Ask Chris #77: The Greatest Comic Book Monster Hunter Ever
Normally, ComicsAlliance Senior Writer Chris Sims answers comics and comics culture questions from our readers every week, but as Halloween approaches, things are about to get terrifying! This month, Chris answers your spoooooooky questions… from beyond the grave!
Q: Who are the best monster hunters and how would they be rated on the Vanhelsing-o-meter for deadliness? — @iheartkungfu
A: I hate to nitpick, but really, I don’t know what today’s younger crop of Monster Hunting Scholars see in the Vanhelsingomter. Despite varied opinions even among experts on whether a Simon outranks a Richter, I’ll go with the Belmont Scale any day of the week.As for the monster hunters themselves, there are a lot of great choices out there. It’s actually a pretty crowded field that’s given us some great characters. The first one that springs to mind, probably because he’s introduced by telling Dracula that he “might be hot stuff in Transylvania,” is Blade. I’ve honestly never understood why he never quite caught on in comics, but he does have the distinction of being Marvel’s first major movie character, thanks to a movie that gave us the truly incredible line “always some motherf***er tryin’ to ice skate uphill.”
But there are other great ones, too. I’ve talked about Benito Cereno and Nate Bellegarde’s Hector Plasm in this very column, who solves haints through the combination of personal misfortune, a sword made of lightning, and a surprisingly in-depth knowledge of traditional folklore. Really, his only problem is that there aren’t more stories about him.
The same goes for DC’s current version of Frankenstein, introduced by Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke during Seven Soldiers. Not only does he hunt monsters, but he hunts monsters on Mars while using the right arm of the Archangel Michael to wield a holy sword of vengeance against his enemies.
Unfortunately, this version of Frankenstein only has six issues under his belt, and while they’ve all been great, there’s just not a whole lot to judge by. Still, if the new Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. series is any indication, there’s an awful lot potential for him down the road.
And then there’s the obvious choice, a character that’s had almost 20 years of incredible stories of monster-fighting, Nazi-punching action: Hellboy. And he could pretty much take the top spot just by virtue of having a story where he took on the Mayan bat-god of death in a lucha libre wrestling match.
That’s the sort of thing that makes everyone else working in the same field look like second-stringers. And that’s without even getting into his knack for punching out Lovecraftian horrors and Nazi gorillas, or the fact that he’s [SPOILER WARNING!] the direct descendant of King Arthur and the actual Devil at the same time.
For my money, though, there’s one other monster hunter in comics that’s better than all of ’em: Elsa Bloodstone.
Elsa Bloodstone is, without question, one of the most underused Marvel characters of the 21st century, although her current appearances in the seasonally spooky Legion of Monsters mini-series are a nice step forward towards solving that problem. But I’ve loved her since day one, because honestly: She’s a sexy lady with an English accent who is also the daughter of an immortal barbarian, and whose entire purpose in life is fighting monsters by making them explode. What’s not to like?
For those of you who may not be aware, Elsa’s a legacy character. Her father, Ulysses Bloodstone, was a fairly obscure character (possibly even more obscure than Elsa herself) created in 1975 by by Len Wein, Marv Wolfman and John Warner, as a sort of pulp adventurer type with an affinity for wearing shirts that somehow still allowed him to be bare-chested. His story started all the way back in the Hyborean Age, which at the time was a pretty solid building block of the Marvel Universe, as a man from Vanaheim who got a magic immortality gem stuck in his chest and, unlike most of the people that happened to back then, managed not to get it carved out by Conan the Barbarian.
Instead, he turned his attention to dealing with Marvel’s monster population, and even managed to pick up a few sidekicks along the way, like Iron Fist’s old pal Fat Cobra:
You can already see where Elsa gets it from.
Anyway, despite big plans, Ulysses remained firmly trapped in the Z-list, and his major contribution to the Marvel universe was pretty much limited to having his corpse show up in a six-part story from 1989 where Captain America and Diamondback fought Batroc the Leaper.
