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Tales To Terrify: Comic Stories From the Big Two That Are Sure to Scare

By Shawn DePasquale

Tales To Terrify: Comic Stories From the Big Two That Are Sure to Scare

If horror comics strike you as a little too obvious this season, there are plenty of superhero tales that are just as dark and disturbing as any monster mash-up -- and perhaps more so, in some cases. Not everything on this list is a "fun" read, exactly, but if you're looking for adventures that keep you up at night, here are some of the most unsettling stories of superheroes in the Marvel and DC realms.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #21-23 “Crossover” by Mark Millar, Greg Land

Many fans remember Marvel Zombies written by the king of zombies himself George Ra…. er… Robert Kirkman, but the undead Marvel universe actually began in the pages of Millar and Land’s Ultimate FF! The whole story starts when Reed contacts an older version of himself from another dimension. He’s pretty jazzed about it and eagerly agrees to crossover (also the title of the arc) into this other Earth. Of course he’s shocked to discover that he’s been duped by himself and that this whole reality is infested with flesh-hungry zombies! This is the ideal place to start before re-reading Kirkman’s continuation in the pages of the Marvel Zombies mini-series!

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore, Brian Bolland

This is a controversial standby that every comics fan has probably already read -- or avoided for its brutal subject matter, as it’s also one of the most horrific Batman stories DC has ever told for one very specific reason: Commisioner Gordon. This poor man is tortured throughout the majority of the story in every conceivable way. His daughter is brutally attacked and then sexually assaulted, which is an unimaginable tragedy in and of itself, but then Gordon is kidnapped by the Joker’s weird little goons. It’s here that the comic takes some of its darkest turns as Bolland’s art depicts the abject horror forced upon a naked and vulnerable James Gordon in graphic detail. He’s humiliated in more ways than one and basically left a quivering mess by the time Batman arrives to save the day; it’s just as shocking to read today as it was upon its initial release.

In the years since it came out, Alan Moore has basically disavowed it, and the depiction of Barbara Gordon's assault has become a sort of anti-template to demonstrate what writers really should not do with beloved female characters. That said, while the intent may be questionable, the story is one that definitely scares, if not necessarily in a way you'd want.

Sandman #6 “24 Hours” by Neil Gaiman, Mike Dringenberg

There are so many deeply unsettling stories littered throughout Gaiman’s most epic work to date, but “24 Hours” left a lasting impression on many hardcore comics fans because of the powerful combination of disturbing imagery, psychological horror and a surprise ending that nicely ties it in with the rest of the Sandman mythology. The story revolves around the patrons at a 24-hour diner where a mysterious man named John Dee creepily observes their every move. As the next 24-hours unfold Dee reveals himself to be a deeply disturbed warlock who proceeds to mentally manipulate everyone in the place to do all manner of depravities to one another and themselves. It’s worth hunting down the story to read it yourself (it’s collected in first Sandman trade) but if for some reason you hate reading comics there’s this kick-ass fan film that is high in quality and well worth the half-hour runtime, even if some of the performances are less than stellar.

Ruins by Warren Ellis, Cliff & Terese Nielsen

Ellis’ bleak look at a dystopian alternate Marvel Universe where "everything that can go wrong will go wrong." Just how wrong do things go?  Well...

(Sad trombone)

The above image stands out as the best example; Galactus somehow dies and his rotting corpse just floats around Earth’s orbit. There are other atrocities as well -- like a decaying Wolverine, whose flesh is literally sliding off his adamantium bones, or the Silver Surfer who has gone insane and clawed open his own chest just to experience respiration once again.  Not to mention morphine addict Rick Jones, prostitute Jean Grey, and the mass of pulsating tumors that used to be Bruce Banner! You’ll never look at the Marvel universe the same way again, because you’ll need to bleach your eyes after you read this comic!

Images: Marvel, DC

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