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House of Mystery #1

Posted: Monday, May 12, 2008
By: Matthew J. Brady

Matthew Sturges, Bill Willingham
Luca Rossi, Ross Campbell
DC Comics/Vertigo
"The First Drink Is On the House"

Every few years, Vertigo puts out an updated version of an old DC comic, or a Vertigo property that has been around in the past, or a title related to Sandman, which was arguably their biggest success and at one time the basis from which half their titles had spun off. While the imprint does develop plenty of new series that stand on their own, they've done their best to mine the history of their parent company for ideas, as well as operate in their own little "universe." The new House of Mystery series fits into that template, telling stories about the denizens of the titular house, which, as we learn in a prologue, has been stolen from its usual spot in The Dreaming and its proprietor, Cain. It seems that it has now become a waystation for travelers from various realms and dimensions, and the residence of a few young people who have become trapped there and decided to pass the time by serving food and drinks to the travelers, in exchange for stories.

It's a pretty good format for the series, as we will get to know the regular protagonists and learn about the, um, mysteries of the house, while being entertained by little stories that we hear every issue. This issue is focused mostly on setup, as we see that one of the group is getting to leave the house for some reason (it involves a ghostly carriage driver), and another girl is finding her way there, as she desperately flees some creepy pursuers while clutching some blueprints that she made of a house she keeps seeing in her dreams. Sure enough, she ends up in said mysterious house, and who knows what she'll discover about it, and about herself.

But that's all in the future, sure to be revealed in subsequent issues. For now, we're just becoming acquainted with the setting, and it's a rather charmingly creepy place. Artist Luca Rossi does a fine job of establishing the strange architecture of the place, full of weird decorations and gloomy rooms. Not to mention all the wacky-looking visitors, who seem to come from all sorts of eras (or stories); their numbers include a British punk, some cowboys, and even a retro-futuristic spaceman. Who knows what kind of interesting stories they'll tell in the future.

We do get a hint of what sort of freakiness might ensue, as one visitor, a young girl named Hungry Sally, regales us with a story about her past. While Matthew Sturges wrote the main story, this mini-tale is written by Fables scribe Bill Willingham and illustrated in a cute/grotesque style by indie artist Ross Campbell (Wet Moon). It's a really disturbing piece about the girl living in a town full of giant flies and eventually marrying one, then bearing children in a horrific fashion that reminded me of some of the nasty gore comics that come out of Japan. If this is the sort of thing we can expect in future issues, the short tales alone should make the book worth reading.

So it's an auspicious debut, striking just the right balance of introduction and story, primed to draw new readers into the fold and keep them coming back month after month. I for one can't wait to see what Sturges and Willingham have to show us.



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