In 2001, however — which, purely by coincidence, I’m sure, was right around the time that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was hitting the peak of its televised popularity — the franchise was revived in the form of his Elsa, the hotter, younger, blonder, lady-er Bloodstone:
Introduced by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Michael Lopez in 2001, Elsa was Ulysses Bloodstone’s daughter — and apparently his only daughter, which, when you consider that the dude was alive for ten thousand years, shows some pretty remarkable restraint. In the original stories, Elsa had been raised in England after Ulysses and her mother had split up, and was completely unaware of his Belmontesque vocation until after she’d inherited his mansion, his magic gem, and the service of his janitor.
His janitor, by the way, was Frankenstein.
Nobody in town seems to notice this little factoid, or if they do, they don’t mention it. Probably because a guy rocking a Marty McFly vest in 2001 is distracting enough that they don’t notice the neck-bolts.
Over the course of the four-issue series, Elsa ended up having a team-up with Adam, N’Kantu the Living Mummy, and Dracula — there was no Marvel analogue for the Wolfman involved, presumably because Man-Wolf and his magic space gem would’ve made things too complex — but that’s not really what’s memorable about Bloodstone. What is memorable is that Abnett, Lanning and Lopez just straight up decided to go barrelling headlong into the sexploitation genre:
Part of it, I imagine, came from the fact that translating Ulysses Bloodstone’s costume with its super-plunging neckline to a female form meant that the tiny, tied-up top Elsa ends up with was probably one of the better options, and the rest of it just fell into place from there. And fall it did.
Seriously, as familiar as I am with Abnett and Lanning’s other comics, there is no doubt in my mind that the constant sex-charged adventures of Elsa Bloodstone were done entirely on purpose, and the effect is hilarious. It’s everywhere in this thing. If she’s not poutily asking a gang of evil vampires “am I naughty?” (an actual quote!), she’s splaying out on her bed giving the readers a seductive look as she thinks about the terrifying nightmares she’s been having:
Seriously, this thing is the Bayonetta of Marvel comics.
Sadly — or not-so-sadly, depending on your view of supernatural sex farces — the book didn’t catch on, and Elsa faded away for the next five years. But the nice thing about being an obscure character that no one’s doing anything with is that occasionally, that’s exactly the sort of character creators are looking to use.
And that’s exactly what happened in 2007, when Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen took four third-stringers and a new guy and made the single greatest achievement in the history of art and literature: Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.
I think Bloodstone is a hoot, but the Nextwave version was an improvement in pretty much every way imaginable. Elsa was now a redhead (so that there wouldn’t be two blondes on the team), and she got a new costume that was slightly less exploitative than Lopez’s design. Really, though, that’s in purely relative terms: Immonen did, after all, have her battling against the forces of the Beyond Corporation in a pair of thigh-high leather stiletto heeled boots.
But those were just cosmetic changes — there were pretty big tweaks to her character as well, presumably beacuse there were only like fourteen people who read Bloodstone anyway, which is as good a reason for rebuilding as any. Unlike the inexperienced Elsa of the mini-series, Nextwave‘s version was a ruthless, gun-toting, monster-slaying badass who wanted to make things explode and who had the haughtiness that comes from being able to do all that in the aforementioned stilettos.
Her origin got a retcon, too: Rather than finding out as an adult, the post-Nextwave Elsa had been trained by her father to take over the family business from…. well, let’s just say “a young age.”
As it turns out, 10,000 year-old barbarians are not what you’d call “nurturing.”
Despite the slant towards comedy, the overall effect of what Ellis did with Elsa — and the other Nextwave characters — rounded her out as a character in a far better way than just casting her as the sexed-up Buffy of the Marvel Universe. She was given resentment and frustration with what she did that was at odds with how much she loved doing it, a family history that she hated at the same time that she was living up to it, and a knowledge and responsibility that informed how she interacted with the other characters. She’s far and away the most sarcastic and abraisive of the Nextwave crew (which is saying something), but she’s justified in it. She’s been doing this her entire life, and she’s phenomenally good at what she does. There are layers to her character that come through in spite of — and more often, because of — the bizarre situations she’s put in.
Which, again, are almost entirely geared towards blowing up monsters.
So when it comes to monster hunters, it doesn’t get much better than Elsa Bloodstone.
That’s all we have for this week, but if you’ve got a spoooooooky question you’d like to see Chris tackle in a future column, just put it on Twitter with the hashtag #AskChris, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with [Ask Chris] in the subject line!