Despite being one of the few horror tropes not to appear in its pages, the most appropriate comparison for DC House of Horror has to be Frankenstein’s Monster. It’s an 80-page anthology, stitched out of eight short stories by different creative teams, each of which puts a fresh horror spin on a DC character.
In the Dr. Frankenstein role, you have Keith Giffen, credited with plotting all eight shorts — but he’s supported by dozens of talented Igors. Writers like Brian Keene and Mary SanGiovanni, pulled from the world of horror novels, are paired with well-established comics artists like Howard Porter, Kyle Baker and Dale Eaglesham.
What rises from the slab is, perhaps inevitably, an odd creature.
Most of the stories reimagine familiar heroes as the monster in a horror story. What if the Kryptonian child which crash-landed among the Smallville crops was an alien bent on destruction? What if Green Arrow was the serial killer in a slasher film? What if Wonder Woman possessed a young woman via a Ouija board and forced her to murder everyone around?
The problem is that most of these stories boil down to the same idea: superheroes that kill rather than protect. With DC currently putting out the Dark Nights books, Batman: White Knight and Nightwing: New Order, we’re not short of opportunities to see darker versions of these characters.
It’s a problem that’s exacerbated by the format. Reading a lot of stories that take the same approach can get repetitive, and that diminishes the impact of some of the stronger takes on the concept. A couple of the stories rely on that mainstay of the horror short, the twist ending — but it comes as much less of a shock to find out the main character is the one doing the murders when you’ve just read four variants on that same idea.
Not coincidentally, the strongest entry is the one that breaks free of the pattern. “Blackest Day”, by Brian Keene and Scott Kolins, shows a world with the Justice League reacts to the zombie apocalypse. The story casts Green Lantern in the role of last survivor on the Watchtower, as the infection spreads between his cape-wearing comrades.
Seeing The Flash shamble around in the classic Romero fashion, except at super-speed, is a great visual — and it’s one of a few fun twists that the story finds in the combination of superhero and zombie fiction.
This is the best example of the fun DC House of Horror does have to offer. As with the similarly-named Simpsons Halloween specials, it’s fun to see which familiar face gets slotted into which role in the horror story. That’s bolstered with some gorgeous art pretty much throughout, a particular highlight being Bilquis Evely’s work on Wonder-Woman-as-poltergeist story “Man’s World”.
Like Frankenstein, many of the parts that have been assembled are great on their own; it’s just that the final result is less than their sum. It may stand up and move, but you’d struggle to say that DC House of Horror ever truly comes alive.