Overview: An 80-page giant featuring ten spooky stories set in the DC Universe.
Editor’s Note: Due to the anthology nature of this collection, we will feature a synopsis and analysis for each short story, rather than breaking up the synopsis and analysis. Spoilers are sure to be revealed.
Story #1: Swamp Thing in “The Spread” by writer Tim Seeley and artist Kyle Hotz
Synopsis: A woman named Erin Wagner wakes up in a forest. She is greeted by a plant-like monster that has taken the form of her dog Venus moments after she was reminded of her old pet. Erin is surrounded by vines that start to wrap around her limbs and throat. It is then revealed that Erin is actually unconscious in a lab next to a green gas coming from a broken vial while a colleague tries to revive her. Swamp Thing appears and extends his hand into Erin’s eyes and mouth, entering her mind and saves her from the monstrous plants that are attacking her. It turns out that Erin inadvertently entered into the Green, and as she starts to thank him, Swamp Thing converts the natural flora in her body to various types of grass to combat a mutant virus that would have killed all plant life on earth. Swamp Thing burns Wagner’s lab and tells her colleague that when she wakes up, to tell her that he was saving the plant world from her.
Analysis: It’s pretty clear that Seeley is channeling Alan Moore in this story, and while I understand the impulse, it comes across as a bad cover band version of a classic song. I like the idea of bringing Swamp Thing into a collection of stories like this, but I think that there were better uses for the character than this. This story was too convoluted for a short story and I would have preferred a simpler story that played up the horror elements of the character. Holtz’ art does a decent job of picking up some of the slack and makes the story feel more unsettling than it actually is.
Story #2: Batman in “The Gorehound” by writer Gary Dauberman and artist Ricardo Federici
Synopsis: The story opens at the Gotham Woods Campsite with a bunch of figures surrounding a campfire, with one figure appearing to roast what looks like a marshmallow from the distance. As the next panels close in on the campfire, it turns out that all campers have been impaled or disemboweled except for the one hooded figure that is roasting a human ear on the fire. The next page shows the inside of a log cabin where a large man with a rag on his face and a bloody meat cleaver stands over a woman on the floor. As the man chases the woman out of the cabin into the woods, Batman arrives and narrates how a villain named Gorehound has been staging murder sprees to resemble slasher films. Batman discovers that the masked man had a knife taped to his hand and that the scene was staged to look like he was responsible for the murders. Batman tracks down the fleeing woman, the real Gorehound, and takes her to her new home, Arkham Asylum.
Analysis: Writer Gary Dauberman, whose screenwriting credits include “It”, “Anabelle” and the upcoming Swamp Thing series tells an efficient and effectively unsettling story that does a good job of pulling you in with an unsettling image and then telling a tight story that wrapped up neatly in eight pages. Gorehound is a fun villain for a book like this, and I like the choice to pit Batman up against more of a serial killer than having him fight something more supernatural. Ricardo Federici’s art is cinematic. There’s a Dave Taylor quality to his work in this story that I appreciated and I enjoyed the detailed and polished yet slightly sketched quality to his art. I hope we see more from him.
Story #3: Wonder Woman in “Siren Song” by writer Vita Ayala and artist Victor Ibanez
Synopsis: The story opens in Greece where mysterious singing is causing men to disappear into the sea, leading to the townspeople to call on Wonder Woman to get to the bottom of this mystery. Wonder Woman follows the singing into a cave and finds a beautiful woman in the water, who starts singing to Wonder Woman to stay with her forever causing Wonder Woman to fall under her power as the woman’s skin becomes scaly and teeth become jagged as her eyes glow. The mermaid wraps her tail around Wonder Woman and drags her down into the water. Wonder Woman manages to defeat the mermaid by using a knife from the belt of a floating corpse and manages to defeat the monster and rescue one of the townspeople. As Wonder Woman returns the survivor home, the story ends with a man in Norway coming across a crying woman on the shore, who is revealed to be the mermaid alive and well.
Analysis: There is a Hellboy quality to this story that I can’t help but appreciate with this story: The hero goes up against a supernatural folk legend and beats the crap out it. It’s an excellent choice for a short story like this as well as a fitting story for a character like Wonder Woman who has always had one foot in mythology. I enjoyed the choice by writer Vita Ayala to tell the legend of this monster over the narration of Wonder Woman fighting the mermaid, which I thought was an efficient way to explain what this monster is in the short amount of time she had to tell this story. Victor Ibanez’ art fits this story well and I thought his depiction of the mermaid was simple but effective in highlighting her unsettling transformation.
