The House of Mystery Revisited

Do you want to know what’s truly terrifying about Vertigo’s horror series The House of Mystery? It’s over!

The House of Mystery cover art by Esao Andrews

I became a fan of Matthew Sturges’ series The House of Mystery more than a year ago when I found the first two graphic novels at my local library. For a time, I excitedly ran to it, openly heralding the series as the most ingenious thing on the shelves. Then, in the hurly-burly that followed the DC reboot and Marvel’s Fear Itself storyline, I got so caught up in the world of superheroes I all but forgot about the clever little series. Last week, in preparation of doing some horror writing of my own, I went to my local comic book store, armed with a hefty amount of disposable income, and had plans to catch up with the goings-on at The House of Mystery. Imagine my horror when the clerk told me the series ended, and that it had wrapped up months ago! It’s like that moment in the traditional horror story where an acquaintance tells the narrator, “You couldn’t have met him. He died ten years ago.”

To take the edge off my disappointment, I visited the long boxes to find a few old issues of The House of Mystery.

If you haven’t read the series, it’s essentially an anthology book, which is a dying breed these days. Each issue contains a different, self-contained horror story. Then, there’s a framing narrative that advances a little bit each issue. The ongoing story is about a young architecture major named Fig Keale who finds herself one day mysteriously transported to a decrepit gothic home inhabited by a motley group of wayfarers. Shortly after arriving, poor Fig learns she can’t leave. The house and its environs are trapped in a limbo no one understands. Many of the guests have been stuck there years, and some have learned to accept their new life. To make their time pass, each guest tells a story.* With each issue, you learn more about the house and about Fig’s dilemma, and you also get a short story.

Rarely in comics do you find stories that begin and end in a single issue, but that’s what you get with every installment of The House of Mystery. In the Golden and Bronze ages of comics, there were no shortage of fun anthology books, but in our modern era these are hard to find. Publishers want to rake in cash by giving readers constant cliffhangers. The House of Mystery brillaintly fuses both story-types together. Frequently, the story-within-a-story acts as commentary on the overarcing plot itself.

The House of Mystery isn’t scary in the Saw or Hostel sense. It’s rarely graphic or all that disturbing. Instead, the series relies on ironic twists and cerebral dread to bring the chills, making this a book that will appeal to fans of The Twilight Zone or Night Gallery. The overarcing story is written by Matthew Sturges, while each issue, for the story-within-a-story, there’s a guest artist and writer.

If you’re still not convinced that The House of Mystery is worth checking out, here’s one more added bonus: the cover to every issue is by Esao Andrews. Vertigo had the wonderful idea to recruit people outside of the comic community to do cover art, frequently employing contemporary painters to make their books more unique. In this fashion, comic fans were treated to the work of Yuko Shimizu with The Unwritten, and James Jean with Fables. Esao Andrews is a painter with gothic leanings and post-modern vision, so who better for the covers of The House of Mystery?

To see Esao Andrews paintings, click here.

So if you’re looking for some excitement, step into The House of Mystery. I know I won’t leave until I read every issue.

*If you think the premise sounds an awful lot like the house that appears in The World’s End storyline of The Sandman, that’s because both share the same source material, the vintage DC series The House of Mystery. I haven’t read any of these yet, but would love to get my hands on them.

It’s horror month at Panel Discussions, so bookmark this site or subscribe for free if you enjoy scary comics.

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My Facebook page.

If you’ve read The House of Mystery, what’s your opinion of it?


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