Sharpen your ceremonial crow-dagger, crack open your grimoires written in languages only understood by madmen and put on your favorite Little Mix song because we’re going to Hell, homies! Hell has been a popular hangout spot for literary characters since even before the Bible, and the eternal abyss has proven to be a more than suitable locale for heroes to battle, abandon all hope, and maybe even find love.
To qualify for this list, characters in comics had to visit Hell, Limbo, or some sort of functional Hellish equivalent like Mephisto’s Realm or HFIL. To clarify: Illusionary Hells, proverbial Black Bug rooms, Hellish dreamscapes or metaphorical hells like Mondays, marriage, or working in customer service do not qualify. Entries are ranked primarily based on relative awesomeness of the story and the creativity/quality of the bowels of Hell in question.
Double-sequel to “Inferno” and “The Quest for Magik,” “X-Infernus” (2008) by C.B. Cebulski and Giuseppe Camuncoli focuses on Illyana Rasputin, also known as Magik, The Darkchylde, Snowflake and the current ruler of Limbo, trying to reclaim her soul. Through some Hellish nonsense, Illyana’s soul has been converted into a Soulsword and amulet. All things considered, trading your soul for a magic lightsaber broadsword is a damn good deal. Anyway, while Magik tracks down her epic raid gear, Witchfire seeks a seat in the Council of Hell — comprised of Dormammu, Asgard’s Hela, Mephisto, his son Blackheart and “Doctor Strange” villain Satannish — by gathering up as many bloodstones as she can to summon some Cthulhu-lookin’ Elder Gods.
We gave this position to “X-Infernus” over “Inferno,” because the latter is primarily a demonic invasion of Earth, while the former takes place in Hell/Limbo/San Francisco. That being said, some qualities of “X-Infernus” are perplexing, like Nightcrawler inexplicably having Magik’s Soulsword inside of him. Additionally, having a scene depicting all of the respective rulers of the Hell-dimensions before announcing that your story’s primary antagonist is just Witchfire makes her seem super lame in comparison.
14. GHOST RIDER: THE ROAD TO DAMNATION
Having been born in, and powered by Hell, practically every Ghost Rider has been to Hell at one point or another. This entry focuses on Johnny Blaze’s damnation, from “Ghost Rider: The Road to Damnation” (2006) by Garth Ennis and Clayton Crain. Every day Johnny Blaze gets a shot at salvation: an Inferno-long race to the Gates of Hell, from one side of Hell to the other. If Blaze reaches the Gates, he will be freed. Blaze is hounded, however, by the highest hordes of Hell, the elite members of the deepest circles of the Pit.
Every day Ghost Rider races for salvation, and every night Hell catches up, ravaging, ruining and ripping Blaze apart until nothing but his soul remains. Every morning they rebuild Johnny so he may try again, fully aware of what awaits him should he fail. This is what Blaze signed up for when he first made the deal with the Devil, with Blaze’s damnation being a simple yet effective method of torture. Hell does admire cheaters however, honoring the pact when Blaze slips past the Pack and through the Gates, thanks to some angelic deception.
13. VENOM: CIRCLE OF FOUR
In “Venom: Circle of Four” by Rick Remender, Rob Williams and a gaggle of artists, Blackheart brings Hell to Las Vegas, prompting a four-way crossover of Red Hulk, Ghost Rider, X-23 and Agent Venom. Blackheart tricks Johnny Blaze into powering a Hellish hamster wheel that drags Hell into Earth, or pulls Earth into Hell if he stops. Given a home field advantage, Blackheart uses “H’Elian’s Mirror Cauldron,” stealing the impression of each antihero’s soul to summon a quartet of their antitheses. So, Gothic “Black Vortex?” Kinda, but then our antiheroes die.
Cool loophole: You technically can’t die in Hell, so Mephisto gives our quartet one last go at stopping his son. For their souls, you ask? Nah, they’re already in Hell — Mephisto will just blackmail them later. This resurrection culminates in the avatar of teamwork: Red Hulk possessing the Spirit of Vengeance and the Venom symbiote, simultaneously. Incidentally, Blackheart finally settles Marvel’s hang-up on whether clones have souls: “Silly girl. You’re suffering in Hell right now. You can’t be in Hell without a soul.” Also, there’s a great “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” reference when Jack O’Lantern takes adrenochrome.
