Horror surged to the front of comic readers’ minds in the 1990s when Sandman, Hellblazer, and other DC Vertigo books met with critical and commercial success. Marvel naturally took notice and began releasing properties to sate the desires of horror-hungry comic fans. But are these Marvel horror comics worth the hunt with your back-issue dollars?
Marvel Horror Comics in the 90s
Terror, Inc. (1992) is the first on the list. The character was technically created in 1988 but appeared on his own in this short-lived thirteen-issue series.
Terror is an excellent character design–his supernatural gift allows him to attach body parts and absorb the abilities from them–yet the execution fails to deliver on the character’s promise. This holds true throughout the Terror, Inc series, the highlight of which is the first five issues.
Terror, in an attempt to void Beelzeboul’s contract with supernatural crime lord Roger Barbatos, finds an avenue in a partnership with Beelzeboul’s son, Mikal Drakonmegas. It is a wild, demonic, and slightly corny ride. It’s not perfect, but it’s a fun read.
From the same Marvel era (but less fun) is Darkhold: Pages from the Book of Sins (1992). Part of the ‘Midnight Sons’ group of titles spanning Ghost Rider, Morbius, and Nightstalkers, it had similar potential as shlocky, demonic fun. Unfortunately, Darkhold throws too many elements at the reader and fails to launch.
Following Victoria Montesi and her fellow Darkhold Redeemers (Sam Buchanan and Louise Hastings), the plot surrounds a mysterious dwarf who uses resurfaced pages of the Book of Sins to tempt evil people into darker, more powerful desires. Those who read them get their desires turned on them, and chaotic evil spreads as a result.
Again, the premise is interesting, but the story gets muddled from a messy and convoluted plot involving too many characters, especially guest-stars.
Hellstorm (1993) is a different experience depending on which issue you have in front of you.
The first eleven of the 21 issues are all over the place. While the art ranges from quite good to spectacular, the story is often lacking. There is a similarity to both ‘satanic craze shlock’ and superhero comics of the 1970s, with lines like “Who dares summon the angel of light, the tempter, the lord of the flies” populating the pages.
While there are high points, such as the tour of hell in Hellstorm #11, the similarity to Neil Gaiman’s run on Sandman–both visually and story-wise–is derivative enough to raise questions. In issue 11’s case, some of the lines seem pulled almost directly from the excellent Season of Mists story arc.
The title improves starting with issue #12, when relatively unknown (at the time) writer Warren Ellis took over script duties. From the first few pages, something greater seems at play, from scattered worldwide occult events to a notable change in henchman Isaac. Satanic mumbo-jumbo decreases and personal, gut-clenching horror increases.
The final ten issues move fast, sending the reader on a thrilling–though still not entirely divorced from Sandman’s influence–roller-coaster ride toward the series finale. Both collectors and Marvel understand this. While not collectible, issues 12-21 are harder to find than 1-11, and only the first 13 issues are available on Marvel Unlimited.
Of all the books mentioned here, Hellstorm issues 11-21 stand as the strongest.