It's that time of year again, kids. Halloween is over and Christmas is rearing its ugly snow-covered head. As 2015 comes to a close, let's take a moment to look back at the vast amount of quality horror comics that have been released by publishers big and small. There are seriously tons to choose from, so this was a tough list to put together, so much so that I was unable to limit myself to just 10 titles like in previous years. There are plenty of new titles as well as some returning favorites. As the year is 2015, it's fitting that this list contains the top 15 horror comics. I don't think I'll be able to pull this stunt in the future, so here we go.
As my other year end lists, please bear in mind that despite my best intentions, I have not read every single comic that was released this year. If your favorite spooky funny book didn't make the cut, sound off in the comments. Plus, this is my list. Yours may be totally different. I want to hear that too. Let me know what you thought was the top horror book of the year. So, without further ado, let's jump in.
Space! It's not filled with all the hopes and dreams we imagined. What if we got to the outer reaches of space and just kind of stopped? Roche Limit shows a version of the future that isn’t as shiny and limitless as we've been led to believe. In the second part of the Roche Limit trilogy, Clandestiny, a group of people is sent back to the abandoned colony only to find themselves face-to-face with monsters and all sorts of problems. The book, written by Michael Moreci and illustrated by Kyle Charles, has a very Alien vibe to it.
The sci-fi survival horror angle would have been enough to make Roche Limit: Clandestiny a solid read and a worthy addition to this list. It's the human angle that sets it apart, dealing with broken people and the fact that humankind isn't as great as it set out to be. Instead of inventing flying cars and jetpacks, we're just killing each other on a different planet.
This is another title that shouldn't need much of an explanation for its presence on this list. Archie Andrews, the beloved comic book icon for the past 75 years, goes up against the alien-hunting killing machine known as the Predator. The story, written by Alex de Campi, begins fun and light-hearted as Archie and the gang are vacationing on an island somewhere during Spring Break. Betty picks up a strange knife and is targeted by the Predator. Then everyone starts getting killed in increasingly gory ways. No one is safe as the massacre tears through Riverdale. Body parts are flying everywhere. It's so damn fun.
Fernando Ruiz's artwork is in the classic Archie style, which makes the bloodshed that much more hilarious. Seeing the Predator rip out someone's spine as Betty and Veronica argue on the beach is priceless. Ruiz delivers on the gore in spades, mixed with this signature style, making it a must read for any fan of either franchise.
Gate City is cursed, but it has a protector in Doc Unknown, ready to punch evil right in the throat. One part Batman: The Animated Series, one part Hellboy, and all parts awesome, Doc Unknown is the pulpy supernatural comic I've always wanted. The indie title wrapped up in an extraordinary third volume that saw the title character fighting his entire rogues gallery, not to mention a huge Cthulhu-like beast, with the fate of his city hanging in the balance.
Volume 3 is the ideal end for a superhero comic, showing the legacy the character left behind and the reasons for it. Writer Fabian Rangel Jr and artist Ryan Cody delivered an action-packed and thrilling page turner of a book filled with heart and dripping with awesome.
This was a Kickstarter project I backed that was well worth it. Bookseller Nate Reed fights demons and assorted monsters in Chicago. He uses his own skin to do it, tattooing all kinds of mystical enchantments on himself. This is done to an extreme, even using these symbols to imprison demons within his own body.
The first volume, written by Eric Palicki and illustrated by Anna Wieszczyk, reads like the pilot to a great unmade horror TV series, in line with the likes of Grimm, Supernatural, and The X-Files. It lays the groundwork for more of Nate's adventures, having established the rules of the world and how deadly they can be, not to mention dealing with some personal stories along the way. Wieszczyk's artwork is haunting, especially the reanimated woman seen on the cover, drawn by Richard Pace. There's something so unsettling about a corpse rising up from the morgue table and slowly pulling the string out used to sew up her mouth.
If you want to talk about the most fun comic of the year, look no further than The Ghost Fleet. This is a balls-to-the-wall, all-out-action comic that builds to an amazing horror-filled showdown with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. No pressure, right? Written by Donny Cates and illustrated by Daniel Warren Johnson, the comic deals with a mysterious truck that carries equally mysterious cargo. You know that warehouse filled with exotic artifacts at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? The Ghost Fleet is how all that stuff got there. When one of the trucks is stolen in a betrayal of a long-standing friendship, it sets off a staggering course of vengeance leading to a final showdown dealing with Apocalypse.
The supernatural element of The Ghost Fleet starts out slow. It's not apparent at first, but when it reveals itself, it's pretty badass. Johnson's artwork has this energy to it that makes every scene action-movie intense. Michael Bay would be reading this comic in joy while inhaling handfuls of popcorn.
