The Surreal Cemeteries of Superhero Comics
Counter to their gloomy reputation, cemeteries here in the real world are usually well-maintained havens of peaceful contemplation. Not so in the world of superhero comics, where cemeteries are routinely the sites for supervillain attacks, impromptu resurrections, and guilt-riven superheroes shouting anguished vows to the heavens.
The latter category is by far the most common, since guilty brooding has been a staple of superhero comics from the very beginning! In fact, the two-page origin in Superman #1 (1939) sets the precedent with a panel of Clark in Momentous Decision Mode while visiting the graves of his (as yet unnamed) foster parents.
Nearly fifty years later, on the cover of Adventures of Superman #444 (1988), we find Superman still making Great Vows and Resolutions at the graves of the Kents, this time the foster parents of an alternate Earth's Superboy.
Another alternate take on Superman's life was chronicled in Superman #215 (1969), this time as a widowed Dad of Steel grieving over the lost Lois Lane with their daughter Lanie. Note Lois' 1938 birth year on her tombstone, the same year the character made her debut in Action Comics #1, making her age of thirty-one in 1969 a good fit for the imaginary novel (the "novel" designation always cracked me up).
No slouch in the brooding department himself was Spider-Man, seen here consumed with guilt over the apparent death of his beloved Aunt May on the cover of Spider-Man #196 (1979). As an aside, I should point out that the trees of comic book cemeteries are required by law to be leafless and grotesquely distorted. Look it up.
As a rare variation of the leafless tree theme, Spider-Man #181's cover (1978) featured a few wind-tossed leaves, but no trees, while Spidey dramatically contemplated "The Pain and the Power!" True, from time to time, we all contemplate the Pain and the Power while on our knees and both fists clenched, but only superheroes can do it while the floating heads of supervillains bob in the clouds above them. Showoffs.
As the undisputed champion of graveyard brooding, Batman has logged countless hours standing before the tombstones of his murdered parents. As a little change of pace, he decided to brood over his own tombstone on the cover of Batman #242 (1972). Because, you know, a guy can get into a rut sometimes.
Never in a rut when it comes to drawing cemetery scenes, writer-artist Mike Mignola's cover to Hellboy: The Corpse and the Iron Shoes #1 (1996) featured the title character in a rare moment of peaceful contemplation...or maybe just brooding.
I can never tell the difference.
Before hitting it big with his Hellboy, Mignola seemed to be warming up for the gig with creepy-cool scenes like the cover of The Spectre (vol. 2) #7 (1987), where we find Zatanna, Spec, and Madame Xanadu enhancing their goth cred by hanging out in the cemetery.
Years later, in The Spectre (vol. 3) #58 (1997), we see that cemeteries are still a favorite "haunt" of the Ghostly Guardian, as he frantically searches for evildoers to punish...or maybe just his car keys.
In Teen Titans #14 (1968), the Gargoyle's magic ring causes three of the Titans to disappear into Limbo, leaving only Robin to face the villain (and his own inner doubts) at the "graves" of his teammates.
As dramatic as a good graveyard brooding session could be, comic book cemeteries were also ideal locations for surprise supervillain attacks!
For example, a grieving Rick Jones (as Bucky 2.0) is too busy sobbing over Cap's apparent demise to notice a squad of sinister HYDRA agents tippy-toeing his way on the cover of Captain America #113 (1969).
In Batman #252 (1973), the Darknight Detective is too stunned by the Spook's empty coffin to notice the eerie escape artist looming over him!
Five years earlier in Batman #202, the Dynamic Duo came across one of the most popular cemetery mind games of the supervillain set: the customized tombstone for a still-living superhero! Very expensive, of course...but plenty effective!
The Death Stalker pulled the same prank on the cover of Daredevil #158 (1979), though probably not as effective with a blind superhero (who'd have to trace the tombstone with his super-sensitive fingers to get the joke). By the way, this was the first issue of some rookie artist named "Frank Miller". You may have heard of him.
On the cover of Iron-Man #59 (1973), Firebrand added a bit of maniacal monologuing before blasting Shellhead into his customized final resting place...scoring a "Perfect 10" from an off-screen panel of supervillain judges.
Though not exactly a supervillain, the jealous ghost of David Knight attacked his brother Jack on the cover of Starman #5 (1995). Happily, the boys eventually calmed down and decided to make their supernatural meeting an annual (non-fighting) event.
Another shocking appearance of a dead family member took place in Action Comics #507 (1980), where Pa Kent suddenly showed up for a visit! It turned out that Pa was sent on a journey through time by friendly aliens, so he could get a glimpse of his son as a grown-up Superman.
In Flash #343 (1985), Barry Allen and his lawyer are attacked by Goldface...though the odd layout makes it look like Goldface is grabbing a giant handful of "legal briefs" (ahem). Published during the horror that was the Flash title's final year, you know things were tough when the secrets of a lawyer were getting cover billing.
Speaking of horror, the horror comics fad of the early 1950's became so pervasive, that even humorous and lighthearted titles were forced to radically darken their storylines...as you see here on the cemetery-ambush cover of Plastic Man #38 (1952).
Yet another horror fad gripped the comic biz during the late 1960's and early 70's, once again sending the covers of superhero comics in much darker directions. Case in point, Teen Titans #41 (1972) finds the young heroes frantically trying to bury the Moojum Doll, which they believed would save their teammate Mal from the voodoo-spawned ghosts of a slave-dealer and his dogs.
You know, the usual zany teenage hijinks.
Of course, by that time, Robin was already an experienced grave digger. Just a few years earlier in World's Finest #195 (1970), he and Jimmy Olsen were forced to dig their own graves at gunpoint...by a deeply-crazed Superman and Batman!
With that rather unsettling scene, it's time we took our leave of the decidedly non-peaceful (and downright dangerous) cemeteries of the comic book realm. On the unfortunate and somber occasion that you do find yourself visiting an actual cemetery, take comfort in the fact that you probably won't be ambushed by a roaming band of HYDRA agents, meet a time-traveling dead relative, or be forced to dig your own grave by a gun-toting Batman.
That is, unless you're there past sundown!