The Weird History of Nightmare on Elm Street Comics

Watch Freddy Krueger kill his way through several different companies in our weird history of Nightmare on Elm Street comics.

As a concept, the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise is something I both love and hate at the same time. On one hand, it’s a killer idea with a charismatic villain, awesome set pieces, dark humor, and over-the-top violence. On the other hand, it’s a completely broken idea. The fact that it’s a franchise makes it completely hollow. As great a villain as Freddy can be – and it says a lot that a child murderer was somehow celebrated as an ’80s icon – he inherently breaks the story.

Freddy Krueger has what I’d call, for the lack of a better term, “bullshit invulnerability.” See, every Nightmare on Elm Street movie is based on the idea of him being this unstoppable boogeyman that our cast has to survive. The heroes of each story have to struggle to stop him in some way and destroy him. But you can’t destroy him because then how can you do a sequel? So it’s pointless. They’ll come up with some crazy way to stop him, do it, then the final scene will say, “Whoops, that didn’t work, I guess! See you next year!”

Freddy is so ill-defined and relentless that even the first movie is kind of ruined by the final minutes. When I decided to read through every Elm Street comic book, I knew it had that nagging, jagged puzzle piece in the way of giving us actual decent storytelling. But there are still a lot of interesting ideas thrown around in all the various publishers where Freddy had called home.

Much like his rival Jason Voorhees (who has his own weird history on the printed page, which we explored here), Freddy was sort of late to the party when it came to comics. By the time Marvel got the chance to make Nightmare on Elm Street comics in 1989, they were in the middle of releasing A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. So Freddymania was in full swing.

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Freddy Krueger’s A Nightmare on Elm Street lasted only two issues, released as black and white, magazine-sized comics. The great Steve Gerber (co-creator of Howard the Duck, among others) wrote it while Rich Buckler and Tony DeZuniga took care of the art. It’s a good-looking book and darker than you’d usually find in late-80s Marvel. Too dark, actually. The book was selling really well, but there were enough complaints from angry parents to shut it down, robbing us of a Peter David-penned Freddy story.

Rather than focus on a group of teenagers, it focuses mainly on two people. Allison is a girl who, like many children, is being haunted by Freddy every time she sleeps. The story begins with her body being found in critical condition with her parents being blamed for the crime. She’s still able to put up enough of a fight against Freddy to not die and it becomes apparent that Freddy’s interest in her is more than just another piece of meat to torture. There’s something special about her.

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Enter Dr. Juliann Quinn, a woman who has been studying Freddy as well as how to control your dreams so you can better evade him. She comes to help Allison and discovers that years ago, Allison stumbled onto the same ability to enter the dreams of others like Freddy did. That’s why Freddy is after her: he sees Allison as a threat.

The thing that sticks out to me is how much fun it has with the lore when the movies themselves haven’t fleshed them out all that much by this point outside of the stuff about his mother. Remember, this came out before Freddy’s Dead, which spelled out Freddy’s backstory and how he came into power. Freddy Krueger’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is Steve Gerber’s vision on how Freddy came to be and while it isn’t too different, it’s certainly better written.

There are two things that really make it great. First is the fact that the magic of his abilities isn’t quite explained, but there’s just enough for us to understand without ruining the mystique. Second, for a comic that came out only a short while after Watchmen, it’s easy to see similarity between Freddy’s upbringing and Rorschach’s. It almost spells it out that Freddy is what would’ve happened if Rorschach’s experiences led to him becoming the dog-owning child-killer that drove him off the deep end instead of a crazed vigilante.

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There’s also a bit that suggests that Freddy isn’t alone. There’s a whole community of freakish dream demons, only Freddy appears to be the most evil and proactive among them.

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The Marvel Elm Street run is enough of a story to stand on its own, but it does leave you wanting more based on how abrupt the ending is.

In 1991, the publisher Innovation took on the franchise and released a short-lived ongoing and two miniseries, all written by Andy Mangels. Nightmares on Elm Street (now that I think of it, they should’ve gone to plural with the title years ago) lasted for six issues with two story arcs. The first of which has art by Tony Harris, which is at times stunning.

It has to do with Cybil, a woman who studies Jack the Ripper and has been having nightmares about a guy who’s similar to Jack but with a burned face. One of the dreams also leads to her stumbling across the house of her old college roommates Nancy Thompson. She investigates and discovers that Nancy’s died years ago. She gets in touch with her other roommate Priscilla (whose entire panel-time in the comic is about reminding us how gay she is) and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors survivor Neil Gordon. Soon it’s discovered that although Nancy died, she was reborn as kind of the Anti-Freddy. If Freddy is a dream demon, then she’s a dream angel, only she’s too young and inexperienced to stand up to him.

