Thursday, September 10, 2009

Trade Waiting - House of Mystery Vol 1, Room & Boredom

Like Madame Xanadu, House of Mystery was also a Vertigo series that I followed in singles for a while before making the switch to trades. While I am not that familiar with Matthew Sturges's body of work enough to pick it up on his name alone, I found the concept of the series interesting, so gave it a look anyway. Hit the jump to see what I though of the first volume of House of Mystery.

Story Written by Matthew Sturges
Short Stories Written by Matthew Sturges and Bill Willingham
Art by Luca Rossi
Short Stories Art by Ross Campbell, Jill Thompson, Zachary Baldus, Steve Rolston, and Sean Murphy

House of Mystery stars Fig Keele, an architecture student who, while fleeing a couple of apparitions, ends up in what is known as the House of Mystery. After a short while, she finds that she can't leave, which sets up the main plot of the collection.

While, as a whole, I found Room & Boredom to be enjoyable, there was an obvious problem - there is no point to it. Or, rather, Sturges never makes it clear what the series is going to be about. It's just a series of interesting short stories told by patrons of the House of Mystery.

He does set up some possible future plots, but he never really gets around to the point of the series. He does set up some of the world of the story, but that's about it. It's not something that completely kills the story, or series, in my mind, but it is a glaring weakness and, while the hints of future threads do help a little, they do not completely overcome the problem.

While House of Mystery lacks an overall point or direction, a lot of the other aspects of the book are pretty good. What Sturges does a good job with is the atmosphere of the story and the ideas he included in it.

While Room & Boredom does not really set up the premise of the series, Sturges does tell an interesting story. He does a good job with the mystery aspect of the title in each story, which helps to make up for the somewhat weak overarching storyline/setup. Another appealing aspect of the story was the ideas that Sturges used in kind of a Silver Age, "nothing is too crazy" sort of way but with modern sensibilities.

The basic story is that Fig, who doesn't know why she can't leave the House of Mystery, is determined to escape, but is constantly thwarted. She does have some connections to the House, but isn't quite sure what they mean. This is also one of the plot points that hints at future stories, but Sturges never really says what it is really about. The story itself isn't bad, per say, but it isn't anything great either. It's mostly introductory, and mostly involving the characters and format, so that not much is really done with it.

As mentioned before, to me, the atmosphere of the story does good job of making up for the underwhelming nature of of the plot. This is where the lack of an obvious premise helps since there is a mystery surrounding the House and Sturges does a good job of playing that up. The mystery is mostly about Fig's connection to the House and it's not completely satisfying since it doesn't really go anywhere. The second volume could possible clear this up, but the fact that the first volume doesn't say what the story is about still hurts it overall.

The story also includes five short stories, one for each issue, by various creative teams, though Sturges does most of the writing duties. Each are enjoyable on some level and, overall, they add something extra to the series. They work into part of the series's concepts and some of them are connected to the plot either overtly, one of them has to do with a mobster who is a good escape artist, or are a little more subtle yet also function very well on their own. In case there are any people who were interested in Willingham's contribution to the series, he only writes the short story for the first and second issues and I also found them to be some of the weaker ones, in the context of the overall collection, as most of the other ones tend to relate to the main story in some way. That said, all of the short stories are very enjoyable, well done and add some nice diversity to the collection.

The cast is also another enjoyable aspect of the book, probably the most enjoyable outside of the story stories. There is a nice diversity to the cast, which includes four other main characters in additions to Fig. They work well as a group with some interesting dynamics and create some interesting moments. They also have some pretty strong personalities which only helps with the character drama. The supporting and background characters are also interesting in the sense that they add to the kind of absurd nature of the House.

The art, overall, is solid, but nothing special. Rossi does the work on the main story and the art is a kind of average Vertigo style that, while competent, isn't anything overly remarkable. The art for the short stories does vary according to the tone and subject manner of each story and each works well with their story and adds to them.

Verdict - Check It. Despite a lack of a complete premise and only a few hints of what that might end up being, House of Mystery still has plenty of charms that make it a book worth taking a look at.

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mrpeepants said...

I still remember the fly sex and birthing scene from the first ish that Kirk posted in MotW.

Kevin T. said...

"Fig. . . is determined to escape, but is constantly thwarted."
Geez Eric! I think you just summarized the entire five issues right there! I actually collected the first 8 or so issues, and was really pumped about the title. I totally agree with you about the story, but I think the art was pretty unique. Especially the expressions and body language on Fig!

Eric Rupe said...

mrpeepants - That's one of Willingham's short stories. It's from the first issue.

Kevin - After looking through the book again, I may have been a little harsh on Rossi's work. I don't think the coloring does it any favors though. It's the same color palette all Vertigo books seem to have which make it's look like a lot of the other books.

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