Talking about DC’s House of Mystery is complicated because there have been so many versions. It started as a horror anthology —
Then became a superhero book.
Then got its most famous incarnation, an anthology book hosted by the House’s caretaker, Cain (later established as an avatar of the Cain).
The version I’m dealing with today is the Vertigo series from 2008-11 (written by Lilah Sturges and multiple others) which combined Cain, an anthology element and a main story arc. In the first issue, a woman named Fig Keele — architect, former kid detective — stumbles into the House of Mystery.
Some people come in, drink at the bar (the House now has a bar-room) and leave. Fig is one of those who can’t leave, try as she might. She’s stuck there along with sorcerers, a pirate, handsome bartender Harry and a Byronic poet (no Cain), working in the bar and hunting for an escape. As the price of a drink is a story, each issue includes one, keeping the anthology aspect going alongside the main plot. Meanwhile, various mysterious groups and people are trying to figure out where in the multiverse the House is currently located.
To further complicate things, Fig has a much stranger past than she lets on, possibly tied to the House. Her father shows up with an agenda of his own. Cain eventually finds the House and isn’t pleased with the renovations.
This period is the one I think of when I think of the series and it’s the part of the run I liked best (though the stories told at the bar often left me unimpressed). Later on? Not so much. There’s a long stretch where the House winds up located in a Goblin market, with the cast embroiled in goblin politics and local wars. The setting didn’t interest me as much. Neither did the annoying Lotus Blossom, a new character who plays a large role in the final arc. I found her just insufferable.
And rereading, I found the background mythology, involving entities known as the Conception and Fig’s own secret gifts, less than inspiring (this may reflect that this time I knew it didn’t really pay off). I honest-to-god have no idea how it all fits together or makes sense or if it does. Which wouldn’t have mattered if they’d kept up the quirkiness of the early issues, but I don’t think they did.
Fig too became more annoying on rereading. She’s got cause for being pissed off, but at times she’d get so mopey and whiny I didn’t have sympathy for her.
All of which makes the series sound much worse than it I think it is, the unfortunate consequence of listing fault after fault. Certainly I enjoyed it on first run, despite the flaws — I don’t know that “it wasn’t as much fun to reread” is really a fatal flaw.
But it’s all out in TPB if you want to find out for yourself.
#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by J. Winslow Mortimer, Jim Mooney, Nick Cardy and Sam Weber, all rights remain with current holders. Bonus cover by Cardy below, because he’s awesome (rights remain with current holder).