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The highlight is Freddy killing Cybil’s husband with a printing press. As the guy gets chopped up from falling into the machinery, it spits out bloody newspapers with his death as the headline.

But like I said, some stuff doesn’t work. Being an Elm Street story, we need people to fall asleep for the sake of moving the plot along. That leads to a moment where Cybil’s on the phone, sitting on the couch, and she ends up standing up so fast that she passes out and enters the Dream World by accident. Um…sure, I guess.

Then there’s the twist ending, which is complete nonsense. More than your usual Elm Street ending. It’s this scene that’s supposed to be shocking and clever, but all I can do is scratch my head and wonder, “Wait, what?”

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The remainder of the series is penciled by Patrick Rolo and decides to play with the cast of the old movies some more. It’s five years after the events of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and survivor Alice and her son Jacob revisit Springwood to meet up with fellow survivor Yvonne because of the recent death of Alice’s father. With Jacob – who can read minds – being around, Freddy tries to butter him up and convince him to help him out. Also involved is Neil Gordon, reduced to a coma due to the previous story arc.

There’s a wild card introduced who brings some life into an otherwise lifeless cast named Devonne. She is basically Freddy’s agent in the waking world, helping him out of desperation. When she was a child, she burned down her home to kill her abusive father, but her mother died as well and Devonne’s been broken since. Not only is the incident the only thing she dreams of, but when she talks to people in real life, all she sees is them as skinless, much like how she last saw her mother. She figures that if she kills people for Freddy, Freddy will grant her at least one night of peaceful dreaming.

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But we know better.

Freddy ultimately wants to take over Jacob’s body so he can exist in the real world and while the plot is kind of weak at points, Mangels does scratch the surface of what’s a really intriguing idea that finally gives Freddy some much-needed stakes.

While the comic barely goes into it, Mangels suggests Freddy’s logical conclusion as a monster and how his reign of terror is his own undoing. Mangels establishes that Freddy’s nightmare rampages are localized to Springwood and only Springwood. He has no other jurisdiction. If he kills enough people and enough people move away, what does that mean for him? Granted, Freddy’s Dead kind of sidesteps this whole idea, but it has enough pepper to it that it’ll get used down the line in future incarnations of Freddy comics.

In an exercise in doing as many callbacks to the previous movies as possible, it’s also established that all of Freddy’s victims are stuck in his world as tortured souls unable to escape into the true afterlife. This allows appearances from the likes of the Dream Warriors, Nancy’s cop father, and Jacob’s father Dan, but even if they’re all good people, they’re still desperate to escape Freddy’s eternal torment and will do just about anything to help him.

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The whole thing just barely holds together and the ending is also really weird. It’s an actual happy ending, but even for an Elm Street plot device, it’s really odd.

Mangels would then do the adaptation for Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare with art by Mike Witherby and Robb Phipps. Shockingly, it’s the only Elm Street movie to get its own comic. I’ll admit, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie, but I don’t remember there being any big differences. Well, except one thing.

The movies around this time got hit hard by the MPAA and had to cut out a lot of gore to pass muster. This is a comic from a company that gives no damns about the Comics Code Authority. So you don’t have to worry about censorship here. When Freddy makes the deaf kid’s head explode, it isn’t just a balloon popping. It’s a goddamn exploding head!

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Cool thing about the three-issue mini is that there are two versions of the final issue. To go with the movie’s gratuitous use of 3D, you could buy an issue that’s mostly in 3D…albeit without color. Still, that’s a cool gimmick.

Mangels would close out the Innovation run with A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Beginning with Dan and David Day on art. Considering they just made a big stink about Freddy being gone for reals this time (yeah, right), Mangels had to rein in the Freddy aspect. The miniseries focuses on Maggie, daughter of Freddy and hero of Freddy’s Dead. She keeps having nightmares about becoming like her father and feels the need to visit Springwood to get answers. Fellow survivor Tracy goes with her.

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Storywise, not much seems to happen. It’s mostly Maggie having visions of Freddy’s origin. Seeing him kill people, watching his ill-fated trial unfold, standing helplessly as he’s lynched, etc. The only interesting part is how it goes back to young Freddy killing his foster father (Alice Cooper, you may recall) and that was some kind of sacrifice to the dream demon sperm creatures from Freddy’s Dead. Maggie and Tracy unearth the corpse and it releases some kind of magical energy that causes the house to collapse.

