31 Days of Horror: 5 Underrated Horror Comics Perfect For Halloween Part Three

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It’s October. The time of Halloween, horror movie marathons, and making sure your asshole neighbors didn’t put razorblades in the candy again this year. But what about horror comics? Sure you’ve read Hellboy and the various B.P.R.D. books. You’ve got the whole run of Locke & Key. You even have the non-Ben Templesmith drawn 30 Days of Night collections. And that’s great. Those are all great series’. What about Gary Gianni’s Corpus Monstrum? Deep Sleeper and The Coffin? F. Paul Wilson’s The Keep? Dan Brereton’s Nocturnals? Steve Niles’ Freaks of the Heartland? If you’ve read any of these wonderful books, you’ll realize how great they are, but if you haven’t, hopefully I can get you to change that. Over the next few weeks I’ll be showcasing these underrated and diverse horror gems, and many more, that are perfect Halloween reading.

BatmanGCL1. Batman: Gotham County Line

Steve Niles and Scott Hampton’s tale of ritual murders and a Gotham under siege by zombies was originally published as a three issue deluxe format limited series in 2005-2006, and collected in late 2006. Batman as a concept lends itself to these types of stories, yet they are a rarity. This series shows why they shouldn’t be.

Batman is following a series of grisly ritual murders, but when the dead begin coming back he begins to lose himself. Will a few unlikely allies be able to help Batman defend Gotham’s suburbs from supernatural terror?

This highly underrated gem is one of the few superhero stories on this list, because it really isn’t a superhero story at all. Niles and Hampton craft a brilliant tale of supernatural fright with plenty of scares, mystery, and a couple out-of-left-field guest stars. The story is exactly what you’d expect from a Niles Batman tale. Niles’ Joker is spot-on, and crazier than ever, but the real villain of the tale is even crazier. Hell, Niles pretty much nails the whole cast; his Batman is gruff and guarded yet heroic and willing to fight to his death for the underdog. There are plenty of unforeseen twists that will keep you interested until the satisfying conclusion. Hampton’s art is the perfect accompaniment for Niles’ script; he uses his brushes and muted palette to paint a Gotham suburb is as dangerous as the city. His work is lush yet dynamic, capturing the feel of a Romero flick on every page. Can we get this guy on a Deadman book already? Batman: Gotham County Line shows once again that Niles is a modern master of horror, as well as writing a pretty damn good Batman.

CrossBronx2. The Cross Bronx

Michael Avon Oeming and Ivan Brandon’s supernatural noir series The Cross Bronx was originally published as a four issue mini-series, and then collected, by Image Comics in 2007.

After multiple gang bangers are found dead, and with more on the horizon, Detective Rafael Aponte has his hands full. But who is this mysterious apparition he keeps seeing, and what does she have to do with a girl in a coma. Will Detective Aponte be able to solve the mystery and stop the murders with his faith intact?

This series seamlessly blends the tropes of noir detective stories with those of the paranormal, and comes up with something unique and original. The tale itself is intriguing and gripping, with plenty of action and a great mystery at its core. It’s an urban ghost story, a detective thriller, and a character study all-in-one which exceeds expectations with every page. Co-writers Oeming and Brandon outdo themselves weaving a tale that never goes where you think it will, and keeps you guessing until the end. Oeming is an even better artist than he is a writer, and from page three you know that he is not holding back on the gore. His work is dynamic as always, and he seems to be experimenting with page layouts more than usual, with great effect. His slightly cartoonish style actually fits the story much better than you’d think, and colorist Nick Filardy really makes his work pop off the page, especially when it come to the phantom where he uses bright blues to set her far apart from the rest of the more drab palette. The Cross Bronx is definitely a perfect Halloween read, with a little extra.

Fort3. Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained

Peter M. Lenkov and Frazer Irving’s  Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained was first published as a four issue mini by Dark Horse Comics in 2002, then later collected as a digest-sized trade paperback.

It’s 1899, and the world is about to enter a new century, but when it starts raining fish, with strange lights filling the night sky, and citizens mysteriously vanishing, will anomalist Charles Fort along with a young H.P. Lovecraft be able to get to the heart of the mystery and make sure we see the new year?

I’ll be honest here; I originally got this just for the fantastic Frazer Irving artwork, but man, did the story end up pulling me in. I love a good fictional story about a real live person, especially when that person is as interesting as Charles Fort. The man was the X-Files long before the X-Files was a thing. This story fictionalizes him in such a way as to make him larger than life, and it works so well. The story itself is a great addition to the Lovecraftian mythos, with plenty of weirdness and epic horrors around every turn. Like all the best of Lovecraft, it blends horror with science-fiction in such a way that the two become one. But let’s get back to the art. Irving has outdone himself with Fort, using its black & white format to his advantage. He expertly uses shadows and light, silhouettes, negative space, and all of the tricks in his arsenal to make every page as creepy and full of wonder as possible. His brilliant ability to create texture with just a few lines is on display here much more than anywhere else I’ve seen. Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained may just be the most obscure comic on this list, but it is well worth seeking out.

FreakShow4. Freak Show

Originally published in 1982 in Spain, then later serialized in Heavy Metal magazine, Bruce Jones and Bernie Wrightson’s Freak Show was collected by Image Comics/Desperado Publishing in 2005. The collection is actually an anthology collecting four short works by Wrightson, whose birthday just happens to be today as I write this.

This collection features some of the signatures of Wrightson’s back-catalog; freaks, vampires, Medieval fantasy, ironic twists, and more, all illustrated as only he can.

The titular lead story takes up most of the book, and what a story it is. Bruce Jones’ fantastic script really allows Wrightson to let loose, and let loose he does. The pages are filled with every manner of freak and weirdo, drawn in Wrightson’s signature highly detailed and moody style. The story itself is great, using an amoral man to provide a moral to the story, and the twists are demented and cruel. Wrightson’s art is as great as ever, with an almost-woodcut look to much of it, a Victorian-era-ness of sorts. His art is definitely strongest on the lead story, but even the shorter ones from a decade earlier show an artist with a sureness of hand, and there are glimpses of the brilliance that was to come. Freak Show, or anything by Bernie Wrightson, is a perfect Halloween read. Happy birthday Bernie. I hope it was horrific.

TDHBOH5. The Dark Horse Book Of…

The Dark Horse Book Of… was a banner title of a series of horror anthology hardcovers published by Dark Horse Comics from 2003 until 2006. Its four volumes claimed the work of many of the top creators in the field, including Mike Mignola, Jill Thompson, Gary Gianni, P. Craig Russell, Sean Phillips, Eric Powell, Kelley Jones, and more.

The brainchild of editor Scott Allie, these began with The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings, and continued once a year with The Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft, The Dark Horse Book of the Dead, and The Dark Horse Book of Monsters. Each of these digest sized hardcovers is filled with great “fun-size” paranormal/horror short stories, and each has gems of its own. Jill Thompson won Eisner awards for three of her four stories, and two volumes were nominated for awards.

The stories, handpicked by Allie, are all pretty great, featuring familiar faces such as Mignola’s Hellboy and Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson’s Beasts of Burdon, with many being retellings of classic stories or revisionist historical tales. Most of them aren’t genuinely scary per se, but all of them exude Halloween-time aesthetics, and are the perfect books to curl up late at night under a blanket as you wait for the Great Pumpkin to come along.

 

 

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