I love Halloween. I’m one of those people who go crazy, decorating my entire house with a menagerie of ghosts, ghouls, yokai, and pumpkins. And I love Halloween comics. Every year I pull out Jill Thompson’s Scary Godmother and Dan Breaton’s Nocturnals and give them a re-read. There is something perfect and magical about the comic book format that makes for great Halloween stories. I only wish there were more of them.
Welcome The Halloween Legion to my yearly collection.
Mashing up a typical superhero team with Halloween motifs, The Halloween Legion is a fun seasonal comic. I had no idea what to expect when I got it; I had never heard of the characters or the creative team, but the title alone (and the Mike Mignola quote on the cover) were enough to make me give it a shot. And I confess I was looking for another Halloween comic, so I was in the mood to love it even before I cracked the first page.
It isn’t perfect—I have my criticisms about the execution—but on the whole the good points outweigh the mediocre. I wasn’t expecting it to be such a full-fledged superhero-style comic. The Halloween Legion consists of The Devil, a young girl named Molly Aldrich who is actually an orphaned fire elemental; The Skeleton, the heavy hitter of the team, a supernatural creature built of “guilt and death;” The Witch, a young woman named Grimalkin whose magical powers transformers her into a classic green-skinned crone; The Ghost, the freshly dead third-grader Freddy Fridley who is just getting used to his supernatural powers; and The Black Cat, this is the leader in the Professor X role, the Black Cat is the creature of legend, bad luck powers and all.
Storywise it’s the pretty typical “Good Monster vs. Bad Monster” simple storyline. Which is not a bad thing at all—two of my all-time favorite comics, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro use that exact same template. The book starts off with a bang, pitting the Halloween Legion against some flying heads and a mummy brought to life by a farm who got his hands on an Egyptian resurrection spell. That was good times and exactly what I was expecting.
The story took a turn—and to me went off track—when Molly Aldrich (The Devil) took off her suit and went to high school in her “typical teenager” turn. I honestly didn’t need this piece. It didn’t add anything to the story, the characters introduced in the school vignette don’t appear again, and I didn’t really see the point. Fortunately, it is a minor detour and the Halloween Legion is soon back in costume battling a flying goblin invasion.
I can’t really talk about my favorite parts of The Halloween Legion without spoiling the story. To just hint at a few, I loved The Ghost introducing himself to his classmate. “But … but I heard you was killed.” “That was me. Didn’t hurt.” The Ghost was definitely my favorite character, and the best-written, of the story. I loved what happens to The Skeleton, which I REALLY can’t tell you without revealing the ending. I’ll just say it was a more powerful turn than I was expecting for a light-hearted story, which isn’t actually so light-hearted after all.
The art was a weak point for The Halloween Legion. Artist Thomas Boatwright has a good style, but he his work is too rough and unfinished for a story like this. I wanted things less scratchy, more cute. Some of the rough, scratchy lines work good on certain characters—like The Skeleton and The Witch—but for The Devil I wanted those lines smoothed down, especially on the close-ups of her face. It doesn’t all have to be dream candy like Jill Thompson, but a little more polish would have gone a long ways. I’m actually thinking of Mike Kunkle, who strikes that perfect balance between rough and loose with tight and defined. He knows when to leave a pencil mark and when to smooth it out. Some of that craftsmanship would have gone a long way with The Halloween Legion.
The back-up story, Once Upon a Halloween, actually does a better job with this. This story is drawn by Diana Leto, who has a much better sense of line (although her work is too claustrophobic, with multiple characters shoved up against the panel looking like they are being smushed into a glass pane. Neither Boatwright nor Leto have a perfect style, so maybe some combination of Boatwright penciling with Leto inking would be the winning combination.
My other complaint about The Halloween Legion—and this is second time today I have been annoyed at this in a review—is that this comic is actually part of a larger series, and I didn’t know it. I poked around the internet and found a Halloween Legion YA novel that gives an origin story. I don’t understand why companies nowadays are so averse to putting volume numbers on their spines, or even a simple synopsis of the “story so far” along with some guideposts on where to find the missing pieces of the story. This used to be standard issue in comics, and did wonders for orienting new readers.
But nowadays we pick up something like The Halloween Legion expecting it to be self-contained and find that it is actually a Volume 2 or some part of a larger series. Give us some indication that we are starting in the middle.
Or maybe I am just being picky. The Halloween Legion does work pretty well as a stand-alone, and I enjoyed reading it and enjoyed it enough to make it a permanent part of my Halloween comics collection. It just could have been better.