House of Mystery Volume 1

Written by Matthew Sturges and Bill Willingham
Illustrated by Luca Rossi, Sophie Campbell, Sean Murphy, Zachary Baldus, Steve Rolston and Jill Thompson

I actually read this one in single issue form, but figured I'd review it as a trade.

As some of you know, DC used to put out two horror anthologies, House of Secrets (hosted by Abel) and House of Mystery (hosted by Cain). We saw them entered into the Sandman mythos by Gaiman, where he played with both of them quite well, building on what Alan Moore had teased into Swamp thing.

I'm not sure what they've done since, but in this new anthology plus an ongoing plot series, Cain finds he's lost his house to new occupants, five people who run a bar in the House of Mystery, where the price of a drink is a tale well told.

I admit I was a bit sad to see that Cain would not have a bigger role in the series (at least not yet), but Willingham and Sturges make up for that by more or less keeping the theme of the old series, namely short stories with various feature characters. Vertigo made a good choice here in using guest artists for the short tales, and if they add guest writer/artists to that part, too (imagine, say, a Kochalka horror story, or better yet, something creepy from Daniel Clowes), it would be an opportunity to showcase new work within an ongoing title. But that's probably hoping for too much.

As it is, the stories are pretty varied, ranging from a law clerk of the fantasy world, to a guy who claims to live in an Lovecraftian world, to a mobster who gets the jump on the fat man running the operation. They're offbeat little tales you'd never see in any other comic, and that's why they work so well here.

The main story itself is the big mystery within the house of mystery. Our five protagonists, all of whom have arrived at the house at different times, are stuck there forever. Four of them are resigned to this life, but the fifth, Fig, refuses to believe she can be caught. After all, according to her--this is her house!

That is of course, impossible--unless, of course, it's not. Sturges teases the reader with the answer and while Fig looks for the solution, she may bring the entire place down around their ears. By the end of issue five (also the end of this trade), we may have an answer as to what is going on. But then again, we probably don't. After all, where's the fun in so easily giving up the msytery...

All in all, I really enjoy this revamping, mostly because it doesn't completely step all over what has come before. Sure, it would have been nice to see the old framework used (I'd have probably left Cain in place and have him cackle over the fact that the others are trapped), but the fact that this is an anthology comic again, in age where there aren't too many of those, makes me very happy. Sturges is getting stronger as a writer in his own right, as this is better than his initial work on Jack of Fables--the dialog flows more smoothly, for instance. I also like the fact that it actually reads well in single issues, though honestly, given the price difference, I'll be dropping the title soon (after the second arc wraps up) to trade-wait it.

If you're looking for new Vertigo work to pick up, give this a try.