There’s been a lot of buzz about girl power and positive female representation in comics. The Strong Female Character™ has her place as a role model, but not all women are strong, brave, smart, sexy Mary Sue heroines. The creepy female character also deserves her due, be it as a complex villain, an unreliable side character or even a disturbing protagonist. Those goth kids need their role models, too.
Think of how simple and squeaky-clean your favorite comics would be without creepy women shaking things up. They drive plots, set the narrative tone, add depth and, of course, make comic books more enjoyable, especially for fans of horror. Ah, the creepy comic book woman. She’s the bitters in your Manhattan, the wasabi on your sushi, the warning written in blood. To celebrate this humble yet indispensable character, here are the 15 creepiest women in comics that we wouldn’t want to live without.
Delirium is one of the seven Endless in “The Sandman,” by Neil Gaiman. All seven siblings are a touch creepy, what with their godlike status, immortality and ability to ruin mortal lives. But Delirium’s creepiness stands out in a different way. Her appearance constantly shifts except for her two mismatched eyes. The words that come out of her mouth are strange, made stranger with uneven, wobbly lettering and hypnotically colored word bubbles. But it seems like Delirium means well, when she means anything.
The creep factor comes in because Delirium is much more than a mad little girl. She’s part of the Endless, a group that represents different aspects of the human condition. The implications are unsettling. Of course, there’s also the question that’s been plaguing/intriguing Delirium fans. She used to be Delight until something happened to her. The details of that traumatic episode have been lost even to the Endless. Delirium is creepy enough to make the list, but she lacks the malice to be further up.
14 POISON IVY
Poison Ivy, aka Dr. Pamela Lillian Isley, is Gotham’s iconic, sexy eco-terrorist. She’s gone through a few transformations in the hands of different creators, but what remains the same is that she is part plant and will happily to kill people to get what she wants. Just because Poison Ivy makes the crossover between the plant and animal kingdoms look good doesn’t mean that it’s not profoundly unsettling -- not to mention dangerous -- to those around her. She uses her powers and her intelligence to subdue, terrify and kill her chosen enemy: humanity.
The incarnation of Poison Ivy in “Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death” is a friendlier sort. She has friends, kids, even a regular day job. Making sporlings in a lab is disturbing, but it’s not half as bad as poisoning a city to make a statement. This Poison Ivy is still creepy, but a villainess/anti-heroine trying to have it all softens her image.
13 DARK PHOENIX
The concept of the Phoenix Force in the X-Men universe is already kind of creepy on its own. It’s a primal force of destruction and rebirth camping out in bodies of already powerful people. Anything that needs to borrow flesh, and sometimes minds, to do what it wants is kind of disturbing. But Dark Phoenix is worse. The Phoenix Force already has the power to corrupt or break those who can’t control or contain it. Dark Phoenix is the corruption of someone who can, or could.
The desires of Dark Phoenix are wanton destruction and casual genocide, but with Jean Grey’s emotions and affections intact, sometimes it seems human. We’re never quite sure how much of the bad things Dark Phoenix does have a bit of Jean Grey in them. The saying is that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and to see the transformation of Jean Grey from caring human to cruel god is deeply unsettling.
12 DEVI D.
It’s not Devi’s fault that she’s creepy. She just wanted to live her life like a more-or-less normal struggling artist. But after a brush with Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, she hasn’t been the same. Devi D. is the protagonist of “I Feel Sick,” by Jhonen Vasquez, best known for “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac” and “Invader Zim.” Vasquez brings the same frenetic, unsettling, darkly humorous style to “I Feel Sick.”
Devi’s last painting is Sickness, a creepy little doll that looks like her. After that, she can’t seem to get anything else on a canvas. It turns out that’s the fault of Sickness, which threatens to turn Devi D. into a homicidal maniac, too. Though Devi D. thwarts Sickness’ plans for her, she does so in violent manner and in a way that keeps Sickness in her life, just controlled. (No one gets a perfectly happy ending from Vasquez.) Devi D. seems like a mostly nice person, but bad things will always happen around her, and she keeps a doll painting of herself with pins in its eyes in her apartment.
11 LADY DEATHSTRIKE
Okay, so Lady Deathstrike’s origins and motivations aren’t the most rational and consistent, but no one really remembers how feuds start, right? Even if her beginnings are a bit of a jumble, she ends up as an exciting villain in the X-Men universe. First of all, it can’t be ignored that Lady Deathstrike has a disturbing look. Her hands are horrible slashing, piercing claws. But looking weird isn’t the end of it. Unlike Wolverine, who was forced to undergo painful, life-threatening adamantium enhancement, Lady Deathstrike did so willingly.
