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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

On Comics: File Under 'Phantasmagoric'

Posted By on Wed, May 28, 2008 at 1:38 AM

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By Matthew Shaer

Vertigo and DC recently revived "House of Mystery," a rock-'em/sock-'em/blood-splattered horror series famously targeted by the Comics Code Authority in the late '50s. (Check David Hajdu's great "Ten-Cent Plague," published this spring, if that part of your comix history is a little hazy.) "Jack of Fables" writers Matthew Sturges and Bill Willingham are handling the plot; Luca Rossi is the artist; and the cover is drawn Sam Weber. The first issue hit stands earlier this month. Number two is in the pipeline. So what's it like?

Sayeth Mr. Sturges: "This is a book where you can have a pirate, a psychic detective, a spaceman, a French romantic poet and an NYU film student sitting at a table having a beer together. It's a writer's dream come true."

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Courtesy of DC/Vertigo

Sayeth the PR: The book "focuses on five characters trapped in a supernatural bar, trying to solve the mystery of how and why they're imprisoned there. Each one has a terrible past they'd like to forget, and with no books, newspapers or TV allowed in the House, they face an eternity of boredom. But stories become the new currency, and fortunately, the House attracts only the finest storytellers."

Sayeth Mr. Willingham: "Let's be perfectly clear: There isn't just one mystery in the new House of Mystery. It's actually chock-full of mysteries, all of which will be thrilling and exciting as they unfold over the course of the series."

Those in need of further reason to fork over the 3 dollars can check out this PDF preview, via the DC website. Even by Vertigo's standards, the writing here is dexterous and vivid; the imagery brooding and bloody. Willingham and Sturges are best with the absurd.

They are best when their subjects lurk somewhere between the human and the inhuman; when the line is subtly blurred. "House of Mysteries" is a success mostly because it makes an implicit argument for the existence of the graphic form, in style and in scope: Nothing in "House of Mysteries" would be achievable in a "traditional" novel. Nor on a canvas. It requires a non-linear delivery: dynamic, layered and visceral.

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Matt Shaer

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