Review – Secrets of Sinister House: Eight Tales of Horror

Comic Books DC This Week
Secrets of Sinister House cover, via DC Comics.

Secrets of Sinister House – Rafael Albuquerque, Rafael Scavone, Dan Watters, Paul Dini, Diego Lucero Lopez, Robbie Thompson, John Layman, Che Grayson, Bryan Hill, Writers; Rafael Albuquerque, Sumit Kuman, Cian Tormey, Tom Raney, Jorge Fornes, Miguel Mendonca, Alessandro Vitti, Artists; Phil Hester, Penciller; Ande Parks, Inker; Dave McCaig, John Kalisz, Romulo Fajardo Jr., Jeromy Cox, Hi-Fi, Jordie Bellair, Bill Crabree, Adriano Lucas, Colorists

Ratings:

Ray – 9/10

Ray: Secrets of Sinister House, a DC anthology that celebrates Halloween, contains an all-star cast of DC horror talents, combining A-list comic writers with indie scaremasters. So does it live up to the quality levels of past anthologies? Let’s see.

It starts with a great tale from Rafael Albuquerque, co-written by his frequent collaborator Rafael Scavone and set in the Red Rain world where Batman becomes a vampire. This is after the war against the vampires, as Commissioner Gordon struggles to raise his daughter alone and Batman tries to keep his sanity in check. Introducing the Court of Owls to the story – in a new form – it feels like a modern twist on a classic Elseworlds and Albuquerque’s art is an excellent choice to inject some real horror.

Batman – hero or villain? Via DC Comics.

The second story has none of the hope and heroism of the first – it’s pure, bleak, Lovecraftian horror with Ryan Choice caught in the middle. The young hero is called in to investigate a mystery involving a house where construction workers are committing suicide and talking about worms. That leads into him shrinking beneath the house and discovering a horrific writhing mass in service of something ancient and evil, as Dan Watters and Sumit Kumar deliver the most disturbing visuals of the book. Ryan is as disturbed as we are.

The good news is that Paul Dini and Cian Tormey are right around the corner to cheer you up with a Harley/Zatanna buddy comedy. After Harley hitches a ride with Zatanna, they crash for a night at the notorious Clown Motel – which, of course, winds up being haunted by a vengeful clown spirit and a bunch of creepy tiny clown dolls that come to life. (And it’s based on a real-life Nevada hotel.) It’s creepy but not scary, and the banter between the two heroines is a highlight as it always is with Dini stories.

Road trip! Via DC Comics.

Diego Lucero Lopez and Phil Hester are next up with a Martian Manhunter tale heavy on the body horror, as it kicks off with graphic displays of skinned animals and a human victim. Martian Manhunter – or John Jones – is on the case, but has to deal with a bigoted anti-alien policeman who is quick to blame aliens for the attacks. The alien creature responsible is certainly horrific, but J’onn’s psychic link reveals the tragic twist behind the story. I think this one has powerful moments, but it could have used a little more time to breathe.

Robbie Thompson and Tom Raney drop into the DCU for a short story featuring the Justice League Dark, as Detective Chimp is the only member left standing while others like Man-Bat and Swamp Thing are held captive in their own minds by a demonic trickster. Or so it seems – the actual truth is far less dangerous and far funnier, as we get a face-off with one of the DCU’s most offbeat villains. I like the way this one-shot seems to be swapping between more intense stories and lighter ones.

John Layman and Jorge Fornes do the next story, a seemingly routine tale of a young family moving into a creepy old mansion. There’s all the tropes there – angry ghosts, creepy dolls, voices in the middle of the night. But it picks up in a big way towards the second half, culminating in a last-page reveal that gives it some DCU connections after all despite being advertised as an original. The art here is gorgeous, and it provides some nice classic scares.

Jessica Cruz is a natural choice for a book like this, since she’s so acquainted with fear – and there’s few things scarier than the demons lurking inside our own head. Che Grayson and Miguel Mendonca reunite the GL team of Jessica and Simon as they investigate a cursed spaceship with a suitably nightmarish demon on board. The question of what’s real and what is Jessica’s mind playing tricks on her exists throughout – which makes it all the more satisfying when she pushes it back. Again, best new character at DC.

The story ends with a Constantine story by Bryan Hill and Alessandro Vitti, and it’s another perfect tale with a good twist on the ghost story as Constantine attempts to help a murdered woman find peace in the afterlife by tracking down her killer – who has already died. This has a great vintage Hellblazer vibe with Constantine crossing all sorts of ethical lines in search of the greater good, and it’s rare to find a story that keeps Constantine heroic while not losing the edge that defines the character. Hill is an expert at darker stories like this.

Not a weak link in this volume. If you like horror, this may be the best DC anthology yet.

To find reviews of all the DC issues, visit DC This Week.

Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

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