An 80-page monster filled with monsters, and just in time for Halloween. Read on for our review of the DC comics spook-filled Holiday spectacular “DC House Of Horror” which contains spoilers
Written by Keith Giffen, Edward Lee, Brian Keene, Mary SanGiovanni, Ronald Malfi, Bryan Smith, Wrath James White, Nick Cutter and Weston Ochse.
Illustrated by Howard Porter, Scott Kolins, Bilquis Evely, Dale Eaglesham, Kyle Baker, Tom Raney, Rags Morales and Howard Chaykin
Colored by Hi-Fi, Romulo Fajardo Jr, Mat Lopes, Jordan Boyd, Kyle Baker, Gina Going-Raney, Lovern Kindzierski and Wil Quintana
Lettered by Rob Leigh, Josh Reed, Taylor Esposito, Pat Brosseau, Kyle Baker, Sal Cipriano, Wes Abbott and Ken Bruznak.
An all-new, all-creepy one-shot set in the DC Universe-just in time for Halloween! Martha Kent fights for her life against a creature from a spacecraft that lands in front of her farmhouse. A young woman is possessed by the spirit of a murderous Amazon warrior. The last surviving member of the Justice League faces down a horror beyond imagining. All these and more are what happens when the most exciting new voices in contemporary horror fiction are paired with the talents of some of the greatest artists in the DC firmament! And if that isn’t enough to scare you, there’s Keith Giffen, too.
As with any standard anthology comic, there are hits and there are misses within “DC House of Horror,” and yet the nature of the Halloween special does elevate the entire project overall into an enjoyable, if disposable read. No amount of holiday goodwill can save some of the stories from faring poorly in the lineup, but it’s the stories that decide to play with the concept, or really try something original, that end up being worth a look. Some of the stories (‘Last Laugh’ or ‘Unmasked’ for example) attempt a spooky take on a classic character, but do so in a way that feels like they’re pushing the boundaries without actually doing so, relying on tropes we’ve seen many times before (the former playing on the idea that Bruce Wayne is really the one that’s mad, and the latter leaning on the trope of Harvey Dent and Two-Face operating independently of each other, neither aware of the other’s actions.)
All of the eight brand new tales within this volume are plotted by the legendary Keith Giffen, and it’s that consistent through-line that provides an identifiable theme to the stories, namely: what if your favorite DC heroes and villains had a touch of madness added into their origins? For characters like Harley Quinn and Two-Face – who already have their share of madness – the stories attempt to twist and turn those familiar foes into ways you’ve not experienced before. In the case of Harley (in a tale called ‘Crazy For You’,) she’s no more than a figment of a man’s imagination, her spectre compelling Chuck to commit unspeakable acts in a classic ghost story manner. Smith and Keene’s script is tight and increasingly frenetic, and Baker’s art is twisted and dizzying, depicting Chuck’s world degrading while Harley remains a consistent presence.
There’s a real sense of classic horror throughout the book, no doubt a conscious throwback to the pulp horror anthologies of the Gold and Silver ages of comics. Giffen and the substantial creative team have managed to gather quite the collection of chilling story staples throughout “DC House of Horror” too: the aforementioned ghost story; the dark, supernatural crime noir (‘Crazy For You,’ ‘Unmasked’;) slasher (‘Bump in the Night’;) serial killers (‘Unmasked,’ ‘Stray Arrow’, ‘Man’s World’;) possession (‘Man’s World’, ‘The Possession of Billy Batson’;) zombies (‘Blackest Night’) and good old fashioned madness (all of the above.)
Some standouts are worth their individual mention. ‘Bump in the Night’ is a thrilling play on the slasher genre, utilising Superman’s origin to posit the idea of Martha Kent being chased and traumatised by a demonic alien baby crash landing near her farm. This story has perhaps the most fun of the book, using the bright, bold colors of Superman stories and a classic six-panel grid to draw you into the familiarity and drive the carnage home that much harder.Continued below
‘Man’s World’ is by far the most original, haunting and scary of the bunch, crafting a near perfect horror short which only loosely ties into the Wonder Woman mythos. Sangiovanni’s script is minimal and non-linear, drawing you into the darkness with the past and present unfolding in parallel to reveal the full picture. Evely and Lopes present the twisted tale of possession in a clear six-panel grid, shaving the corners off the panels as the only subtle indication of the time jumps. The structure of the tale and the tragic stoicness of the main character makes this a standout of the issue.
‘Blackest Day’ takes the “Marvel Zombies” mold and pours the Justice League into it, except with a little less humor. The planet has been decimated by the Zombie virus, leaving only the Justice League members in the Watchtower isolated and blissfully unaware, until Barry Allen – ruiner of many of our best things – teleporting in having been bitten by a random member of the public. Despite some inconsistencies and plot manipulation (Constantine decides to just shoot himself and give up? Really?) it’s as crazy as you’d expect a zombie-filled Justice League story to be, and Kolins’s art is claustrophobic and frightening in all the right ways.
While ‘Last Laugh’ revolves around a conceit that’s fairly overused at this point in Batman’s history, it does at least use some clever narrative and artistic tricks to present a fairly unique take on the familiar ‘Bruce Wayne is really the monster’ idea. Through the Joker’s narration we uncover the depths of Bruce’s madness, as well as the truth behind his origins and greatest battles. It’s another story that employs the six-panel grid (a throwback to classic horror comics perhaps) but Morales mirrors the structure of certain panels in ways that contrast the fiction with the reality, distorting his art when the madness overwhelms the page. Kindzierski’s colors carry a lot of the weight of the story, distinguishing three separate narrative threads within the panels by drenching the fictional memories in chaotic, violent reds as the truth is revealed.
“DC House of Horror” manages to effectively capture a wide range of different horror ideas in the space of eight short stories, and while there is a thematic link throughout the issue concerning the unravelling of everything you thought you knew, there’s plenty of variation across the chilling tales for everyone to find something to enjoy. The whole book could have been injected with just a little bit more fun, which would elevate the lesser stories and add an edge to the book that would ultimately feed into the current direction of the DC comics landscape. As it stands, “DC House of Horror” is an enjoyable, seasonal distraction, the spirit of which is always welcome.
Final Verdict: 7.5 – Not perfect, but some standout moments of creativity, originality and genuine chills make this more Treat than Trick.