31 December 2013

Review: The Starman Omnibus, Volume Five by James Robinson with David S. Goyer and Geoff Johns

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2010 (contents: 1998-2003)
Acquired October 2010
Read November 2013
The Starman Omnibus, Volume Five

Writer: James Robinson
Co-Story on "Stars My Destination": David S. Goyer
Penciller: Peter Snejbjerg
Inker: Keith Champagne
Co-writer on Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. #0: Geoff Johns
Additional Pencillers: Steve Yeowell, Craig Hamilton, Chris Weston, Lee Moder, Steve Sadowski, David Ross, Tony Harris, John McCrea
Additional Inkers: Wade von Grawbadger, Steve Yeowell, Ray Snyder, Dan Davis, John Stokes, Andrew Hennessy, Tony Harris, Chris Weston, John McCrea
Colorists: Gregory Wright, John Kalisz, Craig Hamilton, Tom McCraw, Carla Feeny, Tony Harris
Letterers: Bill Oakley, Craig Hamilton, Kurt Hathaway, Ken Lopez

Volume Five returns the narrative energy to Starman; having launched into space, it's one zippy adventure after another. It's a very different tone to previous Starman stories: despite now being set in space, it's a much lighter set of stories, especially at first, as Robinson and Goyer use the new setup to revisit a neverending series of classic DC space characters. Which I love, of course, as the only thing better than sci-fi or superheroes is sci-fi and superheroes. I love Jack and Mikaal's visit to the future, and especially the three tales of Starman related by the Space Cabbie and his buddies, each of them more ludicrous than the last.

I also really enjoyed the final story arc, set on Throneworld and tying together a number of diffuse strands of the Starman mythos into a single story: Prince Gavyn, Will Payton, Mikaal, and Jack, all together in one story. (Gavyn returns in Rann-Thanagar Holy War and Strange Adventures, but I don't think those acknowledged his dual identity as Will.) Jack's complicity but attempt to abstain from revolutionary violence makes for an interest subcurrent in what might otherwise be a fairly simple space opera.

Meanwhile, on Earth, there are some interesting goings-on with the Starman of the 853rd century, not to mention an appearance by one of my favorites, the Elongated Man! A pleasant surprise, to be sure. (As was the appearance of the Dee Tyler Phantom Lady; I didn't realize she'd ever appeared again after her debut in Action Comics Weekly.)

Peter Snejbjerg didn't click for me at first as the artist in this volume, but as it went on, he got better, I think. His dark illustrations for the Throneworld issues in particular really shine. This isn't the best of the Starman volumes, but I think it succeeds perfectly at what it sets out to do.

30 December 2013

Review: The Starman Omnibus, Volume Four by James Robinson with Jerry Ordway

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2010 (contents: 1998-99)
Acquired February 2010
Read October 2013
The Starman Omnibus, Volume Four

Writers: James Robinson, Jerry Ordway
Pencillers: Tony Harris, Mike Mignola, Pete Krause, John Lucas, Mike Mayhew, Gary Erskine, Matt Smith, Gene Ha, Steve Sadowski, Wade von Grawbadger, Dusty Abell, Tim Burgand
Inkers: Wade von Grawbadger, Mike Mignola, Dick Giordano, Gary Erskine, Richard Case, Gene Ha, John Lucas, Mike Mayhew, Tom Nguyen, Drew Geraci, Tim Burgand, Ray Snyder
Colorists: Gregory Wright, Carla Feeny, Matt Hollingsworth, Glenn Whitmore, Pat Garrahy, Gene Ha
Letterers: Bill Oakley, Kurt Hathaway, Willie Schubert, John Costanza

Volume Four is maybe the weakest part of Starman. A lot of it feels like biding time. At the end of Volume Three, Sadie asks Jack if he will go into space to look for her brother, because (susprise!), she is secretly the brother of a previous Starman. But that doesn't happen in this book, and indeed, there's no emotional fallout from the fact that Sadie has basically been lying to/manipulating Jack their entire relationship. I get that she grew to love him, but there should be something to deal with it.

