Saturday, March 21, 2009

House of Mystery: A Review

House of Mystery #1: Room & Boredom by Matthew Sturges and Luca Rossie. Vertigo $9.99

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

This graphic novel brings together issues 1 to 5 of Vertigo’s amazing fantasy series. There are two houses: the House of Secrets and the House of Mystery – and readers of Gaiman’s Sandman saga (and other astute folk) – will know where this is heading. The Sturges/Rossi collection focuses on the second house, but of course.

A mystery is always more exciting, and perhaps a lot more dangerous, than a mere secret. And mysteries are part of all good stories. Stories may have messages, for sure. They also provide an escape. The House of Mystery isn’t so obliging, especially for the five main protagonists of this series.

Fig is a young woman who dreamt of being an architect and dreams of a house, thinking it’s just part of her imagination. She runs from a spooky couple (their drawing reminding me of Buffy’s gentlemen). She enters a building, through a door, and into the House of Mystery, specifically into the bar part of it. There she encounters Harry the barkeep, Ann the pirate, Cress the waitress (and drama queen according to the blurb), and the Poet – all long-term residents. The house will not allow them to leave, and Fig soon finds herself in the same predicament.

But the bar is also full of itinerants, folk who pass through the watering hole – and payment for their drinks and food (there is always plenty of that, the house ensures) is through their stories. So in this volume, besides the overall arc by Sturges and Rossi, we have mini-tales by Bill Willingham, Jill Thompson and others. They work remarkably well. After all, story telling inside an inn isn’t that unusual.

The story boils down to this: Fig arrives and attempts to escape, and fails (it’s OK, I’m not really giving way the dénouement). The important aspect is the developing relationships between these five people and Fig’s coming to appreciate her situation. You’ll need to read volume two of House of Mystery, whenever that becomes available, in order to follow the tale further. I have, in fact, been reading this series the monthly magazine format and I must confess that the story – with its subtle sub-plots – works better as a bound volume rather than waiting a month between reading each chapter; this is no simple superhero comic.

Rossi’s artwork is tremendous. It is nice and angular and tastefully coloured. The characterisation is expertly captured and the faces are quite distinctive; and the three ladies do look rather sensual in some panels. It’s this kind of graphic novel that answers the common ascertain that comics are simply for young children. House of Mystery is definitely aimed at the mature-of-mind reader. Recommended.

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