House of Mystery Halloween AnnualHouse of Mystery may have started out as people in a bar telling strange stories, but in the last few issues, everything got a lot more serious.
After October sees a special jam session issue – a House of Mystery Halloween Annual that will include cameos by everyone from John Constantine to Madame Xanadu to Merv Pumpkinhead – House of Mystery looks like it's taking a turn toward a darker and much more layered future as the series heads toward its third year.
"This storyline, I knew that I wanted it to be kind of grizzly," writer Matt Sturges told Newsarama of the five-issue "The Beauty of Decay" storyline running now in House of Mystery. "The previous story had been more talky and less horrorish. I wanted to bring it back around to a more horror sensibility. That’s why it’s a little bloodier than things have been recently. I really wanted it to be as brutal as possible."
Even though the series just recently revealed the mystery behind the house's imprisonment, other mysteries took its place and put the characters in dire straits. For those readers who might not be all the way caught up, let's just say things got very ugly for more than one person in the House of Mystery.
"We had always intended for there to be a personal danger for everyone involved," Sturges said. "I wanted it to be the kind of story where nobody was safe. There was no status quo that was going to get returned to at the end of every story."
House of Mystery #17While that "personal danger" means some characters may not be returning, other new folks have shown up in House of Mystery. Although the story is told through the eyes of a newcomer named Fig, House of Mystery features a diverse ensemble cast, including Harry the bartender, a gentleman cook known as The Poet, the pirate Ann Preston, the feisty Cress, and a few other regulars to the House.
"We’re going to cycle one or two characters out for the time being. It’s hard to say more without spoiling," he said. "But we’ve been bringing some new characters in and bringing some characters up to greater prominence, maybe without people noticing.
"There’s a relatively new character named Genevieve Montaigne, who is someone who was planned from the very beginning. I just never got around to bringing her onstage. She was always intended to be a major player, sort of a major secondary character. You start to learn more about her and her special gift here in the next storyline," Sturges revealed. "You’re also going to be learning more about Jordan Mayer and his background and his life story, and more of his bad movie ideas."
House of Mystery #18Solicitations and hints in the story indicate readers will also see a return of Cain to the house, along with these new visitors. But Sturges said that while the extended cast of the comic may be different, Fig will continue to be the main character -- although the changes she faces over the next few issues will end up having quite an effect on her.
"One thing that you picked up on, or maybe not, the Fig who narrates the story is different than the Fig that’s in the story. The woman narrating the book is a bit more mature, more reserved, more pessimistic than the sort of fun-loving gal we see in the story," he said. "It’s one of my favorite things about the series. You’ll start to see this evolution from the girl into the woman phase. A lot of maturity comes from loss. We’ll see what that’s all about."
The "Beauty of Decay" storyline finishes up in the next couple issues, but readers will get a treat (and maybe some tricks) on Oct 14 when Vertigo releases the House of Mystery Halloween Annual.
In the Annual's story, Fig finds a strange mask that introduces a series of short stories, including tales from Hellblazer by Peter Milligan and another from Madame Xanadu by Matt Wagner. The issue will also have a spotlight of the new monthly series I, Zombie by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred, and a Merv Pumpkinhead story by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham.
House of Mystery #19"These are all original stories from the creators of the books," Sturges said. "It's a lot of fun. This is sort of a theme anthology. It’s a framing story, a framing device, if you will, that takes place in the House of Mystery at the Halloween party. This Halloween party took place a little while ago, so things aren’t as dire in this story as they currently are in the main title. But everyone is there – the cast of thousands, or I guess dozens since it’s hard to draw thousands. But it's a fun, interesting mystery, which ties together all the different tales being woven."
Although Vertigo editor Shelly Bond came up with the idea for the jam session Halloween issue, Sturges is taking credit for the mask on the cover, which not only shows up in all the stories, but makes a great Halloween costume too.
"Every story, there’s this mask, which is on the cover. I believe there are even lines where you can cut out the mask, poke holes in it, and wear it as your Halloween costume," he laughed. "That mask plays an important role in each story. That’s kind of the theme that ties everything together.
"It was Shelly who sort of put it together and shepherded it through, so she’s really the one who gets all the credit for that. I think I said something like, 'There should be a mask in it.' That was my full contribution to the overall concept," Sturges joked. "That’s why they pay me the big bucks."
House of Mystery #20After that issue, the regular title swings back into full gear. And although readers have seen quite a few changes in the ongoing story of House of Mystery, Sturges said there are even bigger upheavals to come.
"There is so much that’s about to happen. What you’re going to really start learning about is the conception of a shadowy group that’s been trailing things since the very beginning. They’ve been offstage almost the entire series, but they’re going to start coming onstage now. The people we’ve seen so far have all been agents. We’ve never seen the conception itself," he said.
"And we’ve got some fantastic artists in this current arc," he added. "We’ve got [Michael William] Kaluta. We’ve got Jeff Lamire next month. We’ve got Sergio Argones coming up. A lot of great stuff to look forward to."
Sturges said all the changes in premise and cast are part of the ongoing plans he has for the book, which was always meant to be more than just "framing story and guest story."
"That was the original concept – that people were in a bar telling stories. That was how we set it up to sort of explain what was going on in the book," he said. "But we always knew if it was just that every month, people would quickly grow bored. The one thing I’ve always tried to do is mix it up and try and be a little different each month. This month, in Issue 17, we have Al Davidson’s fantastically and beautifully illustrated story interwoven with the main text of the story, which we’ve never done before. So we always try to do something a little different."
Yet as the story gets more involved and intense, Sturges is planning to make the book accessible to new readers again when the series passes the 20-issue mark.
"Starting with Issue #21, a whole new era of the book sort of begins. This will be a fantastic place for a reader who wants to jump onto the series but doesn’t necessarily want to read it from the beginning," he said. "I’m writing Issue #21 to be very new reader friendly because it’s sort of a new start for a lot of the characters in the series and for the house itself. If you’ve been wanting to start the series but have been leery about jumping in in the middle, this would be a great place to pick it up."