Story #4: Guy Gardner in “Life Sentence” by writer Kenny Porter and artist Riley Rossmo
Synopsis: On the Planet Laycorx in Space Sector 3579 where Green Lantern Guy Gardner is summoned to a situation in the planet’s exosphere. Gardner finds a space cruiser, a sort of prison ship, drifting above the planet with dead bodies floating around the ship in space. Gardner enters the ship to prevent it from crashing to the planet only to find… space zombies. Gardner fights through the hoard of monsters, only to find in the engine room a zombie-fied former Green Lantern Corps member that had been killed during a riot at this prison. Gardner reminds this Zombie-Lantern of his oath as a Green Lantern, who then has a change of heart and destroys the ship, leaving Gardner floating in a green bubble in space as the Zombie-Lantern’s ring flies off to find a new owner.
Analysis: This is a fun adventure and I enjoyed this take on Guy Gardner. I think that Gardner is often written as a big dumb jerk and I think that this flies in the face of the fact that he was found to be worthy to be a Green Lantern in the first place. I like this version of Gardner as more of a “Hey, isn’t this cool?” take on the character, like someone who grew up watching Star Wars who got the chance to be Han Solo in real life. It’s a fun idea to pit him against a ship full of zombies, and while a enjoyed the set up, I don’t really like how it was resolved by talking the big baddie to death as it feels a little like the creators ran out of pages and couldn’t think of the better way to wrap the story up. I’ve always liked Riley Rossmo’s art but I’m surprised that his style pairs so well with a space adventure and I’d like to see more of his work with characters like Green Lantern.
Story #5: Etrigan, the Demon in “Yellow Jack” By writers Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko and art by Gabriel Hardman
Synopsis: 1853 New Orleans; a sickness that was dubbed “Yellow Jack” brought the city to a standstill along with a series of grisly murders, a housemaid, Siobhan, is finishing for the night when she finds her husband Aiden, who had been missing for three days, returned with a fever, and then changes into Etrigan the Demon before crashing through their window into the night. Siobhan finds Jason Blood in a tavern and asks for his help which Jason refuses. Siobhan is attacked by Etrigan outside, only to have Jason appear and neutralize Etrigan by returning him to Aiden’s form. It turns out that Jason Blood had tried to escape his curse by bonding the demon to the corpse of the dead master of the household that Siobhan served, who had been dabbling in the occult, only to have Etrigan accidentally bond with her husband and both be driven mad by the Yellow Jack, leading to the murder spree terrorizing the city. Etrigan is bonded once again to Jason Blood, who then kills the recovered Aiden, who had been beating his wife.
Analysis: Much like the Swamp Thing story, there’s a little too much story for the short time that the creators have to tell this tale, and a result, it doesn’t work as well as it should. There’s no real explanation, for instance, as to why Siobhan goes to Jason Blood except that she has to for the sake of the story and I think that this story would have been better served to wait for a format that supported it. That being said, I like the 19th Century New Orleans setting. Part of the fun of a character like Etrigan is that you can set the story pretty much whenever you want and there is something inherently supernatural about New Orleans which makes it work as the setting for this story. Gabriel Harman’s art is well suited for this story and does a great job of capturing the period setting of the story.
Story #6: Superman in “Strange Visitor” by writer Mags Visaggio and artist Minkyu Jung
Synopsis: The story begins with Clark Kent and Lois Lane in bed while Clark has nightmares of the various threats he faces as Superman. A dark figure appears over Clark as he tosses an turns. In the morning Clark talks to Lois about waking up to an evil presence but being unable to move, with Lois trying to reassure him that it was “Sleep Paralysis”, where the mind wakes up while the body sleeps which can lead to hallucinations. That night the dark figure materializes again, and as it reaches out for Lois, Clark fires off his heat vision at the creature which disappears. Lois tries to reassure Clark again that issue is all in his head. The next night the figure appears again, and when it tries to touch Lois, she turns out to be a holographic decoy. The figure turns out to be Xa-Du, the first prisoner of the Phantom Zone, who found a way to jump between the Phantom Zone and Earth. Xa-Du is returned to the Phantom Zone, and the story ends on an uneasy note, with Superman still unsure of how Xa-Du found weak spots in the Phantom Zone.
Analysis: This seems like an odd choice for a short story in a collection like this, in that it seems like the first part of a larger story that I’m not sure is going to be paid off any time soon. And that is a shame because it’s an interesting idea for a story and one that I think is worthy of a larger story arch then an eight-page story. I do take issue with Lois and Clark, who have been to alien worlds and met gods and monsters would shrug off the mysterious phantom that visited Clark at night as only in his head. Wouldn’t they immediately suspect that something was going on? Minkyu Jung’s art is well suited to Superman and I’d like to see more of him with this character.
Story #7: Green Arrow in “The Monster in Me” by writer Michael Moreci and artist Felipe Watanabe
Synopsis: In the middle of both a heat and crime wave in Seattle, Green Arrow chases a robbery suspect only to turn a corner and be confronted by a monstrous version of Green Arrow who tells him its good to see him again. The fleeing criminal is taken down by Black Canary who finds Green Arrow unsettled and speaking about a monster. Oliver explains that the monster tormented him on the island but in the end, it helped to save him. Green Arrow then suddenly collapses. Oliver awakes in a bath-tub full of ice water and is then confronted again by the monster, who tells him that he is still the weak spoiled boy he was on the island. Oliver fights the monster, vowing to never stop fighting, and wakes up on the street again with Dinah standing over him, telling him to not be so hard on himself.
