House of Mystery #1 – Revealed and Reviewed

House of Mystery #1, a new Sandman spinoff came along last week. What’s more, it was written by Matthew Sturges, with a bit in the middle by Bill Willingham, both known for their work on Jack of Fables and Fables. I didn’t end up mentioning it on the audio show this past week, largely because I have yet to make up my mind on it. But some people thought it was remiss of me to forgo comment, so I’ll take a stab at it here.

If you’ve read Sandman, or any of its spin offs, you’ll be familiar with Cain and Abel. They’re brothers, from the biblical story, and they live next to one another in the House of Mystery and the House of Secrets, respectively. The basic deal with these guys is that every single day, Cain murders Abel. They’ve lived in the Dreaming, from Sandman, but the concept of the House of Mystery has been a mainstay in the DC Universe for a good long while, and certainly before Gaiman ever started writing about it.

The book opens with Cain killing his brother (again), and walking outside to find his house has been stolen. From there, we’re taken to a tavern where people seem to be trapped there, and the currency of the place is to tell stories, again, very much in the vein of Gaiman’s Sandman work. The series seems to be a vehicle to tell different stories, with different characters as people are stranded at a tavern within the House of Mystery. Historically, the title was a horror anthology, which is something missing from today’s marketplace, with the exception of XXXombies, which is perhaps a bit much for some of the general readership.

There’s a bit of overall plot going on here, as a girl searches for the House that she’s been obsessively drawing, a la Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I’m sure more will come of this going forward, but the tale is just started in this issue.

The centerpiece of this issue is a short tale told by Hungry Sally, which is written by Bill Willingham, and illustrated by Ross Campbell, where Luca Rossi draws the rest of the issue. Sally is in the tavern eating plate after plate of food, and tells her tale of love and love lost, which is basically a horror story meets fairy tale. I don’t really want to describe the story, because it would ruin it, but it’s a little yarn where you hear one thing, and see another in the pictures. It’s a little funny, and a little gross, and pretty fun. And there’s a secret to be learned about why Sally is so hungry of course.

The artwork is fairly typical for a Vertigo book. It would look at home in an issue of Fables or Hellblazer, and while I think it fits the book rather well, again, there’s nothing remarkable about it. Rossi illustrates the bulk of the book, in a modern style that is sort of like a cross between Tony Harris and Mark Buckingham. The short story in the middle is illustrated by Ross Campbell, and it’s more along the lines of a fantasy, painterly artist, and fits very well, being cute where it needs to be, and gross where called for.

So there’s a bit of an anthology going on, but an underlying thread, as well as some new stuff, and some ties to things many readers will be familiar with. All in all, it was a good issue, but the truth is, for me, I wasn’t wowed. It was good, and enjoyable, but not entirely remarkable. Perhaps going forward, the story will ramp up, and Willingham and Sturges will hit their stride, but as of now, it was good, but not spectacular. And that’s totally okay. If you liked Fables or even Sandman, you’ll find something familiar here. If you’re looking to be blown away, you might have to wait a bit. I’m willing to wait though, since the track record of these guys is pretty good, if not a bit short in Sturges’ case, who seems to be driving this boat. It doesn’t seem like you’ll need much background to get started, so feel free to pick this up without any knowledge of existing universes.

I’ll give it a few more issues, and I fully expect things will pick up, and I’ll make sure to let you know if that’s the case.


  1. So I’m not sure I get it. Are you saying it’s good, but not spectacular? 



  2. If I’m not mistaken (and maybe they just did this to not narrow their audience to Sandman fans), but I believe this isn’t  supposed to be Sandman-related. We’ve got a Cain/Abel and their respective houses, but not necessarily the guys from The Dreaming. To me, it feels much more like Fables than Sandman, though given Willingham, that makes some sense.

    This was my favorite book last week. I immediately read it again and it’s still on my mind a week later.

  3. It is that Cain Midwest, but he’s been a mainstay in the DCU for a long time before Sandman, both he and Abel have hosted their own Horror anthologies since the late 60’s (House of Mystery and House of Secrets respectivly). Gaimen just used them in his run. Hell he didn’t even introduce the killing Abel schitk, Alan Moore did when he reintroduced the characters in the 80’s for Swamp thing (Who actually premiered in house of Secrets)

  4. Great review, Josh.  Actually, I really enjoyed this issue, which is saying a lot considering I’m not much for any book with a horror bent.  Willingham’s section was just about all the creepy I could handle.  Good stuff.

    Oh, and I’ve read only the first issue of Sandman, and this issue read just fine without any knowledge of that universe.

  5. Well thought I don’t post as often on here as I should I was compelled to comment on this.  I personally enjoyed the story quite a bit.  I am very excited to see where the plot with the girl drawing the house is going.  I am not much of a horror reader or movie goer for that matter, but this is so reminiscent of the traditional Grimm fairy tales that I couldn’t resist it.  My father used to tell me of all the comics in his collection when he was growing up and it never failed that he mentioned House of Mystery.  When I brought the first issue to his house and tossed it on the coffee table his eyes lit up.  The art serves a purpose and is nothing that I would call spectacular, but what needs to be showcased in this book is the story and I think that is working for them.  As long as this book runs I will probably stick with it.  I love a good anthology series so lets all keep our fingers crossed.

  6. I loved the pacing of this book.  I’ve never read Sandman before but I’m not lost as to what’s going on. 

    That story with Hungry Sally though… man, never felt that sick reading a comic book — can’t wait for the next issue 🙂 

  7. I have to say, I was kind of wary of this after reading the preview Vertigo ran in just about all its books. However, reading the issue as a whole, I have to say it was very good. I like the story-within-a-story format – this could really let Willingham cut loose with some really interesting stuff.

  8. I think this issue was VERY strong out of the gate, light Twilight Zone through the Vertigo filter. For a similar idea that doesn’t work, read Slave Labor Graphics’ HAUNTED MANSION (Disney license): Souls trapped in a house as the framing device, stories about random inhabitants, different artists etc. But Slave Labor never even BEGAN to live up to that high concept.

    I’m glad Willingham is on board. Sturges has not done a great job with Jack of Fables. It’s so rambling and aimlessly plotted that it’s rarely enjoyable or rewarding to read, a stark contrast to the intricately plotted and very well thought-out main FABLES book.

    I think the art in the House of Mystery story within a story is going to be pivotal to making this series work, though. The framing sequence art is perfect for this title, but each mini-story needs to look and feel as distinct as the varied inhabitants of the HoM. I LOVED the art in Hungry Sally. Can’t wait to see what’s next!

  9. I really enjoyed this book and am very much waiting for the next issue. Also, my wife actually read it, as she was intrigued by the cover. I think this was my favorite book from last week, actually.

  10. Loved this book.  BUT Cain and Abel better have a HUGE role in getting the house back or I’m not going to be happy.