DC Comics' vast stable of characters includes some of the biggest horror icons in comics, and the publisher has plans for them. At New York Comic Con 2019, DC horror writers and artists explained the future of the darker side of the publisher. Those in attendance at the panel included Joe Hill, Dani, Laura Marks, Si Spurrier, Aaron Campbell and Phillip Kennedy Johnson and was hosted by Mark Doyle.
Hill kicked off the panel by talking about his curated line, Hill House comics. Doyle noted the comics in the line would be connected. The first book will be Basketful of Heads, which is written by Hill with Leomacs on arc. The book sees a young woman facing off against four home invaders, whom she faces with an ancient viking axe. The axe has an occult power, as the heads it decapitates remain alert and aware. She'll need to fight for her life to figure out what her attackers want and are after over the course of a single night. The book releases October 30.
Hill described the book as "gonzo horror," saying he wanted something with the vibe of early Sam Raimi, like Evil Dead 2. Hill praised Leomacs and his work. Doyle said there's a "great sort of conspiracy" at the core of the book which he loves. Hill added, "Each of these people have a story to tell, and each have a slightly different perspective on what they're after."
"We've been working on this for a long time, and we're really building something from the ground up," Doyle said, adding that the first issue of Basketful of Heads will be one people are talking about.
Hill went on to talk about how a lot of good horror has been coming out and the he "wants comics to have a piece of that... I kind of wanted to make, like, a Blumhouse for comics... And so we've got some good rides for you with that."
Doyle and Hill's collaboration led to bringing on Marks, who is writing Daphne Byrne, which is illustrated by Kelley Jones and will be the third book in the line. The book is set in the 19th century and Marks described it as "The Exorcist meets Henry James." Daphne Byrne follows a girl who has lost her father, becoming easy prey for a demon. The book will explore their relationship and how she might find a way to "use her for his own ends," according to Marks. She said the 19th century was a great time to explore that because of the oppression of women in the time period.
Marks explained that she met Hill while working on Locke & Key, which led to him eventually emailing her asking if she'd like to write a horror comic. Hill added that he finds it "amazing there aren't more TV writers working in comics," as the skill set is quite similar. Hill called Daphne one of the most unique female characters he's seen in comics.
The conversation then turned to The Low, Low Woods, which is written by Carmen Maria Machado and illustrated by Dani, who is a new writer to comics and a National Book Award nominee. Doyle revealed the book had originally been "pitched independently of the entire line." Hill praised Machado's skill and explained the plot, saying it takes place in an area of Pennsylvania suffering from an outbreak of amnesia. "The whole thing is like a Reese's Peanut Butter cup of horror," Hill said, praising the book.
"The misperception is that horror is about sadism, but that's actually the definition of bad horror. Good horror is when you have characters that you find really intriguing and unique and fun and going through their worst and really trying to fight their way out of the corner," Hill said, emphasizing the importance of empathy in horror.
The Low, Low Woods was also confirmed by Dani to have elements of body horror. Doyle said that "it's a sweet book," but that it will also freak readers out.
Attention then turned to Mike Carey and Peter Gross' The Dollhouse Family #1. "It's basically like Indian in the Cupboard if the cupboard was actually a gateway to hell," Hill said. The covers, which are by Jessica Dalva, were revealed to be pictures of actual dollhouses that she'd made.
Doyle explained, "The scope of the story is huge." Hill explained, saying it "covers like a million years" and that it's jumping between the 19th century and the modern day, with two storylines converging. "It kind of reminds me of the really sort of smart, ice in your veins horror like The Changeling," he said. "Like, the really smart horror from the '70s... It has great stuff to say about single motherhood and growing up in a tough family and the possibility of escaping into your own imagination."
The final book in the Hill House line talked about was Plunge, which is written by Joe Hill. Hill called it his "riff on John Carpenter's The Thing." The book will follow salvagers heading to the subarctic to look for a sunken vessel. Stuart Immonen was then announced as the artist on the project, with Hill and Doyle praising his work. Doyle and Hill both recounted that the latter originally asked for "someone like Stuart Immonen."
"It's one of the scariest first scripts I've ever read," Doyle said. Hill noted that, although the books are connected, they do work well on their own.
Hill explained that there would be a B-strip in the back of every issue of Hill House that would require someone to buy every single issue to read. "We're really excited about that, too," he said. The strip will be called Sea Dogs.
The focus then turned to DC Black Label and Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Riccardo Federici's The Last God. "I would call it a horror fantasy mash-up," Doyle said. Johnson agreed with that assessment of the book.
Johnson explained the set-up, saying, "The Last God takes place in kind of a harsh, hostile fantasy world... in that world, a generation ago this entity called The Last God, or the God of the Void, spread his supernatural plague that almost ended all that is." He then explained the group that went on to kill The Last God and save the world would be revealed as having not actually done what they said, with The Last God overwhelming the world again. "They set out to undo the crimes of the first fellowship," he said. Johnson described the book as Dark Souls, and Last of Us meets True Detective.
Doyle then talked about falling in love with Hellblazer and the Sandman Universe. "We are very, very happy that John Constantine is coming into the Sandman Universe," Doyle said.
Spurrier, who is writing the first book, talked about what Doyle described as a "big, flashy special."
"How you bring back a character whose continuity is f*cked, as in many things Neil Gaiman has the answer," Spurrier said, continuing on to talk about Tim Hunter going into the future to find an "older, sadder wearier John Constantine." Gaiman remarked that Constantine actually solved a lot of problems, proposing thinking of a way to "pick him up at the moment of his death" to dump him in our world, according to Spurrier. "Heroes can't save us, but maybe a bastard can," said Spurrier.
The Hellblazer special will lead into John Constantine: Hellblazer, which is illustrated by Campbell and written by Spurrier. Campbell remarked that he's wanted to return and draw Constantine for a long time, dating back to his earliest days with DC. "I couldn't believe it," Campbell said of being offered the book. "I have a deep affinity for Constantine, because he kind of represents my own existential dread," he said. "Something deep inside compels him to do what he does, and I've always felt that way about comics... It's not like I want to be a comic book artist, I need to be a comic book artist. I couldn't exist without it. And just horror itself is something that resonates with me deeply."
Asked if he was drawing him more like Keanu Reeves going forward, Spurrier said, "There's a little cameo."
"The first time we meet John, he goes into a pub and tells a horrible joke and gets thrown out," Spurrier explained, talking about how as a white man he's only really equipped to write about other white men. "He's a bastard with a conscious," Spurrier said. "I think that's what draws people to him."
Spurrier will leave The Dreaming after eighteen issues. "I'm so proud and blown away by everyone's reaction to it, and I'm kind of heartbroken to be stepping away from it." Spurrier said, before adding that he's very excited for the person taking over for him. Doyle then invited writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Nick Robles onto the stage, revealing them as the new creative team.
"I was on book tour for The Bird King," Wilson said. Chris Conroy called her to put her in contact with Neil Gaiman, and she took the job. "What was funny about that conversation was that I walked outside kind of in a daze after it was over and I looked at the mountains and I had this wave of deja vu," she said. "Because the very first time that I read Sandman at a good friend of mine's house in highschool, I was in Longmont, Colorado," which is where she received the news. The landscape she was looking at was the same one she saw while reading the book.