They Live: Classic Monsters Find a Home in Comic Books

<i>by <a href=http://www.twitter.com/graemem>Graeme McMillan, Newsarama Contributor</a></i> <p>Though Halloween has past, it's still a pretty spooky week between that holiday, Dia de Los Muertos and All Souls' Day. <p>So with ghosts and ghouls getting their supernatural freak on, horror aficionados bemoan the fact that classic horror characters like the Mummy, the Werewolf and Frankenstein's Monster have been eclipsed by modern monsters or worse horror movies without a sole recognizable monster at the heart of them, like the <em>Paranormal Activity</em> series. <p>But even if the classic movie monsters are replaced on the big screen, they'll always have a home in comic books, as evidenced recently by <i>FrankenCastle</i>, the upcoming <i>Morbius, The Living Vampire</i> ongoing series, <i>Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.</i> and more. Here are 10 of the best re-purposed monster archetypes to be found in mainstream comics. <p><i>Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's <a href=http://www.facebook.com/Newsarama><b>FACEBOOK</b></a> and <a href=http://twitter.com/newsarama><b>TWITTER</b></a>!</i> <p>

THE WALKING DEAD

If there's one horror idea that's been well-served by modern comics, it's zombies, and if there's one zombie comic that does it best, it's Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Tony Moore's <em>The Walking Dead</em>. <p>Even aside from the fact that the 2003-launched series has through its AMC television adaptation turned zombie worship from a low-level meme to a genuine mainstream pop culture phenomenon, it's also an independent series that has managed to last more than 100 issues, and in the process offer up <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/comics/walking-dead-100-sold-out-384k-orders.html>2012's best-selling comic</a>. <p>We'd raise our glasses and lift our hats to the assembled undead in celebration, but we're worried that they'd eat our brains.

XOMBI

Created for Milestone Media in 1993 by Dwayne McDuffie, John Rozum and Denys Cowan and the star of a short-lived revival by Rozum and Frazer Irving from DC Comics in 2011, David Kim may have been named after the shambling, brainless undead of yore but his origins are oddly closer to a mix of Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula, mixing science and the supernatural as he was saved from certain death by nanotechnology that literally rebuilt his body using whatever raw genetic material was available which just so happened to be his lab assistant at the time (she didn't survive). <p>As a result, Kim became essentially immortal, but only as a miracle of science that sucked the life out of other things in order to survive. Really, all he needed was a side-effect that turned him particularly hairy once a month, and Kim would've had all of the classic monster archetypes under his belt. Maybe if the series had gone on for longer...

ZOMBIE

Years before Mark Millar introduced <em>Marvel Zombies</em> in <i>Ultimate Fantastic Four</i>, Simon Garth became the original undead hero from the House of Ideas (seriously; he first appeared in 1953's <em>Menace</em> #5, meaning that he pre-dates even the Fantastic Four). <p>Created by Stan Lee and <em>Sub-Mariner</em> creator Bill Everett, Garth is a former businessman who was murdered outside New Orleans, only to be brought back from the afterlife thanks to a mystic amulet and voodoo magic. Of course, he's since fought Spider-Man and even faced off against the <em>Marvel Zombies</em> themselves, bringing him completely in line with the Marvel Universe proper. Clearly, he's ready for a Marvel NOW! revival any second.

DEADMAN

The costume is a distraction. Actually, so is the personality, and the mission to do good as a karmic balance to the evil in the world. <p>At its heart, DC Comics' <em>Deadman</em> is all about a ghost that possesses people without their knowledge or consent and forces them to do things that they probably wouldn't do otherwise. That's right: It's <em>The Exorcist</em>, but dressed like a superhero and without William O'Malley there to try and force Boston Brand out of his host body of the day. <p>When you think of it that way, there's something <em>very</em> spooky hidden at the heart of the 1967 creation of Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino. Isn't he exactly the type of thing that the <em>Justice League Dark</em> should be investigating, instead of inviting to join the team?

THE LIVING MUMMY

If comics are missing any particular horror classic, it's mummies. Sure, there's <a href=http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Negative_Man>the Doom Patrol's Negative Man</a>, but he's more just a (living) guy who <em>has</em> to use bandages for medical reasons... same with <a href=http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Unknown_Soldier>the Unknown Soldier</a>. <p>For actual mummies in the true Egyptian sense, you have to go back to N'Kantu, the star of Marvel's 1973 <em>Supernatural Thrillers</em> #5 (and later, #7-15), created by Steve Gerber and Rich Buckler. An African tribesman who was kidnapped from his home and became a slave in ancient Egypt before ending up trapped in a sarcophagus until he was revived 3,000 years later, N'Kantu made the most of his new situation, teaming with the Thing, Captain America and Nick Fury on various adventures to save the day and keep the world safe from dangers who, you know, are more monstrous than a 3,000 year-old-man wrapped in bandages.

