Marvel Comics might sport an amazing array of characters inspired by the horror genre, but in my humble opinion, no publisher does it better than DC. Ever since the early 1960s, titles such as The House of Mystery and the House of Secrets have been captivating and frightening readers with intelligently written one-and-done stories that conform to an anthology style format – a format that horror writers have always embraced with much success. Long before Marvel published superhero stories – in other words, before they hit the big time – DC was cranking out titles from a wide variety of genres. Superhero comics was what sold, but horror was undoubtedly a close second, even hampered as it was by the dreaded Comics Code. It stands to reason that over the last 70 years or so DC has consistently been publishing at least one successful horror title. Their golden age of horror came in the eighties when Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Rick Veitch, along with DC editor Karen Berger instigated the birth of the Vertigo imprint dedicated almost exclusively to horror and suspense titles. But even before the coming of Vertigo the horror genre was alive and well in the DC Universe proper, with characters like Deadman, The Spectre and The Phantom Stranger interacting with Superheroes on almost a daily basis. It stands to reason that a publisher that has been around this long, with so many great horror books under its belt, would have a plethora of memorable horror characters it could use whenever a writer pitched a story with a macabre bent.
Because of these fascinating horror characters generated by DC over the years, I have taken it upon myself to provide a rare public service and catalog each and every one of them for your reference and edification, dear readers. What follows is the first of these posts, as we saunter down the alphabet and pick out its goriest, and scariest, personalities. Oh, and I’m going to be doing it as a homage to DC’s classic 1985-88 series WHO’s WHO in the DC Universe!
A IS FOR ABEL
It is only fitting that I tackle this monumental project alphabetically, so here we go with the first of the bunch: ABEL, the horror-host and caretaker of DC’s House of Secrets. (First Appearance: HOUSE OF SECRETS #81)
Abel’s WHO’S WHO entry from the original series came, not surprisingly, from WHO’S WHO in the DC Universe #1, published in March 1985, although it was conceived a year previously. Writer MARV WOLFMAN and Editor LEN WEIN, along with Researchers E. NELSON BRIDWELL and PETER SANDERSON did a great job on this entry. What really made this page stand out (and yes, dear readers most characters only received 1-2 page entries) was the art by the legendary JOE ORLANDO, from EC Comics fame. Feast your eyes on the image I so generously supplied above, prostrate yourselves, and worship at the altar of Orlando!
1) ABEL’S PERSONAL DATA AND HISTORY
Abel’s occupation is listed merely as a lowly caretaker, and his full name is of course unknown. At this point in DC history he was “a solitary, lonesome man, possessed of only one friend: an invisible, imaginary companion called Goldie.” Goldie is a cute baby dragon by the way. “Geez, what a pathetic milksop of a character did DC choose as a host for one of their most esteemed horror titles?” you might be thinking. Well, think again! Abel’s squeamishness served to heighten the tension of the stories, dear blog-ogglers. It gave every tale an added dose of fright and the impression that not even an omniscient horror-host was safe from the sinister goings-on.
We know now that Abel is in fact the actual character from the Bible, and the victim of the first murder. It is ironic that he was recommended for his job as caretaker by his brother Cain, the caretaker of the neighboring House of Mystery. This begs the question: WHO EMPLOYED HIM? Possibly God, but more probably Morpheus, the God of Dreams. The physical manifestation of the House of Secrets is listed as “somewhere in the Kentucky Hills.” According to NEIL GAIMAN’S Sandman series though, both The House of Mystery and The House of Secrets are situated in THE DREAMING, the landscape of story and imagination. Because of the proximity of their respective workplaces, the lean and menacing Cain sometimes called on his corpulent little brother socially. These visits invariably led to re-enactments of the first murder, at least in later issues, which added a heretofore unseen type of horror to the anthology format, where the host himself becomes a bloody victim.
YOWTCH! Abel has not been seen in modern comics, but hopefully he’ll pop up again once DC breathes new life into their VERTIGO imprint, as they are presently attempting to do.
2) ABEL’S POWERS AND WEAPONS
You’ve got to be kidding right? Unless it’s the ability to consistently return from the dead every time Cain caved his face in with a rock, Abel boasted no powers. Even so, it seems that he had an almost supernatural gift for storytelling that “could chill the spine of a corpse.” Damn. Dude should have been a novelist.
Well, that’s it for our very first entry of WHO’S WHO IN THE DC HORRORVERSE. Next up: The dreaded DEMONS THREE!