It’s Halloween. How about a scary story? From House of Mystery to Tales of the Unexpected, DC and horror have gone together like vampires and blood, witches and broomsticks, or zombies and brains. For generations, DC’s horror titles have done much to inform the flavor and texture of the publishing line, to the point where even DC’s superheroes can’t help but feel that eerie chill when the season of fright draws near. In 2008, DC introduced the DC Universe Halloween Special, a yearly anthology of terror set within the DC Universe that continued until 2010. Then in 2017, DC reintroduced the concept with a series of annual anthologies that were each built around a different theme. In both cases, the idea was the same—each book was a place where many of DC’s top creators could circle ’round to juxtapose iconic heroes and villains with the Halloween spirit.
Today, all of these anthologies are available digitally, with all but the most recent also being available to read on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE. And read them you should. But if the thought of binging hundreds of pages of pure terror has you worried about sleepless nights, allow us to be your helpers in comic book horror. Below we’ve provided a guide to these anthologies, picking out one particularly frightening tale within each book to curdle your blood.
Two-Face in “Scarred and Scared”
By Brad Desnoyer and Riccardo Burchielli
It’s a night unlike any other in Arkham Asylum when a terrified man checks in as the storied facility’s newest inmate. The otherwise unassuming felon, it seems, was found with the mauled bodies of four children. Only when the full moon rises is the murderer’s true nature revealed, as a monster of legend stalks the Asylum halls… Fortunately, one Arkham resident is never without a piece of silver.
Kid Flash in “Mirror Games”
By Joe Harris and Andrei Bressan
The Flash’s Rogues usually have one modus operandi between them, and that’s the singular matter of scoring loot. So, when Mirror Master begins popping through bathroom mirrors to threaten children, Kid Flash senses that something’s not right. The terrifying truth of it is that Evan McCulloch has never been alone in his Mirror Dimension…something far more evil stalks that backwards world and is only waiting for the daring child fool enough to call her name three times: “Bloody Mary.”
Klarion in “Medusa non Grata”
By Bryan Q. Miller and Trevor McCarthy
Klarion the Witch Boy is relatively new to the mortal world and only wishes to partake in its festive traditions—such as the collection of sweets on Halloween night in the ritual we call “Trick-or-Treating.” But when those he’d court for candy start mocking him for his vintage mode of dress, Klarion loses his patience and turns the offenders to stone. Until, finally, he finds a group of goths who appreciate his flair for fashion. The moral: be careful who you cross on Halloween…you never know which witch is real.
Hal Jordan in “Blackest Day”
By Brian Keene and Scott Kolins
If you thought the zombie apocalypse of DCeased was a bleak affair, then you haven’t seen its predecessor in “Blackest Day.” In this tale, the world has already succumbed to a rapid viral outbreak of the rising dead, with all but an oblivious Justice League on the Watchtower stricken. And once an infected Flash is teleported through before they can be warned what’s coming, the remaining heroes fall helplessly, one by one. And while no evil shall escape his sight, that doesn’t guarantee there’s much Hal Jordan can do to stop it as he bears witness to the end of the world.
Swamp Thing in “The Spread”
By Tim Seeley and Kyle Hotz
Is a DC horror collection really complete without a Swamp Thing story? “The Spread” may not have the most frightening premise, but its viscerally evocative art purely conveys the terror of being a child lost in the unforgiving woods. Plants don’t seem so scary, until they become all that surrounds you and the realization sinks in that you’re outnumbered by the physically imposing Green that can make one feel so hopelessly small. Be kind to the trees, Swamp Thing warns, or they may not be so kind to you.
The Atom in “The Footsteps of Old Worm”
By Dan Watters and Sumit Kumar
There is no older, no more definitive fear in the history of mankind than fear of the unknown. It’s informed every stage of our development as a species, both for good and for ill, even as our bravest trudge forward to expand the light of understanding into the unceasing darkness. But try all we might, there are some things in our universe which remain stubbornly unknowable—and that scares us to pieces. It’s what the work of Lovecraft is all about. And those Lovecraftian themes find their way here, as consummate scientist Ryan Choi contends with a monster he cannot define. Here lies a tale of eldritch, cyclopean and all those other Lovecraft adjective-worthy proportions.
Cassandra Cain and Orca in “The Hunt”
By Alyssa Wong and Dominike “Domo” Stanton
Here’s the secret of a good horror movie: the slasher, the monster, the alien entity, is the hero. We root for the beast as it claims its prey because the narrative frames the victims in a way which makes it seem like they have it coming, whether they’re evil, foolish, careless, or just rude. It’s a flavor of fear that all Batman fans should know well. After all, is the Dark Knight’s purpose not to strike fear in the hearts of criminals in the name of Gotham’s salvation? In “The Hunt,” Batman’s scariest child teams up with one of his most monstrous foes to deliver true fear into the heart of Gotham’s unseemliest element. And that’s really the beauty of Cassandra Cain. Mask off, she’s the sweetest girl on Earth. Mask on…you almost feel sorry for the bad men in her sights.
This year’s Halloween anthology, Are You Afraid of Darkseid?, offers a very different kind of terror. It includes the typical horror stories like John Stewart in a haunted spacecraft, Superman and Lois uncovering a supernatural parasite in Kansas, and even the lonely path of the Phantom Stranger, but the scariest prospect of all is its framing story: having to spend the night camping in the woods with Damian Wayne. Aah! Honestly, we’re terrified just thinking about it. Pleasant screams!
Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Alex Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.