Tuesday, October 27, 2009

House of Mystery: Halloween Annual #1

Well, if there were ever a holiday more appropriate for a themed Vertigo tie-in, I'd be hard-pressed to name a better candidate than Halloween. It's certainly a better fit than the Christmas annual they pushed out several years back. For an imprint that prides itself on its anything-goes attitude and almost complete creative freedom, an awful lot of creators have taken that kind of liberty as a hint to do something dark, spooky and otherworldly. Which isn't necessarily bad news; in fact, it actually serves to unite many of the publisher's most well-known characters, a sort of orange and black brotherhood of the night. Not to mention the natural ties such tales carry to the occult and arcane arts, which are like the peas and carrots of a Vertigo writer's diet.

So this month, in honor of the creepiest holiday of the calendar year, Vertigo is embracing that facet of their personality with a creator-loaded anthology of short stories. New authors try their hand at old faces, old ones take the opportunity to present their latest ideas in as brief a fashion as they like, and the whole thing is tied up with a single background narrative. Each tale is just a few pages in length, affording a certain degree of liberty to both author and audience. These stories are long enough to allow a good amount of depth, but short enough to be over before you're ready to give up on them.

More than just a common publisher and a universally spooky air unite these anecdotes. Although its subject matter has covered almost every single mature situation imaginable, the Vertigo line has often been home to a shared sense of gallows humor and black comic timing. It's also housed a cast of extremely charismatic and flamboyant characters, none of whom are the least bit shy about opening up and just being themselves when the spotlight shines, regardless of the creators in charge of their care. Add those together with the brevity of each individual story and you'll wind up with a raucous roller coaster of an issue that's a great encapsulation of what makes Vertigo tick.

For the purposes of this issue, that commonality is extended just a bit further into the realm of subject matter. See that big, handsome, droopy mask on the cover? It's passed around like a hot potato from character to character, scene to scene, era to era, as the issue winds its way from start to finish. Its involvement with some stories is as a mindless accessory, while others treat it with an almost holy level of fearful respect. Whatever its purposes within each plotline, it does serve as an effective tool for further tying each short story into the next, and for ensuring that the subject never wanders too far from the horrific. This is a Halloween issue, after all.

It's also a load of fun. Whether it's worth the full $4.99 cover price is debatable – after all, these are some very brief voyages we're taking into the various corners of the Vertigo universe – but if you've been a fan in the past, it's probably worth a closer look. DC has lined up a fine roster of creators to contribute to the issue, and they're each having a real ball with the opportunity. It's shallow, but in the end that winds up being a lot of its charm. Borrow it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.5

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