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Uncanny X-Men #142, art by John Byrne, Terry Austin, and Glynis Wein

Five times the X-Men was straight-up a horror comic

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Aug 26, 2019

Last year, a lot of the hype around the perhaps-never-to-be-released New Mutants film would have led you to believe that horror was a new introduction to the X-Universe. After all, we’re talking about a team of people that wear brightly colored spandex to wrestle with each other in public, so how scary could it get?

Well, let’s not forget that the X-Men also an intended allegory for the oppression of minorities, so it gets pretty serious from time to time. True, when we think of horror in X-Men comics, we might instinctively respond “times Professor X had sex” or “Chuck Austen’s run,” but truth be told there are a ton of genuinely unsettling moments in this franchise that absolutely fall within the realm of horror. In fact, we’ve even got a lot of the standard subjects covered — holiday horror, body horror, zombies, satanism, and whatever subgenre of horror that time that the X-Men let a serial killer move into their basement as a social experiment would be.

What can we say? The X-Men is kind of a horror comic about 25 percent of the time.

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X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl

The X-Statix is one of those comics that we’re still sorting through our feelings on, but one thing's for sure: it was a wild ride. Kicking off the run by killing an entire team of beloved superheroes and replacing them with vain, fame-hungry mutants more concerned with good PR than saving the world, this was a series that made no bones about its willingness to flip the mutant metaphor on its head.

So it was that a character named Dead Girl joined the team, adding a horror schtick to what was otherwise a farcical take on celebrity culture and late ‘90s-era popularity of the X-Men. Once a Hollywood starlet murdered by her lover, Dead Girl soon discovered that her powers were to remain semi-alive even after death. Luckily for her, she found the one superhero team who would not bat an eye at her strange behavior and creepy origin story, and she made a home with them.

Yet, the X-Statix was not long for this world, and the final arc of the series ended the lives of most of the people on the team. Lucky for Dead Girl, she was cursed to a sort of living death, unable to join her friends in the grave. In X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl, we see her take the center stage, attempting to save the universe from a creepy villain known as The Pitiful One. Also, she lowkey dates Stephen Strange, but whether or not that adds to the horror of the series is dependent on the reader.

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Days of Future Past

You knew there was going to be a dystopian future somewhere in all this, and we have finally made it to the moment where we can lay our cards on the table and say, "Here it is." Days of Future Past wasn’t just one of the Fox X-Men films: it also just so happens to have been a very disturbing comic in which both the cover and the opening sequence of the second issue of the story involves Wolverine getting the flesh roasted off of his bones by the Sentinels, who then put his skeleton on display as a warning to his fellow mutants. 

It turns out that, in the present, dream ship Mystique and Destiny and their crew of misguided villains known collectively as the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants assassinated a senator known as Robert Kelly. This led to a crackdown not just on mutants but on superheroes in general as the Sentinels rounded up and killed beloved characters by the dozen. Even worse, the fate of the world is put in Kitty Pryde’s hands. She was roughly 14 at the time, so if you can just imagine a 14-year-old standing between us and complete catastrophe… actually, I guess that’s still not as terrifying as our reality, where a deranged 70-year-old reality TV host is actively causing a global catastrophe. It really makes you think.

Either way, the Days of Future Past reality is no good, very bad, and 100% scary. That is one alternate reality that gets one big “Return To Sender” from us.

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Dracula

The X-Men have gone head to head with Dracula about as many times as they’ve fought many of their more standard villains. This is a little surprising, but heck, Dracula was already a Marvel mainstay via the Tomb of Dracula series, and, let’s face it, he’s already got the look of an X-Men foe, high-collared cape and all. In short, we’ll allow it.

Though Dracula has fought many X-Men on many occasions, his most interesting interactions are with Storm, on whom he has a crush. This falls well into place with Storm’s tendency to attract megalomaniacs, but she had to start somewhere. In Uncanny X-Men #159, we saw her at the heart of a fairly standard Dracula story, in which he attempted to seduce her to the vampire’s life and she was saved (barely) by a hilariously Van Helsing-esque teen Kitty Pryde.

Yet, that was not the end of Dracula in the X-Men, not by a long shot. He would come and go as an X-Men villain, appearing as the central figure of the bonkers Curse of the Mutants storyline, just for starters. There is also an alternate reality that appeared in the comic Mutant X in which he actually succeeded in turning Storm, at which time she took the name Bloodstorm, enslaved Kitty Pryde, and in short became the absolute most metal version of Storm ever (except that time when she wielded Mjolnir, but that’s a story for another day).

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Uncanny X-Men #143

Most of Kitty Pryde’s life has been essentially a horror story. When we first meet her, she has no control over her powers and keeps waking up in random places thinking she’s been sleepwalking only to find out that her power is to become intangible. She is almost immediately kidnapped by Emma Frost, who was an extremely not-good person at the time. After that, she was almost married to a Morlock against her will, nearly killed by the Marauders, trapped indefinitely in a ghostly form, was best friends with a demon… and that’s just the ‘80s. Later, to top off the misery, she dates a self-loathing British guy. Let’s face it, life is pretty much an unmitigated nightmare for our girl. This is one pre-teen who went all the way to heck and back.

One of the first terrifying and traumatic things to happen to Kitty Pryde was the Holiday Horror classic known as Uncanny X-Men #143, in which the X-Men leave Kitty alone in the X-Mansion because it was the ‘80s and leaving a teen girl in an isolated mansion home to a paramilitary group seemed like a normal thing to do back then. Because it fits the tone of Kitty’s existence, she is immediately attacked by an alien that looks a lot like the Xenomorph from Alien.

This is one of the first times we see Kitty step up and come into her own as an X-Men, and her teammates are proud of her for saving the day. Yet the real villain of this story is child endangerment because Kitty was 13 at the time and definitely should not have been left in the X-Mansion to fend for herself!

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Magik and Inferno

Remember last entry when we talked about how Kitty was best friends with a demon? Ah, yes. That. This entry brings us to the subject of said Demon, otherwise known as one Illyana Rasputin. Standing out as especially horrible even among all the X-Men’s incredibly tragic backstories, Illyana was dealt a surprising terrible hand in life. Only a very short time after living at the X-Mansion with her older brother Colossus, Illyana found herself trapped in Limbo, a Hell-like dimension where she was subjected to witnessing the deaths of her friends and being tortured by the Satan knock-off known as Belasco.

This is not even close to the beginning of Illyana’s problems in life, though. Spending years trapped in Limbo meant that by the time she finally made it back to her home dimension, she had aged up by about a decade. She tried to reacclimate to a life with the X-Men, or more specifically, the New Mutants, but felt the constant call of Limbo. The storyline Inferno brought Limbo and all its demons to Earth, causing NYC to be suddenly possessed and overrun by sentient appliances and demonic furniture, and Illyana met her tragic (if temporary) end.

Inferno wasn’t only scary because of Illyana’s story, but because Cyclops’ ex-wife and Jean Grey clone Madelyne Pryor went full Medea in her new identity as the Goblin Queen. Maddie tried to kidnap and kill her own child, which is generally a pretty good sign someone has gone to the dark side. Illyana’s story is tragic, but so was Madelyne’s, and they were both victims of the evil of Limbo.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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