Greetings from the Odinson,
The Odinson continues his count down to Halloween with a look at Monsters in Comics, those creepy, crawly grotesque creatures lurking in the shadows of our nightmares, hiding under the bed, waiting for the right moment to strike, usually when the lights cut off. Monsters are those shambling masses, stalking the earth, clawing, searching for something – victims. From the diminutive goblins known as Gremlins to the giant leviathan Godzilla, monsters come in all shapes and sizes. It should come as no surprise that creatures of the night and beasts of myth and legend play huge roles in the worlds of comic books.
Long before the Marvel Age dawned in the 1960s and the Super Powers of DC and Marvel became engaged in a super heroes arms race, monsters ruled the spinner-racks. The 1950s were dominated by the horror genre with titles from EC Comics like Tales from the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear, Vault of Horror, and Weird Science. Within these terrifying pages, every creepy ghoul, every nightmare clawing from the grave, and every fiendish alien from beyond the stars that could be imagined roamed free to haunt the reader’s dreams. Even Marvel’s titles like Tales to Astonish, Strange Tales, and Journey into Mystery, in the years before their super heroes took center stage, were dominated by the most unique menagerie of beasts ever assembled. Readers could thrill, cringe, and despair at the destructive power and awesome might of such legendary titans as Goom, Gorgilla, Googam and Fin Fang Foom!
Even Marvel Comics’ very first super hero series of the Marvel Age featured a monster, and I’m not talking about the Mole Man’s giant pet. I’m referring to the rock-skinned creature the world will one day come to know as the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing. Ben Grimm has come a long way from the days when women and children ran away in terror just at the sight him. The Thing is actually one of the greatest champions for justice in the Marvel Universe. Even the Hulk, considered by some to be the greatest monster of them all, has saved the planet on several occasions.
There are a handful of monsters that actually protect mankind from the other creatures of darkness or avenge the blood of the innocent. Hellboy, alongside his fellow misfits of the B.P.R.D., investigate the supernatural and ward off Armageddon every chance they get. Blade the Daywalker prowls the night destroying any blood-sucker that crosses his path and protects mankind from the children of the night, as does the Spirit of Vengeance the world has come to call the Ghost Rider. The Swamp Thing roams from bayou to bayou battling mutants, monsters, vampires, and demons that would otherwise overrun the world of man. The Man-Thing, a shambling mass of muck and flora whose very touch burns those who know fear, is the protector of the Nexus of All Realties. And the ghostly Spectre is perhaps the most powerful force for justice (or vengeance) in the DC or any universe. But most creatures of the night are not quite as benevolent as these monsters.
From the Marvel Zombies to the Walking Dead, no monster strikes more terror into the hearts of men than the flesh-eating, plague-spreading creatures known as Zombies. Whether they are the slow-moving Romero zombies with the beastly strength to tear a man limb-from-limb from Night of the Living Dead or the even scarier fast-moving, shrieking Snyder zombies from the updated Dawn of the Dead, zombies are just terrifying. The Army of Darkness, or Deadites as they are also called, are perhaps the scariest incarnation of all, as they are a cross between the undead and hellspawn.
Speaking of hellspawn, they are the devils, demons, and pitchfork-carrying troublemakers that make life a living hell for those they set their sights on. The sole purpose of the demonic Violator is to push Al Simmons to his physical and mental limits. Simmons himself is Spawn, a supernatural soldier of darkness recruited to lead the armies of hell into battle on the day of the final battle between good and evil. Etrigan the Demon is a fire-breathing creature from the pit that speaks in rhymes whose actions, depending on his mood, could dam or save mankind. Mangog is an ancient beast of immense destructive power whose sole intention, once freed from imprisonment, is to snuff out all life. And then there’s Mephisto. This ruler of the stygian depths is the Marvel Universe’s version of Satan. And, boy, does he own that role. Through trickery, guile, dark schemes and shear raw power, Mephisto has run afoul of some of the mightiest citizens of the Marvel U including the Silver Surfer, Thor, and even Galactus. But no devilish scheme of his was more diabolical than the deal made with Peter Parker and Mary Jane in One More Day.
No list of monsters would be complete without the feral beast empowered by the light of the full moon – the Werewolf. Lycanthrope is a curse that causes a mortal man to transform into a blood-thirty monster. Though there are many kinds of lycanthrope, the most prominent is that of the wolf. Nobody knows this better than Jack Russell, a man who roams the world seeking a cure for his curse, for when the sun sinks below the horizon and darkness falls across the land, Russell will once again shed his human guise and become a Werewolf by Night.
Larry Talbot, the infamous Wolf-Man, always sought a cure to his curse but mostly found himself in conflict with the mad schemes of Count Dracula. Rostov of Skartaris sought a cure to his lycanthrope but if it wasn’t for his affliction, Travis Morgan the Warlord and his companions would have never been able to defeat The Evil One. Even Oz from Sunnydale, when his affliction endangered the woman he loved, set out on a globetrotting quest to discover a cure for his curse.
The way most people become inflicted with the lycanthrope is by surviving an attack by a werewolf. The werewolf bite usually transfers the curse along to the victim. But there are other ways to obtain this curse. John Jameson, son of Daily Bugle Editor-n-Chief J. Jonah Jameson, was an astronaut who after a trip to the moon came back to Earth with a bizarre necklace he found there. But when he put the necklace on, it transformed him into the white-haired beast known as the Man-Wolf. Scott Howard didn’t have to be bitten to become the basketball All-Star known as Teen Wolf, he was born a werewolf.
Before 1818, monsters were mostly local legends and fairy tales passed down from generation to generation. Then Mary Shelley released her story Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus to the world and the monster has been a mainstay in literature and pop culture ever since. In this horrifying tale, Victor Frankenstein, a man driven mad by his desires to play God, assembles a creature from the parts of dead men and resurrects the Monster to life, thus defying the laws of nature. The Monster would stumble through the world seeking meaning to its existence, visiting pain on others and ultimately proving to be the death of its creator. Mary Shelley’s tale set the standard for modern horror that writers and creators are still playing catch up to today.
One of the Odinson’s all time favorite uses of the monster has to be the Creature Commandos and GI Robot. In the pages of DC Comics’ genre-bending series Weird War Tales, the United States government, in an effort to win World War II, unleashes a squad of soldiers that have been transformed into incarnations of classic monsters to terrify and defeat the Axis Powers. There is just nothing cooler than seeing my favorite monsters kicking the tar out of the real life monsters, the Nazis.
In case you were wondering why certain blood-sucking, reflection-challenged, afraid of the sun creatures of the night didn’t get much mention this week, it’s because next week, the Odinson continues his count down to Halloween with a look at the rock star of monsters – the Vampire.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell