Halloween Scene: House Of Mystery, Animal Man & Flesh + Blood

I’ve mentioned my general plans for this year’s Halloween Scene and even discussed my history with Vertigo, so now it’s time to jump into the actual reviews! The first three books I tackled are the entire run of House Of Mystery, the fourth volume of Animal Man and the modern day vampire tale Blood + Water!

House Of Mystery — written by Lilah Sturges and drawn, mostly, by Luca Rossi actually helped guide me to focusing on Vertigo books this season. I first read the series when it debuted in 2008 while working at Wizard and got some of the trades, but only finished the collection earlier this year. I lost track by the time the book ended in 2011 after 42 issues and two Halloween specials, but was excited to finally read it all together in a relatively short period of time (which I greatly prefer to monthly installments).

So here’s the deal. In the DC Universe, Cain and Abel live in two different houses known as the House of Mystery and the House of Secrets. This idea came about in the 50s when the company launched two ongoings and had the biblical brothers play host. Neil Gaiman picked up on the idea and set both domiciles in The Dreaming, also known as Morpheus’ realm. In Sturges’ House Of Mystery, the building itself has been moved to a kind of reality nexus where it can be reached by the denizens of many worlds and realities. As is tradition, the first drink is on the house and then you pay with stories. This is a perfect way to bring in incredible short form tales by other writers and artists that often enhance the themes or feel of the main story and always show how cool the medium of comics can be.

More specifically, the series revolves around a young woman named Fig who had fantastical adventures as a small child and solved mysteries a la Nancy Drew as a teen. Now she’s an architecture student obsessed with a house that should exist, but does. The longer she stays the more she learns about that place and the more we come to understand what’s really going on. I don’t want to spoil too much, but will say that this series not only did an amazing job of carrying on the feel of Gaiman’s Sandman while also creating a new world that I could not wait to keep visiting. I was also happy with the way it ended and look forward to eventually coming back to the book a few years down the line!

From House Of Mystery, I shifted over to a book that’s been sitting in my To Read box for years now: Animal Man Volume 4: Born To Be Wild. I’ve read Grant Morrison’s Animal Man run a few times now and am always blown away by it. Because of that, and the fact that I had a random handful of these issues as a kid that freaked me out, I didn’t want to jump in until now! Frankly I wasn’t sure if anything could properly follow that incredible story up, but Peter Milligan and Tom Veitch were up to the task!

This book picks ups right after Morrison’s last issue with #27 and goes all the way through #37. Milligan’s quick run (#27-32) starts toying with everything right off the bat. You’ve got a Buddy Baker waking up in a slightly different reality, seeing portals through his bathroom door, teaming up with Nowhere Man, battling The Notional Man (a character who made my jaw drop repeatedly) and dealing with a trio if murderous children. Chas Truog — the main artist on Morrison’s run — works his odd brand of magic with a quick Steve Dillon fill-in.

Veitch’s arc dealt with Buddy back in his home universe and teamed more often than not with Dillon! Still, he’s got plenty of unusual problems to deal with like his daughter’s imaginary friend, a Native America who wants his attention, a guy who accidentally shot his son with an arrow and the nasty habit of making bird explode. I like where this story is going and am excited to get into the next volume to see where it all goes because I love the way these writers and artists deal with a super hero in a more real world setting complete with a loving, but often strained family. That’s an aspect of this character that I get more and more into the older I get.

I closed out my first batch of Vertigo books with one that I’ve been curious about ever since it bowed in 2003: Judd Winick and Tomm Coker’s Blood + Water! Like a lot of folks my age, I first encountered Judd on Real World, a show I was a HUGE fan of. Down the line, he wrote both Green Lantern and Green Arrow plus The Outsiders, Exiles and Batman, all of which I love (I read Pedro & Me and Barry Ween further down the line and am a big fan of those as well). So, I was definitely curious when I heard he was doing a vampire book…it just took me 16 years to finally put it in my eyeballs.

Blood + Water is a story about a guy in his 20s who’s about to do because he’s dying from Hepatitis. That is, until his two friends drop a major bomb on him: they’re vampires and can turn him to save his life! Our hero deals with that information and then his transformation before realizing that his very existence has awakened something terrible, dangerous and…hungry.

This five issue trade moves at a nice clip and features a nicely paced and plotted story by Winick with some perfectly moody and creepy artwork by Coker that balances the real world elements with the fantastical ones. It’s a great one-off that also makes me wish there was more to this world!


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