Also: the crossover with Captain Marvel doesn't quite work, though I don't have a good feeling as to why. I don't think the worlds are incommensurable, but the fight is forced, and the contrasts aren't hit quite the way one would hope.

While the book bides its time, it does have its highlights: a "Time Past" story of Ted Knight and the ever-lovable Etrigan, the cleverly constructed 80-page giant anthology (especially the appearance of "Those Li'l O'Dares (and Patrolman Clarence)"), and the story of the Mist's "team-up" with Mary Marvel, the exploration of the relationship between Ted and his cousin Sandra (the Phantom Lady) all stand out to me as some of the more memorable standalone Starman stories. Mike Mayhew's art on the latter is especially superb.

Also featuring superb artwork: issue #45, where Jack finally leaves for space. Tony Harris pulls out all the stops for his last issue on the title. The two-page spread of Jack and Mikaal boarding the rocket, saying goodbye to friends and family, is superb, and a worthy final effort from Harris, whose talents visibly grew over the course of the series. The rocket's launch is also magnificent.

Finally, I don't know why someone out there thought that Batman/Hellboy/Starman was a must-have crossover, but I could look at that beautiful Mike Mignola artwork all day. Combined with Matt Hollingsworth's colors, it's a stunning use of light and dark.

27 December 2013

Doctor Who at Christmas: The Silent Stars Go by

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published 2011

Acquired November 2013
Read December 2013
Doctor Who: The Silent Stars Go by
by Dan Abnett

Since 2011, I've had an annual tradition of reading a Doctor Who Christmas book in December. Having exhausted the Christmas-themed Short Trips, I'm now onto The Silent Stars Go by, a novel featuring the eleventh Doctor, Amy, and Rory up against the Ice Warriors. It's not very Christmassy, to be honest, but it is pretty cold-- Abnett does a good job evoking the freezing cold. It's also quite fun: Abnett nails the character voices perfectly, and I even liked the Ice Warriors.

23 December 2013

Review: The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale by Joseph Conrad

Trade paperback, 269 pages
Published 2007 (originally 1907)

Acquired November 2013
Read December 2013
The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale
by Joseph Conrad

Conrad takes on the "Greenwich Observatory Bombing" in this tale of anarchists, spies, and counter-spies, brilliantly satirizing a genre that was only just beginning to emerge. Conrad shows that we might prefer to think of as big, high-minded political events are usually nothing more than the immediate problems of scared individuals trying to find a way to act in their own lives that gets them what they think they want. The ironic narration is perfect for this book.

20 December 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Houses of Mystery and Secrets, Part IX: House of Mystery: Room & Boredom

Comic trade paperback, 123 pages
Published 2008
Borrowed from the library
Read December 2013
House of Mystery: Room & Boredom

Writers: Matthew Sturges & Bill Willingham
Artist: Luca Rossi
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: Todd Klein
Short Story Artists: Ross Campbell, Jill Thompson, Zachary Baldus, Steve Rolston, Sean Murphy
Short Story Colorist: Dave McCaig

The modern House of Mystery is a little more cohesive than the one of old; each issue includes two parts. The first is the next installment in an ongoing tale by Matthew Sturges, while the second is a story told by the character in that tale by Bill Willigham, nestled within.

This is indeed the House of Mystery that used to belong to Cain and reside next to a cemetery within the Dreaming, but exactly where it is now is one of the ongoing mysteries; all we know for certain is that Cain has lost his house. The House of Mystery now serves as a bar where various people pop in and out and tell stories in exchange for drink, only there are five people or so who can never leave-- they're trapped there, running the bar. Architecture student Fig Keele is the newest of these, and she serves as our viewpoint character, trying to figure out how she ended up in a house she dreams about every night.

This early on, there's not a lot of story yet, mostly a number of mysteries, so I look forward to seeing how things unfold. Fig is a good protagonist, seemingly innocent, but clearly with some mysteries and depths of her own. I love that she used to be the protagonist of a YA adventure series; it's very "Dreaming" yet not a thing Gaiman actually did in The Sandman. The art of Luca Rossi is fantastic-- scratchy yet simple, and he's a dab hand with both facial expressions and supernatural horrors. It's not the lush, decadent pencils of past House of Mystery artists, but it really works here. And, of course, no story colored by Lee Loughridge could ever be anything less than brilliant.

The stories nestled within are good fun, too. Willigham uses some good tricks with narration that doesn't reflect the horror of the actual story, especially in the tale of a southern belle's marriage to a giant fly in "The Hollows" (art by Sean Murphy). My favorite was probably "Familiar" (art by Steve Rolston), about a princess exiled to our dimension who decides to abandon her responsibilities and just have consequences-free sex. This way of included tales from others is reminiscent of the early issues of The House of Mystery where Cain would relate tales of old residents of the House, but gives the concept a nice new spin.

Not a lot happens in this volume, but I'm interested in seeing where it goes next.

18 December 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Houses of Mystery and Secrets, Part VIII: The Witching Hour

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2000 (contents: 1999-2000)
Borrowed from the library
Read November 2013
The Witching Hour

Storytellers: Chris Bachalo and Jeph Loeb
Inker: Art Thibert
Colorist: Grant Goleash
Letterer: Richard Starkings

With The Witching Hour, I jump from the classic DC horror titles of the 1970s to their modern revivals. Beyond the presence of the title and some witches, this bears no relation to the classic The Witching Hour!; Mildred, Mordred, and Cynthia do not put in an appearance. This is a different group of witches, with a different modus operandi, migrating through the world to both sate their own desires and help those in need of it.

It's a complex tale, with flashbacks nestled within flashbacks, out-of-order storytelling, and seemingly unconnected plots. In a way, it feels like what James Robinson's WitchCraft aspired to be and failed at-- a magical tale of mystery and revenge, of the immortal entering mortal affairs. The dialogue is great, full of obscurities and digressions, rarely on point, mysterious in the way that people both real and unreal often are.

What makes it all worth it is Chris Bachalo's amazing art; there's some gorgeous stuff here, and I'm not just talking about how he draws women. I don't know who's responsible for the use of dots in key scenes, but it really works. Add to that Grant Goleash's judicious use of color, and you have a visual feast. It would be easy to get lost in the world of The Witching Hour, but Bachalo keeps you anchored all the way through. In all honesty, this book has very little to do with the classic Witching Hour! and nothing to do with The Sandman, but my time spent decoding it was well spent indeed.

16 December 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Houses of Mystery and Secrets, Part VII: Showcase Presents Secrets of Sinister House

Comic hardcover, 496 pages
Published 2010 (contents: 1971-74)
Borrowed from the library
Read October 2013
Showcase Presents Secrets of Sinister House

Written by Joe Orlando, Len Wein, Frank Robbins, Mary Dezuniga, Mike Fleisher, Lynn Marron, Sheldon Mayer, John Albano, Robert Kanigher, Sergio Aragonés, Lore Shoberg, Maxene Fabe, E. Nelson Bridwell, Jack Oleck, Steve Skeates, John Jacobson, W. F. Harvey, Ambrose Bierce, Fred Wolfe, George Kashdan, Dave Wood, Leo Dorfman
Art by Don Heck, Tony Dezuniga, Alex Toth, Frank Giacoia, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Giordano, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Alfredo Alcala, Ed Ramos, Mar Amongo, Bill Draut, Nestor Redondo, Sergio Aragonés, June Lofamia, Sam Glanzman, Lore Shoberg, Ruben Yandoc, Alex Niño, Abe Ocampo, Rico Rival, Gerry Talaoc, Larry Hama, Neal Adams, Rick Buckler, Jess Jodloman, Jack Sparling, Romy Gamboa, Don Perlin, Vicente Alcazar, Ernie Chan, Ramona Fradon, Howard Chaykin, Win Mortimer, Sy Barry, John Calnan, Murphy Anderson, Angel B. Luna, Jerry Grandenetti, Gil Kane, Bernard Sachs

Secrets of Sinister House has a more distinct identity than some of DC's other horror titles; it actually starts off as The Secret House of Sinister Love and features issue-length stories, as opposed to The House of Mystery, The House of Secrets, and The Witching Hour!, which crammed three or so stories into each issue. In addition, the stories have a unique theme: gothic romance. Which seems to mean young ladies being lured into strange houses on strange pretenses to be manipulated into marriages. So kinda weird, but strangely enjoyable-- how many variations on that theme can be devised?

Not a ton, as with issue #6, the series switches to the more traditional collections of stories, but in the interim there's some strangely enjoyable stuff; the full-length stories mean these stories have much more of an impact than some of their contemporaries. Particularly there's some lavish artwork from some of DC's best, like Alex Toth in "Bride of the Falcon" (a young woman in Venice), or Tony Dezuniga in "Kiss of the Serpent" (a young woman in India).

The later issues lose this gimmick, but it still seems more cohesive than in some series. I did enjoy the creativity of "The Hag's Curse" and "The Hamptons' Revenge" (written by Sheldon Mayer, art by Sam Glanzman), two stories of different time periods that literally run in parallel to each other-- take that indie comics innovators of the 2000s.  We even get a story that seems rooted in DC's "Great Disaster," with "When Is Tomorrow Yesterday?" (written by Sheldon Mayer, art by Alfredo Alcala). The book does begin to get kinda dumb with its own theme by the end, though, such as issue #16, where each story is about a literal "sinister house"! Lame.

I picked this volume up because, as with its contemporaries, its host was reclaimed by Neil Gaiman as a resident of the Dreaming in The Sandman. But Eve is a virtual non-entity in these pages. The Secret House of Sinister Love actually begins as hosted by Cain, pulling out a file from the House of Mystery. Finally, with issue #6, Eve gets an amazing introduction, where Cain and Abel run away from the Sinister House because they don't want to be there when "that thousand-year-old female horror arrives!" (she's apparently been sleeping), but after that, she's just a recycled Alfredo Alcala headshot at the beginning of each story, with no personality. She does have a raven with her, though-- Matthew's predecessor? There's even an appearance in one story of three witches living in an apartment together-- Mildred, Mordred, and Cynthia of The Witching Hour! perhaps?

13 December 2013

Review: The New Adventures: Beige Planet Mars by Lance Parkin & Mark Clapham

Mass market paperback, 242 pages
Published 1998

Acquired October 2013
Read November 2013
The New Adventures: Beige Planet Mars
by Lance Parkin and Mark Clapham

This Bernice Summerfield New Adventure is fun and light, and in that it achieves more than most of its brethren, but beyond some good jokes, Jason's job writing xenoporn, and villains Parkin would essentially recycle in Doctor Who: Davros, you can't point at a whole lot of note. There are rather a lot of good jokes, especially at the expense of academics, though, so there's that. As I near the end of the New Adventures, I am coming to feel like Virgin never really figured out how to use Bernice in Doctor-less adventures the way that Big Finish did a decade later.

11 December 2013

Review: Zalma by T. Mullett Ellis

Hardcover, 438 pages
Published 1895

Borrowed from the library
Read October 2013
by T. Mullett Ellis

If, like me, you are reading late-nineteenth-century revolutionary science fiction looking for scientists, then Zalma is an utterly bizarre goldmine. The novel sees Count Pahlen (a Russian nobleman, Tsarist counter-spy, and professor of biology) give his illegitimate daughter up to the Catholic Church, which raises her in a convent and plans to marry her to the heir to the throne of Dell-land (a thinly veiled version of England). The plan fails, and Zalma escapes the convent and joins her father, who is actually the ringleader of an anarchist conspiracy. Her father dies before he can bring his plans to fruition, and so Zalma decides to dump anthrax on all the capital cities of Europe from balloons. The novel ends with Zalma’s committing suicide at the moment of her strike, right when the British spy John St. Leger (who she loves but cannot be with because of their ideological divide) arrives. Zalma’s plot has been discovered, but it might not have been discovered soon enough to be stopped:
He [St. Leger] paused. Outside, the clamour of the mob recalled him to his duty.
“Is this the End of Anarchy?” he asked wearily; “—or is it the Beginning?” (438)
These are the novel’s very last words, the success of her plan and the future of civilization left ambiguous. This synopsis does not quite do its full weirdness justice-- we get dinner parties, anti-Catholicism, anti-vivisection tirades, but also mocking of anti-vivisectionists, and even a couple risqué seduction scenes. I get the feeling that at the same time we are supposed to find Zalma morally repellent we are also supposed to find her utterly hot (just like Olga in George Griffith's Syren of the Skies*). It's a long, meandering, sometimes dull book. Pretty typical, then, for early science fiction.

But how utterly fascinating! It seems to advocate for free love only to condemn it, but one suspects Ellis is trying to make his views and ideas palatable-- the radical viewpoints of the revolutionaries are given tons of time to be explicated, whereas their refutations are not even glossed. The revolutionaries justify themselves with the "survival of the fittest" (if Nature kills many to advance itself, why should Man not do the same?) which adds to the sense at the end that revolution is imminent even if Zalma's immediate plot has been defeated. Mankind will continue to progress and evolve, and if it is not into anarchy, the present state of affairs is too precarious to continue-- perhaps socialism? In Science-Fiction: The Early Years, Everett Bleiler suggests that Ellis’s “political sympathies would seem to be with Christian Socialism” (222), though I'm not entirely sure why.

In any case, this is an amazing book, though perhaps not always for the best of reasons.

* I would definitely read a Zalma/Olga team-up. Heck, I would even write it, though I suspect its audience would just be me and Jess Nevins.

09 December 2013

Review: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Trade paperback, 548 pages
Published 2012 (originally 2002)

Acquired September 2013
Read October 2013
by Sarah Waters

I was amazed to the extent to which this felt like an actual Victorian novel-- it was straight out of Wilkie Collins. Multiple first-person narrators, a convoluted will, double identities, triple identities, amazing twists. I was utterly engrossed throughout. A lot has been made of the homosexual relationship, and it is indeed beautiful, but I was also very intrigued by how the female asylum, that perennial "off-stage" threat in Victorian fiction, was brought right into the center of the narrative here. Chilling, harrowing, gorgeous.

06 December 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Houses of Mystery and Secrets, Part VI: Showcase Presents The House of Mystery, Volume Three

Comic trade paperback, 518 pages
Published 2009 (contents: 1973-74)
Borrowed from the library
Read November 2013
Showcase Presents The House of Mystery, Volume Three

Written by Michael Fleisher, Maxene Fabe, Jack Oleck, Sergio Aragonés, Steve Skeates, Mark Evanier, Robert Kanigher, George Kashdan, Doug Moench, Sheldon Mayer, E. Nelson Bridwell, John Jacobson, Len Wein, Joe Orlando, David Michelinie, Gerard Conway, David Izzo, Dennis O'Neil, Marv Wolfman, John Broome, Paul Levitz, Bob Rozakis, Mark Hanerfeld, David Kasakove, Martin Pasko, Michael J. Pellowski
Art by John Calnan, Murphy Anderson, Alex N. Nino, Ruben Yandoc, Sergio Aragonés, Romy Gamboa, Adolfo Buylla, Sonny Trinidad, Nestor Redondo, Rico Rival, Gerry Talaoc, Fred Carrillo, Tony Dezuniga, Bernard Baily, Abe Ocampo, Alfredo Alcala, Frank Thorne, Bernie Wrightson, Michael Wm. Kaluta, E. R. Cruz, Ralph Reese, Ramona Fradon, Joe Orlando, Frank Robbins, Bill Draut, Howard Purcell, Dick Dillin, Neal Adams, Mort Meskin, George Roussos, Frank Giacoia, Mike Sekowsky, Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Joe Giella, Jack Sparling, Pat Broderick, Leonard Starr, Carmine Infantino, Bernard Sachs, Bill Ely, Jess M. Jodloman, Curt Swan, George Klein

This is the last of the "House" volumes thus far released in DC's Showcase Presents reprint series. I'm not sure if there's more House of Mystery to reprint after this, but it's easy to see that the series ought to be ending if it did continue to limp on after this. The last three of the sixteen issues included here are 100-page super spectaculars, the majority of which are reprints. (Well, they're all reprints-- what I mean is that even in 1973-74, these were reprints.) Boo. Especially when they're reprints of material available in other Showcase Presents volumes.

Still, there's some decent material here, especially the completely creepy "Oh, Mom! Oh, Dad! You've Sent me Away To Summer Camp... and I'm So Sad!" (written by Michael Fleisher and Maxene Fabe, art by Alex N. Nino), about camp counselors and campers attempting to murder one another(!) and "The Night of the Teddy Bear!" (written by Michael Fleisher, art by Alfredo Alcala), about a creepy-faced serial killer and a weedy man. But unfortunately, this once-strong title could have done even better.

(Interestingly, a number of stories credit Russell Carley with "art continuity"; this Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed article explains what that means, but it baffles me that these credits are omitted from the book's table of contents, since Carley's role is far from incidental.)

04 December 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Houses of Mystery and Secrets, Part V: Showcase Presents The House of Secrets, Volume 2

Comic trade paperback, 493 pages
Published 2009 (contents: 1972-74)
Borrowed from the library
Read November 2013
Showcase Presents The House of Secrets, Volume 2

Written by E. Nelson Bridwell, Bill Meredith, Jack Oleck, John Albano, Lore Shoberg, Sergio Aragonés, Sheldon Mayer, Raymond Marais, Steve Skeates, Bill Riley, Maxene Fabe, Arnold Drake, George Kashdan, Michael Pellowsky, Gerard Conway, Michael Fleisher, Doug Moench, David Micheline
Art by Bernie Wrightson, Nestor Redondo, Jack Katz, Tony Dezuniga, Frank Redondo, Vic Catan, Abe Ocampo, Lore Shoberg, Tom Palmer, Sergio Aragonés, Mike Sekowsky, Alfredo Alcala, Alex Niño, June Lofamia, Ruben Yandoc, E. R. Cruz, Quico Redondo, Rico Rival, Jack Sparling, Virgilio Redondo, George Tuska, Gerry Talaoc, Jim Aparo, Bernard Baily, Jess Jodloman, Fred Carrillo, Flor Dery, Romy Gamboa, Rudy Nebres, Luis Dominguez, Nick Cardy, Frank Bolle, Nardo Cruz, Ramona Fradon, Ernie Chan, Gerry Boudreau, George Evans, Arthur Suydam

Like all the titles in the DC horror renaissance of the late 1960s and 1970s, House of Secrets has its individuality drained out of it by the slow diminishing of its frames; what were once multi-page stories are now panels (or rarely a whole page) in an issue. It's disappointing, especially as the reason I am reading this is the presence of Abel, our stuttering, terrified host.

What are particularly charming are the recurrent "Cain & Abel" pages, single pages of three panels by Sergio Aragonés, each panel showing Abel and his murderous brother doing something different together. Sometimes these are simply Cain belittling or pranking Abel, but others give us something more-- Abel getting something good because he is good, Cain causing his own comeuppance, or at their best, a brief glimpse of the true affection the brothers share. In one, they stroll through a crowd of people horrified by a triple-bill of horror films they have just scene, the only ones smiling; I love the idea that they spend their time popping from the Dreaming over to Earth to see horror films. My favorite is one where they are playing what looks like "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots," only their two boxers are hugging, embarrassing them. It's all a warped but endearing depiction of brotherly love.

Individual stories still manage to do some good work, though. There's some child creepiness at work in "Goodbye, Nancy" (written by John Albano, art by Vic Catan, Frank Redondo, and Abe Ocampo), about a kid's odd new playmate. "Small Invasion" (written by Sheldon Mayer, art by Alex Niño), about an alien who means to conquer the Earth but ends up working in a logging camp, is oddly charming, and has some amazingly grotesque art. "A Lonely Monstrosity" (written by John Albano, art by Nestor Redondo) is a cruel tale about a couple who scheme to deprive a grotesque-looking man of his own fortune. I really liked "Skin Deep" (written by Jack Oleck, art by Alfredo Alcala), about an ugly man who commits murder and disguises himself to marry an attractive woman under false pretenses, as well as "Act III Eternity" (written by George Kashdan, art by Jess Jodloman).

There are many more-- despite its lack of the frames I enjoy so much, this is probably one of the better Showcase Presents volumes of vintage DC horror. Much of that is due to the dual artistic talents of Alex Niño and (especially) Alfredo Alcala, whose luscious, grotesque, beautiful art enlivens even the most stale of narratives. Even their lettering is a cut above the rest!

02 December 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Houses of Mystery and Secrets, Part IV: Showcase Presents The House of Mystery, Volume One

Comic trade paperback, 552 pages
Published 2006 (contents: 1968-71)
Borrowed from the library
Read October 2013
Showcase Presents The House of Mystery, Volume One

Written by Joe Orlando, Sergio Aragonés, Jack Miller, Bob Haney, Marv Wolfman, Charles King, Howie Post, Neal Adams, E. Nelson Bridwell, Jerry Grandenetti, Gil Kane, Mike Friedrich, Cliff Rhodes, Otto Binder, Robert Kanigher, Jack Oleck, Joe Gill, Gerry Conway, John Albano, Len Wein, Lore Shoberg, Virgil North, Alan Riefe, John Costanza
Art by Lee Elias, Doug Wildey, Joe Orlando, Sergio Aragonés, Bernard Baily, Carmine Infantino, Mort Meskin, George Roussos, Jack Sparling, Sid Green, Bill Draut, Neal Adams, Jim Mooney, Win Mortimer, Jerry Grandenetti, Bernie Wrightson, Gil Kane, Wally Wood, Frank Springer, Alex Toth, Wayne Howard, Al Williamson, John Celardo, Mike Peppe, Tony Dezuniga, John Albano, Leonard Starr, Tom Sutton, Ric Estrada, Frank Giacoia, Jim Aparo, Lore Shoberg, Gray Morrow, Don Heck, Russ Heath, Jack Kirby, John Costanza, Nestor Redondo

This volume of House of Mystery is where Cain, later of The Sandman fame, got his start. Unlike with House of Secrets, there's no set-up for the series: we simply launch into "The Wondrous Witch's Cauldron" (writer unknown, art by Lee Elias). The second issue collected here does have Cain briefly introduce himself before launching into a story, but it's just a page-- the origins of the House of Mystery aren't delved into at all.

That said, we do get bits of history that are built on. "The House of Gargoyles" (written by Bob Haney, art by Jack Sparling) is about a former boarder at the House of Mystery, in this case a fellow who was being pursued by gargoyles. The inhabitants of the nearby town are repulsed by them (House of Secrets will later tell us this town is located in Kentucky), but when the gargoyles get their man, they leave. However, they leave a little gargoyle behind who becomes known as Gregory-- and appears not only in this series, but in The Sandman (I think he might have birthed Abel's pet gargoyle, Goldie). Several other stories are about boarders at the House of Mystery, past or even present, such as "Boom!" (written and illustrated by Jerry Grandenetti), where a dead parachuter spends the night there, or "Dark City of Doom" (written by Gerry Conway, art by Tony Dezuniga), about a guy who travels through time to ancient Egypt.

In "Turner's Treasure" (written by Jack Olek, art by Alex Toth), we even learn that before coming to the House of Mystery, Cain was the building custodian of the Philosophy Department at State University. Does this mean Kentucky State University? Why was this never mentioned in The Sandman? Maybe he left the Dreaming during Dream's long absence to take a new job?

Other good stories included "The Roots of Evil!" (written by Marv Wolfman, art by Jack Sparling), about two rival plant scientists, "The Game" (written and illustrated by Neal Adams), an atmospheric tale about a kid who shelters from a storm with a ghost kid, "What's the Youth?" (written by E. Nelson Bridwell, art by Win Mortimer and George Roussos), where a creepy guy buys a youth potion to hit on a younger woman, and "Dark Night, Dark Dreams!" (written by Gerry Conway, art by Bill Draut), a great first-person story about a woman on the run seeking refuge. As you can see from the credits, the book is blessed with some first-rate talent, and I suspect the black-and-white reproduction makes the art even better than it'd've been on original publication.

My favorite part of these early House of Mystery issues is "Page 13," a recurrent feature on (duh) page 13 of each issue. Here, some demon has a new message or game or token for the reader every week. Things like membership cards you can cut out, letters giving the owners bad luck, paper dice, and so on. In one case, a story is too long and runs onto page 13, so it's all messed up, with the demon chortling about the "dumb editor." Another starts on page 13-- with artist Gil Kane being sucked into it! He ends up being attacked by his editors, who are demons, and trapped inside the House of Mystery forever. There's a lot of fantastic black humor, and it's a real shame that this feature fades out.

The best is the second one, where you drop a pencil onto a circle containing a number of possible fortunes, including "You Are Drafted," "That Trip Will Cost You" (complete with psychedelic lettering on "trip"), "Your Father Found It," and "You Will Be Caught in the Dormitory"! I never expected to see even covert references to drug use, pornography, and masturbation!

01 December 2013

Reading Roundup Wrapup: November 2013

Pick of the month: Collected Works edited by Nick Wallace. A small month, so not a lot of options, but this was another of the generally high-quality Bernice Summerfield anthologies.

All books read:
1. Showcase Presents The House of Secrets, Volume 2 edited by Scott Nybakken
2. Bernice Summerfield VIII: Collected Works edited by Nick Wallace
3. Showcase Presents The House of Mystery, Volume Three edited by Scott Nybakken
4. Bernice Summerfield IX: Old Friends by Jonathan Clements, Marc Platt & Pete Kempshall
5. The Witching Hour by Chris Bachalo and Jeph Loeb
6. The New Adventures: Beige Planet Mars by Lance Parkin and Mark Clapham
7. The Starman Omnibus, Volume Five by James Robinson with David S. Goyer and Geoff Johns

All books acquired:
1. Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Volume 13 by Paul Levitz with Jim Shooter and Gerry Conway
2. Doctor Who and the Tenth Planet by Gerry Davis
3. Challengers of the Unknown by Jack Kirby by France “Ed” Herron, Jack Kirby, and Dave Wood
4. The Demon by Jack Kirby
5. Tales and Sketches: Including Twice-told Tales, Mosses from an Old Manse, and The Snow-Image / A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys / Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys; Being A Second Wonder Book by Nathaniel Hawthorne
6. Doctor Who: A Fairytale Life by Matt Sturges
7. DC One Million Omnibus by Grant Morrison with Chuck Dixon, Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, Mark Schultz, Alan Grant, Jerry Ordway, Peter David, Karl Kesel, Chris Roberson, Ron Marz, Doug Moench, Jim Balent & Devin Grayson, James Robinson, William Messner-Loebs, Tom Peyer, Dennis O’Neil, Len Kaminski, D. Curtis Johnson, Christopher Priest, John Ostrander, Mark Waid & Michael Jan Friedman, John Francis Moore, Garth Ennis, Mark Millar, Ian Edginton, and Geoff Johns & Jeff Katz
8. The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale by Joseph Conrad
9. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed by James C. Scott
10. Doctor Who: The Silent Stars Go by by Dan Abnett
11. Doctor Who: Shada: The Lost Adventure by Douglas Adams by Gareth Roberts

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 522