Sure, it’s springtime. But in the lead up to Moon Knight, it’s the perfect time to get spooky. The new MCU series looks to reintroduce horror to Marvel’s adaptations. That means you need to get acquainted with all the haunting horror characters the publisher has to offer. But this is no simple comics recommendations list. Nope, instead this is a comics and horror pairing. I’ve selected a movie to watch alongside each Marvel horror tale. Each entry pairs an eerie comic that’ll introduce you to a Marvel horror character, and a great horror flick.
Werewolf by Night and Wolf Guy
In the early 1970s, Marvel was finally able to embrace the horror comics trend once again. After years of self-censorship thanks to the Comics Code of America, Marvel returned to a short comic from 1953’s Marvel Tales #116 entitled “Werewolf by Night.” In 1972, readers of Marvel Spotlight #2 met Jack Russell (lol!), a heroic werewolf. Soon he’d get his own series, Werewolf by Night, which saw him fight all kinds of supernatural evil. The series is especially notable as it featured the first appearance of Moon Knight. So as we head into the recently announced Werewolf by Night Halloween Special starring Gael García Bernal, there’s never been a better time to dig into this strange Marvel character.
Speaking of strange lycanthropes, while there are many werewolf movies, I’m going for a delightful deep cut here. Wolf Guy, starring Sonny Chiba starring, is a take on werewolf lore unlike any other. The last in a long line of lycanthropes, Chiba’s titular Wolf Guy uses his supernatural skills to solve crimes. Based on a 1970 manga by Kazumasa Hirai and Hisashi Sakaguchi that beat Werewolf by Night to the shelves by a year, this is an action-packed take on the transformative monster horror movie. Here, the beasts are complex and complicated heroes. It feels deeply informed by manga storytelling and also deeply influential on the way we view superheroes now. Outsiders fighting for what’s right no matter what society thinks of them… who doesn’t love that?
The Tomb of Dracula and Blacula
Mahershala Ali’s Blade making an appearance in the end credits scene of Eternals was the true introduction of Marvel’s horror world to the MCU. So it’s only fitting that we talk about the comic that introduced him to readers: Tomb of Dracula. The fantastic black and white anthology issues included multiple stories about vampiric action. In The Tomb of Dracula #10, the Marvel Universe changed forever with the addition of Eric Brooks, a young half-man half-vampire whose mentor was a jazz trumpeter named Jamal Afari. His blaxploitation-inspired adventures are the standout entries in Tomb of Dracula. That explains why Blade is the title’s longest lasting hero. Seeing as the blaxploitation movement so deeply influenced the comic, we have to pair it with one of the best horror films spawned from that radical cinematic movement.
It’s hard to talk about Blade without talking about Blacula. The 1972 movie was a clear influence on Blade’s debut just one year later. This dramatic twist on vampiric lore follows Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall), who travels from Africa to ask Count Dracula for aid ending the transatlanic slave trade. After an offensive refusal, Dracula turns Mamuwalde and imprisons him for centuries. He’s awakened in modern day LA where he begins to feast on humans and hunt for the reincarnation of his love. This is a deep and tragic tale that inspired a generation of blaxploitation horror films. And was likely key to the creation of Blade.
Rise of the Midnight Sons and Lost Boys
This iconic ’90s event saw Marvel bring together a ton of badass horror characters into an epic extreme team-up. Featuring two Ghost Riders—Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch—Blade and the Nightstalkers, Morbius the Living Vampire, and more horror heroes, this is a pure blast. It’ll also likely come into play in the future of the MCU. A cool, edgy, horror-inspired team feels like the direction we’re headed in, although whether it’ll feature this exact lineup is unclear. This is the kind of 90s comic that feels so distinctly from that era that you can almost taste it. And to go along with a cool kids comic like this, there’s only one horror team-up movie that comes to mind.
The radical found family of Lost Boys still charms and delights to this day. Also, the fashion here is so fantastic and leather-focused that it really feels like an inspiration for Midnight Sons. In case you haven’t watched Joel Schumacher’s masterwork, it centers on a family that moves to a small California beach town. Once there, the teenage sons realize vampires are real and love to hang out on the boardwalk. Instead of being cool and joining the vampire gang, they decide to take them down. Truly a terrible choice. But it does lead to some very fun supernatural shenanigans.
Marvel Zombies and Train to Busan
When most people think of Marvel horror comics, this Robert Kirkman and Sean Phillips series immediately comes to mind. Marvel Zombies was nothing short of a comic book phenomenon. The series centered on the alt-world that Mark Millar introduced during Ultimate Fantastic Four. Earth-2149 is a world filled with zombified versions of superheroes, explaining how the infection began, how it affects the heroes, and where it left those who are uninfected. It’s a cosmic and chaotic miniseries that’s impactful visuals have become some of the most iconic in Marvel history.
Now there are plenty of zombie movies you could watch, but there’s only one we’d pick! Yeon Sang-ho revived the ailing zombie genre with his stunning action-zombie flick Train to Busan. This trapped room horror is a non-stop thrill ride that balances the brutality of zombie horror with the ever-present social commentary of the zombie. This is the kind of blockbuster cultural phenomenon that Marvel Zombies represented at its release. It’s also a dynamite horror with heart that stands as one of the best entries in an overstuffed genre. Plus, it introduced much of North America to Don Lee, who’s truly one of the greatest gifts in action cinema.
Journey Into Mystery #1 and Cellar Dweller
While most people know Journey into Mystery as a Thor title, it began as something else entirely. Debuting in 1952 before the implementation of the Comics Code, the series was originally an EC-style horror anthology. This first issue is a super fun example of how great the medium can be for telling these tales. Its opening short is a delightful twist on the grave digging mythos. The following five stories are surprisingly scary and all feature a wicked surprise. Although Thor and Loki are some of our favorite characters, this title also belongs to one of the original and scariest of Marvel’s horror comics! And we have the perfect movie to pair with it.
Cellar Dweller is a lesser B-movie gem about a comics creator who unleashes a demon. Colin Childress (Geoffrey Combs) is an artist who gets inspiration for his EC style horror comics from an ancient book of evil. As is to be expected when you use an ancient demonic almanac as your source material, Colin unleashes a terrifying and dangerous spirit. Years later, his home has been turned into an independent art school where a young comics creator, Whitney (Debrah Farentino), rediscovers the ancient evil and has to fight it. This is a really fun comics-centric horror that leans into the fun, quick-witted tales of horror anthologies past.
Doctor Druid and The Wicker Man
During the Roger Stern Avengers arc, Doctor Druid joined the team. The mystical folkloric British character has rarely had a standout solo arc, but these Avengers adventures are a great introduction to the wily wizard. Throughout his tenure (#276-297) on the team—which was easily his most high-profile role in Marvel Comics—readers got to know the underpowered but crafty horror hero in a whole new light. This era of Avengers is the best way to get to know the intricacies of this underexplored cult fave. And to follow up, well, an iconic folk horror is in order.
While his origins were of the more generic—and problematic—kind, Doctor Druid’s more modern incarnations are heavily influenced by British pagan history. That makes The Wicker Man, one of the most brilliant horrors of all time, a perfect fit. The fact there’s never been a truly great folk horror Doctor Druid tale is a travesty—email me, Marvel—but to fix that you can read some Druid and then watch this terrifying film. Christopher Lee stars as the patriarch of a small island where a child has gone missing. When a policeman arrives from the mainland to investigate, he soon discovers a community like no other where tradition and ritual are king. A nightmarish trip into the surreal folk horror trend, this is the perfect chaser to a good Druid story.
Featured Image: Marvel Comics, British Lion Film Company, American International Pictures