Comics On TV

The 5 Scariest Characters on Comic Book Television

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Ghost Rider, Swamp Thing, and The Walking Dead’s Walkers are among comic book TV's most terrifying creatures.

by | October 30, 2019 | Comments

Marvel/ABC

(Photo by Marvel/ABC)

Although superheroes came to dominate comic books with the arrivals of the Justice League and the Fantastic Four in the 1960s, horror comics were big business in the decade prior with publisher EC Comics leading the pack. Successful titles like The Vault of Horror also became a lightning rod in the decade’s juvenile delinquency scare. A Senate sub-committee was formed to determine of horror comics were poisoning the youth of America and rumblings of government intervention scared the comic book industry as a whole. DC Comics, Marvel, and Archie Comics (and a few other now-defunct publishers) forestalled any sort of regulation by agreeing to form their own self-censoring body, the Comics Code Authority. Though intended to ensure “wholesome” reading for youngsters, the CCA had a second, potentially more sinister purpose: preventing EC Comics from publishing horror comics. As EC publisher Bill Gaines put it in the documentary Comic Book Confidential, the CCA’s first act was to ban almost every word used in EC’s titles.

Of course, the code also meant DC, Marvel, and Archie would avoid horror elements in their comics as well. But this restriction became less of a concern for the CCA in the early 1970s (well after EC became known for Mad Magazine). Marvel quickly introduced Morbius this Living Vampire in the pages of Spider-Man and began publishing The Tomb of Dracula. The series introduced the prominent horror figure into its comic universe and marked the debut of the day-walking vampire hunter Blade. Soon, Ghost Rider and other horror-tinged characters appeared in the Marvel universe. Anticipating the code changes, DC revived House of Secrets as a horror title in 1969 and spun off its recurring Swamp Thing feature in 1972. These titles represented a marriage of horror and the superhero which continues to this day. They would also inspire the horror titles of the 1990s independent market which never faced the Comics Code Authority or its restrictions.

And as television continues to mine comics for inspiration, horror characters (and horror titles) are finally making their mark on networks and streaming services. Some lean into the graphic nastiness of horror conventions, while others go for more subtle terrors. But which are the most successful? Let’s take a look at the five scariest comic book characters to grace the screen so far and see how they bring elements of horror to the comic book show subgenre.


Ghost Rider | Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 95%

Burning an indelible impression into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s fourth season, Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna) first appeared to Daisy (Chloe Bennet) as Robbie Reyes, a kid with car and a sense of justice. But when she pressed the issue of his apparent vigilantism, she met the Rider. Bursting forth from Robbie’s skull, the character had an aspect body horror about him. Later, viewers grasped the real terror as Robbie slowly let Daisy and Coulson (Clark Gregg) know the truth: the previous Rider – who may or may not have been Johnny Blaze – saved Robbie from a car wreck and passed the Rider onto him. Once bonded, the Spirit of Vengeance learned the accident was meant as a reprisal against Robbie’s uncle Eli (José Zuñiga), a would-be crime lord attempting to use the mystical Darkhold to further his plans. The Rider and Robbie formed an uneasy alliance as they became protectors of East L.A. Nonetheless, the Rider’s interest in serving vengeance on Eli meant their partnership was always uneasy.

Subsequent terrors included the Rider’s possession of Mack (Henry Simmons), the moment he finally dragged Eli to Hell, and his haunting deal with Coulson.

The basic horror element here is, of course, demonic possession. And while more gruesome and graphic scenes were downplayed (this is still ABC after all), the terror of the Rider comes not just from his look, but from the way people feel when he inhabits them and the last traumatic effects. The series played him properly as supernatural force even the seasoned S.H.I.E.L.D. agents found terrifying.