The second issue ends with Maggie visiting the boiler room where Freddy originally died and then vanishing. All that’s left for Tracy to find is Freddy’s hat and echoing laughter. A neat cliffhanger that simply wouldn’t be resolved.

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Innovation went out of business. Shucks. Mangels did have the script for the final issue online for a bit, but it’s long since fallen into the pits of the cyberspace abyss.

A year later, Freddy would make a minor comic appearance as Topps Comics did a three-issue take on Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Said movie is mainly remembered for the final scene that hints on the big money throwdown between horror icons.

Freddy remained quiet for over a decade. It’s not like he had much going on. New Nightmare didn’t really seem comic-friendly in its meta movie design and Freddy vs. Jason was stuck in developmental Hell. Shockingly, even when they DID get around to making the movie in 2003, there were still no comics to capitalize.

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It took Avatar Press to finally break the silence in 2005. They started with a one-shot simply called A Nightmare on Elm Street, put together by Brian Pulido and Juan Jose Ryp. Being an Avatar Press book, that means you have a lot of unsavory gore and unattractive drawings that are supposed to be attractive to look forward to. Seriously, it’s like nearly every female in an Avatar Press book has to wear high thong straps and a halter top.

Though it is neat that we have confirmation that Freddy and Leatherface apparently coexist in the same continuity. This continuity, at least.

The Avatar run goes with the status quo introduced in Freddy vs. Jason. Sort of. The local government wants to keep him under wraps so that teens won’t be terrorized by him. I thought the concept was done really well in the movie. On one hand, it worked. It actually cut Freddy off at the knees and made him too weak to do any damage whatsoever, hence the need for Jason. At the same time, there were still the moral implications of what Springwood was doing and the question of the ends justifying the means. You feel for the teens involved, but you also know that they’re doing horrific damage by unraveling the conspiracy.

It makes no sense here because Freddy is still able to do his thing. He’s just as capable of committing dream murder as ever, so there’s no point to the conspiracy. He isn’t underpowered or anything like that. He’s still offing kids, only they now have Men in Black guys on their backs to silence them. For what reason?! Their big plan isn’t doing a damn thing! There is no house of cards to knock over!

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Anyway, this one-shot is just about teens being killed while the government conspiracy is happening around them. Just nihilistic, violent, and pointless, like much of Avatar’s licensed comics.

The same creative team then did a three-issue miniseries called A Nightmare on Elm Street: Paranoid. Due to delays, it took about seven months for the whole thing to finish. The plot is a follow-up to the previous story where we get a lot of, “You can’t talk about Freddy or people will die!” while people are fucking dying regardless.

There are two parts here that are really good, though. First is how Freddy wants to spread the message that he’s out there and decides to use a kid named Mike as his megaphone to the world. Mike’s dozing off at a football game and Freddy casually meets up with him, asking for confirmation that Mike’s a hemophiliac. A confused Mike says he is, so Freddy pokes him with his finger and Mike explodes in a fountain of gore in the stands, leaving a message.

But it’s the ending that’s so close to being brilliant. The main character Claire reads up on Freddy’s so-called defeats from over the years and while nothing’s really worked in the long run, she’s inspired by the attempts to drag him into reality. Sure, making him physical and killing him hasn’t put him at a permanent end, but she knows how to use it.

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She draws him into the real world, but makes sure it’s in front of a pep rally. The entire high school is there and she and her boyfriend are armed and ready. Claire unloads on Freddy while telling everyone what a joke he ultimately is, successfully dressing him down with insults. He’s a gigantic, pathetic loser. Seeing him so vulnerable works its magic and everyone in the building is bonded in their belief that Freddy is nothing to be afraid of.

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Freddy loses control of the souls he’s collected and his victims start to tear him apart. This could have been the best ending. Let me explain why with a little tangent.

Back in the early 90s, Peter Jackson had a movie screenplay for an intended sixth installment called A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Lover. It was about Freddy being deemed such a worthless joke that teenagers would go to sleep for the sake of finding him in the Dream World and kicking the shit out of him for laughs. Without anyone fearing him, Freddy is in a Clockwork Orange situation where he’s at the mercy of anyone and everyone. Then he eventually regains his mojo and builds a body count to get some revenge.