Analysis: I’m all for a character grappling with inner demons in a story, but in a story meant for a Halloween themed issue, it seems like an odd choice for this story. There’s the vaguest of implications that this demon may not be just in Oliver’s head, but it still feels out of place here. As for the “conflict” itself… there really isn’t one. Oliver isn’t experiencing any kind of real doubt in this story for the monster to prey on and he doesn’t really have to do anything to overcome it, so this story just seems kind of pointless. Watanabe’s art is the highlight of this story, especially in the flashback scenes.
Story #8: Black Lightning and Katana in “Mercy Killing” by writer Bryan Hill and artist Dexter Soy
Synopsis: In a snowy home in Japan, Black Lightning and Katana are watching over a young girl who is being preyed upon by the “Demon Mother”. Katana goes to check the perimeter as a doubtful Black Lightning stands watch, only to have the Demon Mother appear. Black Lightning and Katana fight off the Demon, who is vanquished by Black Lightening’s powers and Katana’s Soultaker Sword, and the two heroes take a quiet moment afterward where Black Lightning tells Katana he will always be there to help.
Analysis: This is a quick and fun story by the future Batman and the Outsiders team. I like it’s inclusion here as a nice precursor to the new ongoing series. Hill seems to have a good feel for Black Lightning as the heart and soul of the Outsiders team and I like seeing him interact with Katana and I like that Hill has persevered a sense of history between the two characters. Its also nice to see Katana out from under the dark cloud of Suicide Squad, a title that I don’t feel the character ever really fit. Dexter Soy is an artist that gets better the more that I see of his work and I continue to enjoy the Capcom-esque style that he brings to his art.
Story #9: Robin and Solomon Grundy in “The Devil You Know” by writer Dave Wielgosz and artist Christian Duce
Synopsis: The story opens with Robin fighting Solomon Grundy through the streets of Gotham City as Grundy calls for “Kim, Laura, Joan”. Grundy tells Robin that he doesn’t want to hurt anyone and that he is looking for his family and that he needs some help. It turns out that Professor Pyg has kidnapped Kim, Laura, and Joan and means to turn them into his Dollotrons. Robin and Grundy find Pyg at a cosmetic factory and Robin is captured trying to rescue Grundy’s friends by himself. Grundy crashes through the window and Pyg is taken down and the story ends with Robin thanking Grundy for helping him.
Analysis: This was a very predictable and formulaic story. There’s nothing really wrong with it, but it has been done a million times before, and once again… not terribly “Halloweeny”. I pick up an issue like this to read ghost stories featuring DC Characters, not get a lesson in the meaning of friendship. I did enjoy this story for the appearance of Professor Pyg. He’s a character I think is delightfully weird and creepy and I think it funny that in a story were one of the characters is a reanimated corpse that the dude in the pig mask is the most Halloween we see in this story. Christian Duce’s art is dynamic and fun to look at. I think he handles young characters like Robin well and I especially enjoyed the panels of Pyg from Grundy’s distorted perspective.
Story #10: Zatanna in “Halloween Hayride” by writer James Tynion IV and artist Mark Buckingham
Synopsis: A 19-year-old Zatanna finds herself at a haunted corn maze in Wisconsin. An hour earlier she was in her father Zatara’s dressing room after his show in Sheboygan with Zatanna complaining about spending Halloween in town. Zatara reminds Zatanna that Halloween is one of the few days that the general public embraces the supernatural and concepts like magic and urges Zatanna to take the time to appreciate it. Back at the corn maze, Zatanna befriends a young girl named Sammie whose older brother brought her to the maze to scare her. Zatanna enchants the fright masks that the boys brought with them, which come life and send them screaming. The story ends with Zatanna bringing the ghostly decorations to life to entertain Sammie as Zatara watches proudly from a crystal ball.
Analysis: I really liked this story. It is easy to forget that Halloween is essentially a children’s holiday and this story does a great job of distilling that down into a quick story. Zatanna is a good character to tell this story with, although I think that the story should have made it a little clearer at the outset that this is a story from the past and not the present day version of Zatanna. It was nice to see Mark Buckingham pop up in this story. I remember Buckingham from his time as the regular artist on Shadow of the Bat in the late 90s and it is nice to see him doing work for DC again, if only short story.
Final Thoughts: This book was a bit of a mixed bag. There are some stories such as the Batman, Wonder Woman, Black Lightning/Katana, and Zatanna which I thought were very strong, and others that seemed out of place or were just poorly executed. I like that DC puts out these holiday-themed offerings and there’s enough good in this book to recommend it.