The Walkers | The Walking Dead 80%, Fear the Walking Dead 75%, and the Upcoming Third Walking Dead Series

(Photo by AMC)

How can we have a list of the scariest comic book characters on television without mentioning the Walkers of AMC’s various Walking Dead programs. Even if none of the shows use the word, they still trade in the existential horror of zombies — the notion that your body will be absorbed into some mindless mass of flesh after you die. Beyond that, zombie fiction also comes with a healthy dose of claustrophobia and the absolute terror of potential killing your own loved-ones once they turned. Also, because everyone in The Walking Dead world is a bad day from becoming a Walker, death takes on a second, awful meaning.

But beyond the intellectual horrors of the zombie concept, the Walkers are incredible special effects. For the last decade, Greg Nicotero and his KNB EFX Group have done amazing things on television budgets and schedules to make Walkers ooze, crawl, drip, and gross out viewers. Sure, the Walkers are often just a mass of bodies swarming encampments – and, to be fair, that mass is terrifying – but the featured Walkers realized by KNB will remind viewers just how discussing and terrible zombification would be.


Ramsey Rosso and His “Blood Brothers” | The Flash 89%

The most recent entry on the list takes some of its cues from the Walkers, but offers the classic image of the zombie a superhero upgrade thanks to dark matter and some occasionally dodgy CGI. Debuting in last week’s episode of The Flash, but getting a proper workout this week, the corpses controlled by Ramsey Rosso (Sendhil Ramamurthy) represent a dose of genuine horror movie tropes in the generally bright world of The Flash.

Now changed by his strange dark-matter-and-blood substance, Rosso needs to feed on the living to maintain his existence – shades of a vampire there – but must first generate intense fear in them for the blood infusion to be effective. And if those ideas weren’t terrifying enough, he can also control the bodies of his victims in a manner reminiscent of the Walkers before they eventually dissolve into more of that blood-like ooze.

The effects work may not be up to par with The Walking Dead, but the ideas are effective and the “blood brothers” oozy ends are particularly gross.

Rosso and his blood-kin also represent a new kind of horror – the sort which occurs when your work starts owning you. Rosso is so driven to cure his HLH that he is willing to sacrifice his own humanity – and the humanity of those he meets – to do it. Oh, and one supposes there is an element of egotism there, as well. Call it a critique of late-stage capitalism or the dangers of an out-of-whack work/life balance, but the results are pretty consistent with the sort of themes one finds under the decaying flesh of a zombie.

And considering how humdrum the last few Flash villains have been, a horror-tinged adversary like Rosso is a welcome change.


Jason Woodrue | Swamp Thing 92%

(Photo by DC Universe)

One of the great disappointments of DC Universe’s decision to cancel Swamp Thing after one year was that we only had one quick scene with Jason Woodrue (Kevin Durand) as the monstrous Floronic Man. It is a great scene in which Matt Cable (Henderson Wade) walks into the Marais Sherriff’s HQ and discovers all his coworkers dead. The power is out, the shadows are deep, and when Matt can make out distinct images, they are of persistent vegetation. Then he comes upon the Floronic Man, now seemingly driven mad from becoming a plant-based lifeform. The two exchange brief words, but the creature knows what it wants to do – kill anyone it encounters.

This post-credit scene is a marvel, but it represent the culmination of the work Durand put into the previous ten episodes of the series establishing Woodrue as one of its great slow-burn menaces. And considering the show’s titular hero is himself a body-slashing figure of horror himself, that is saying something.

Invited to Marais by local businessman Avery Sunderland (Will Patton) to investigate why the local swamp is having a bad reaction to his special “accelerant,” Woodrue appears as a man more invested in plants than people. The notable exception: his ailing wife Carolyn (Selena Anduze), who has a form of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Woodrue hopes to find a cure for her in the swamp and its reaction to his formula, but his offbeat personality changes into something menacing once he chances a look at Abby Arcane’s (Crystal Reed) sample of Swamp Thing’s (Derek Mears) plant matter. Soon it grows into an obsession and leads him to a place where he is willing to use his wife as a lab rat to prove he can save her.

