In this resurrection of the "House of Mystery" concept, writers Matt Sturges and Bill Willingham have come up with the perfect way to sell an anthology series in the 21st century: copy the model of the hit ABC television series "Lost."
Like "Lost," "House of Mystery" has an oddball collection of characters who long to escape their mysterious imprisonment (in "Lost" it's the island, and here it's the House of Mystery itself), and each episode features a self-contained short story about one character's past. At least, that's the structure of this first issue, and it was the structure "Lost" maintained for its first couple of seasons. Such a structure allowed "Lost" to operate as an anthology series for years, slowly developing the mystery of the island as it spent more time each week telling a single tale from a character's life. "Lost" eventually evolved beyond that, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the same thing happen here. But if the first issue is any indication, "House of Mystery" will use the overall mystery of the house to keep the readers coming back, and the short stories within each issue as a showcase for Bill Willingham's brand of gothic horror.
In this issue we get a four-pager illustrated by Ross Campbell who mixes cuteness with creepiness to sublime effect. The brief interlude sheds light on a character trapped in the House of Mystery, but it's also genuinely chilling on its own. While I liked the rest of the comic, this brief tale, called "The Hollows" sold me on the potential greatness of this series. If each issue has a short horror tale of this kind of quality, it will definitely keep me coming back for more. It's horror of a nightmarish quality, the kind of thing that nestles into your psyche for days. It's a very effective four pages.
The serialized story, far more than just a framing sequence, is written by Matthew Sturges, and it cuts back and forth between the inhabitants of the House of Mystery and a young girl fleeing from two tattered, but formally clad, apparitions. The girl carries what appear to be blueprints for the House of Mystery, drafted from her dreams.
Clearly the girl will be important to the narrative -- she seems to be the protagonist, even though we know little about her. It is the House of Mystery, though, and would you expect answers in the first issue?
As a way to trick reluctant readers into buying an anthology series, "House of Mystery" seems to work. The main narrative has enough strangeness and, well, mystery, to propel the story forward, and the small little flashback tales are an added facet to this potential jewel. The "Lost" model can work in comics, I think. I just hope Sturges and Willingham don't get bogged down by their need to keep the mystery alive at the expense of the solution.