12. WONDER WOMAN: GUTS
In “Wonder Woman” (2012) #7-10 by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins, Wonder Woman has to free her friend Zola from Hades’ grasp in the Underworld. Diana calls upon her Pantheon pals to prepare for her perilous plunge into Pluto’s plane. Hephaestus gives Diana a magical arsenal of sword, shield and body armor, in addition to Eros’ golden duel Desert Eagles. Cute “love gun” pun, right? Sorta! These guns have enough stopping power to pierce Diana’s enchanted bracelets. Brokering a deal with Hades, who is rocking a sweet melted candle hairdo right out of “Dark Soul 3’s” Grand Archives, Wonder Woman agrees to be Hades’ new bride, so that Zola may survive.
This incarnation of Tartarus is initially a grim-dark London, with a permanent crimson sky worthy of “Batman: The Animated Series.” Every brick and cobblestone of the Underworld is comprised of a human soul, like some sort of H.P. Lovecraft-Minecraft, with each step stirring a skinless specter from its stony slumber. Lord Hades can also rearrange his realm on a whim, at one point turning the Underworld into a hauntingly beautiful pallid palace.
11. WOLVERINE GOES TO HELL
In “Wolverine Goes to Hell” (2011) by Jason Aaron and Renato Guedes, Wolverine goes to Hell. Still with us? Fantastic. On Earth, Logan’s corpse is possessed by a demon, but you don’t care about that. In Hell, Wolverine’s eternal torment is fighting wave after wave of villains that he personally sent to Hell! Wouldn’t that therefore make this Heaven for some of these villains? No, because they will never kill Wolverine, even though he lacks a healing factor and adamantium in Hell. It’s a perfect circle of torment.
Damned by the Red Right Hand, Logan is tortured by the Devil, who asks Logan to submit, not unlike the now submissive Sabretooth. When Logan refuses, he is pitted against every individual he has ever killed. We’re talking about mountains worth of nameless henchmen before we even see heavy hitters like Omega Red and Cyber. Why does this story rank so low? Because of a simple mistake: When you have the opportunity to show Wolverine fighting every one of his former villains ever, aka every Wolverine fan’s dream, do not under any circumstances cut away to a scene on Earth.
10. ANGEL: AFTER THE FALL
“Angel: After the Fall” (2009) by Joss Whedon, Bryan Lynch and Franco Urru picks up right after “Angel’s” season five cliffhanger, where Angel and his spooky friends failed to stop Wolfram & Hart from bringing Hell to Los Angeles. This merging of Hell and Cali produces a Venn diagram of post-apocalyptic action overlapping with naturally organic pop culture references, not unlike the UK-LA sports stadium being converted into a gladiator arena. Every wannabe Devil has carved up a different borough of LA to claim lordship over, with our favorite bleached blond British bloodsucker Spike settling in the Playboy Mansion as the Lord of Beverly Hills.
In fact, the entire cast gets an upgrade: Wesley is a gentleman phantasm, whose contract at Wolfram & Hart extends even into the afterlife. Gunn runs a band of self-loathing vampires, and Angel is BFFs with a damn dragon. “After the Fall” is so good because it’s one of the few entries to not only have a well-thought-out Hell, but also a hilarious Hell. “After the Fall” is essentially the sixth season of “Angel,” no longer hindered by production values, yet still retaining that inexplicable David Boreanaz charm.
9. THE QUEST FOR NIGHTCRAWLER
In “Amazing X-Men: The Quest For Nightcrawler” by Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness, Nightcrawler’s devilish daddy Azazel has raided the afterlife, shanghaiing souls from Heaven, Hell and everywhere in-between to carve out his own spirit realm. Not content with eternal rest, Nightcrawler teleports out of Heaven to recruit his former teammates in fighting demon pirates all across the afterlife. Wolverine and Northstar get to fight in Heaven before plummeting into the Frozen Circle, while Ice-Man, Firestar and Storm get to rumble in Hell. This dovetails into a demon pirate war, with Nightcrawler swashbuckling on the Great Frozen Sea of Oblivion. Also, we finally get an explanation for what Bamfs are.
This is not just a Hellish tale however, but a tale of rebirth; a great reintroduction to Nightcrawler. Poignant moments of the blue elf reuniting with his friends are sprinkled amidst fights with demonized versions of Billy the Kid and Caligula. Despite the fantastical nature of this story, its most touching moment focuses on Wolverine. Logan claws his way without a healing factor through snowy oblivion, not willing to give up until he saves Kurt — only to be rescued by him.
