Sunday, 3 April 2011

Review - Showcase Presents The House of Mystery Vol.1 TPB


The House of Mystery is one of the few DC comics that I have fond memories of from my childhood in the ‘70s. I probably only ever bought a handful of issues, as I was more of a Marvel fan than a DC fan, and more of a super-hero fan than a horror fan – I became a horror fan in my teens, in the 1980s, but by then the House of Mystery had passed its best before date – but I certainly remember seeing it, and I remember being drawn to it.

The series actually began publication in 1951. It started out as a horror title but switched to sci-fi stories following the backlash against horror comics in the mid-1950s. In the 1960s, it became a super-hero title, and regularly featured the adventures of the Martian Manhunter and Dial H For Hero, but in 1968, under the stewardship of editor Joe Orlando, it reverted to a horror anthology, and this book collects the first 21 issues from the Orlando era - #174 to #194 – in one large, black and white volume.

From 1968 until its cancellation in 1983, The House of Mystery, and its companion title The House of Secrets, were DC’s answer to the Warren horror titles, Creepy and Eerie, with Cain (landlord of the House of Mystery, who made his debut in HOM #175) and Abel (landlord of the House of Secrets) standing in for Uncle Creepy and Cousin Eerie, who introduced most of the stories in their own magazines. DC’s horror titles were probably aimed at younger readers but, like Creepy and Eerie, each issue contained several short horror strips and employed some of the best artistic talent around.

Most of the stories in this book – many of which were written by writers unknown, some of which were written by writers I’ve never heard of before, and some of which were written by the likes of Robert Kanigher, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Bob Haney, Joe Orlando, etc. – are actually pretty weak. I only finished reading this yesterday but only a handful of stories stick in my mind, and most of them linger for the wrong reasons (If ‘The Man Who Hated Good Luck’ hated good luck so much, why did he keep buying lottery tickets and checking the results?). However, they were written to be read and enjoyed by children in 1968, not 42-year-old men in 2011, and they probably did the job at the time.

The stories may be rather weak, but this book is packed full of enough great art to still make this volume a worthwhile endeavour. Most notably, there are several great-looking strips drawn by Alex Toth, quite a few strips drawn by Bernie Wrightson, and nearly every issue reprinted here features at least one or two pages by Sergio Aragonés. There are also strips drawn by Neal Adams, Jim Aparo, Al Williamson, Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Gray Morrow, and more. Not all of the stories in this book are drawn by such great artists, but many of them are, and if subsequent volumes look as good as this one – which I suspect they do – then I would happily read another couple of volumes of this stuff.

This particular volume has a recommended retail price of £12.99 / $16.99. It seems to be out of print at the moment but there are plenty used copies for sale on Amazon (mostly overpriced) and I managed to get my copy on eBay last year for a fiver (including postage).

4 comments:

  1. I like the idea of this but I know I'd only ever look at the pretty pictures.

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  2. I was lucky: the first issue of House of Mystery that I ever owned was #225--one of the 100-pagers from 1974, and (arguably) the best issue in the series. No 225 has a bit of everything: horror and suspense stories of every type, (nearly) all the major artists (including a Kirby reprint from the '50s), several dark-humoured gag pages, etc.

    The must-reads in #225 include 'The Man Who Died Twice' (art: Alfred Alcala), 'Fireman, Burn My Child' (art: Frank Thorne), 'Master of the Unknown' (art: Kirby), and my personal favourite, the last story in the issue, 'This One'll Scare You to Death'--which is as believable as a '70s DC horror/suspense story gets; I liked the great E R Cruz's artwork on it so much that I recently 'borrowed' a figure from one of his panels to use in my nasty 'Dark Glimpse' cartoon on the homepage of The Comics Decoder #2. (Yes, it's up and running, Rob, in case I forgot to tell you. It didn't turn out too badly for such an improvised issue. I'm still looking for a few more comics strips for the homepage, however.)

    I picked up a 'new' copy of #225 on eBay a couple of years ago, but I still possess my original--coverless and extremely yellowed with pages falling out. This issue's highly recommended as a good starting point or introduction to '70s DC horror.

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  3. The title 'This One'll Scare You to Death' sounds very familiar to me. I doubt I bought that issue in 1974 - I was only five years old at the time - but I may have seen it later. Thanks for letting me know that Comics Decoder #2 was up - I'd forgotten to check. I don't have time to do any new comics strips for it, but there my be something on my blog (www.crispbiscuit.blogspot.com) or website (www.crispbiscuit.co.uk) that takes your fancy.

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