House of Mystery 8: Desolation – Mathew Sturges and Bill Willingham

h8Well shucks! This is fantastic volume but so sad it is so late. Structurally, narratively and artistically this is exploding with amazing ideas and techniques. It’s a shame that some of these couldn’t have been siphoned off to make the preceding volumes a bit livelier. It appears Sturgis does endings and beginnings well but the middle not so much.

The art is great with plenty of detail, bold colours exciting layouts and energetic guest styles. There is a really dramatic desaturated sequence that I haven’t seen anywhere outside photography.

Going out with a bang this is a strong thumbs up!

House of Mystery 7: Conception – Mathew Sturges and Bill Willingham

h7Sadly things are going downhill. After seven books with no new ideas things have become stale. Not even the reappearance of Harry at the end of the last episode can redeem things.

The art style appears to have changed too, becoming less detailed.
There are some nice touches here and there but not the great mystery that still appears in the series title.

There is also another Halloween special but cameos like Constantine just seem like elongated adverts for other books.

No Thumbs.

House of Mystery 5: Under New Management – Mathew Sturges and Bill Willingham

h5After the awkward non-ending of the last instalment it is virtually business as usual. Sadly the tension of characters trapped in an unknown location has evaporated. What we have are characters who look to jump about every few books and get visited by plot. Maybe like an inverse Dr Who.

The main story art is fine and the guest artists are generally good at fitting in with the gothic template. But then Sergio Aragonés turns up with his cartoonist style and things feel a little jarring.

The whole thing feels like a page out of a writer’s notebook whose portmanteau of stories fit together more by happy accident than design. Not enough to persuade you to stop reading but enough to make you cross your fingers for future episodes.

Thumbs Up – for the minute.

House of Mystery 4: The Beauty of Decay – Mathew Sturges and Bill Willingham

h4This is the volume where the cracks start to appear. There is an ending of sorts in this volume but it isn’t exactly revealed making you wait till next volume for the cliff-hanger. The short stories also become more diversionary and their relevance, if they have any, is most obscure.

The art is great and plenty of ghostly blues are employed effectively for an otherworldly effect. There is also some clever panel use with each frame representing a room of the house.

Included in this book is the Halloween special which features appearances by Constantine, Merv Pumpkinhead, and Madam Xanadu (barely), etc. Sadly these are not about the content, but more about the cameos.

There is no reason to stop reading but the shine definitely wears off.

Thumbs Up!

House of Mystery 3: The Space Between – Mathew Sturges and Bill Willingham

h3This is another superb volume because even when it makes decisions that have you feeling unsure they turn out for the best. It delivers plenty of answers and new developments and switches neatly between believable characters with realistic emotions and the weaving of a fictional backdrop. Unlike Fables not having a knowledge of elderly literature isn’t a drawback.

The art is great and you are now used to the guest artists and embrace the, sometimes unusual, styles they bring. There are plenty of ways to depict the unease and tension of psychological horror. And a little puzzle page by Sergio Aragonés.

The neat little touches make this work stand out. In issue thirteen all the pages are numbered 13. That sort of care and attention rewards your faith in this tale. Long may it continue.

Double Thumbs Up!!

House of Mystery 2: Love Stories for Dead People – Mathew Sturges and Bill Willingham

h2If you weren’t sure if this is the mystery for you after the last volume then persevere as this book really kicks up the pace. Its starts with a bittersweet love story and then goes into terror. We get some backstory on Harry so you aren’t left clueless and some about Fig too.

There are stories within stories and their guest artists really contrast with the noir house style. The creepy basement scenes and shadowy corridors are depicted superbly and the matt paper stock really adds to the dank vibe of the haunted atmosphere of this volume.

Double Thumbs Up!!

House of Mystery 1: Room & Boredom – Mathew Sturges and Bill Willingham

h1If this seems familiar to you then it was written by the team that wrote Fables and Jack of Fables. It’s kind of an anti-Fables with real characters going into a fictional world as opposed to the other way around.

The currency of this fictional world is stories so the main plot will halt for four or so pages while a gothic and macabre short story is unveiled. This title was based on the DC supernatural horror anthology House of Mystery that began publication in 1951. The story within a story format works quite well and the whole tone is very surreal. Think of it as a mix of Alice in Wonderland and Hammer Horror. It is reminiscent of Grant Morrison’s 7 Soldiers of Victory.

The art is typical Vertigo fare with a little detail going a long way. Each short story is drawn by a different artist which really helps separate the narratives and showcases some bold and vivid styles.

It does feel like more of the same from these two writers but they do say write what you know. Although there is enough of a hook to keep you going till volume two.

Thumbs Up!

Fables (22): Farewell – Bill Willingham

Fables 22Well it’s finally over. After 13 years, 6,000 pages, and more than 26,000 panels the story ends. In some unusual ways.

The titanic battle is finished half way through the book and has a twist you don’t see coming. The rest is individual tales about singular Fables. Most of these are just one or two pages long and not everything is resolved. These feel kind of twee and self-indulgent, yet for the avid Fables reader makes for a gentle come-down after the trauma of learning there will be no more. Apart from all those spin offs obviously.

Each tale has a different artist including names such as Neal Adams and Bryan Talbot. There is also a fold out cover that has 177 different characters on it. There is a handy key at the back. Just as spectacularly the last ever page is also a double gatefold creating a splash panel four pages wide.

After that we have the obligatory thankyous, a biography of all the artists who worked on the book, some sketches and a script excerpt. As final bows go this goes out in style.

Thumbs Up!

Jack of Fables 9: The End – Bill Willingham

Jack 09
The subtitle of this volume should give you a clue. Jack, despite giving us some entertaining stories was beginning to wear a little thin. This is his chance to go out with a bang. And he does.

The art is great with the last issue practically being one panel per page. The sense of scope and drama visually matches the dramatic nature of the action.

Thumbs Up!

Jack of Fables 8: The Fulminate Blade – Bill Willingham

Jack 08Here is one more tale of Jack’s dully heroic son Jack. It’s an ok piece built around a single reveal at the end. From any other author or in any other series this would be acceptable but the humour and eloquence Willingham is capable of delivering leaves this tale coming up short. There are some funnies along the way and the world is suitably quirky but this isn’t all Fables can be.

Ironically the art is some of the most structurally free and innovative. There are few if any traditional panel grids and we see our first landscape panel forcing you to turn the book the other way.

A Thumbs Up but still a poor relation.