The Big Two comic publishers go through events like it's going out of style. Each one leads to the next and all of them promise huge changes to the status quo that ultimately end up being the same as the old stuff. Plus, there are countless tie-ins to books that no one cares about. That was not the case with Valiant's Book of Death, a self-contained event comic written by Robert Venditti and illustrated by Robert Gill. It picked up with Gilad Anni-Padda, the Eternal Warrior, on the run with a rogue Geomancer from the future as his allies chased him down. Gilad is trying to prevent a horrible future in which the world is torn to shreds. We see glimpses of this dystopian wasteland and the bodies laid in its wake. The publisher released a handful of one-shots showing the final fates of other popular Valiant characters such as XO Manowar and Ninjak, but they were not required reading (although they were pretty friggin' cool).
The finale of Book of Death is a climactic battle that's right up there with Superman vs. Doomsday and Hellboy's last moments on earth. It comes down to just a few people, but there is so much riding on it. This is an ideal event book and filled with an ominous terror.
You can also check out the previous event, The Valiant for another example of this self-contained story that's easily accessible to new and old fans alike.
Another fun title in the bunch is the follow up to my #3 book of 2014, continuing the adventures of mechanic Vic Frankenstein and his trusty robot sidekick, iGor. He already successfully defeated Cadillacula with his Frankenride, but now he must survive the Night of the Driving Dead as undead vehicles – or “Zoombies” – rise up from his junkyard. Joining him in the fight is Minivan Helsing and his group of monster cars, each more punny than the last. Seriously, writer Brian Lynch outdid himself with the names of some of these things.
Nick Roche adds a plethora of awesome monster vehicles in this all-too-brief mini-series. My favorite is probably the helicopter, which is flipped upside down so it can use its blades as long, spindly legs. It's creepy yet cool at the same time. There are some great aspects of classic monster literature and films weaved into the book too. I still want this to be a Saturday morning cartoon and a line of Hot Wheels toys. Kickstarter anyone?
Sometimes you read a comic and instantly see the possibilities for how the story could grow in hundreds of issues or other mediums. That is the case in previous “Best of” list winner, Hoax Hunters, and it's definitely the case in Goners. Written by Jacob Semahn and illustrated by Jorge Corona, the series centers on the Latimer family, a bloodline tasked with protecting our world from the supernatural. After watching their parents get brutally murdered on live television, young Zoe and Josiah are thrown into a battle for their lives as hordes of monsters track them down with the intention of wiping out the Latimer clan once and for all.
Goners speaks to the kid of the 1980s inside of me as there are a lot of similarities between it and the classic adventure movies of that era. It has a lot of heart while loading up on the terror and some incredible twists. The artwork is brilliant. No two monsters look alike here and that's a testament to how amazing Corona is.
Although this was technically released in 2014, it had a larger release this year, as well as appearing on ComiXology, so I'm including it here. Malevolents is a one-shot following a group of kids sharing ghost stories. This is a far cry from Are You Afraid of the Dark though. The story deals with a house haunted by the spirit of a deranged madman who had died there years prior. He had screamed to the point where his vocal chords were destroyed, leaving him with a creepy “click click” sound of his tongue to communicate. The comic, written by Thom Burgess and illustrated by Joe Becci, has a slow burn of a scare as a young man is followed by this ghost...or is it a ghost? It creeps up on you in a really unsettling way, leading to one of the most terrifying final sequences I've seen all year. This comic scared me to my core to the point where I had a hard time looking at those last few pages when I reviewed the book. Just thinking about it now has me shuddering. If you ever had any doubt that comics can scare you just as much if not more than movies, pick up Malevolents.
Harrow County, from writer Cullen Bunn and artist Tyler Crook, made it on this list early on, if for nothing else than the skinless boy. Picture a young boy, maybe 10 years old, but with no skin. That's creepy enough, but here's the kicker: His skin is also a character in the book! It slithers around, like a two dimensional snake, hissing and telling secrets to young Emmy, the reincarnation of a villainous witch named Hester Beck.
That may be just one aspect of what makes Harrow County one of the scariest books on the shelves right now, but it's far from the last. There's an intense feeling of dread that permeates through every page. There's something dark going on in this small town. It's filled with secrets and as they're slowly revealed, Emmy's world gets more and more complex and bloody. It makes you question everything around her as you try to figure out what's real and what could have been created by Beck's dark magic years prior.
Crook's artwork is responsible for much of this foreboding as he brings a wide variety of monsters – or “haints” as they're called in the book – to terrorize this area. The skinless boy takes the cake for me, but the flaming ghosts and goat-like creature in the woods are close behind.
Harrow County is the kind of horror that will keep you up at night. It will get right into your bones and have you sleeping with the light on.
“What if the Joker came to Gotham without Batman?” That's the tagline that started out this incredible mini-series from writers Tyler James and John Lees, artist Alex Cormack, and colorist Jules Rivera. The title character is a tour de force of chaos, rivaling that of the Clown Prince of Crime himself. The Oxymoron descends on Swanstown, taking out corrupt politicians and good-hearted gangsters, spreading a brand of terror unseen in any rogues gallery. Throughout it all, disgraced detective Mary Clark struggles to stop this lunatic from adding more and more to his body count, but is she strong enough to stand against this ultimate villain?