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It sounds completely awesome and of course they went with Freddy’s Dead instead. Though to be fair, Freddy’s Dead was about offing him “forever” while Dream Lover was about revitalizing the franchise.

So anyway, in a better world, they would have made a comic adaptation of Dream Lover as a follow-up. This whole climax with Claire exposing Freddy in front of all the other teens would’ve been the prime setup for how he becomes a dumpy punching bag.

And instead we get the, “LOL Freddy wins!” ending. Fantastic.

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On another note, Juan Jose Ryp has some issues with his art. More than the usual Avatar issues. It’s like he glossed over the script at times. During the pep rally scene, it’s mentioned multiple times that Claire and her boyfriend are armed with shotguns when they most definitely carry handguns in every panel. Or there’s this bit.

Now, I don’t want to be THAT GUY, but…does she really got back? She’s got the ass of someone who sells propane and propane accessories.

A Nightmare on Elm Street: Fearbook finishes off the Avatar Press run, brought to us by Brian Pulido and Dheeraj Verma. This one is actually a lot of fun and plays with the Freddy concept to bring us something unique and original. It even begins with a rather funny fake-out where a student falls asleep during class and the infamous Freddy song is overheard as if she’s about to meet her doom.

As it turns out, things are going pretty well in Springwood. Hypnocil, the drug that prevents you from dreaming, is given out all over. Everyone is now immune to Freddy’s wrath and it’s driving him mad.

Enter a gang of thugs driving through the area, completely ignorant to Freddy’s existence. They rob a drug store and things get violent fast. When it becomes a hostage situation and one of the hostages starts drugging the killers with sleeping pills, it translates into a pretty neat revenge story.

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We’re so used to the constant compassion and helpless panic in these stories that it’s outright jarring to see someone vindictively watch over a sleeping person, knowing that Freddy’s about to have his way with them.

Just as Avatar Press said goodbye to Elm Street, Wildstorm went to work with eight issues of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Chuck Dixon and Kevin West are the creative team for the series, though Joel Gomez fills in on the art in the fourth issue.

The first three issues is a story called “Freddy’s War,” about a girl named Jade. She and her family just moved in to Springwood after years of constantly moving due to her father’s military status. We quickly jump in to action as her brother is killed and Jade knows she’s next. In a breath of fresh air, her open-minded father is totally willing to hear her out on this whole dream demon situation. It’s honestly refreshing to see a parent in a horror story seeing his daughter suddenly waking up with bloody claw marks on her back and going, “I am totally willing to believe whatever you’re about to tell me.”

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There’s also a subplot about one of those creepy little girls who always shows up in the protagonists’ dreams. For once, we get an actual explanation instead of her just being a random construct created by Freddy for the sake of being spooky. Being that this is Chuck Dixon, we get a climax based on Jade’s dad using his military weapons and training in the Dream World to fight Freddy, but come on. We know how much good that’ll do in the long run.

At least the follow-up issue tortures Freddy a bit. That little girl is able to do as she pleases in the Dream World and Freddy appears to be powerless to cut her up. Finding out that she’s going to be moving away soon, he gets increasingly desperate to end her before it’s too late.

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Then there’s a three-issue story called “The Demon of Sleep.” This one’s pretty cool. A group of geeks are being targeted by Freddy and one does some research and discovers an Aztec deity known for protecting people from bad dreams. He gets a talisman and comes up with a plot to summon the god to take care of Freddy.

Much like Freddy vs. Jason, the only thing stopping Freddy from being taken out for good is morality. To put the god at its full strength, they need to do a sacrifice. The ringleader opts to sacrifice the local jock bully, but the others aren’t really sure if they can go through with it. It all ultimately leads to a dark and tragic ending where hopes are dashed.

The final issue is a tale of a guy working at a local fast food place who stumbles upon the dreams of others being killed by Freddy. His dreams are so traumatizing that he’s in a constant, dazed state of work and fantasy, unable to tell the difference.

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A couple months later, Wildstorm released a one-shot called New Line Cinema’s Tales of Horror. It featured a short Texas Chainsaw Massacre story followed by an Elm Street story. The short story “Copycat” is by Christos Gage and Stefano Raffaele and it’s great.

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Freddy is annoyed when one of his victims awakens only to have some fat dork dressed in a striped sweater kill her instead. Freddy discovers it’s this guy named Otis, a sociopath that Freddy passed over during Otis’ teenage years because Freddy thought him too pathetic and that death would be doing him a favor. Years later, he’s a total Freddy fanboy and wants in on the action as Freddy’s sidekick.

