Here’s a revelation: all I’ve ever truly cared about Halloween is the sweet, sweet candy. Whether I was trick or treating — till age 13, baby — buying candy for my first apartment, or stealing tasty bits from my nieces, candy is the lifeblood of Halloween. (A close second are awesomely decorated houses and parties with boxes of “witch eyes” and “monster brains.”)
So inevitably it’s candy that serves as the lens/filter for delving into Marvel’s Avengers Halloween Special, a frightening collection of five macabre tales featuring A-listers from the Marvelverse. Because if a story doesn’t give you a sugar high, then what’s the point?
“The Eyes Have It” (Rob Fee and Eoin Marron)
Clearly the elevator pitch here was “What would happen if Daredevil was cast in 2008’s The Eye?” Well, the end result is a generally hokey tale that sees Matt Murdock regain his vision as part of a cruel ploy by a long-running nemesis (hint: he looks killer in white). Murdock’s newly transplanted eyes cause him to hallucinate his worst failings before ending in the greatest body horror trope, DIY eye removal. It’s less about exploring important character traits, like the hero’s senses and relationship with the world or his legendary rivalries and accompanying tasty drama. Rather, it’s gore for the sake of the season, and in that sense it lightly tickles the sweet tooth.
Candy Ranking: Bazooka Joe, ’cause it’s totally yummy but never lasts.
“Whatever Happened To The Richards Family?” (Gerry Duggan and Laura Braga)
From body horror to pod people, the book’s second tale shines a more heroic light on Doctor Doom. After a newly empowered Fantastic Four land back on Earth, ol’ metal mouth decides something isn’t quite right. Cue Doom’s Babel-ian assault on the F4’s headquarters, which leads to his incarceration and a Frankenstein’s monster-sized reveal regarding the team’s true nature. Sure, it’s an another admittedly hokey story, but it does toy with the iconic Doom-F4 dynamic, exploring that notion of true heroism versus villainy while shedding a much-needed sympathetic spotlight on Doom. And if nothing else, the creepy factor here has value beyond its initial shock and awe.
Candy Ranking: Mini Crunch bar, ’cause it’s good but not exactly my favorite.
“The Thing From Another Time” (Jen and Sylvia Soska and Jonas Scharf)
If you’re going to ape other horror tropes or franchises, the Soskas (sibling horror producers/writers) have done right by paying homage to The Thing. Iron Man/Tony Stark has been perfectly recast as a twisted industrialist on the hunt for a new bio weapon (to which he employed Colossus and Deadpool). Said uber weapon happens to be a newly unfrozen Captain America, who is eagerly seeking a way back to society. Cap is perfect as this visceral monster, toying with Stark and engaging in unseen acts of violence. And the pseudo-cliffhanger ending is both chilling and a whole new level of nuance in the eternal Cap/Stark dynamic. Plus, even more body horror courtesy of Deadpool!
Candy Ranking: Taffy, cause it’ll stick in your head (not your gums).
“Punisher of the Opera” (Jay Baruchel and Luca Pizzari)
Sometimes putting characters into a “new” fictional universe works (see above). Other times you get this tale from actor Jay Baruchel (Goon, How to Train Your Dragons). The Canadian thespian casts The Punisher as the Phantom of the Opera, haunting the Palais Garnier following the death of his wife Maria and their children (so, just replaced a Brooklyn park with an ornate opera house). And because it’s a Punisher story (albeit with tights and singing vikings), our fave vigilante gets his revenge by blasting Raoul and Christine and pretty much every other theatergoer. Aside from a sick mask, Baruchel hasn’t done much to scare, delight, or entertain. More like, “Let this opera cease,” amirite?!
Candy Ranking: Tropical Sour Patch Kids, ’cause it seems cool but mostly isn’t.
“Haunted Mansion” (Robbie Thompson and Bob Quinn)
If you’re looking for terror, you’re knocking on the wrong door. Sure, there’s a rickety ol’ house and appearances by the world’s freakiest mutant villains (animatronic versions of Magneto, Sabretooth, Mystique, etc.) But mostly it’s a touching little story that furthers the mutants-as-an-allegory-for-outsiders-and-The-Other, reminding the world that being different is totally cool. And while a wholesome appearance by Wolverine should feel doubly kitschy (don’t even get me started on the Cerebro-centered ending), I couldn’t help but smile. Sometimes Halloween is about facing your monsters and actually winning.
Candy Ranking: A baggie of apple slices, ’cause it’s good for you.
Ultimately, there’s plenty of blood and guts, cheesy vibes, overwrought scares, and character development/exploration to make this compendium of the damned well worth a buy. Even if, as far as blatantly cornball gimmicks are concerned, this one does pull some punches. Basically, it’s no full-sized 100 Grand bar, but then what really is?
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