It’s Memorial Day weekend, now coming to a close. So we memorialize, just a wee bit.
We’ve lost a few recently. Dennis Hopper, who was alternately too f-ing cool for god, and too f-ing messed up for reality, or the safety of his wives… Gary Coleman, who was kidney-punched by fate too many times to make fun of, and Art Linkletter, who once killed a grizzly with his bare hands, just to feel the warm blood against his skin. And oh, we’ve also lost the Gulf of Mexico, probably because the locals thought it was an illegal immigrant, and got a little trigger-happy.
But I say, let’s focus on death in the more “zombie and ghost” way this Memorial Day weekend. It’s irreverent, cost-free, and harmlessly offensive!
It’s the TOP TEN DEAD CHARACTERS IN COMICS.
Not the ones that death took from us, but the ones that death made entertaining!
#10: DARK HORSE’S GHOST
She was a murdered reporter named Elisa and I think her sister did something she didn’t approve of, and her parents drank…and she had guns and a real low cut top under her cape/hoodie thing and she was very attractive, especially for the issues drawn by Adam Hughes.
But OH, those issues by Adam Hughes, and those covers, and those collected graphic novels with the all new covers, and those special edition posters, and all those amazing images of this character “GHOST” were just EVERYWHERE for a while. It sucked us all in. We all liked her. I wish I could remember a thing about what happened in any of the stories. I know I read some. I know it’s my fault for not remembering a thing but those Adam Hughes posters.
Not the one you’re thinking of. This is the Deadman co-created by Neal Adams and Henry Beard for the National Lampoon. It featured the adventures of Hamster Tollhousecookie La Brea, the IV – Eurotrash heir to La Brea fortune, who dies in a car accident (after purposely swerving into a tourist family to cushion his impact). Hamster’s body is stolen by a passing scientist, curious to see what he can do with this curiously unscathed corpse, and through a series of curious events, the impervious cadaver becomes a weapon in the fight against crime.
“Deadman” is hurled from rooftops, left in the road as a speed bump, and shoved against doorways, righting wrongs and bringing the city to justice. A Weekend at Bernie’s super-hero, only created years before, when it was a still funny idea.
#8: The Haunted Tank
This was a twisted favorite with me. The Haunted Tank is about a little Sherman Tank in WWII, and the squad who runs it, and the bickering ghost of some Confederate General who haunts the tank, because he’s related to the squadron’s leader. It’s SORT of a spooky/comedy/action book, where the ghost gets the tank out of scrapes by saying “Lookie over thar” a lot, or sometimes it wakes them up by shouting at them, or it says encouraging things like “I nevah gave up when I was fighting to keep slavery legal, now was I?”, or did I just imagine that? Anyway the ghost didn’t participate so much as nag and act sort of holier than thou and stuff while Nazis shot at them. And the still-living members of the team usually figured a way out of a death trap by answering some riddle the sadistic ghost would make them solve.
It was drawn by the legendary Russ Heath, possibly the best illustrator of war and/or western titles the industry ever had. So I had no choice but to collect as many of these as I could.
#7: CASPER and L’IL HOT STUFF.
This beloved spokesperson for the “fun” aspects of Early Onset Death, was everywhere when I was a kid, but some dreadfully unfunny big budget films, finally killed Casper the Friendly Ghost off about ten years ago.
The thing about Casper, was that he was a GHOST. And that meant that every time I read a Casper comic, I had to envision THIS…
EVERY TIME, I saw this image of living Casper, mere moments before his death. What was he like? Who were his parents? Did anyone ever solve his obviously grisly murder (or else why is there a ghost left chained to this earth, huh?)?!? I was waiting for this mystery to be solved, and for the idiot girl in the red outfit to go the hell home! “Screw you, Wendy.” After all these years, yeah, I said it. “GO HOME! We don’t LIKE YOU!”
It also took me no time to decipher that Casper is clearly the same cursed soul that separated out to form the demon-sprite Hot Stuff, Casper’s Demonic Evil twin in the Harvey Comics Mythos. Sadly, HOT STUFF is remembered primarily as a tattoo hiding somewhere on the dried-up body of Baby Boomers who recall being tough at some point.
Trust us, if someone your grandmother’s age saw someone with some manly HOT STUFF ink fading into the yellowing haze of his arm skin, she’d think he was “Hard-Core”.
#6: DEAD GIRL
First off, she was created by Peter Milligan and Mike Allred, so we’re two-thirds of all right before we begin. Add to the fact that she’s named “Moonbeam” and can reanimate the recently dead, talk to spirits, take machine gun fire, hang out with Gwen Stacey, and look pretty hot doing it, all while being technically, and actually dead. That’s a kick-ass zombie-girl you could take home to mom.
Her crowning achievement was never published, however, for back in 2003, Dead Girl and the X-Statix gang were involved in a story in which they would revivify the corpse of Princess Diana and make England’s Rose into a zombie-X-Man mutant crime fighter. I’m not making that up. Dead Girl would be TOP of the dead heroes list if she’d pulled that one off.
But the world never saw it, as the stories were halted before war broke out between the allies, killing millions. But for one brief, shining moment, X-Statix was sticking it to the man. Or the Ma’am, in this case. The ones on the money and the stamps.
#5: Phantom Cop of Hong Kong, from PLANETARY #3. 1998
With their series PLANETARY, Warren Ellis and John Cassady had me at “Hello”. (Actually the first line of dialog is, “Your coffee tastes like a dog took a leak in it.” which is how we say hello in Canada.)
The comic was about these kooky “field” investigators who go looking for the paranormal, and constantly find it, in weird versions of trademarked characters the author didn’t want to actually pay for. I was dug in for glory with issues #1 and #2, but issue #3 cemented me as a fan for life, because of the Phantom Cop of Hong Kong.
