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5 Times Superheroes Clashed With the Worlds of Horror

Superheroes face all sorts of different enemies. Mobsters, alien invaders, and mad scientists have all been known to challenge our brightly clad good guys as much as any costumed villains. But the worlds in comic books are strange ones where genres that creators in other media are careful to keep separate blend and mix on a regular basis. A super-powered do-gooder is almost as likely to fend off a plague of zombies as he is a rash of bank robberies. These encounters can shock our heroes as much as they do the readers.

Here we will examine 5 such encounters you might not hear talked about enough. Characters like Batman and Doctor Strange already have a foot in the horror genre, so instead we will focus on those lighter characters who seem less likely to star in horror stories. And universe-spanning arcs like Blackest Night are too obvious. We will talk about individual stories here.

Superman vs. Dracula

Being in comics for over 70 years, it should be no surprise that Superman has gone up against practically every type of nemesis imaginable. Starting with crooked landlords and munitions dealers, the savior from the stars quickly graduated to dealing with mad scientists and 5th Dimensional imps. Given the character’s science fiction orientation, aliens and robots were a natural inclusion into his gallery of villains. Less comfortable for the Man of Steel have been the paranormal encounters. Sorcerers, ghosts, and demons are among the enemies he really hates fighting due to his vulnerability to magic and the supernatural.

While he has fought his fair share of vampires over the years, it is in Superman #180 in 2002 when the biggest name in costumed heroes meets the biggest name in bloodsucking aristocrats in a story entitled “House of Dracula,” written by Jeff Loeb with art by Ian Churchill and Norm Rapmund. Still coping with losses suffered during the Our Worlds at War storyline, Lois Lane and Clark Kent are the guests of Count Rominoff in some Eastern European nation dealing with political unrest.

We can skip the suspense, and it should not be much of a spoiler considering the title; Rominoff is Dracula. Colorists Tanya and Rich Horie brilliantly use shades of red and gray to give the issue a Hollywood horror look. Ed McGuiness’ cover is striking but misleading. We never see a vampire of steel in this comic. We do, however, finally learn the answer to the question, “What would happen if a vampire bit Superman?”

Spider-Man: A Six-Armed Monster

Yes this story deals with another vampire, but the horror begins even before he turns up. Probably more than any other superhero, Spider-Man knows the downside of having super powers. Sure he gained a life of adventure, but his uncle was killed, the public distrusts him, and his social life is even more complicated than that of the average soap opera character. In a 1971 story that begins in Amazing Spider-Man #100; written by Stan Lee, and continues through issues #102 and #103, written by Roy Thomas with art by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia; Peter Parker has had enough. Using his scientific knowledge, he concocts a chemical potion meant to remove his powers for good. The effect is not what he had hoped for. Nightmares of all of his old villains attacking him are just the beginning.

Growing four extra arms, Peter is more like a spider than ever before. Already feeling terrible about his situation, he now sees himself as a freak. Though obviously an implausible fiction in a fictional world, Spider-Man’s terror at his own physicality reflects a real world issue: body horror. In reality, people do experience horror at their own bodies for reasons that range from actual deformities to perceived abnormalities. In the worst cases this can lead to self-abuse or mistreatment by the medical profession.

Spider-Man shares this fear of himself with the two villains of the story: the Lizard and Morbius. Like Peter’s extra arms, these two are the product of well-meaning science gone horribly wrong. Though the issue of the extra arms is obviously resolved; the villains are stuck in their own monstrous bodies with little or no control over their own lives.

Patsy Walker Goes to Hell and Back

With a nome de guerre like “Hellcat,” horror stories might seem like the natural thing for this character. It is doubtful, though, that any of her earliest readers could have foreseen the paths Patsy Walker would take. Debuting in 1944 in a backup story in Miss America Magazine #2, she is clearly in imitation of Archie Comics. Agelessly, the smart-mouthed redhead vies with her rival Hedy Wolfe over things like school honors and dates with Buzz Baxter well into the 1960s. As Marvel Comics focuses more attention on their superhero titles, she fades away.

A grown up Patsy turns up in the pages of Amazing Adventures, but her life is no longer idyllic. Her high school sweetheart has become her abusive husband, and she wants fame by joining the superhero scene. She gets her wish in Avengers #144 when she dons the costume formerly worn by a little-known heroine called “The Cat.” Joining the Defenders, she gets more involved with supernatural nemeses and meets a new love, Daimon Hellstrom (the Son of Satan), whom she eventually marries. After The Defenders ended, the hellish though happy couple would make occasional appearances around the Marvel Universe before fading into obscurity.

