Part of the charm of any horror anthology is having no idea whether or not the next short story will be a dud or a winner. From classics like Creepshow (both the movie and comic) to DC’s own yearly horror anthologies, there’s always fun to be had in not knowing what could happen next in these stories as they are free from continuity and long-term consequence. Thankfully, Secrets of Sinister House #1 is a very consistent anthology featuring effective art and a variety of tones ranging from outright Lovecraftian terror to more sentimental, yet goofy frights. There are more hits than misses here, making Secrets of Sinister House a worthy read for anyone who seeks some Halloween spirit in their DC characters.
Red Rain Batman in “Nightmare Mist”
The book opens with “Nightmare Mist” written by Rafael Albuquerque and Rafael Scavone with art also by Albuquerque. It makes sense to open the anthology with this story as it features vampire Batman from the famous “Red Rain” story, but unfortunately this is one of the weaker stories in the collection. The art is gorgeous and the colors by Dave McCaig do a fantastic job of setting the mood for both the story and anthology as a whole with subdued reddish shades dominating the story. Unfortunately, Albuquerque and Scavone have two different characters narrate, with Gordon seemingly the focal point before Batman takes over the narration and story. There’s a lack of focus in who the story is trying to empathize the most with and the story ultimately feels empty. Nothing much happens besides Batman trying to save Gordon’s daughter from being kidnapped by a Talon. However, the usage of the Talons waging war against the vampire uprising in Gotham is a clever way to bring the Talons into this alternate universe. What we have here is a nicely rendered story with a simplistic message that danger can infiltrate the safety of your home without you ever knowing. It’s not all that scary or thrilling, but perfectly adequate as a mood setter. 6/10
The Atom in “The Footsteps of Old Worm”
The next story written by Dan Watters with art by Sumit Kumar ramps up the terror . Most short horror stories that set up a lot of backstory usually falter in making all that work worth the journey. However, Watters crams a lot of plot into these pages and creates an incredibly creepy, Lovecraftian journey for our lead Ryan Choi – The Atom. It’s not all doom and gloom as Watters and Kumar’s art still carries a sense of levity in the early goings. This is most apparent when Choi describes himself as a “perfectly good Atom” with a small, assuring smile. Choi has been called to a house where several members of its demolition crew have committed suicide. The place is cursed, but not in the usual ghosts and ghouls way, which Choi finds out when he shrinks down and finds a hidden tomb underneath the house. The pencils and inks are a little too slight to fully capture the grit and grim of what Choi finds underground, but the exceptional narration keeps the terror coming. The razor sharp focus on Choi and his deteriorating mental state is the highlight of the book. The lettering by Troy Peteri crosses out several lines of narration to display Choi’s inability to think which is a cool effect. With a genuinely creepy finale and ominous final page, “The Footsteps of Old Worm” effectively captures the Lovecraftian sense of cosmic horror which argues that there are some mysteries that will never be solved. 9/10
Harley Quinn and Zatanna in “Calling Dr. Bonkers!”