8. SECRET SIX: THE DARKEST HOUSE
In “Secret Six: The Darkest House” by Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore, the Secret Six find themselves divided over their Get Out Of Hell Free card, which is exactly what it sounds like. Ragdoll finesses the card for himself, teleporting to Hell to resurrect his favorite Parademon, the appropriately-named Parademon. Utilizing a combination shopping mall/portal to Hell in Iowa, 5/6ths of the Secret Six travel to Hell to retrieve the card and/or break out Scandal Savage’s dead girlfriend, Knockout.
Time flows differently in Hell, however, with every Earth minute being stretched into days on the Hellish plane. Being one of the few individuals born without a soul, Ragdoll is basically Hell’s Neo, gaining the title of Prince and his own personal army, the Secret 666. The two secretive squads do battle with one another before Ragdoll offers a unique proposal — stay in Hell as members of Hell’s high court, or leave now to ultimately return one day as a sinner. “The Darkest House” is a hella fun story that hits every Hellish trope, including the rhyming half-man Etrigan, who is dope.
7. WHERE THE DEAD MEN GO
In “Hellblazer” #207-213 (2005) by Mike Carey and Leonardo Manco, John Constantine must wade through Hell to retrieve the soul of his sister, Cheryl. With the usurper Lord Nergal serving as his distrustful guide, Constantine is able to walk through Limbo and Hell, encountering every individual he has ever tricked — so basically everybody. Most notable is Constantine’s body double, an entity Constantine constructed in order to stand-in for his damnation. The worst part of Hell though? John’s cigs are soggy.
“Down in The Ground Where The Dead Men Go” is one of the few entries on this list that attempts to make Hell a living entity, complete with a bizarre landscape and its own ecosystem. Every inch of the afterlife is brimming with brutality, from a Styx filled with the souls of hydrophobics, to the Bridge of Souls, a weaving of bodies that is so grotesque it would make “The Human Centipede” trilogy vomit in jealousy. Likewise, this is the only Hell tale that is appropriately foul-mouthed: “You can see why I look forward to my brief encounters with you, Constantine. I have to listen to this sort of diarrhea all the time.”
6. A SEASON IN HELL
In “Spawn: A Season in Hell” (2002) by Todd McFarlane, Brian Holguin and Angel Medina, we see the consequences of Spawn turning down lordship over the Eighth Circle of Hell. We also finally get a right and proper Hell fight, with Spawn fighting Violator through every bowel of Hell. Even with all of the demons and the damned backing Violator, Spawn is able to turn the tide of battle when they enter his domain — bequeathed to Spawn by Hell-law when he killed Malebolgia. Spawn’s chains burrow deep into the dirt, exhuming an army of his own. Every Hellspawn ever — from Gunslinger Spawn and Violator Spawn to Tron Spawn — rise up from eons of torment to help Spawn, the King of Hell, retake his throne.
While going to Hell is a big thing for most heroes, Hell is just Tuesday for Spawn. We could’ve given this spot to “Spawn” #100 where Spawn kills Malebolgia, but honestly that’s just a big dumb monster fight. “A Season in Hell” has every conceptual Spawn design ever fighting every damned individual ever. Yes, even Hitler.
5. GODZILLA IN HELL
Oh my God(zilla), this comic is amazing. “Godzilla in Hell” (2016) is basically “Dante’s Inferno” but with Godzilla. There’s no dialogue, which is okay because “SKREE-ONK” is Kaiju for “I’m Godzilla” and/or every expletive ever, simultaneously. Hell is basically one big Kaiju fight, especially the one circle that’s an endless free-for-all with Destroyah and King Ghidorah. Also, SpaceGodzilla is Satan, trapped in the Frozen Circle.
After destroying the Earth in a fight with SpaceGodzilla, Godzilla finds himself in Heaven. What kind of God would consider Godzilla, the reptilian allegory of nuclear war, heavenly? A thousand-eyed bat-winged nightmare-mountain God flocked by a choir of Mothra-winged angels. Duh. God screams for peace, unaware that He’s talking to Goddamn Godzilla. Godzilla crushes a Mothra-angel before being cast down to Hell. God later lends Godzilla a hand, giving ‘zilla angels to devour and the single greatest sentence to ever grace comics: “Now that we have aided you in your victory against SpaceGodzilla, you shall serve us in our battle against Hell!” Godzilla responds with some holy atomic breath. Oh, and yes, SpaceGodzilla is one word.
