"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown" - H.P. Lovecraft
Horror has been the cornerstone for the establishment of all kinds of fiction, because the presence of the unknown never fails to fascinate us. Beyond our fascination with the unknown, good horror has the ability to spur the senses and make us feel truly, truly alive. For this reason, beginning with thousand-year-old folk tales, horror as a form of literature has seeped its way into almost all forms of modern media. One of the most popular forms are comic books, known to have been modeled after penny dreadfuls and pulp magazines, which were exploitative in nature.
In this article, I'd like to maraude the chambers leading to vaults that preserve some of the earliest comic books to have ever been printed. I'd then like to bring to light facts about well known comic book characters that you might not have known were inspired by horror fiction. Rivalries aside, both Marvel and DC have extensively pursued the extravagance associated with horror to induce a supernatural spark in their superhuman characters. Some of these characters have donned ghastly appearances, while some have followed the polarizing ideals and, in one special case, the morbid atmosphere found in horror fiction.
10. Ogdru Jahad
H.P. Lovecraft is the man responsible for the birth of contemporary horror. Though there have been some great adaptations of his work, they kind of fall short in conjoining all his themes. Mike Mignola, the creator of #Hellboy, is famous for basing his comics on an accessible version of Lovecraftian horror. The Ogdru Jahad are the ultimate antagonists in the series, and are visibly inspired by The Great Old Ones of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. The Ogdru Jahad are serpentine dragons in comparison to Lovecraft's crustacean deities, and they have both been trapped inside the abysses of earth. Their existence is considered incomprehensible by man's limited knowledge of the cosmos, with their resurrection signaling the end of the world.
9. Solomon Grundy
Solomon Grundy is a zombie whose awakening has a supernatural cause, very similar to zombie movies predating the Romero era that revolved around voodoo rituals. Grundy's character first appeared in 1944, and White Zombie, which was one of the earliest films to depict the undead, could have been an inspiration. Similar to zombies in the pre-Romero era, injury to the brain is not Grundy's weakness. He is resistant to physical attacks because of his dead sensitivity, and doesn't have restricted mechanical movements. Though the character has had revisions in the cause of his origin, his inexplicable introduction and appearance in the #GreenLantern comic points towards the supernatural.
8. The Thing
The Thing, according to Stan Lee himself, was inspired by the Jewish legend of The Golem. Also, another interesting aspect is Benjamin Grimm's Jewish background. In #FantasticFour, Vol. 3, #56, August 2002 ("Remembrance Of Things Past"), Grimm recites Jewish prayers and even celebrates his Bar Mitzvah on the account of the completion of 13 years since he became The Thing. There's even an instance in the issue where a character likens Grimm to the Golem. The comic is also similar in its depiction of the monster's wrath to the silent horror film The Golem : How He Came Into The World.
7. Human Torch (Jim Hammond)
The first Human Torch, Jim Hammond was an android and his story shares similarities with Frankenstein's Monster. He was created as a result of an experiment by Phineas Horton, a scientist who was driven by the same obsession as Victor Frankenstein, to give birth to an unordinary life. The Human Torch also escapes after his creator tries to contain him, similar to the monster developing consciousness. Horton creates another android, Adam II, who rebels against him by holding him captive, very much like Frankenstein's Monster.
6. Ra's Al Ghul
The immortal villain's creation was inspired by Dorian Gray, the central character of The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Both the characters had found a formula for immortality, Ra's through the Lazarus Pits and Gray through his portrait. Though the former might not be as philosophical, he remains one of the best written characters from #DC Comics and shares Gray's views on perfection. Both characters lost their loved ones as a consequence of the discoveries they made. Though Ra's may not be equally submissive, by living on for more than 700 years, he has given up his humanity as a sacrifice to the Lazarus Pits.
5. Morbius, The Living Vampire
The title surely gives it away. Bram Stoker was responsible for creating the archetypal representation of a vampire. But Morbius, despite being a vampire, does not share Count Dracula's origin story. Roy Thomas, his creator, mentioned unspecified science fiction films that depicted a man turning into vampire because of exposure to radiation. After conducting some research, I came across the film Atom Age Vampire which definitely could've been a massive inspiration. The film follows a scientist who mutates into a remorseless creature to save his loved one, injecting himself with a teratogenic serum "Derma 25." This serum was obtained from radiated living tissue in post-Hiroshima Japan.
4. Doctor Doom
#DoctorDoom is the personification of Death. Jack Kirby himself mentioned modeling Doc after Death, with the armor standing in for the skeleton. Now, you may be wondering as to how Death is a part of horror fiction. It is to be noted that we are talking about Death as a character, one who has been portrayed in fiction for over hundreds of years. The most popular representations would include The Phantom Carriage and The Seventh Seal. They are extensions of Scandivanian mythology which is credited for giving birth to the modern image of the cloaked Grim Reaper. Doc also shares the craftiness that Death possesses, by beating his opponents at their own game. Quoting Kirby,
"Death is connected with armor and the inhuman-like steel. Death is something without mercy, and human flesh contains that mercy".
This is a pretty obvious one, and most of the avid comic book readers must have guessed it in no time. For people who do remain unaware of classic literature, the character of Hulk was inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. What many may not know is that this wasn't the only source, The Hunchback of Notre Dame also inspired the beast. Hulk shows similarities to Quasimodo in the sense that they, despite being considered freaks of nature, have gothic affiliations, like love, with other characters. Another character that shares a few similarities would be the #XMen's Beast, but unlike the Hulk he doesn't have to quarrel with the volatility of his other persona.
Conrad Veidt's character in The Man Who Laughs is supposed to be the inspiration for The Joker's look. This has been confirmed by the creators, and DC even paid a homage to the character by naming a graphic novel Batman : The Man Who Laughs. This succeeded Batman : Year One and explored the first encounter between Batman and Joker. Like #TheJoker's popular backstory, Veidt's character's is also pretty tragic. And as fate would have it, he also suffers from a permanent disfigured grin.
"Na na na na na na na... Batman!" The Caped Crusader was modeled after many pulp comics and horror movies. Bob Kane and Bill Finger were particularly inspired by the horror talkie The Bat Whispers and its predecessor The Bat. In both films we encounter a master-criminal who dresses up as a bat and haunts the city and its people. While this might be the complete antithesis of #Batman's moral code, the appearance and character traits have been borrowed from the two films, as well as the dark expressionist style that the comics are famous for. Kane even credited the villain of the movie in his autobiography, Batman and Me. Notice the rooftop stance and the bat signal in the images, which have become a trademark for DC's finest vigilante.
"Where there is no imagination, there is no horror" - Arthur Conan Doyle
And this is why horror is so effective. As a medium it has inspired the production aesthetics of silent films, the style of film noir, the characters in comic books, the motives of action flicks and, most importantly, the improvisation in its own content. It has elegantly canopied various art forms, and this is why it becomes difficult for us to notice its influence. But at the same time, the ingenuity portrayed by other art forms like comic books in adopting from horror cannot be undermined. Comic books are often criticized for their bluntness to borrow. It's not what you borrow, however, but how you borrow it that truly matters and comic books have inculcated the perfect mixture of storytelling, while including various genre elements. They have successfully carried on the legacy established by classics, and continue to keep them relevant in the modern era.