievement at his Invincible Super Blog.
Sims can describe the story better than I ever could, but the bottom line is that there are far more intimate (and frankly, disturbing) locales than houses capable of hosting hauntings.
A few months back I had the chance to chat with Clive Barker, longtime horror scribe and the mind behind IDW’s 3-D “Seduth.” As warm and friendly as Barker was to interview, I gotta admit, having to chat with him less than an hour after reading an advance copy of his horror opus had me fairly shaken.
Readers basically watch the ultimate corruption of a man who discovers there may be no morality to begin with. Not a comic I’ll be forgetting anytime soon and definitely not for the faint of heart.
It doesn’t take an entire book or storyline to me when it comes to comics—more often than not, it’s a single issue or, in some cases, an individual panel that stays with me long after I turned the page. Every few years, I end up looking through some of these comics again and come to realize that, yes… they still manage to strike a disturbing, frightening nerve every time I read ’em.
A NEW BREED OF DIRE WRAITHS ARRIVE IN “ROM” #47
As anyone who knows me (or has been following me on Twitter) already knows, I’m a big fan of the Marvel Comics character ROM, Spaceknight—so it’s probably no surprise that I’m calling out a scene from his series. Sure, the cover of this issue was pretty scary on its own, but the story proved to be even moreso, introducing a new breed of villain that, among other nasty habits, uses its drill-tipped tongue to bore into the skulls of human victims and steal their identities.
The new creatures debut in true horror-movie fashion, as a hapless couple on a lonely stretch of road becomes the first of what’s to become many, many victims of their bloody invasion. This issue marked an exceptionally dark turn for the series, with horrific, supernatural threats becoming the norm in a series that had previously been more of a fun, stranger-in-a-strange-land adventure.
The final issue of the early-’80s “Spider-Woman” series, I’m still not sure why this issue affects me the way it does. For most of the issue, it’s your standard superhero adventure, with Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew) foiling a plan to capture her and various other super-powered characters. However, just when everything seems to be wrapping up, Spider-Woman is forced into taking an out-of-body adventure, only to return to discover that while she was gone her body, well… died.
Eventually coming to grips with the fact that there’s no miracle resurrection to be found, she eventually comes to grips with her death, and makes a final wish that forces the reader to confront his or her own mortality, too. And then that’s it—the series is over.
It’s simultaneously one of the most heart-wrenching and terrifying stories I’ve ever read, combining some pretty scary scenes with a dose of reality that makes it all hit home that much harder.
Of all the issues in Alan Moore’s epic run with Swamp Thing, this was the story that always creeped me out the most. The plot is largely a dream sequence unfolding while Swamp Thing explores the nature of his own humanity—and if he even has any humanity left.
The fact that it’s a dream sequence allows Moore and artist Stephen Bissette to go wild with terrifying imagery, and the combination of Bissette’s visuals and Moore’s moody tone have always left me feeling a bit unsettled every time I’ve re-read the issue. One minute the story is a straight-up exploration of Swamp Thing’s origins, and the next it’s a nightmare that always makes me feel like something is crawling on—and under—my skin.
Another one of my favorite series, “Strikeforce Morituri” chronicled the lives and loves of Earth’s last defense against alien invaders—a team of humans who underwent a procedure to give them superpowers, but who would ultimately and unexpectedly die to the side-effects of the process.
The series had already established that it didn’t shy away from killing off key characters due to the unpredictable “Morituri Effect,” so every issue could be the last for the series’ cast. In this particular story, they encounter the aliens’ latest weapon against humans: a plant-like entity that, when touched, causes human flesh to seal over any and all orifices—effectively suffocating its victims to death with their own skin.
It sounds like an “X-Files” or “Fringe” episode, and that’s exactly what it felt like, too. When one of the Morituri team is exposed to the plant, the battles she and the team fight are very different, but equally frightening. Writer Peter Gillis and artist Brent Anderson manage to convey a real sense of dread—and the story still gives me the shivers to this day.
What are some of the scariest comics you’ve ever read? Let us know in the comment section or on Twitter!