Patsy’s husband returns in his own series, Hellstorm: Prince of Lies, in 1993. Patsy, here, is in a catatonic state, driven mad by Daimon’s dark nature. By issue #14 of the series, she regains her sanity and commits suicide. She goes to Hell. Death in comics, though, is rarely so permanent. Hellcat is resurrected in Thunderbolts 2000 Annual #1 and defends her hometown, Centerville, from a demon invasion in Avengers 2000 Annual #1. Her past continues clashing with her present that same year in the mini-series Hellcat, written by Steve Englehart with art by Norm Breyfogle. Patsy is still dealing with her past trauma while convincing five different nether regions to cooperate in fending off an enemy worse than the Devil. All the while, she holds onto her trademark sass. Not many people can get away with calling Mephisto “Muffy.”

Mento Helps to Save Heaven

Steve Dayton has had a rough life. Inventing a helmet to amplify his latent mental abilities, he never becomes a prominent superhero. Even after marrying Elasti-Girl of the Doom Patrol and adopting Beast Boy, he never gets full membership on the team. When they sacrifice themselves to save a village of innocents, he is not among them. Grief over losing his wife drives him insane and he eventually becomes a villain for his adopted son’s team, the Teen Titans.

Somewhere along the way he meets a man named John Constantine. Apparently over being an insane villain for a while, Mento agrees to help Constantine deal with the supernatural fallout following the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Swamp Thing #50 was the final chapter of Alan Moore’s long sprawling “American Gothic” story, featuring art by Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben. Dark forces on Earth have taken advantage of the mulitversal crisis to awaken something that has been slumbering in the chaos beyond Hell since the beginning of everything. This dark something is expected to crawl across the hereafter and actually destroy Heaven. With a cast of supernatural guest stars including Cain and Abel, Dr. Occult, and the Spectre; Mento seems a little out of place.

While Swamp Thing joins the defense on the borderlands between the kingdoms of Light and Dark, Mento sits at a table in Baron Winters’ home and directs the energy of sorcerers gathered there to aid the battle. What he sees at the climax of the event, what he is certain he was not meant to see, drives him even more insane than he was before.

Green Hornet in the House of Death

At a glance, the Green Hornet can fit right in with so many dark avenger type characters. He stands apart, though, because of his unusual method of operations: he actually poses as a crime boss. Britt Reid also adheres to a strict code of not killing. To this end, he carries a gas gun to knock out opponents and is lucky enough to pal around with an expert martial artist. His dedication to not killing, however, is put to the test when he becomes the star of his own horror story in Now Comics’ Tales of the Green Hornet #1.

“Death House,” written by James Van Hise with art by Sal Velluto and David Mowry (with a cover by Norm Breyfogle), has Britt going to a big high society party at friend’s mansion. He really is not keen on the party, but his lady friend at the time convinces him that he should get out more. The party quickly turns into a nightmare when the guests learn that their host has been extorted by an escaped mobster and the house has been rigged with deadly traps. With no gas gun and no Kato, the Hornet has to take action with a makeshift mask and stolen weapons as he avoids the grisly deaths people around him are falling victim to. The greatest horror for Britt Reid comes at confronting his own capacity to take human life. While supernatural horror can be scary enough, sometimes the worst horror comes from ordinary humans behaving inhumanly.

Superheroes and horror stories may not seem like a good match to a reader who already has trouble understanding the appeal of one or both genres. For readers who love both, though, the idea of mixing the two is easy to get. Enjoyment of either genre requires, above all else, imagination. Any reader with enough imagination to love a great superhero adventure and a bloodcurdling horror story can perfectly understand and love a great bloodcurdling superhero horror adventure. There are no, nor should there be, any limits to what can be done in comic books.

Cover image via

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Jean-Pierre Vidrine hails from the small town of Ville Platte, Louisiana. He started collecting and learning about comic books at the age of 9. He got his Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Louisiana State University. He now lives in Chicago with his wife and cat.

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Categories: Comics, Lists and Editorials

Author:Jean-Pierre Vidrine

Jean-Pierre Vidrine is a Chicago transplant whose interests include comic books, nostalgia, tattoos, drag, just plain being allowed to be himself. He does his best to be a thoughtful writer.

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2 Comments on “5 Times Superheroes Clashed With the Worlds of Horror”

  1. 10/19/2014 at 9:12 PM #

    An issue of Hellstrom Son of Satan was one of the first comic books I ever received. Feel I should track it down again now that you brought it up.

  2. 10/21/2014 at 11:00 AM #

    The Son of Satan mini from Marvel’s Max imprint is great. The author cleared up a few questions about Hellstrom and finally gave him a personality. Much as I love the Son of Satan comics from the ’70s, I have to admit that we never really got to know the character very well then.

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