Freddy’s not interested, but his hands are tied. Remember during the Innovation run where I talked about how Freddy’s only vulnerability is an empty plate? Gage embraces the idea. Freddy needs to be discrete to do his twisted work. If his existence is public knowledge, then Springwood will simply empty out and he’ll be out of a hobby. Otis knows that and blackmails him so that if Otis is killed or Freddy refuses his help, tons of evidence will be emailed to the media.

To deal with this problem, Freddy stumbles upon another fanboy. It’s simply wonderful because the very idea of people idolizing him takes Freddy out of his comfort zone and even he finds this completely absurd.

The ending ties things up nicely and there’s a funny aside about a teenager on meth that Freddy considers a threat. Track this one down. It’s easily the best Freddy comic.

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Then in 2008, Wildstorm and Dynamite teamed up to give us Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, a six-issue miniseries based on the unused screenplay for a suggested sequel to Freddy vs. Jason. Coincidentally, Bruce Campbell always thought such a movie was ridiculous because he believed nobody in their right mind had any interest in seeing his aging ass reprise the role of Ash Williams.

And now, of course, Mr. Campbell knows better.

Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash was written by Jeff Katz and James Anthony while drawn by Jason Craig and…*sigh*

Okay, listen, folks. I’ve been writing for Den of Geek for years now. I’ve talked about Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash when I did my list of ridiculous appearances by horror icons in non-movie media. I talked about it again when I did a list of comic book sequels to movies. Then yet again when I went over the history of Friday the 13th comics. I’m probably going to do an Evil Dead comics retrospective down the line and talk about it a fifth time!

Guys. I’m so tired of writing about Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash.

Anyway, the series picks up after Freddy vs. Jason and throws Ash into the mix, out to keep the Necronomicon out of the hands of both Freddy and Jason. It’s great because for once we have a genuinely charismatic hero to cheer for. I mean, the best hero character we’ve had up to this point is, who, Nancy? Yeah, Ash is a huge step up and it helps knowing that he has plot armor, so we’re assured that at the end of the day, he’s not going to be easily snuffed out to make way for the next hapless protagonist.

The final battle between the three is kind of rad, even if the artist decided not to draw any backgrounds for most of it.

A year or so later, the creative team would follow-up with Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash: Nightmare Warriors. While it’s a definite love letter to the three franchises and has a killer hook, it also needed a handful of rewrites and art that wasn’t rushed out the gate. The hook is that a support group is put together of people who have survived Freddy and/or Jason. It’s headed by Elm Street survivors Neil Gordon and Maggie Burroughs and includes other heroes from the various movies. Ash is invited since he’s had success against both Freddy and Jason at the same time.

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As this is going on, Freddy becomes empowered by the Necronomicon and attempts to take over the world with Jason and the Deadites on his side.

Things get completely ridiculous and not in a good way. It’s total nonsense with Maggie going evil just because, dressing slutty, and making out with her dad to drive home how suddenly evil she is. A lot of stuff just happens without explanation. But hey, we do get some random bits of nutty fanservice, like when Nancy’s ghost appears to help Neil out.

But the one cool thing about the mini is Freddy’s fate. This is the last Freddy Krueger comic and the last use of the Robert Englund incarnation of the character in any media, so this is the last word. In the end, he’s completely stripped of his powers by the ghouls living inside the Necronomicon. Reduced to a human and begging for his life, Freddy is then shot in the chest by Ash and his boomstick. Freddy’s corpse is blasted into a vortex. Then a random government agent character is also knocked into the vortex and we discover that he was the very cop back in the 60s who didn’t sign Freddy’s arrest warrant. He magically winds up back in the ’60s and signs the warrant, thereby preventing Freddy’s lynching and origin.

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So in review, Freddy is completely depowered, as killed as killed can be, and then has his history as a demon murderer erased via time travel. You have to give this book credit for being thorough.

Overall, the Freddy comics aren’t going to blow you away, but there’s smatterings of brilliance and flashes of interesting ideas to be found buried in there. With the reboot movie falling flat, there’s no reason to expect another Elm Street comic for a long, long time. Maybe if the next attempt reboot works out or if another publisher wants to gamble on some more nostalgia.

But hey, at least we have Scary Terry in the Rick and Morty comic! Close enough, bitch!

Gavin Jasper thinks people should use Dokken as a weapon against Freddy Krueger more often. It worked like gangbusters the first time! Follow Gavin on Twitter.