With horror and comics running a close neck-and-neck throughout my geektastic childhood, it's only natural that I would find a way to combine the two, no? So let's open up those mylar bags, check for spine roll, and page through those four-color pages (careful!) to find the most fear-inducing heroes of all time...
10. Cloak (Marvel)
Driven by a ceaseless hunger to consume life, this guy was always one of those superheroes on the border of bad-guyness. His bizarre symbiotic relationship with Dagger, which saw him absorb the light generated by her body as a way of keeping his hunger in check, only made him that much creepier.
9. Deadman (DC)
A murdered trapeze artist given the power to possess the bodies of others, Boston Brand was a pretty eerie guy, until he opened his mouth and sounded like any one of the guys I grew up with in Brooklyn. Still, any superhero who's actually a ghost has to make this list.
8. The Spectre (DC)
Speaking of ghostly superheroes, The Spectre has always been a favorite of mine. A murdered cop given supernatural powers by God to return to Earth and fight evil in all its forms, this mysterious character dates back all the way to the 1940s, through several incarnations. Let's just ignore the whole Hal Jordan era though, shall we? Thanks.
7. Moon Knight (Marvel)
Laugh if you must, but Moon Knight was one of several horror-themed characters Marvel created during the 1970s that always resonated with me. Returned from the brink of death and granted supernatural powers via ancient Egyptian magic, he's always been one of those heroes who never was quite popular enough to support an ongoing series, despite a strong cult following.
6. Shadowhawk (Image)
How could you not be afraid of a superhero whose modus operandi is to break the spines of criminals, choosing to consign them to a life of paralysis in punishment for their wrongdoings? One of the flagship Image characters, Shadowhawk may go down in history as the most sadistic superhero of all time.
5. Deathlok (Marvel)
Another of those great '70s Marvel characters, Deathlok was a mortally wounded soldier given new life in a post-apocalyptic future thanks to cyborg technology. Too bad the corporation that made him is evil to the core. Deathlok rebels, vowing to stop the very company that gave him new life. Robocop, anyone?
4. Swamp Thing (DC)
While I was always partial to Man-Thing (keep the jokes to yourself, people!), I have to recognize that DC's counterpart is far more well-known, and has had a much greater impact. Not to mention the fact that the great Alan Moore played a large part in turning him into one of the most well-written characters in the DC Universe.
3. Spawn (Image)
Some accused Todd McFarlane of crossing Spider-Man with Dr. Strange to come up with the central character of his Image Comics line, but nevertheless, Spawn is the embodiment of what it means to be a terrifying superhero, like a character straight out of a horror movie. Too bad his own movie bit the big one.
2. Batman (DC)
All hail the one and only Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne created his persona as a way to frighten the "superstitious, cowardly lot" that populated Gotham City's underworld, and he certainly knocked that one out of the park. I always had a tough time reconciling Adam West's goofball TV antics and the smiling buffoon of the Superfriends with the much scarier character I found in the comics, didn't you?
1. Ghost Rider (Marvel)
With all due respect to those who worship at the altar of the Bat (of which I am fervently one), when it comes to terrifying superheroes, the Spirit of Vengeance takes the cake. A biker icon to this day, with his flaming skull, chains and demonic hog, Ghost Rider literally burns the souls of his enemies with terror. It doesn't get much more horrifying than that. Drawing on the powers of hellfire and brimstone, his awesome "penance stare" is perhaps the most feared of all super-abilities. That said, any responses mentioning Nicolas Cage will be met with a swift reprisal...