WEREWOLF BY NIGHT

While we're on the subject of classic Marvel updates to horror archetypes, we should never forget Jack Russell, the man <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Russell_Terrier>named after a dog</a> that <a href=http://marvel.com/universe/Werewolf_By_Night>turns into a wolf once a month</a>. <p>The work of Gerry Conway and Mike Ploog, Russell real name later retconned into the more-believable "Jacob Russoff" by spoilsports made his first appearance in 1972's <em>Marvel Spotlight</em> #2 and was clearly a tribute to the horror stories that Conway and Ploog grew up with. How else to explain his birthplace being Transylvania, or the origin of werewolves being connected to the Elder Gods of Lovecraftian mythology? Like the Mummy and even Simon Garth, Russell has found himself making appearances in modern-day Marvel titles, showing up during Rick Remender's "FrankenCastle" storyline in <em>The Punisher</em> and even Peter David's <em>X-Factor</em>. We can only hope that he'll show up in Jonathan Hickman's upcoming <em>Avengers</em> run before too long.

MORBIUS, THE LIVING VAMPIRE

Why, look, it's even more proof that Marvel's horror characters are making a comeback. Roy Thomas and Gil Kane's superheroic update on the vampire mythology which, like Xombi, introduces a scientific reason for needing others' life-forces may have first appeared as a villain in <em>The Amazing Spider-Man</em> #101 all the way back in 1971, but he's getting his own series again as of this January, courtesy of Joe Keatinge and Richard Elson. <p>And why not? He demonstrates the links between classic horror tropes and Marvel mythologies by giving us a man changed by forces beyond his control into a monster who stands apart from the rest of society, but has a well-meaning personality hidden deep underneath his hideous facade. With great power comes great reasons to hide from regular people when they want to see your face, after all.

INVISIBLE WOMAN

Yes, yes, I know. You're thinking "Susan Storm Richards? <em>She's</em> not a horror classic!" <p>And, on the one hand, you're entirely right: Sue who famously first appeared in 1961's <em>Fantastic Four</em. #1 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby is the mother of the Marvel Universe, the sensible one of the Fantastic Four and an all-round role model for human beings everywhere. She is also clearly inspired by H.G. Wells' creation Griffin, the scientist-gone-wrong in the 1897 novel <em>The Invisible Man</em> who went to become the central character in a series of Universal Pictures' horror movies in the 1930s and '40s. The moral of this story? Perhaps that we're just days away from Sue <em>also</em> snapping due to her transparency and trying to kill Reed Richards as the man responsible for her accident. <p>Hey, Matt Fraction! I think we've found a new storyline for your <em>Fantastic Four</em> run!

FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E.

One of the greatest things about DC's current <i>Frankenstein</i> series is that, in theory, that really is "the" monster from Mary Shelley's 1818 novel <em>Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus</em>. <p>Sure, it's more directly based on Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke's 2005 <em>Frankenstein</em> mini, itself based on Len Wein's 1973 <em>Spawn of Frankenstein</em> reworking of a 1948 Batman villain from <em>Detective Comics</em> #135 by Ed Hamilton and Bob Kane, but nonetheless: The origin is exactly the same, as long as you can buy the idea that the Monster didn't actually die at the end of Shelley's original story, but swam to America and ended up fighting monster crime for want of better things to do. <p>But let's be honest: That's probably <em>exactly</em> what Shelley herself would've written, had she thought about it at the time. She was always saying how much she wanted to see her characters join teams of similarly gifted outsiders keeping the world safe from extra-dimensional harm in pictorial form. <p>If Frankenstein in one fictional superhero universe wasn't enough for you, the Marvel version of the character is showing up in an upcoming arc of <i>Wolverine and the X-Men</i>.

DRACULA

The granddaddy of all the classic horror monsters, Dracula has had <em>many</em> comic book incarnations (including <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracula_%28Dell_Comics%29>a stint as a superhero at Dell Comics in the 1960s</a>), but the most well-known and arguably well-loved is the character's Marvel Comics version, which first appeared in 1972's <em>Tomb of Dracula</em>, courtesy of Gerry Conway and the late, great Gene Colan. <p>It's a much-deserved accolade, because Marvel's Dracula wasn't content to just suck blood and settle back in Europe; no, he wanted to conquer the world (and the moon, for those who remember his re-emergence in Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk's <em>Captain Britain and MI-13</em>), and has come into conflict with the X-Men, the Hulk and Doctor Strange as a result. <p>He's died many times as a result of these battles, but each and every time, he's managed to come back stronger and more determined to destroy humanity as a result - the mark of a true winner (if, admittedly, one who keeps losing). It may take some time to get what he really wants, but Dracula's immortal, and as a result has more patience than most. We welcome, and await the rise of, our new undead overlords.

They Live: Classic Monsters Find a Home in Comic Books

Date: 01 November 2012 Time: 07:54 PM ET