Comic BooksOpinion

31 Days of Horror: Part One

George Huertas ’15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Halloween is right around the corner, and starting this week, we the writers of Emertainment Monthly will be presenting you with a countdown of thirty-one days of horror comics! From now until Halloween, we promise to give you some of the very best (and some of the least well-known) when it comes to horror comics. Without further ado, we wish you a most spook-tacular time! Or some other Cryptkeeper-esque pun.

American Vampire

American Vampire #1. Photo Credit: Vertigo Comics.
American Vampire #1. Photo Credit: Vertigo Comics.

Scott Snyder has proven himself to be a force to be reckoned with in the American comics industry. While he’s most widely known for his work on Batman, a fair amount of acclaim has been directed towards his other work: American Vampire for DC/Vertigo.

The comic book equivalent of an anthology series, American Vampire tells the story of Skinner Sweet, an old West outlaw who, after a train robbery goes awry, becomes the first ever American vampire. Each volume of the series tells a different story from a different decade in American history (Vol. 1 takes place during the Old West and the 1920s, Vol. 2 during the 30s, etc.), and all center around the various illegal, heinous activities Sweet has been up to for the past several decades.

A charming, charismatic, and downright evil human being, Sweet functions as both the series’ protagonist and the series’ villain. If there have been any concerns about the supposed “sparkle-fication” of vampires with such series as Twilight or The Vampire Diaries, rest assured, none is to be found here. His sociopathic disregard for human lives (and the utter delight he takes in the ruination thereof) sets Skinner Sweet up as being a truly terrifying force to be reckoned with.

Of course, a memorable villain would be nothing without a story to prop him or her up, and American Vampire’s stories all have something to make each individual story great. Whether it’s the glitzy setting of the first volume, the more horror trappings of the second, or the pulpy feel of the third, or Travis Kidd (the protagonist of the fourth), each of the volumes possesses a quality that makes it unique, but still indisputably American Vampire. But it wouldn’t be enough for the great writing to support the series, and fortunately, Snyder’s artist, Rafael Albuquerque, is clearly up to the task. Imbuing each arc with a unique, scratchy look that is at once distinctively his style, yet unique enough to signal a change of period, Albuquerque gives American Vampire a look that is wholly its own.

With a tone that is both darkly humorous and horrifying, Scott Synder’s American Vampire is a perfect way to spend your days indoors these coming October nights.

Afterlife with Archie

Afterlife With Archie. Photo Credit: Francesco Francavilla.
Afterlife With Archie #1. Photo Credit: Francesco Francavilla.

The premise sounds like something out of a bad grimdark fanfic: Riverdale from Archie Comics is overrun with zombies. But Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s Afterlife with Archie begins with this oddball premise, but mines it for all the heartbreak and horror that it could possibly be worth.

After Jughead’s beloved Hot Dog is hit by a car, he turns to the only person he knows can help him: Sabrina the Teenage Witch (who started her life as an Archie Comics character). However, the forbidden magic leads Hot Dog to becoming something… different. What results is something straight out of Pet Sematary as the dead begin to overflow Rivendale and Archie, Betty, Veronica, and the gang try to escape Riverdale with their lives.

With the recent glut of zombie horror that has been invading our media lately, it’s refreshing to see such an out-of-the box concept that takes the beloved Archie characters and depicts them in such an off-kilter way.

Francesco Francavilla’s artwork is stellar as well. It’s at once a gritty, harsh style but also one that is also stylized in a way that compliments the overall batty nature of the story. In this way, it meshes with the concept perfectly: at once, it breeds a sense of familiarity with the characters and tone, as well as striking out a style that identifies Afterlife with Archie as its own comic.

Overall, Afterlife with Archie is currently one of the best horror stories on the market that is still ongoing. A truly delightful and witty horror tale, Afterlife with Archie is a story that would make a great read this Halloween. Or even if you just have a hankering for good horror with a unique twist, give Afterlife with Archie a read.

Black Hole

Black Hole. Photo Credit: Pantheon.
Black Hole. Photo Credit: Pantheon.

Some of the scariest horror stories around have gotten great mileage out of body horror. Greats like David Cronenberg have crafted terrifying stories that revolve around unexplainable and/or horrifying changes that occur in victims’ bodies. Changes that they have no control over, and are forced to watch in abject horror as their bodies transform into something they themselves can scarcely recognize.

Charles Burns’ Black Hole is Cronenberg by way of John Hughes, with the primary victims of body horror being a cast of teenagers. Set in Seattle during the 1970s, Black Hole tells the story of an STD known as “the Bug” making its way through the bodies of the disparate teens. The changes can be relatively “minor” (such as a teen who sprouts a second mouth under his neck) or can be severe (a girl whose skin begins to molt).

All these mutations (plus the trippy hallucination sequences) are all rendered with the necessary care and detail through Burns’ art. Burns uses a black-and-white style made of harsh, dark hues to clash with an almost porcelain whiteness that lends the series a sense of historicity. It also evokes a sense of darkness and otherworldliness, as if we the readers have tripped into a titular Black Hole.