Writer Paul Dini and artist Cian Tormey’s are up next with “Calling Dr. Bonkers”. This one is a much appreciated reprieve from the heavy horror vibe of the first two stories. Here, Harley Quinn and Zatanna find themselves stuck in an isolated motel that has a deep connection to a television clown named Dr. Bonkers. Those with a fear of clowns should find plenty to squirm at here. Tormey’s art is much more cartoony than the previous stories but perfectly fits the more spooky than scary vibe that Dini is going for. There’s great paneling and facial acting throughout the story and the colors by Romulo Fajardo Jr. manage to keep things lighthearted without sacrificing atmosphere. It’s one of the stories that has an optimistic outlook and posits that perhaps empathy can win out over the dangers hidden in the night. 7.5/10
Martian Manhunter in “Out of My Skin”
Next is a Martian Manhunter tale with him on the hunt for a murderous alien. Phil Hester’s pencils maintain their usual cartoony vibe, but the heavy inks by Ande Parks and nicely contrasting colors by Jeromy Cox imbue Hester’s work with a horror flair. This story is violent, featuring several skinned bodies as dress setting and a terrifying shapeshifting alien as the story’s main villain. The parallels to Martian Manhunter are well established as he sees much of himself in this mysterious, yet violent alien that has fallen to earth. The fight between Martian Manhunter and the strange alien takes on a few different beats, first in the form of traditional fisticuffs, then within the alien’s mind, which keeps things exciting and unpredictable. It’s another winner of a story as things wrap up on more of a meditative note than the usual shock horror ending. 8/10
Justice League Dark in “Dreamweaver”
“Dreamweaver” written by Robbie Thompson with art by Tom Raney is much less successful than any of the previous stories. Raney’s pencils are a little rough at times and some of his facial work is wonky, but the colors by Hi-Fi also don’t do a great job of changing style along with the story’s several twists and changes of setting. The structure of the story never really establishes itself as it first starts off with Detective Chimp searching for his missing Justice League Dark Members and encountering two of them in distress. From there, the story changes its stakes far too often to really grasp onto the story. Ultimately, the story is neither scary or endearing in any profound way. It feels out of place and the type of narrative that would fit into an annual but not a short horror anthology. 5/10
“House of the Dead”
Thankfully, “House of the Dead” written by John Layman with art by Jorge Fornés picks up the quality immediately after. This story feels most like the type that would fit in with the original run of Sinister House as a family moves into a creepy old house with a dark past. Fornés’ art is always a highlight of any book he works on and Jordie Bellaire’s colors perfectly fit his throwback aesthetic and perfectly captures the retro feel of the narrative. Saying which DC character appears in this story would be a spoiler, but most of the story is made up of the family’s young daughter being influenced by the dark spirits in the house. The narration throughout the story also adds to the lingering dread as it talks about the nature of trauma and how it can stain a home. It’s a slower burn than most of the stories, but the building dread captures the reader’s attention immediately and holds it to the final page. 9/10
Green Lanterns in “Fear 101”
Next up is a serviceable Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz Green Lantern story where they investigate an abandoned space ship. It’s one of the weaker stories, not because of any flaws in the storytelling mechanics, but because it doesn’t really have a unique angle or twist to its narrative. Similar to “Dreamweaver” with the Justice League Dark, this story feels like it could actually fit as a Green Lantern annual instead of feeling like a unique horror one-shot. Jessica’s characterization is strong and using her anxiety problems to heighten her fear is clever, but the tension is never turned up enough to make a lasting impact. Mendonca’s art gets the job done, but besides one great shot of a terrified Jessica holding her ring up in a dark corridor, the potential terror of an abandoned space ship is never realized. We have a nice ending here, but it’s too redundant of a multitude of other Green Lantern stories about willpower conquering fear. 6/10
Constantine in “Hell is for Dreamers”
Our last story has Constantine in Los Angeles trying to give the spirit of a murdered aspiring actress the peace she deserves. Alessandro Vitti’s art is appropriately gritty to match the somber theme of those hopeful souls who find themselves swallowed whole by Los Angeles, both literally and figuratively. The narrative features a few good twists as we quickly discover that her murderer is already dead, which makes getting revenge all the more complicated. Bryan Hill’s plotting and pacing is perfect, but I don’t think he quite has Constantine’s voice down, though in Hill’s defense I’ve never seen an American nail Constantine’s dialect. As the story continues it takes on a more satirical edge and sometimes feels more interested in critiquing Los Angeles rather than kicking up the tension. However, the climax has one of the most horrific panels of the entire anthology. A solid story, though a strange one to end the anthology on as its themes were a little more specific than the others. 7/10
- You want a horror fix in your DC books.
- A few duds stories don’t turn you away.
- Optimism in your horror stories is something you want more of.
Secrets of Sinister House #1 is one of the better horror anthologies DC has put out. Many of the stories feature more optimistic endings than the norm, but there are enough outright terrifying pages to satisfy those looking for some frights. There’s only one outright dud in the anthology so when it comes to value, it’s hard to beat what you get here. If anything else, almost every story features great art making this a feast for the eyes at the bare minimum.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.