I recently went and took a look back at the first ten issues of "House of Mystery," and it struck me that the book is fairly unrecognizable from what it looked like just two years ago. This isn't simply because of the arrival of Werther Dell'Edera on pencils, though, but rather a loss of most of what made "House of Mystery" fun.
Looking at those early issues, there's a lot of actual mystery hanging over the characters. Why are they trapped in the house? What lurks in the basement? Who are the mysterious creepy people lurking on the edges of the story? Where are they, anyway? Now? We've got a dozen characters who manage to all get summed up on the first page in a bit of exposition, and yet none of them are compelling. The book's relocated to a goblin market that the characters can wander in and out of, removing the claustrophobic nature of being trapped inside the House. There's a lot of bickering. And while the story-within-a-story used to at least be tangentially connected to the main narrative, now it doesn't even seem to try; the latest issue has Fig just buy a book in the market and start reading it.
In short, "House of Mystery" has become "House of Dull."
That's not to say it's a complete disaster. Dell'Edera (and inker Jose Marzan Jr.) brings an angular, clean style to the book that is close to when Luca Rossi was collaborating with Marzan. It's not bad, although there a certain sameness to a lot of the characters that make them blend together. Penelope Klein and Marley Zarcone provide a spot-on parody of the old teenage school mystery genre (the "Encyclopedia Brown" books were the first to leap to mind). Klein nails the simple yet solvable nature of those stories, and Zarcone's art is adorable and reminds me a lot of artists like Christine Norrie and Chynna Clugston.
Still, though, even a well-executed secondary story doesn't change the fact that "House of Mystery" isn't delivering on the promise of those early issues any more. This latest issue actually makes me wonder if Sturges is starting to wrap things up and an end point has been determined at the editorial level. It's a shame, because "House of Mystery" started off with so much potential, but it's a pale shadow of its former self these days.