4. A HOPE IN HELL
Perhaps the only entry on this list to use both “Paradise Lost” and Ziggy Stardust as inspiration is “A Hope in Hell” from “Sandman” #4 (1989) by Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg. In it, Morpheus, the God of Dreams, visits Hell in order to retrieve his Mask of Dreams from the demon who stole it from him. Morpheus is led by Etrigan through the Woods of Suicides, the Hellcity and Lucifer’s palace. As Lucifer Morningstar — The Lightbringer and David Bowie lookalike — explains, the hierarchy of Hell has changed drastically. Hell is now a triumvirate, ruled over by Lucifer The Lord of Lies, Beelzebub The Lord of Flies and Azazel, whose lordship is never mentioned.
Dropped rhymes aside, Lucifer calls forth the denizens of Hell so that Morpheus can retrieve his property. In a challenge of reality at The Hellfire Club, Morpheus wages a rap-battle poetry-slam thing with a Duke of Hell wearing sunglasses. No, really. It’s beautiful, bizarre and ends with every hellion bowing to Dream. After all, hopes and dreams are the only property the damned have in Hell.
3. THE MIGHTY THOR: LIKE A BAT OUT OF HEL!
In “The Mighty Thor” #360-362 (1985) by Walter Simonson, Thor and company must venture to Hel, which is like Hell except with more capes, in order to rescue innocent souls wrongfully obtained by Hel’s Queen, Hela. Hel is rich with Norse lore, throwing Thor some classic heroic challenges. At the gates of Hel, the great bloodstained wolf Garm stands guard, ensuring that no one escapes Hel. Anyone may enter, though, so that’s a freebie. To reclaim the innocent souls, Thor challenges Hela to wrestle. How does one wrestle Hela, the Death Queen with a literal death touch? He straps on some iron gauntlets and turns his cape into a makeshift mask, obviously.
This Helish epic reaches its climax with a great chase sequence: Thor’s chariot — pulled by his rams Tooth-Gnasher and Tooth-Grinder — is pursued by all of Hel. Thor prepares to sacrifice himself to hold back the horde, only for Skurge the Executioner to steal The Thunder God’s… well, thunder. Utilizing a trio of enchanted M-16s, Skurge ensures that not a single demon sets hoof on the bridge out of Hel, beating them to double-death with a shattered rifle when he runs out of ammo.
2. HELLBOY IN HELL
When Nimue rips out his heart, Hellboy falls to Hell in the accurately titled “Hellboy in Hell” (2012) by Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart. Hell is a lost Victorian labyrinth in some places, and a swamp wasteland worthy of “Dark Souls” in others. Even in death, however, Hellboy can never rest, as many of the foes that he killed while on Earth hit him up in Hell for round two. In fact, were it not for the intervention of his estranged Demon wife, Hellboy would have been killed (again?) by three nameless Demon captains.
“Hellboy in Hell” is a beautiful, somber send-off to Hellboy, running in stark contrast to most other bombastic finales. We don’t even witness Hellboy’s final battle, rather it is told to us by the sole blind witness, the last Devil of Hell. The forces of Hell have banded together to bring about one last monster for Hellboy to slay, but he wants none of it. Hellboy just puts an end to things, finally accepting his destiny as he overthrows Hell’s high court in a flash of lightning. This is a series about dealing with death, change and moving on.
1. DOCTOR STRANGE AND DOCTOR DOOM: TRIUMPH & TORMENT
In “Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph & Torment,” written by Roger Stern, Bill Mantio and Gerry Conway, with art by Mike Mignola, Kevin Nolan and Gene Colan, Dr. Doom and Dr. Strange answer the Call of The Vishanti, competing with the world’s best mystics for the title of Sorcerer Supreme. As you can probably guess, Strange wins. However, he must grant a favor to the runner up, Dr. Doom. Doom’s request is simple: help Doom break his witch mother out of Hades. After Strange supplements Doom’s mystical training, and Doom increases his armor’s power tenfold, the two enter Mephisto’s Realm to challenge the devil for Cynthia Von Doom’s freedom.
This is some quality heavy fantasy, tying together the respective Doctors’ origins seamlessly as they are forced to work together. Though Strange wins the title, this is really Doom’s story. All of Doom’s actions have been roundabout attempts to save his mother’s soul. In fact, the laboratory experiment that scarred Victor’s face — the catalyst that created Dr. Doom — was an attempt to contact Hell. Even when Mephisto offers Doom the world, Doom laughs: “The world is mine for the taking! If I so desire! I need no such ‘gifts’ from you!”
Is there another Infernal heroic story you can think of? Peeved that we didn’t pick your preferred parable from The Pit? Tell us in the comments!