The Haunted Mansion
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Jorge Coelho and Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Taking a job and creating stories for established characters is a daunting enough task as it stands. But when you toss in expectations from millions of fans, decades of lore and bottom-line driven corporate interests, it’s pretty easy to lose the story. This is exactly the kind of task the team behind The Haunted Mansion faces, and while it’s easy to brush the book off as a simple Disney Parks tie-in, one quick Internet search will show you just how rabid fans are for the happy haunt. Knowing this, our fearless editor invoked a seldom-used ‘Rama activation clause to bring me back to the fold. In simpler terms, The Haunted Mansion drafted me! And to be honest, it’s a pretty fun book to come back for.
Writer Joshua Williamson didn’t have an easy task with this book.The Haunted Mansion, even to the most excited fan, is hard to explain. One moment it goes for real scares, and seconds later it wants you to sing and laugh with the ghosts. The book is no different. Instead of locking in on a ghost, Williamson instead makes young Danny Crowe the focus. A curious kid with a sense of adventure, but healthy dose of fear, is inspired to enter the house after losing his globe-trotting grandfather in an accident on the fabled Matterhorn. (See what they did there)? It’s a fun hook that allows the setting to play out as the story unfolds, giving each icon ghost and scene within the mansion a place to shine.
The real strength of the story comes when Williamson is allowed to truly embrace his love of both horror and the ride itself. But Williamson’s strength at drafting truly creepy scenes is also a small hiccup in the story. Like the ride itself, the elements become a little lost, as the book never fully locks in on being age-appropriate horror or high adventure with a supernatural twist. Still, the character progression with Danny Crowe is a believable one. With each chapter, you accept his growth as he takes lessons and inspiration from all of the iconic characters that inhabit the mansion, and how their own backstory influences him.
Visually, The Haunted Mansion is functional, if uninspiring at times. Which isn’t wholly fair to artist Jorge Coelho. Only being a four-issue series, there is a a lot of visual information Coelho needs to bring to the reader, and has very little time and space to do it. That said, Coelho’s characters, both living and otherwise, are wonderfully expressive. You get a real sense of the emotion Danny feels as he comes to terms with losing his grandfather while facing off against the house. His pencil work does a very good job on conveying movement within a panel, but some missteps in panel design and quantity hamper his wide-stroke style. This is never more evident than when he has a half panel, or even a full page, to truly explore both his own work and the house itself. It is then when the book really shines and stands toe-to-toe with the attraction itself as a visual gem.
An interesting aspect to Coelho is his use of simple lines, avoiding heavy details. Which allows a colorist to bring their own style to play. Jean-Francois Beaulieu takes full advantage of Coelho's almost early Romita-inspired lines. Taking a page from the ride itself, Coelho follows the color palette that fans have known for years. As a result, it brings a sense of familiarity that helps to draw the reader into the panel. And it’s fun to watch the earth tones of Danny and his world clash with the unworldly blues, greens and reds of the supernatural.
While the book has a few missteps here and there, they read more like compromises made to a parent company in hit key talking points. To the younger reader, these will be fun shout-outs, while older readers might lose the scene, but only for a moment. In the end, The Haunted Mansion is a book for hardcore fans of the attraction, and any lover of horror. Because no matter how twisted your horror tastes may have become, we fans of the macabre will always hold a place in our dark little hearts for this place and the 999 ghosts that unlive there. This book is a proud addition to any fan's collection.