The Bug itself could take on all variety of metaphors. A metaphor for AIDS is the simplistic interpretation, or a metaphor for alienation or rejection felt by teens for a more general interpretation. Burns himself has said that the infections can symbolize the transitioning of a teenager into adulthood.

Regardless, the world of Black Hole is one that is at once familiar yet terrifying. While it would be tempting to drape the 1970s world of Seattle beneath a veneer of nostalgia, Burns is smarter than that. The world he depicts is one that is at once psychedelic and bizarre, more akin to a nightmare of a time gone past than a nostalgic dream.

Black Hole is a horror graphic novel that isn’t a horror in the traditional sense, but in the sense that it crawls beneath one’s skin and stays there. While you probably won’t be scared, it’ll be difficult to rest easy after reading it.

BPRD

B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth #123. Photo Credit: Laurence Campbell/Dark Horse.
B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth #123. Photo Credit: Laurence Campbell/Dark Horse.

Mike Mignola’s Hellboy has received much due praise for its style and structure. From its mix of humor and terror, to its unique and beautiful character designs, to the witty writing, it’s no wonder it receives the praise it does.

That said, there is a certain amount of praise left wanting for Mike Mignola’s other title set in the Hellboy universe, BPRD. Telling the story of the titular clandestine organization, BPRD functions as an anthology tale, much like the aforementioned American Vampire. Each story begins and ends within the arc that is contained within the volume, but the stories told within generally strike a much different tone than Hellboy’s.

While Hellboy is certainly not without its instances of darkness, and while BPRD is not without its glimpses of humor, the stories of BPRD generally peer into a much darker, less whimsical side of the Hellboy universe. Due to the anthological nature of the series, stakes are raised significantly. Characters die, horrors are reckoned with, and most stories are left with either ambiguous or dark endings.

Mignola’s art gives the series a true sense of grotesque beauty. It lends a pulpy, noir-esque vibe to the proceedings and is expressive and distinct, giving BPRD a style that is both instantly familiar to old fans, and identifiable to new ones.

One of the best volumes is 1946, telling the origin story of Hellboy’s mentor, Trevor Bruttenhölm. A man entering a Berlin freshly won from the Nazis, Bruttenhölm is hired by the US Army to conduct a thorough investigation of the supposed experiments run by the Nazis involving the Occult. What he and the rag-tag bunch of Americans he’s paired with find is the stuff of pulp fiction nightmares.

If the dark universe of Hellboy wasn’t scary enough for you, BPRD casts an even longer  and more menacing stare into the darkness.

Fatale

Fatale #1. Photo Credit: Image Comics.
Fatale #1. Photo Credit: Image Comics.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have made themselves a name to be reckoned with in comics. Already having the modern classic Criminal under their belt, the pair are striking gold again with their new series, Fatale.

Best described as H.P. Lovecraft by way of Raymond Chandler, Fatale tells the story of Josephine, a beautiful, mysterious woman who may very well be the ultimate femme fatale. Much to her consternation.

After glimpsing her at his uncle’s funeral, Nicolas Lash begins to dig for further and further information about this mysterious woman, only to learn that evidence of her existence stretches back centuries. Just who is she, Nicolas wonders, and why does she hold such sway over the men in her life?

Possessing Brubaker’s signature hard-boiled style mixed with Phillips’ washed-out, disorienting artwork, Fatale is a true gem of the horror comic genre. If one is a fan of Lovecraft, noir, or good storytelling in general, Fatale makes an excellent read that is impossible to put down.

From Hell

From Hell. Photo Credit: Top Shelf Productions.
From Hell. Photo Credit: Top Shelf Productions.

One of Alan Moore’s most distinct and acclaimed works, From Hell is a terrifying, fascinating look into the face of human monstrosities.

Telling the story of the Whitchapel Murders (a.k.a., the work of the notorious Jack the Ripper) Moore wastes no time in staging the story as a whodunnit. However, we know who the killer is by the second chapter: William Withey Gull, Queen Victoria’s official surgeon.

Instead, Moore is more interested in using the Ripper murders to tackle the fears and anxieties felt by many during the final curve of the nineteenth century. Having been assigned by the Queen to assassinate five prostitutes who are privy to a world-rocking political scandal, Gull sets to complete his task with aplomb. He commits the murders under the notion that he will be ensuring the societal dominance of men over women over the course of the twentieth century.

Until Neonomicon, one could have argued that From Hell was Moore’s most harsh and gruesome work. Of course, a story about Jack the Ripper would necessitate some level of gore, but Eddie Campbell’s scratchy, rough artwork depicts the universe in such a way that is brutally realistic and gritty. The violence depicted herein is unflinching and grotesque, with Campbell’s artwork letting the reader feel like he or she is playing voyeur to Gull’s grisly work.

The true centerpiece, though, is Alan Moore’s writing. Using the Jack the Ripper tales as a pretext, Moore weaves a tale that feels terrifyingly large yet hauntingly small. In glimpsing the world through the mind of a virulent misogynist such as Gull, Moore gives a depiction of a world that is difficult to observe but impossible to tear oneself away from.

From Hell stands as one of Alan Moore’s best works, and serves as a reminder as to why he is one of the most famous names in comics ever.

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