It was in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign when my great-great-aunt Agnes was summoned to the royal court to do a bit of dog whispering. A beloved Pomeranian had taken to speaking in tongues and, in lucid moments, was issuing salacious remarks about the prime minister. Aunt Agnes confirmed the queen’s suspicions, determining that the creature was possessed by some lesser demon (a tragedy for her highness and a Thursday afternoon for my ancestor). Though the ousting of the fiend was complicated by the meddling of a parrot belonging to the Duchess of Kent (mimicking incantations can prove hazardous), the little dog was back to its regular yipping and yapping by high tea. Again, for Lady Agnes Montgomery, this was a typical chore, one of the milder incidents she was comfortable to share in her “public diary.”
See, Agnes was an occult detective. In service to the Queen and, really, anyone else with the right connections. It’s an honorable, if thankless, occupation. It’s also one of my favorite topics to read about. Luckily, there’s a great deal of crossover in comics. Let’s do up a list, shall we?
The following thirteen individuals represent some of my very favorite occult detectives in comics. To qualify for inclusion, characters must be:
1. Someone who resides in a comic book
2. Someone who solves mysteries
3. Someone who tangles with the supernatural
4. Someone who is terrific
I’m undoubtedly going to leave a few out. It’s your job to speak up for these intrepid wraith hunters and courageous cryptozoologists in the comments section below.
13. Chris Luna, The Veil
Chris is a newbie, but she’s already off to an impressive career of solving crimes for dead people in IDW’s The Veil (written by El Torres and drawn by Gabriel Hernandez). Hers are colder-than-cold cases, as she deals directly with the ghosts of crimes old and new. If you’re looking for a new series more grounded in the day-to-day than some of the other books on this list, look no further than The Veil.
12. Solomon Kane
Sol is the very definition of a puritanical bastard. As a wanderer of the wide world, he tends to stumble Mr. Magoo style into trouble, from haunted woods to werewolf infested castles. He’s a zealot for sure, but he favors the more exciting passages from the Bible (the bits with the dragons and such). Three parts Man-With-No-Name Eastwood, two parts John the Baptist, six parts Severus Snape. All adds up to a lot of fun in the 16th century.
Read my review of his most recent exploits here.
11. John “Proof” Prufrock, Proof
Proof has real history. A lot of his peers in the ghostbusting biz sipped tea with British royalty, but Proof bumped elbows with American presidents. He combines brute stength with age and experience. He’s also the snazziest sasquatch to ever don an ascot and tails. If this image isn’t evident, you might need more Proof.
10. The Amazing Screw-On Head
I can’t emphasize this enough; he has a screw-on head! The occult detective genre, in itself, is a genre bender, bridging mystery and crime fiction with fantasy and horror. Mignola’s one-shot concept (soon to make a return to comics) offers the additional element of steampunk. For wackier, lighthearted occult detection with plenty of bonus attachments, give Screw-on Head a whirl.
9. Doctor Strange
I gotta be honest. It’s the mustache.
I like to look at the width and breadth of the Doctor Strange back catalog as the secret case files of Vincent Price. No one devotes that much time to horror movies without wetting their toes in the real thing. He wore a big ol’ cape and peered into crystal orbs in his attic and you know it! Imagine that voice and the phrase “Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth” and you’ll understand why he made it on the list and Dr. Fate didn’t. Occult detection doesn’t really get more opulent or psychedelic than Doc Strange.
8. Lobster Johnson
What’s most interesting about the Lobster is that his own persona is even more mysterious than those of his foes. At least, to us. In fact, he was widely considered to be a fictional character within the world he actually inhabited (let’s call it the Mignolaverse). He’s also the strongest example of a pulp hero doing his darndest to foil the nastiest occult element of all, those Nazi scum. Captain America had a mean right hook, but Lobster left a mark. Literally.
He’s a superhero, an occult element, and a former circus performer. What’s not to love? So far, dead people have either been the culprit or the client. Here, the spirit is a crusader for good. Here’s hoping his appearances in Wednesday Comics and Blackest Night result in more ongoing adventures.
6. The Batman
Bruce Wayne has worn many cowls. He’s a vigilante, a scientist, a dark knight. He’s also a detective. You could argue that most superheroes are default detectives, but along with Ralph and Sue Dibny and J’onh J’onzz, Bruce is the real deal. Sherlock Holmes in a sea of Scooby Doos. When I think back on Batman: The Animated Series, the
first sensation isn’t a visual. It’s the voice of David Warner’s Ra’s Al Ghul, dripping with condescension (and Lazarus fluid) as he says, “Very good, detective.” As for the occult dealings, much of the Batman’s rogues gallery is typically dismissed as weird science. But Elseworld tales have shown that he works well under gaslight. Oh, and if Ra’s isn’t one of the cooler occult villains in comics, whether he’s based in science fiction or fantasy, I don’t know what he is.
5. Mina Murray
The entire League of Extraordinary Gentlemen could’ve shouldered their way onto this list, but it’s Mina who holds it all together as leader and constant. She is also the most subtle psuedo-vampire ever. Just a scarf and eternal life. No fangs, no diamond sheen. She’s basically the Professor X of occult detection.
4. Sandman (Wesley Dodds)
Can we talk about one of the better cosplay options out there? Like the Batman, Dodds is essentially just a dude in a mask. But then there’s those prophetic dreams spurring him on in his harrowing exploits. There’s been several incarnations of the Sandman character, but when it comes to supernatural puzzle solving, Dodds was the classiest.
3. Sir Edward Grey
2. John Constantine, Hellblazer
Nobody’s clocked in more hours, snorted more Kris Kringle, or flicked more ashes than John Constantine. He’s beaten both the devil and terminal cancer. Nobody, nobody, has a more entertaining internal monologue either. Urban fantasy is a huge industry tight now and all the Harry Dresdens of the world owe it all to the original and best street level sorcerer ever to drop his wand and hail a cab.
With Hellboy, it’s all in the attitude. No one has ever seen so much and flinched so little. Sure, there are plenty of jaded individuals on this list, but for Hellboy, more than anyone else, this is business as usual. Like Proof, he’s had a lot of adventures over the years but remains a vital action hero. He’s got the perfect combination of experience, wit, heart, and monstrous good looks to serve as comics’ greatest occult detective.
Paul Montgomery has the Lance of Longinus in his umbrella stand. Find him on Twitter or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t forget to check out the adventures of Dr. Xander Crowe, Paul’s favorite occult detective in podcasting, over in Wormwood.