The terror here is, of course, that of a spouse gone wrong. And while it might be on a more operatic scale, the final moments of Woodrue and Carolyn’s relationship could just as easily be a more naturalistic episode of domestic violence. But since this is Swamp Thing, the ideas are heightened and Durand’s performance, already on the edge from the moment he first appears on screen, explodes into something altogether horrifying.


The Reverse-Flash | The Flash 89%

Jordan Nuttall/The CW

(Photo by Jordan Nuttall/The CW)

While some of Barry Allen’s (Grant Gustin) other Speedster rogues may lean into more obvious horror clichés – Zoom, for one, would be at home in a film in which he slaughters camp counselors by the score – the original Reverse-Flash (Tom Cavanagh) consistently pulled off being the scariest character on comic book television in 2014 and 2015 while wearing a yellow suit.

Thanks to his blurred face, crackling red eyes, and his mastery of speed, the character exuded menace and generated terror whenever he zipped into the frame. And to that Cavanagh’s stellar performance (both with and without vocal distortion), he continues to be the benchmark of villainy on that show. Consider his appearance during the 100th episode, in which he generated a season’s worth of chills in just three short scenes and out of costume.

But in form of the Reverse-Flash, he is a sight to behold. A vision of terror fused with the generally heroic aspects of The Flash’s own design. The success of that vision made Barry’s own go at being a nightmare of himself — the time remnant known as Savitar — far less successful. Of course, it also proves more is less as the simple methods and motives of the Reverse-Flash still successful engage audiences when villains like The Thinker and Savitar fail to impress.

His form of terror may not be as universal as demons or zombies. Indeed, it is very personal to Barry and, oddly enough, Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes). But it nevertheless manages to inspire some nightmares for viewers of The Flash. He is that relentless thing looking to tear down your accomplishments and undermine everything you aspire to be and a form of depression personified — with violence, calculation, and Cavanagh’s voice.

Which characters do you think are the scariest that have jumped from comic books to television? Tell us in the comments! 


Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Tag Cloud

cancelled television Paramount Plus superman blockbuster free movies unscripted Photos Apple American Society of Cinematographers Reality See It Skip It Opinion Kids & Family venice Comedy Music VH1 superhero technology Food Network Disney Channel historical drama TV Land Certified Fresh canceled TV shows Vudu mockumentary A&E cults Oscars rt archives TCA Awards Classic Film NYCC IFC Films docudrama spain Grammys kong dc know your critic AMC Sundance BBC America San Diego Comic-Con comiccon Peacock VOD TNT Broadway Nominations laika CW Seed Lucasfilm Calendar Quiz science fiction blockbusters Mystery critics obituary Trailer Ovation Awards Polls and Games miniseries franchise Apple TV+ Amazon Studios theme song Emmys supernatural renewed TV shows video on demand adaptation football Dark Horse Comics 24 frames Netflix Christmas movies richard e. Grant Musicals Pet Sematary Extras Disney+ Disney Plus Toys movie zombie Western Columbia Pictures Infographic Lifetime Christmas movies cinemax Song of Ice and Fire TruTV Drama BAFTA Adult Swim crime drama Exclusive Video travel 20th Century Fox sequel TV renewals FOX VICE OneApp The Arrangement CNN FX documentary Chilling Adventures of Sabrina hist Sony Pictures new star wars movies Creative Arts Emmys Lionsgate cops Cartoon Network GLAAD Tumblr pirates of the caribbean TCA 2017 kaiju werewolf Crunchyroll child's play book adaptation Comic Book cats quibi Film Pop TV universal monsters Podcast Sundance TV 2018 Comedy Central Sci-Fi X-Men TIFF Marvel Studios biography cars Amazon Prime Video Universal Mary Tyler Moore APB independent deadpool worst 93rd Oscars festival HBO Go cartoon Interview harry potter BET Election australia Lifetime Netflix composers SDCC criterion Warner Bros. Logo romance south america History sports Captain marvel DirecTV television Avengers chucky DC streaming service Syfy HBO Max talk show Winners canceled TBS YouTube Red sequels screen actors guild monster movies revenge french First Reviews women Countdown Country jurassic park game show Trophy Talk Film Festival Mary Poppins Returns toronto natural history The Walt Disney Company spy thriller jamie lee curtis boxoffice Television Academy Funimation Christmas mutant scorecard kids 71st Emmy Awards parents Rom-Com Marvel Heroines Winter TV cancelled LGBTQ USA Stephen King series 007 christmas movies a nightmare on elm street sag awards Disney BET Awards medical drama finale diversity discovery Emmy Nominations spinoff President HBO Red Carpet Superheroes YouTube Premium news Watching Series CBS All Access BBC Paramount Network Black Mirror slashers rotten Best and Worst golden globes ESPN Marvel Television Pirates godzilla zombies GIFs Brie Larson Schedule nbcuniversal trailers New York Comic Con stoner romantic comedy marvel cinematic universe Fall TV comic comics blaxploitation emmy awards Turner El Rey Teen what to watch twilight dramedy CMT Superheroe batman Fox Searchlight thriller GoT reviews witnail Endgame Image Comics streaming telelvision DGA razzies versus Spectrum Originals Cannes italian USA Network E! RT21 dceu Hallmark 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Freeform Mindy Kaling 2015 popular Walt Disney Pictures docuseries lord of the rings A24 serial killer satire Biopics Mary poppins boxing Tubi Hear Us Out MTV cancelled TV series Women's History Month ABC FXX elevated horror crossover FX on Hulu Nickelodeon indiana jones CBS LGBT movies ratings video films Reality Competition archives Travel Channel YA E3 all-time WGN Thanksgiving dark Pixar facebook Apple TV Plus Holidays dogs Holiday TV One Amazon Prime DC Comics space Esquire Trivia Spring TV Pop TV reboot Pride Month hispanic Television Critics Association aapi saw disaster ghosts psycho social media tv talk documentaries 72 Emmy Awards Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt The Academy Rock DC Universe Valentine's Day Mudbound cancelled TV shows Acorn TV PaleyFest Disney streaming service The Witch Fantasy new york 2021 Sneak Peek joker SundanceTV Musical 4/20 Summer ABC Family stop motion latino crime Horror game of thrones PBS award winner zero dark thirty concert high school SXSW festivals casting TCA singing competition Sundance Now Super Bowl war MSNBC psychological thriller screenings prank breaking bad Hulu Baby Yoda rotten movies we love Animation transformers IFC fresh OWN green book international Turner Classic Movies Discovery Channel anime best The Purge Anna Paquin Family foreign Character Guide Rocketman PlayStation target The CW ITV Ellie Kemper Black History Month nature james bond fast and furious vampires ABC Signature halloween tv Showtime aliens classics comic books 21st Century Fox Cosplay Tomatazos 2016 Nat Geo 2019 Legendary Action YouTube animated ID live action BBC One Epix Spike 2020 Arrowverse politics Comics on TV toy story Pacific Islander Crackle 45 worst movies spanish adventure Elton John anthology Star Wars Amazon Shudder First Look Box Office die hard dragons spider-man The Walking Dead golden globe awards Premiere Dates Tarantino true crime nfl Marathons Writers Guild of America Hallmark Christmas movies Star Trek Ghostbusters Bravo doctor who justice league Awards Tour japanese new zealand Rocky asian-american Fox News Academy Awards TCA Winter 2020 Video Games Shondaland mission: impossible TLC teaser political drama indie remakes Starz strong female leads MCU children's TV hidden camera scary movies hollywood comedies 2017 binge spanish language Chernobyl scene in color 99% rom-coms robots halloween sitcom RT History Set visit Paramount TCM National Geographic Alien WarnerMedia based on movie Binge Guide period drama name the review crime thriller black Masterpiece Disney Plus police drama book king kong directors ViacomCBS Year in Review Martial Arts heist movie Britbox cooking NBC stand-up comedy