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What can I add to roughly twenty-five years worth of unfettered praise and critical analysis of Alan Moore’s brilliant run on DC Comics’ Swamp Thing? This question has been haunting me for the past few weeks, as I’ve explored DC’s new hardcover reprint of the material previously collected in the Swamp Thing: Love and Death trade paperback. For many, Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns were the comics that changed the way folks looked at comics as a storytelling medium. Love and Death was that book for me.

I had an interest in the Swamp Thing television show when I was in high school, based on my enjoyment of the 1982 Wes Craven film which used to be a cable mainstay in the early-80’s when I was a kid. My high school friend, Craig, wasn’t really that much into comics, but it was the early-90’s — everyone was buying them. Somehow Craig ended up with a Swamp Thing: Love and Death trade paperback and, probably finding it way too weird, gave it to me. He knew I watched the TV show, and he knew I was open to DC books (A lot of kids, and I’m sure this continues today, were strictly Marvel only. Then, Marvel and Image only.)

My mind was blown. Within these pages were nightmare visions of hell, leering demons, supernatural heroes, funky aliens, and psychedelic vegetable sex. The language was more poetic than anything I’d read in a comic book before; the images more grotesque than my imagination allowed. This comic book scared me.

House of Mystery Halloween Annual #1

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Written by Matthew Sturges, Mark Buckingham, Bill Willingham, Peter Milligan, Chris Roberson, Matt Wagner

Pencils by Luca Rossi, Kevin Nowlan, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Mike Allred, Amy Reeder Hadley

One of my favorite horror comics is DC/Vertigo’s anthology title Flinch, which was published for a too-brief sixteen issue run before cancellation in 2001.  Flipping through Vertigo’s brand-new House of Mystery Halloween Annual #1, I got a little excited that I might be looking at something that recaptured what I loved about Flinch–incredibly twisted stories, written and drawn by some pretty big names in comics.  My expectations were off the mark.  House of Mystery Halloween Annual #1 is a much lighter comic book than I’m used to from Vertigo, and it serves as an entertaining “sampler pack” for Vertigo’s monthly titles.

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.

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