Secrets of Sinister House is dropping just in time for spooky season. This anthology features stories penned by the likes of Bryan Hill, Paul Dini, and Dan Watters, and artwork from Phil Hester, Alessandro Vitti, and more! It’s a star-studded affair that dives into the creepier corners of the DC Universe, even giving characters who aren’t normally associated with the horror genre a chance to tackle the many things that go bump in the night.
We open with “Nightmare Mist,” an interesting take on the Red Rain universe, in which Batman has become a vengeful vampire. While I had some trepidation about returning to this world, the story manages to show a new take on the character, appearing somewhat more altruistic, but still monstrous. In many ways, it feels truer to Batman himself than the original Elseworlds stories did. Also, Rafael Albuquerque’s artwork is gorgeous, with Dave Mccain’s colors adding an almost pulp magazine feel to the proceedings.
“The Footsteps of the Old Worm” reads like an honest to god Lovecraft story that just so happens to star Ryan Choi, the Atom. Adding to this feel is the Dan Watters’ choice to use Choi’s journal entries to tell the tale, which doesn’t give us many answers. However, that is where the horror lies, in the unexplained. There’s a particularly effective bit of storytelling here that sees the Atom continually scratching out his notes as he realizes he cannot understand the evil he faces. The visuals from Sumit Kumar are appropriately grotesque and appear both ancient and otherworldly.
“Calling Dr. Bonkers!” is a fun story that feels like it wouldn’t have been out of place in an issue of Harley Quinn’s Little Black Book. Dini has written both characters wonderfully in the past, so putting them together for a fun but spooky little romp is a match made in heaven. The jokes at the expense of try-hards at Halloween dressing as Harley are fun and it’s a nice to see Zatanna in a more casual setting than her usual globe-trotting adventures with the Justice League Dark.
“Out of My Skin” is the one story here that doesn’t quite work for me, even as a massive fan of Martian Manhunter. The core concept is interesting, but it does feel like it needed a few more pages to properly flesh out the story (no pun intended). Still, Phil Hester’s artwork here is fantastic and appropriately goopy, pitting J’onn against something that looks like it stepped out of a Clive Barker story. The final moments are also emotionally effecting, perfectly suited to a character like J’onn who always feels apart from the rest of the world.
“Dreamweaver” spotlights Detective Chimp on a mission to find his missing Justice League Dark teammates. The result is a trippy romp through warped realities and a look back at Chimp’s life story. It’s a very fun story with a sweet message and a use of Zatanna’s powers against the mystery villain of the piece that is so clever that I can’t believe it hasn’t been done before. Kudos to writer Robbie Thompson for pulling that rabbit out of a hat.
“House of the Dead” plays like a classic haunted house story with a super heroic twist. I can’t give anything away about this one, but it shows a beloved DC supernatural character in a new light, being both heroic and desperate. It’s a great twist and the artwork from Jorge Fornes is fantastic, showing us the isolation of the main characters with plenty of shadow and empty space in their new home.
“Fear 101” reads like Green Lanterns meets Event Horizon, but it’s not the action bits that make this story so strong. The focus on Jessica Cruz’s feelings of anxiety and depression are admirable, drawing interesting parallels between demons of both the literal sense and those that our mind can sometimes impose upon us.
Finally, we have “Hell is for Dreamers,” which feels like the closest thing to a classic Hellblazer story that we’ve gotten in a long time. John Constantine’s narration has a bitterness to it that is very reminiscent of his classic incarnation. The story itself is simple, but effective, providing a look at how often John just resigns himself to being caught in the middle of dark forces, but always finds a way to come out on top… and occasionally do the right thing.
For me, I’d say the highlights of the collection are “Hell is for Dreamers” and “The Footsteps of the Old Worm,” but overall, this is a fantastic anthology that will appeal to fans of the darker edge of the DC Universe. However, it’s able to accomplish this without once ever feeling like it’s trying too hard to be subversive. These are simply well-told horror stories, each well-suited to the character that stars in them.