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The Scariest Comic Books of All-Time! – 24 Hours Diner

A reader named Chris S. suggested that I devote October to the scariest comic books of all-time, as suggested by you readers out there! Sounds like a plan to me! So all October-long, I’ll be featuring 31 comic book tales of terror, based on YOUR suggestions! So e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com your scary suggestions! Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far!

A whole pile of you want me to feature Sandman #6 by Neil Gaiman, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III, the famous “24 Hours Diner” issue featuring Doctor Destiny tormenting a random group of diner patrons. So that’s just what I’ll do!

Enjoy!

A standard superhero trope is the notion of showing the big bad guy kill off an established character who we know to be powerful in his/her own right. This way the reader knows that the bad guy is a real threat to the hero of the book. In his own particular fashion, that is what Neil Gaiman does with Doctor Destiny in Sandman #6, the penultimate issue of the initial storyline in Sandman (where Morpheus is freed after decades in captivity and proceeds to search for his totems of power). Doctor Destiny has the last totem, the powerful ruby, which can help re-shape reality itself!!

Before the confrontation between Morpheus and Destiny, though, we see the power of the ruby in action at a 24 Hour Diner that Destiny has chosen to hang out in until Morpheus comes a-callin’.

Gaiman does a wonderful job introducing the issue as we meet the “powerful” waitress, Bette, who, in her mind, controls the lives of all her regular customers through her stories.

Of course, Destiny ends up ACTUALLY controlling all of their lives (and then there is the whole matter of where Gaiman himself plays into the comic, as the writer who is controlling EVERYTHING in the comic).

As time goes by, Destiny slowly begins to impose his will on the customers and Bette…

Things slowly descend even further than this.

It is a grim, stark and often disturbing avenue that Destiny takes these people, but all the while it is stunningly brilliant in its depravity. In addition, Gaiman is sure to find the quiet nobility in the hearts of these average schmoes who have gotten caught up in Destiny’s web.

The artwork from Mike Dringenberg and Jones III is powerful and well stylized.

This is an excellent, if harrowing comic book, and it showed that even quite early on in Sandman, Gaiman was a force to be reckoned with (okay, the battle between Morpheus and the demon in #4 already made that perfectly evident, but whatever!).

19 Comments

As always, I’m struck by what a crappy writer Betty is.

Tom Fitzpatrick

October 13, 2011 at 4:59 am

One of my favorite Sandman issues by Gaiman.

Interestingly enough, Gaiman has installed some foreshadowing plots in this issue that would resonate in other storylines down the line.

Another scary issue would be the Serial (excuse me thats Cereal) Killers convention in The Doll’s House. Brrrr.

The only comic book ever to give me nightmares. Last time I re-read The Sandman I just skipped this issue.

was wondering if this issue from sand man would be on this list for not only did neil prove how power ful the dream ruby is with morpheus. but also how nasty and frighting some one like dr. destiny can be in the right writers hands.

Something always bugged me about this issue so that I never quite agreed with its reputation. It almost felt to me like Gaiman was trying too hard to shock and gross people out.

For some reason I was way more disturbed by the scene in “Brief Lives” where Delirium makes a traffic cop, just doing his job, hallucinate bugs crawling all over him for the rest of his life (he even winds up in an asylum). Dream watches Delirium do this and does nothing.

I guess for me the creepiest events in Sandman were when the title character was shown to be cruel, rather than the “villains”.

This is the story that brought me back to comics, when I was in college in college. Okay, actually, it only brought me to Sandman comics, ’cause I didn’t read anything else again for a few years yet. But I remember reading this and thinking that all the love I had for comics when I was a young teenager might’ve been justified after all, and there was nothing I needed to be embarrassed about.

“Something always bugged me about this issue so that I never quite agreed with its reputation. It almost felt to me like Gaiman was trying too hard to shock and gross people out.”

Totally agree. Sadistic scenes like this, totally unreflected unto the main story line, feel like he’s trying to be “edgy”.

And who knew Dr. Destiny was the mass murdering Hannibal Lecter of the DCU? Apparently only Gaiman….