She didn’t even stop there, becoming a cyborg, all to enact revenge. It’s one thing when a villain establishes her motivations by how she views herself or the world order; there’s a rationale to what she wants to do. Lady Deathstrike doesn’t work that way. You can cross her, and that’s the end of it. She’ll do anything to restore whatever honor she and her family have left.
Josephine is the main character of “Fatale,” by Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker, and she lives up to the title. Josephine’s the classic femme fatale: beautiful, vulnerable and dangerous. Seduction is part of her larger plan to save herself. However, as the familiar noir elements overlap with unsettling Lovecraftian themes, Josephine goes beyond the femme fatale trope.
Her power over her lovers is as complete as it is intentional. Their obsession with her ends with broken minds and dead bodies. Perhaps the worst part is that she actually likes them, even loves them. That she is capable of such intimate destruction while still feeling affection is one of the creepiest things about Josephine. Her capability for deception, her matter-of-fact style of murder, and her connection with elder gods also adds to her disturbing nature. Though Josephine is ultimately a victim of circumstance, it doesn’t make her any less brutal, manipulative or, indeed, creepy.
9 CLARA POIROT
Clara Poirot makes a brief, but memorable, appearance in "Wytches," by Scott Snyder and Jock. In a horror series that examines the darkest desires of ordinary people where everyone is a potential villain or victim, Clara stands out as one of the few good Samaritans. And yet she is a bone-chilling character. From her ravaged body to her terrifying nighttime visitation with Charlie Rook, Clara appears more as a harbinger than a kind-hearted woman. Anything as soft as kindness doesn’t seem to exist for her anymore.
Clara is the one to explain what the wytches are and how they work. The impression is that she’s been at it for years, and the toll has been enormous. Her strength of will is uncanny... to the point of unsettling, shown both by her choice to spend years thwarting the wytches and when she coolly, calmly hangs herself when she deems it necessary. Clara isn’t the monster the wytches, or even the townsfolk are. She is nightmarish in a different way.
8 DEATHFACE GINNY
Deathface Ginny is the story of boy meets girl, boy marries girl, boy jealously locks girl away, girl begs for death. Death himself shows up and a sweet, little, half-death baby is born, and then grows up wanting vengeance. This is essentially the Song of Deathface Ginny, which is sung by multiple characters in “Pretty Deadly,” by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios. How the song is performed says something about the character doing it, but the repetition builds up Deathface Ginny as something akin to a folk hero, or a scary fairy tale told to children.
When we finally see Deathface Ginny, we already know a lot about her and she’s frightening. She is beautiful like her mother, but also looks like her father with skull markings on her face. The overall style of “Pretty Deadly” adds to Deathface Ginny’s creepy essence. The narrative meanders, and there are frequent interruptions by a skeletal bunny talking to a butterfly. With the dreamy backdrop of “Pretty Deadly,” Deathface Ginny’s bursts of violence cut to the quick... and the dead.
7 THE MORRIGAN
The Morrigan is the three-faced goddess of death in “The Wicked + The Divine,” by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. While depictions of death are usually freaky, it’s the schizophrenic nature of the Morrigan that ups the ante. She flits between elegant, gothic Morrigan; unhinged, violent Badb; and soothing Gentle Annie. Her character design neatly associates them as one being (same murder of crows tattoo, same face, similar goth clothing) while emphasizing their differences (hair, make up, facial expressions, vocal cadences.) This triple vision is as creepy as it is effective.
Nothing is simple with the Morrigan. “The Wicked + The Divine” #16 covers who the Morrigan was before she attained divinity and how she ended up selecting her partner in love and anger, Baphomet. On one hand, it’s an act of love, and on the other, it’s a death sentence. The Morrigan inspires awe and worship like the other gods of “The Wicked + The Divine,” but also a visceral fear. Her character is jarring and unpredictable, leaving the humans around her reeling. Her essence is toying with life and death, and you never know which side of her is coming.
6 THE GIRL IN THE WELL
The world of “Locke & Key,” by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, is a weird one; a place where you can pluck fear out of your head, leave your body behind or change your gender with the turn of a key. Despite the strange premise and intentional Lovecraftian themes, some of the fairytale elements are the spookiest. One of them is the girl in the well. The Locke family moves to Keyhouse after a traumatic summer.
Bode Locke, a young boy, spends his time exploring the vast mansion and discovering its wonders when he runs into the girl in the well. Her interactions with Bode are creepy in the same way that the Big Bad Wolf pretending to be a grandmother is. She says she needs a friend (as does Bode); she asks for things; she tells Bode she’s the only one who can help him. By the time the girl in the well is unleashed, the realizations about her true nature are much too late. Admittedly, the girl in the well spends most of the series as the teenage boy Zack/horrific male entity Dodge, but there’s something especially terrible about seeing the girl in the well climb out.
