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The Comics 8 Ball: Top 8 Modern Horror Comics

October 19, 2015 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
The Walking Dead

Top 8 Modern Horror Comics

Welcome, one and all, to the Comics 8 Ball! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas, taking over for another week in place of Anthony Kennedy. As always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!

Horror month continues through October, and now we’re taking on the big daddies of horror comics. Horror has seen a major resurgence over the last twenty-five years or so on the illustrated page. After the era of EC Comics was stamped out by the likes of Fredric Wertham and the Comics Code Authority, comic books were almost completely devoid of horror elements until the mid-1980s. Since the fall of the CCA, comic book writers have had a new sense of freedom and it has led to a new era of great and terrifying comics about things that go bump in the night. This week, we look at the greatest modern horror comics.

Caveat: To qualify for this list, a comic book had to exist within the horror genre and have begun after the comic book companies began ignoring the Comic Code Authority, which is generally when the modern era of horror comics is accepted to have begun. For the sake of this list I left off adaptations of films or television, and direct adaptations of novels. Having Lovecraftian or Stephen King influences was okay; being an illustrated retelling of Pickman’s Model or The Stand was not. I also chose to focus on true horror, rather than comics with horror elements that were based in the superhero genre (i.e. Marvel Zombies and Hellboy). Some notable comics I left off include Lucifer and The Sandman, which are both fabulous books but kept more of a fantasy tinge and only occasionally bordered on horror.

Just Missing The Cut

Johnny the Homicidal Maniac (Slave Labor)
Neonomicon (Avatar Press)
30 Days of Night (IDW)
Severed (Image)
Black Hole (Kitchen Sink)

#8: Uzumaki (VIZ Media)

First up this week is one of the more disturbing Japanese manga series out there. Uzumaki is the brainchild of Junji Ito, who was also responsible for the wonderfully disturbing Tomie. Uzumaki is his masterpiece to date though, a piece of nightmare fuel that sticks with you long after you’ve flipped the last page. The series centers on a fictional city named Kurôzu-cho, where the inhabitants are haunted by a curse involving spirals. The people of the city become obsessed with them, to the point that they cause strange manifestations and cut off any escape from the town. For this series, Ito subverted the use of symbols that are normally positive within Japanese media, which was very effective there as it turned something comforting into a terrifying prospect. Meanwhile it’s just as disturbing for non-Japanese readers due to the almost Lovecraftian themes and the bizarre, disquieting imagery. There are a lot of great horror manga out there, but Uzumaki stands as my personal favorite with ease.

#7: Hellblazer (DC/Vertigo)

I know some might call foul on this because of John Constantine’s appearance in DC’s New 52 universe, but that series may as well not exist to me and it’s called Constantine anyway, so I can count it as a different series. Hellblazer, on the other hand, is a thing of supernatural joy. Alan Moore first created John Constantine for Swamp Thing and became an instant success, popular enough to get his own ongoing title that proceeded to run for 300 issues. Started under the care of writer Jamie Delano, the series was unafraid to go into some very dark places right from the get-go, with the first story focused on a demon of consumption. Delano’s run got the series off to a great start and Garth Ennis, Paul Jenkins, Warren Ellis, Mike Carey and the rest of the writers that followed generally keeping up the high level of quality. Hellblazer forged new ground in horror comics and created a character with a lasting impact not only on the DC universe, but on comics in general. And when it wanted to, its mix of supernatural and real world-inspired horror could be just as unnerving as any comic out there.

#6: Saga of the Swamp Thing (DC/Vertigo)

Another Vertigo series (but not the last), Swamp Thing gets the edge over Hellblazer in part because it helped spawn the latter. While creator Len Wein certainly had some elements of horror, it wasn’t until Alan Moore took over the series in 1982 with The Saga of the Swamp Thing that the series really came into its own. Saga was the first mainstream comic book to complete throw out the notion of approval by the Comic Code Authority, meaning that it literally began the modern era of horror comics. Moore skyrocketed the character’s popularity by taking a risk and trusting in audiences to follow him into a sophisticated horror bent, which would go on to influence many later horror comics. While no attempt to revive the character’s series has managed to capture the same creepy essence and narrative strength of Moore’s run, Saga remains one of the absolute landmark comics of the modern horror era.