The Twilight Zone/Hong Kong action/ Tarentino Phantom Cop takes over issue #3. Murdered by a dirty partner, Phantom Cop spends his nights blowing holes in the heads of various bad guys, with his suspiciously un-spectral guns, and casually revealing the most basic secrets of the universe to anyone who will listen. Life, death, god, he’ll tell you everything he knows, then he’ll shoot you in the temple. I rolled around in this comic and made it my secret friend for about a year after it came out. A decade later, I’m STILL waiting for more of my PHANTOM COP. MORE PHANTOM COP! YOU HEAR!
#4: JUDGE DEATH
This character is so ripper top-gear it makes me want to fair dinkum up the apples and pears, cor, rightie matey-o, or whatever they say in the UK when they’re not drunkenly savaging their cousins with bagpipes, one way or another.
I’ll just say it straight: Judge Death is the thrice re-animated zombie corpse of an inter-dimensional serial killer/evil twin of Judge Dredd, looking to execute everyone in its path as a preemptive strike against doing something illegal, as only the living can do.
If you couldn’t follow that, you shouldn’t be reading comics with the big boys. Judge Death was created by Alan Grant and Brian Bolland, because they’re that nasty-schoolyard cool, or they were when it was the Eighties, and cool people pushed nails through their face.
Judge Death’s biggest claim to immortality comes from something he said a lot in his earliest adventures. “Gaze into the face of Death!” he would hiss at you, all mean-mutha and stuff. Not a bad catchphrase. But it led to this:
#3: MARVEL ZOMBIES
Okay, like all slowly rotting corpses, the darlings of the double 00 decade have overstayed their welcome by now- but it’s hard to pretend we didn’t LOVE the Marvel Zombies when they first showed up.
The miniseries played the story as such a punch-to-the-face satire of bloated, ignorant consumption culture, all the while disguising itself as a harmless, viscera-flinging romp, that fans ate it up like the sugary dessert topping it was.
My favorite recurring bit came in the second series, when Zombie Hank Pym lost the top half of his skull, including most of his brains, and continued to insist he was smarter than everyone else.
EXTRA POINTS: The Zombie FF eventually perform the single best escape-from-a-trap scenes in Fantastic Four history, IMHO, proving that Zombie Reed Richards is still going to outwit you, dumbass.
Yes, THIS is the one you were thinking of earlier. Created by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino but mostly made famous by Neal Adams, and I love it just because I do. I don’t care that the ghost who solves his own murder had been done before. I don’t care that the one armed man he’s hunting is stolen directly from THE FUGITIVE TV series. I don’t care that the story ends up making no real sense… and god turned out to be a really hot chick who could turn into trees or something, and mostly the afterlife seemed to be a vacation spot in Tibet. Who knows what any of that was about?
It was mostly drawn by Neal Adams when I was a kid, and that was enough for me. He teamed up with Batman a lot, too, and I can’t shake me my Deadman jones. I will always show up for a Deadman comic, just to be disappointed, I’m sure, but I’m there like he’s my bestest friend.
#1: The Spectre
This is the badass of undead super-characters. The embodiment of god’s wrath. The shaker of worlds. The most powerful being in the DC universe. If you get him angry, a cross-crisis miniseries breaks out and DC continuity is doomed. KEEP HIM AWAY FROM ME!
Created originally by Jerry (Superman) Siegel and Bernard (The Spectre) Bailey, in the 40s, the Golden Age Spectre was the ghost of murdered cop, Jim Corrigan, brought back to life to hunt down his killer.
But 1974 was when the Spectre found his spark, his bliss, and his power tools. Under direction from the gooey, shocking brain pan of writer, Michael Fleisher, and the gorgeous pencil and ink work of Jim Aparo, the 70s Spectre didn’t just punish murderers, he turned them into pudding and sucked them through a straw, and then spread the pudding on hot coals, and then smashed the hot pudding with a shovel, and he did this with such casual sadism EVERY MONTH, that I’d have crawled through broken glass, and slept in a dog cage to see the next issue. I’ve may have said too much, right there, but I don’t care who knows.
This Spectre cut up the villains with spectral buzz saws and flying phantom axes. He turned one into glass and broke him into shards. Some he set on fire. Some he melted into puddles of cheese. These stories were so deliciously sick, that former wunderkind Harlan Ellison once said Fleisher had to be “certifiably bug-fuck crazy” to write like that, and Harlan was sued for defamation by Fleisher because madman Mike couldn’t tell that was a compliment (see the Harlan Ellison wiki entry: look under “Controversies”.
This is the gold standard about how ghosts should treat the living. Toss us around like rag-dolls. Beat us and turn us into rubick’s cubs and ground beef. I for one, welcome our ectoplasmic overlords.
You know, it occurs to me, this column was better suited to Halloween.
NOW JUST TO AVOID THE LETTERS: THE DEAD SUPERHEROES WHO DIDN’T MAKE THE LIST
I’m sorry for what happened to James O’Barr, and I understand that he created The Crow as a form of therapy to get over the senseless death of his girlfriend – but too many douche bags at too many Halloween parties dressed like this character all through the 90s, in the theory that it would get them some from a goth/emo chick, that I cannot forgive The Crow for starting any of that up.
Yes, I understand Spawn is undead. I understand that Spawn was a very successful comic book/movie/cable cartoon series. But I’m afraid I’ve read Spawn, and I’ve seen the movie, so I know that the whole thing is sub-literate nonsense that sometimes looks real purty.
Couldn’t care less.
That’s all for today. See you in the coming days with new pages for sale, and new cartoons every weekend. Plus THE WINNER IN THE HOVERBOY “NAME YOUR FAVOURITE VILLAIN” CONTEST!
Breathe…it will be okay. Just breathe.
Ty the Guy
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