As horror fans, we all know about “the fringe.” Those movies that ride the line of the genre, that are just weird and bizarre enough, maybe they offer enough dread or tension, perhaps they have a random practical effects monster, the reasons vary. For decades, film has rode a dizzying line between “horror” and some other genre. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, SEVEN, DARK CITY, the list goes on and on. Cinema isn’t the only field that contains this eccentric corner to explore, comic books have a long history of weirdo, horror-centric titles that usually have just enough to titillate the interest of fans. Sure, we all know about FROM HELL, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, and modern classics such as SEVERED or LOCKE AND KEY, but a plethora of titles have the potential to be loved. Here are just some of those titles.
Let’s just get SPAWN out of the way. Easily the most well known and highly recognized, SPAWN is one of the most iconic comic book figures that exists outside of the DC and Marvel universe. Covering the history of SPAWN would take a much longer article, but a brief synopsis can detail why this isn’t just your standard superhero comic. Al Simmons was a Force Recon Marine who eventually joined the CIA before being killed by his partner and sent to Hell for knowingly murdering innocents. In Hell, Simmons makes a deal with the demon Malebolgia; his soul to return to see his wife. When he returns, five years has passed and he has donned the now widely recognized suit. The title has had a long and successful run, due in part to the fact that it deals with the horrific, Heaven and Hell, all being told like a traditional superhero story. In his long tenure, Spawn has battled an evil clown that inhabits the body of a fat cigar smoking clown, the biblical Cain, an animated pile of trash named Heap, and a few members of an angelic host of Amazon warriors. SPAWN paved the way to embrace the supernatural in mainstream and continues to exist in the current zeitgeist.
Numerous incarnations of DOOM PATROL have existed but none quite as bizarre as the infamous Grant Morrison’s version of the team, created in 1989 with artist Richard Case and existing for a substantial run of four years. Foregoing the X-Men lite crew created in the sixties, Morrison creates his own team, consisting of the fullbody amputee in a robot suit Robotman, an androgynous spirit of a white man and an african american woman who has sex with itself to create Rebis, the ape faced psychic Dorothy Spinner and a woman with 64 separate personalities that all contained their own powers named Crazy Jane. That’s not even the strange stuff yet. When you dive into the rogues gallery of the world’s weirdest team, that’s when the world gets really whacky. Scissormen were scissor-handed creatures who could cut people out of reality, brought to our world from the Book With No Name about the fictional people of the city Orqwith. The Men From N.O.W.H.E.R.E. were a paranormal government agency with the goal to eradicate all strangeness from the world, big barrel chested people with purple trench coats and alien like helmets, who could only speak in phrases where the first letter of each word created the acronym N.O.W.H.E.R.E. Red Jack was a god-like entity who is a lepidopterist (butterfly collector) who claimed to be both Jack the Ripper and the creator of the universe. The comic is strange to the nth degree, while being deeply subversive and progressive, and has picked up again with Gerard Way’s Young Animal imprint at DC.
THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY
Gerard Way is going to show up on this list a few times. The former frontman of emo outfit MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE has quietly become one of the best writers in comics. Taking place in an alternate reality where JFK was never assassinated, THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY puts a glam rock spin on the X-MEN and places it squarely in the end of the seventies. After 43 children are all born on the same day to women who were not pregnant, all with superpowers, the seven that survived are adopted by Sir Reginald Hargreeves (known as The Monocle) who turns out to be an alien disguised as a rich and famous human entrepreneur who is developing the children to save the world. After opening with a fight scene against a sentient Eiffel Tower, we are introduced to a fractured family formed from adopted brothers and sisters with strange powers. Spaceboy has super strength but after a horrible accident had his head transplanted onto that of a Martian gorilla. His brothers are Seance, who communicates with the dead, The Kraken is a BATMAN-esque vigilante who can hold his breath indefinitely and has an affinity for knives and The Boy travelled fifty years into the future and joined a time travelling assassination agency where it was learned that he has the DNA of the best killers in history. His sisters are The Rumor, who he is in love with and can create reality by lying and The White Violin who can create pure and precise destruction with music. Even the deceased brother, The Horror, was truly bizarre, having the power on containing a horde of Cthulu like monsters inside of his body. The second arc, Dallas, is largely based around the attempted assassination of JFK and presents one of the best and weirdest alt-history stories ever written.
