For the Halloween season, it’s a great time to look back on DC’s wealth of characters who are creepy, bizarre, weird, and sometimes downright disturbing. These heroes are far off from the beaten track, and most of them first came to prominence in the Bronze Age of Comics around the 1970s. Creators such as Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, Len Wein, and Jack Kirby brought more supernatural and paranormal influences to DC’s pantheon of icons. Far from the familiar color of the Justice League, these characters have been traditionally reserved for spooky, gothic storytelling. Let’s get into the holiday spirit and begin our list!
1: Swamp Thing
DC’s most environmentally conscious horror hero is the living embodiment of a zombie crossed with the vegetation of the planet itself. Protector of an entity known only as The Green and emissary for the Parliament of Trees, the former Dr. Alec Holland has the power of Chlorokineticism, essentially lording over all flora and types of plant life across the planet. Impervious to physical attacks, he can regenerate his being from the tiniest speck of vegetable matter. This can be used to duplicate his body, and even raise the dead. He can animate physical creations from organic material and overtake large concrete and industrial landscapes on a whim. A notable example is when he took over Gotham City, covering it in plant life. To Batman’s shock, he was rendered completely powerless against the onslaught of The Green.
Although Swamp Thing was in many ways a proverbial zombie, Boston Brand a.k.a. Deadman is DC’s fastest approximation of a living ghost. A wandering spirit who possesses the bodies of the living, Brand was originally a famous acrobat from the Hills’ Bros. Circus. Struck down by an assassins’ bullet during a high-flying trapeze act (much like Dick Grayson’s parents,) Brand was gifted by Rama Kushna, the Hindu Goddess of Balance, the ability to possess mortal beings and continue the good he’d done during his lifetime. Deadman would soon team up with Batman on a few occasions, in an effort to deduce the identity of his murderer, and later teamed with the Forever People. During the zombie-riffic storyline Blackest Night – in which all of the various dead DC characters turned into zombies – Brand’s soul was combating his reanimated corpse. He’s eventually restored to life at the end of the story, only to be killed again by Captain Boomerang during Brightest Day. Whoops!
3: The Spectre
One of the most unyielding and relentless of DC’s many characters, The Spectre occupies the role of - simply put – God’s Wrath. An instrument of vengeance, The Spectre dates back to biblical times where he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and the Walls of Jericho. Sent to Limbo upon the birth of Jesus Christ (as his very existence contradicted God’s forgiveness,) he was dissipated amongst all human souls after Christ’s death. Across history, souls who cried out for vengeance would bond with the spirit of The Spectre, rendering swift and merciless justice upon the unjust. The most iconic avatar for The Spectre was Jim Corrigan, a policeman in the 1940’s who was murdered by a gangster. Crispus Allen, a Gotham City Policeman who was killed at the end of Gotham Central (by a corrupt cop coincidentally named Jim Corrigan,) inherited the spirit of The Spectre as well around the time of Infinite Crisis. Even former Green Lantern Hal Jordan was possessed during his time in the afterlife between Parallax and returning as Earth’s GL. Throughout history, The Spectre has exacted revenge on crooks with characteristically ironic fates, be they involve turning them into melting candle wax and snuffing them out, shredding them with shards of cash bills or immolating drug dealers with fire birthed from the very heroin they sold.
Rory Reagan is the proprietor of the “Rags’n Tags” rag shop which he took over from his father. A “ragman” who bought goods from people in need of money, he initially assembled the costume to fight off thieves who’d broken into his store. Turns out that the rags used to make up the costume was a “Suit of Souls” quilted from each path of clothing worn by criminals the Ragmen of the past had vanquished. Rory was the latest in a lineage of Ragmen, dating back to 16th century Eastern Europe where the Ragman mantle defended Jewish communities who faced oppression and persecution. The Suit of Souls is a magical costume, enabling the wearer with speed and strength, can sense nearby evil and travel long distances through levitation. The downside is that the suit has often proven too much for Rory, rendering him unable to determine who is good and who is evil. The manner in which he must deal out punishment fogs his mind when under the suit’s influence, and in the past he’s needed help from other heroes in wrestling control of his own mind.
5: The Demon Etrigan
Throughout this list there’s been ghosts, spirits, swamp monsters and veritable zombies. With Etrigan, we find an actual Demon from Medieval times. A hellspawn merged by the wizard Merlin to a knight in King Arthur’s court, Jason Blood, The Demon works as the Mr. Hyde to Blood’s Dr. Jekyll. By day, Blood works as a mild-mannered demonologist. Originally based in Gotham City, he’s been known to have assisted various heroes such as Batman and Zatanna on numerous occasions. However, when Blood invokes the chant “Gone, gone o’form of man, rise the demon…Etrigan!”, he’s taken over by the eponymous demon, never to return unless Etrigan speaks his own chant to bring Blood back. An immortal with the power of precognition and hellfire production, Etrigan is generally characterized as speaking through rhyme, as was the more common diction back during Camelot. Although he’s often referred to and thought of as a potential enemy, Etrigan has traditionally fought the forces of evil, be they Morgaine Le’Fay or the Witch-Boy Klarion.