5 ASTRID MUELLER
In different comic, Astrid Mueller would be another tough, uncompromising businesswoman. She is attractive, elegant, organized and inspires loyalty. In “Clean Room,” by Gail Simone and Jon Davis-Hunt, Astrid Mueller is still all these things, but she is also a Machiavellian, brutal mind invader. She has no qualms about utterly destroying people. Astrid isn’t even the enemy. Astrid is at the center of self-help/religion/cult of personality organization called the Honest World Foundation, and has devoted employees called rooks.
She chooses them not only for competence and loyalty, but also her ability to break them as necessary, what she calls a failsafe. In the first handful of issues we see Astrid in action in the clean room, and it is creepy every time, made more so by the white, sterile setting around her. She always starts out nice, calmly describing a situation and coaxing her subject to remember more. When they start resisting, she threatens them with something terrifying and deeply personal. Even when things get dicey, Astrid is completely confident in her ability to break people, as well she should be.
4 THE ABERNATHY SISTERS
The Abernathy Sisters are only in a few panels of “The Beauty,” by Jeremy Haun and Jason A. Hurley, with art from Brett Weldele. Blink and you’ll miss them. In a comic full of gunfights, spontaneous human combustion and sex, they appear gray and quiet. They, in effect, are the opposite of what the series is about: an STD that makes people glowingly beautiful with no downsides… until it kills them.
The Abernathy Sisters are gray and wrinkled, sitting side by side in masculine gray suits and intimately passing a glass of amber liquor between them and finishing each other’s thoughts. The sensation that they are one organism is creepy, but not why they’re so high on the list. We only see the Abernathy sisters at all because they own a cure to the Beauty, but refuse to release it until enough people die, or are “culled.” Worse than a mad scientist creating a disease are the women saying with straight faces that humanity doesn’t deserve the cure.
3 LADY YVETTE
Pretty much all the women in “Monstress,” by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, are creepy; it’s a wonderful comic like that. But even with the competition of a partially possessed protagonist (Maika), sadistic jailers, ethically devoid scientists and vicious inquisitorial squads, Lady Yvette is the creepiest.
We learn that Lady Yvette worked with Maika’s mother, but that doesn’t stop her from being okay with her own daughter’s desire to slowly dismember Maika. Lady Yvette wavers between a refined, if cold, older woman and an uncontrolled demon. She seems this way even before she is resurrected as someone even more obsessed with a powerful magical artifact. More than plot and character alone, artist Sana Takeda deserves credit for her intricate artwork that makes the nature of Lady Yvette even more unsettling. Part of her creepiness lies in the way her face slowly distorts as she talks about the object of her obsession and the way it is emotionless when she murders.
2 BABA YAGA
Baba Yaga has been terrifying children for centuries and remains just as frightening in “Fables,” by Bill Willingham. She is a spy for the Adversary that drove the fables from their homelands, taking the form Red Riding Hood and seducing Boy Blue. But treachery and duplicitousness isn’t sufficient to make a character creepy. (Although it helps.) Baba Yaga is both calculating and zealously hateful, a longstanding harbinger of destruction for those in Fabletown. Even when she’s trapped, it feels more like hiding a bomb than holding a prisoner.
Now, you could say the same of many witches in “Fables;” notably, Frau Totenkinder feels like a real wild card in the question of who’s good and who’s evil. Here again, the artist, Mark Buckingham, deserves credit for drawing a character in a way that creates a visceral response in readers. The creepiness of how Baba Yaga crouches on her mortar while clutching her pestle and broom, grinning at her new freedom, is best conveyed through images. Like the other characters of “Fables,” her past seems to come with her. She is ancient, powerful and nefarious, the way she always has been.
1 MARIE L'ANGELL
Marie L’Angell is better known as Jesse Custer’s Gran’ma. She’s responsible for a lot of things in “Preacher,” by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon: Jesse becoming a preacher, Jesse becoming an orphan, Jesse leaving Tulip without a word, Jesse’s terror of ever returning to his childhood home, etc. In her creepy gothic house, she’s the god-fearing queen of the castle and demands utter obedience from her family. Her punishments for any infraction range from torture to death. When a young Jesse swears in front of Marie, she has him confined to a coffin under the swamp, but not before having her own daughter killed for defending him.
Marie also knows about Jesse’s newfound power, and is just delighted that he can be used in the name of the Almighty and the L’Angell bloodline. If she were merely hateful, she wouldn’t be so terrible. But throughout her portion of “Preacher,” Marie reminds Jesse that God loves him and that she’s there for him. Her familial, friendly interactions mixed with her unhinged behavior makes for a profoundly disturbing character. The worst part is that Marie L’Angell is completely confident that she’s doing the right thing.
Who is your favorite creepy woman in comics? Make us shudder in the comments!