#5: Ghosted (Image)

While Vertigo is dominant on this list, don’t discount Image. The house that Spawn built has no shortage of great horror comics in its history, and one of the more recent entries stands among the company’s best. Joshua Williamson and Goran Sudzuka’s series follows Jackson Winters, a skilled professional thief who is doing time after his last art theft resulted in the rest of his team dying in rather a nasty fashion. In the first volume, a man frees Jackson from prison in order for him to assemble a team for the job of a lifetime: steal a ghost from a haunted house. Things get…complex after that. Often described as “The Shining meats Ocean’s Eleven,” the series is smartly plotted, with great characters and a strong sense of visuals. While the series tends more toward supernatural action than straight out horror, there is definitely enough horror to qualify it for the list and it’s one of the better-written comic book series of the last few years.

#4: American Vampire (DC/Vertigo)

I’ve praised American Vampire in the past, and it certainly qualifies for its spot on this list. Stephen King said that Scott Snyder’s comic book series — which he wrote the back-end story for the first five issues of — would recast the vampire as something dangerous and monstrous again after the run of “vampire stories where the vampires are kind of like boy toys, and they’re kind of beautiful, and you want to kind of pet them and take them home with you.” And it certainly does that, presenting a new species of vampire in Skinner Sweet and Pearl Jones as they interact with more traditional breeds and humanity over the course of the United States’ history. Snyder has always had an astonishing talent for humanizing villains while maintaining their utter monstrosity, both in form and in manner. That’s what happens here in a bloody, uncompromising comic that holds nothing back but never once even threatens to go off the rails. Snyder is one of the consummate writers of comic books today and American Vampire may just be his best work in a portfolio that includes some amazing stuff; it’s certainly his most horrific.

#3: Hack/Slash (Devil’s Due/Image)

It was reported late last week that Relativity is planning to bring the horror comic series Hack/Slash to television, and it’s about damned time. It’s always been one of my favorite Image series, straight-forward and compelling all at once. Tim Seeley’s series is a mostly tongue-in-cheek subversion of slasher films that focuses on Cassie Hack, a former victim of one of the monsters known as “slashers,” who teams up with the giant and disfigured Vlad to hunt the monsters and protect mankind. Cassie Hack is a clever extension of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer premise: a girl who by all accounts looks to be your standard horror victim but instead turns the tables and hunts the hunters. But where Joss Whedon’s heroine traveled down a somewhat more teen-friendly context, Hack/Slash is a distinctly R-rated and very dark — yet also deeply funny — take on the idea. It started at Devil’s Due Publishing and moved on over to Image where the series has had a great couple of runs that is well-worth reading for any horror fan.

#2: The Walking Dead (Image)

This one was an obvious pick, and not just because it’s become a pop culture phenomenon. There are many wildly successful adaptations of comics that are themselves very good, after all. But The Walking Dead happens to defy that trend. Robert Kirkman’s long-running series (up to #147 as of this month) is an enthralling comic that is even more brutal and unforgiving than the show that is based on it. This is more of an accomplishment than some might realize; there were many who were concerned early on when the Governor came about, wondering if there could ever be anything as brutal as him. Trust me, there were…and Kirkman almost seemed to take glee in systematically taking apart favorite characters. But what makes The Walking Dead great isn’t the shock deaths; comic books do that all the time and often, it doesn’t work. It’s the context and narrative that makes it all believable. This is zombie horror that is less through the eyes of George Romero than it is Quentin Tarantino or George R.R. Martin. The book has stayed a page turner for twelve years and counting, firmly settling itself near the top of the horror comics heap.

#1: Locke & Key (IDW)

Locke & Key may be controversial choice to top this list, but for my money no original comic has tackled horror quite as well. The Joe Hill-penned series is a favorite of many among 411, myself included. Hill is the son of Stephen King and he certainly has his father’s skill, plotting out the storyline of the Locke family over the course of several comics and never missing a beat. The series is set in Lovecraft, Massachusetts where the Keyhouse estate sits. The Locke family’s ancestral home, it is riddled with strange doors, peculiar keys, and dark, dangerous spirits who threaten far more than just the family. When the Lockes return to the home after a tragedy strikes, the youngest son finds himself a new companion in Dodge, a spirit in a well. That begins a series of events that unfolds over multiple miniseries and several twists and turns. With Gabriel Rodriguez bringing Hill’s characters to life with fantastic art, Locke and Key is a mindbender that stands among the greatest horror comics of all-time, and certainly among the modern era.

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at! JT out.