I hear what dhole and mckkracken are saying about writers trying too hard to be shocking or edgy, but this issue never ccame across that way to me. I thought it was geniunely shocking, and one of the best single issues I’ve read. Very well done.

I did find this disturbing, but I wasn’t entertained by it. In other words it wasn’t the type of horror that I enjoy. It kind of turned me off from Sandman. I stopped reading Sandman after the trade that this issue was in.

Dr. Destiny showed up in an awesome episode of the Justice League cartoon, where he entered peoples dreams. Batman had to stay up, but when they were fighting he was so sleep deprived that he was half asleep, which made the final fight scene really cool.

Thank you soo much for including this one! There were a lot of great stories in the 75 issue run of ‘Sandman’, but this one will always be one of my favorites. It reminded me of what an over-the-top, no-holds-barred ‘Twilight Zone’ episode would’ve been like. Perfect pacing, and still a heckuva lot less sensationalistic gore and/or suffering than in ‘Hostel’ or any of the ‘Saw’ films!

The thing that’s always bugged me in this issue is the “murder in the dark” panel. Specifically, the fact that all of the characters show up alive in hours after that one, so what exactly _is_ happening there…

When this month’s theme began, the two comics that immediately occurred to me were this one and Alan Moore’s “Love and Death” from Swamp Thing #29. I’ve always thought that one of the best indicators of a great individual issue is whether people commonly remember that story’s title. Several issues of Sandman pass that test, such as this one, Ramadan, Collectors, Men of Good Fortune, The Sound of Her Wings, etc. (A lot of issues from Moore’s Swamp Thing run and Claremont’s X-Men run also stand up to that test.)

I hope to see Swamp Thing #29 show up in this series!

Yeah, this was a rough one.

It put my girlfriend off finishing Sandman. I’m trying to get her to read vol 3 and see that it gets lighter. (Yes, skipping vol 2; it is not a good example of the book getting lighter.)

Per the “dark-for-the-sake-of-dark” comments: I think there’s an element of that here. There’s definitely a feeling, in the early DC work of Gaiman and Morrison, that DC went and got more British guys to write more comics like Swamp Thing. There’s an early sense of recasting goofy characters in a more terrifying light, though it wasn’t nearly as played-out then as it is now. (This was after Marvelman, yes? But some 15 years before Identity Crisis.)

Dr. Destiny is, of course, another of the main-DC Universe references that became less and less frequent as the series went on.

This issue (and the next) really harken back to Moore’s “Love and Death” in Swamp Thing. Gaiman’s written that he was still looking for his voice in those early issues and was consciously and unconsciously assuming others’ voices.

Still, as an attempt to write like Moore, it was pretty spot on.

As a long-time fan of the Superhero genre, this one was (and still is) terrifying to me.

I’ll admit that Gaiman reached way down into the pit of inhumanity to “flesh out” Destiny and redefine a super villain, but this issue certainly makes one think. What if super villains did exist? Would they be the goofy archetypes of the sixties, or would they be sociopath terrorists like Dr. Destiny?

I think in our dark heart of hearts, we know that answer…

This issue made me drop Sandman. It was just TOO dark and sick for me (at the time.) I’ve always regretted dropping the book, because two issues later brought the very first appearance of Death. Sigh… darn!

There is an issue of Sandman (I think it is in the “A Game of You” arc, but I don’t have the books at hand) in which a character is dreaming about her baby lying next to another baby. One of the babies is dead (with flies buzzing around it), and it eats the first baby. It is a very disturbing scene, to say the least.

i didnt understand more than half of this comic, he is looking to me overrated.

I had mostly quit collecting comics (after over 15 years of doing so) when the Sandman series started, but then for whatever reason I picked up a few issues and was hooked by Gaiman’s writing. I had previously been far more into Marvel than DC and so when I came across this story in one of the collections I had no idea how Dr. Destiny had been previously depicted, just as I had no clue to the history of Jason Woodrue, aka the Floronic Man when I read Alan Moore’s first several issues of the Swamp Thing. At any rate, this certainly rates as one of the most chilling comics stories; unfortunately, the fantasy pales in comparison with what real people have done to one another. I’m just happy that real psychopathic killers don’t have such fantastic powers as Dr. Destiny (or Kid Miracleman!).

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