Last modified: December 15, 2016
For those of us who have always been drawn to the horror comic book genre–while taking nothing away from the sterling stalwarts in the “long-underwear” adventures–one question has often been asked of us: Why?
What is the inherent appeal of reading four-color (and perhaps even grislier black-and-white) yarns of the good guys (usually the mere mortal variety) engaged in bloody battle against the bad guys (or ghouls, goblins or zombies-take your pick)? While the answer may appear obvious (human vs. monster kinda says it all, no?), perhaps the real answer lies a bit deeper (in some cases, six feet or better). Maybe, just maybe, these “monsters” aren’t the essential evil trying to topple our mom-and-apple-pie goodness. Maybe we’re really hooked on these stories and creatures because we see the flip side to their monstrous behavior.
Perhaps these characters are just mixed-up and misunderstood. What a concept.
Arguably, the poster boy for misunderstood monsters is the classic character who even fans insist on calling by the wrong name: Frankenstein’s monster (Frankenstein was the scientist involved, not the creature). And while the monster has had a storied history in film, it never has really captured the imagination of the comic-buying public at large. Maybe that’s because, after the stirring original Mary Shelly novel, there’s really little else to tell about the creature, unless a writer takes great liberties with the original premise.
In any event, the creature was never really evil or a “monster” in the true sense of the word. “Misunderstood” and “maligned” are more accurate terms we can apply to the “man of many parts.” This writer had the pleasure of adding a very small chapter to the creature’s comic book legacy last year. I had the opportunity to flesh out a story idea by James DiAngelo into a two-page “short shocker” for Red Moon Features (a new entry in the horror and suspense comic book publishing world) entitled “A Special Houseguest,” in which the creature was alive and well in present-day Maine and being cared for by a famous scholar cum zombie hunter in his mysterious mansion.
And then there’s the other classic “monster” off stage, screen, and comics: the king of vampires himself, Dracula. Of course, comics have been a much more successful venue for Vlad than for Frankenstein’s misanthrope, most especially under the inspired guidance of Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan in Marvel’s “Tomb of Dracula.”
Fierce fan loyalty and numerous industry awards were heaped on this incarnation of the famed bloodsucker but, yet again, Wolfman and Colan painted the Transylvanian count in a three-dimensional, sympathetic light more often than not. The result was a very popular comic and a unique way of looking at an otherwise blood-thirsty demon. Another popular comic book vampire–Morbius, the Living Vampire–also was treated sympathetically, despite his debut as a formidable foe for Spider-Man.
Hmmm. Could a trend be forming here?
Let’s check out another top tier “monster” and how it was treated by comic book writers and artists: the werewolf. Various man-becomes-wolf themes have found their way onto comic book pages–from Werewolf by Night to the Man-Wolf to the garden-variety werewolves in anthology titles from Charlton and DC. Once again, how can you not find some level of sympathy for a tormented soul who changes–quite painfully–into a wolf every full moon?
Still, with all the “softer sides” of monsters shown in comics, the other side of the coin is the persistent (and very popular current trend) of the portrayal of zombies, ghouls and other assorted walking dead as just downright disgusting dudes.
It’s hard to find a redeeming side to a decaying, putrid, shambling caricature of a human being who wants nothing more than to make a midnight snack of your cerebellum. And yet, comics are chock full of these brash brain eaters and we can’t seem to get enough of ’em.
Overall, though, it would appear that comics have done a creditable job of delivering “monster stories” that are well-balanced and character-driven while still providing enough chills ‘n’ thrills for all audience levels.
Monsters are people too, ya know. They just look a little different and have a warped appetite for various body fluids and organs. What’s not to like?