Oxymoron: The Loveliest Nightmare pulls no punches in its brutality. Every time you think the creators have topped themselves, you'll turn the page and find that they've done it again. The violence is extreme yet fitting for the story. It's not torture porn. Cormack's artwork is spot on, capturing the madness of the Oxymoron perfectly.
While I'm here, I can also highly recommend Lees' other ComixTribe title, And Then Emily Was Gone, illustrated by Iain Laurie. I read it earlier this year, but had I checked it out sooner, it would have easily made it onto 2014's “Best of” list.
All I should have to write here is “Scott Snyder” as the reason for Wytches to be on this list. The man knows a thing or two about horror comics (and Batman), with other solid works like Severed, The Wake, and American Vampire. Wytches joins that as another terrifying installment. Illustrated by Jock, the book drastically changes what you knew about wytches, and not just the spelling of the word. These are not green-skinned, tall-hat wearing, broom-riding women. These are monsters and they will rip your heart out if you piss off the wrong person.
The story deals with a concept of a pledge, wherein you promise another person's life to the creatures. There are consequences of course. You're expected to cover the tracks of this person's disappearance. The terror in this is that you could be pledged and have no idea until it's too late.
At the center is a family that's been through some hard times. It deals with the very real fear of being a parent and how easy it is to screw up your children. It hit home for me in a big way. Adding in those monsters brought it to a whole other level. I made the mistake of reading issue #6, the final one in the first arc, just before bed. Needless to say, I didn't sleep well that evening.
3. Colder: The Bad Seed / Toss the Bones (Dark Horse Comics) I wish the Colder train didn't have to end, but considering how solid the trilogy has been, I'm almost OK with it going out. The second installment, The Bad Seed, has Declan and Reece battling the evil and insanely creepy Swivel, ultimately revealing some pieces of Declan's mysterious past...and losing his fingers in the process. Toss the Bones has the two love birds recovering when a familiar face returns in the form of Nimble Jack...and he's awfully hungry. Paul Tobin's story an astonishing read, but Juan Ferreyra's artwork steals the show. Every time you think you've seen it all, something even crazier happens. There are no limits to the insanity in the Hungry World and Nimble Jack is ready to try just about anything.
The Bad Seed makes you afraid of fingers thanks to Swivel. Toss the Bones will make you afraid of pigeons. You will never look at them the same again after reading this book. They serve as Nimble Jack's minions, flying around, repeating things and being generally unsettling. So creepy.
There are few examples of such a consistently solid book than the twelve issues of this volume of Hexed. Every single issue is stellar from beginning to end. My only disappointment with the series is the fact that it ended and was not an ongoing. Writer Michael Alan Nelson's story follows Lucifer, a thief in the employ of museum owner Val Brisendine, tasked with stealing supernatural artifacts to keep them out of the hands of those who would use them for evil. Lucifer is a strong, confident character with an attitude, willing to do anything and everything to complete a job and protect those she cares about...which is really just Val. She has a dark destiny which is embraced by the end of the series in a really interesting way.
Dan Mora's artwork is so damn good throughout Hexed. He perfectly captures the essence of Lucifer, making her the kind of girl you'd love to hang out with, but still kind of afraid that she'd beat you up. She has this signature smirk that shows up when she knows she has her enemy right where she wants them.
In many ways, Hexed is the spiritual successor to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, although Lucifer goes places that Buffy would fear to tread.
Oh, where to begin with a comic like Nailbiter? Is it the tense scenes that fill every issue? The incredible cliffhangers that close them out? The ever-evolving and expanding mystery of the Buckaroo Butchers? There is so much to love in this book from writer Joshua Williamson and artist Mike Henderson. Nailbiter is a horror fan's wet dream. It has everything you'd want from a scary book and then some. There's a reason that it's my top pick for horror comics two years in a row.
This past year has given us some brief glimpses at what's really going on in this small town, but not the full story just yet. One thing is for certain, the place is filled with secrets and a pretty dark past that many people are working to cover up. The most recent arc has a couple of the characters venturing to Atlanta where a potential new Buckaroo Butcher has taken up shop, murdering people and dressing up the corpses to look like demons. There are some gut-wrenching deaths here.
What's been interesting to watch is how Buckaroo affects some of the characters. It infects them, spreading like a disease and perhaps amplifying an underlying urge to kill, maim, and terrorize just about anyone. It's the kind of thing that you can't look away from. It pulls you in with every single panel and it's just so damn good. Seriously, read this book. Then read it all over again looking for clues.
James has a 2nd grade reading level and, as a result, only reads books with pictures. Horror is his 5th favorite genre right after romantic comedy and just before silent films. No one knows why he's here, but he won't leave.