DC’S YOUNG ANIMAL IMPRINT
Last year, DC took a chance on Gerard Way and gave him his own imprint, Young Animal. Under this label, Way relaunched a number of forgotten and gonzo comics from the silver age. Thus far, he has rebooted classic creations such as THE DOOM PATROL, SHADE, and CAVE CARSON as well as creating his own Gotham vigilante, MOTHER PANIC. While tapping into some of the now infamous characters of THE DOOM PATROL, he presented a brand new spin on the two other previously existing franchises, giving us SHADE, THE CHANGING GIRL and CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE. Each tackled by a different creative team but spearheaded by the ideas of Way, the comics have taken a dive into embracing their oddity. CAVE CARSON tells the story of former famous spelunker Cave who has retired after numerous adventures beneath the Earth’s surface with it’s many terrifying creature. After the passing off his wife Eileen, Cave’s cybernetic eye has started giving him visions and he strikes back out into the world he thought he left behind. SHADE is about Loma, a bored inhabitant of the world Meta, who uses former poet Rac Shade’s madness vest to inhabit the body of formerly comatose Earth girl, Megan Boyer. Trust me, I know, it sounds like gibberish. SHADE deals with Loma learning how to handle being a teenage girl who was nearly completely reviled while also constantly escaping the clutches of those on her former home planet. MOTHER PANIC is a new story, focusing on the rich, brash and bored Violet Paige, a girl who co-inhabits Gotham with the Dark Knight himself. Striking out on a hover-bike and striking all white garb, MOTHER PANIC is the classic BATMAN story with a spin. And DOOM PATROL? DOOM PATROL brings back the characters made famous by Morrison, including the man of mental muscle Flex Mentallo and the sentient avenue Danny the Street, and sets off on a new adventure and focuses a whole lot on burritos. None of these titles are to be missed.
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE
When it comes to a modern take on old mythology, nothing is quite as cool as Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s THE WICKED + THE DIVINE. When you throw pop music, cutting edge fashion and old world mythology into a blender, this is what you get. Laura is a young teenager who starts hanging out with the Pantheon, twelve people who discover they are resurrected deities. This becomes common knowledge, giving them fame and power, but they discover they are part of the cycle, dubbed The Recurrence, and while powerful and in the public eye, they soon find out they only have two years to enjoy it all. The story deals with ethnicity, sexual identity, and at it’s core it’s a story of life and death. The gods being dealt with aren’t the same higher deities you usually see, but instead deals with the likes of Lucifer, Nergal of Mesopotamian mythos, Sakhmet of Egyptian lore, and more. It has even more fun by drawing comparisons to modern day pop idols and GIllen even has created a playlist to coincide with the comic.
This Image Comics standout, created by Justin Jordan and drawn by master of gore Tradd Moore, is like a b-movie come to life. Luther Strode is just a normal high school kid who is tired of getting picked on. He orders an old workout routine, like the Atlas Bodybuilding ads you would see in comics of yesteryear, but the difference is it works. Luther becomes a massive, hyper-reflexive, expert fighting machine. Through three volumes, you discover that it was no mere accident and the strange talent that Luther possesses can be traced back to Cain himself. He is not the only one with his abilities in the world, but the others are much more violent than him, and don’t follow the same moral compass. After facing The Librarian in the first arc, a well dressed but extremely violent killer of his kind, he runs into Jack the Ripper in the second arc before finally facing off against Cain. The comic is fast moving, kinetic, visceral and plays with golden age comic book and grindhouse conventions. Plus, it probably has more blood than the elevator scene from THE SHINING, the Johnny Depp kill in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, and the raining finale of THE EVIL DEAD remake. Combined.