The stories all center around a cursed mask, featured on the fantastically creepy painted cover by Esao Andrews, that passes through the hands of characters from Vertigo books, including, in order, the cast of House of Mystery, Merv Pumpkinhead, John Constantine, Gwen from the upcoming title I, Zombie, and Madame Xanadu. I knew Merv and Constantine, but I’ve never read the new House of Mystery title or Madame Xanadu, and the book didn’t do much to familiarize me with those characters. I never felt lost, though–just a tad left out.
The individual stories within (written by Matthew Sturges, Mark Buckingham and Bill Willingham, Peter Milligan, Chris Roberson, and Matt Wagner) are all brief, mostly fun little exercises that tie into the mask in some way, while sneaking in a little advertising for Vertigo titles you might like to read. There’s a diverse group of artists beneath the cover as well, old favorites like Kevin Nowlan and Mike Allred, along with upcoming superstars like the talented Amy Reeder Hadley.
The quality of the individual tales are solid, if slight, across the board, with no particular stand-out. If there’s an odd man out, it’s Roberson/Allred’s seven-page I, Zombie tale, which really does feel like an ad, as the last panel exclaims, “A first-person look at the life of a monster! Coming in 2010!” I guess it worked–it got me interested in I, Zombie, but that panel is a jarring reminder that you’re reading a Vertigo primer more than an anthology filled with stories that needed telling.
As a primer, though, it totally works. You’ll get a dose of good art, a handful of entertaining stories, and just enough of a feel for Vertigo’s current titles to make you want to read more. It wasn’t the Halloween excursion into darkness I was expecting from a “mature readers” imprint, but, hey, I like surprises. House of Mystery Halloween Annual #1 is more of a treat than a trick.
(House of Mystery Halloween Annual #1 was released to comic retailers on October 14, 2009.)