ElviraEvery year, for the whole month of October, I read comics that have a “Halloween” flavor. This year it seems my stack was overflowing with material suitable just for this purpose. From brand new to forgotten, from ghost to goblin, these books cover a wide spectrum and offer plenty of chills and thrills for the Halloween season. Read on … if you dare.

The Witching Hour #1
DC/Vertigo, October 2013

For the last few years, DC/Vertigo has been resurrecting their “horror” line of books in the month of October. It’s like they knew exactly what I wanted from them. The Unexpected gave us nine tales in 2011 (and wickedly amazing cover illustration by Rafael Grampa), Ghosts did the same in 2012 and now The Witching Hour delivers the tricks and treats for 2013. But unlike the previous two, The Witching Hour felt a little flat. Again, there are nine tales that feature witches, haunting and murder. The standout for me was “Mars to Stay” by Brett Lewis and Cliff Chiang, a story about the colonization of Mars. The frustrating thing is the Dead Boy Detectives. It’s not that it’s a terrible story, it’s just that The Dead Boys is part three of an ongoing tale. The first two parts were published in the 2011 and 2012 anthologies, which makes this piece inaccessible. Unless you owned those books or picked up the recent The Unexpected trade paperback (which collects the earlier anthologies), this will not make much sense. But damn, the Jenny Frison cover is a delight.

Monster Massacre
Atomeka/Titan Comics, September 2013

Zombies! Babes! Vampires! Dinosaurs! Cthulu! Anthologies don’t get much better than this oversized beauty of a book. From front to back this book delivers. Featuring amazing industry talent from famous to unknown, all filling the book with thirteen tales and two art galleries. I don’t think there was a single offering I didn’t like, including the kooky Simon and Kirby “Angel of Death” strip from 1952. It was a nice nod to the early horror comics that paved the way for such as those that appear here. Standouts include Andy Kuhn’s “Monster Puncher”, “Pair of Rogues” by Ron Marz and Tom Raney, and the two offerings by Mark A. Nelson. The artwork is gorgeous, from penciled work to oils to digital paints — it’s vibrant and varied. After each creator’s story is a single page devoted to their industry work history as well as links to the creator’s social media, websites and online galleries. I could easily spend the rest of this article gushing over the book. I hope it becomes a regular offering.

The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects
Dark Horse Comics, August 2010

If you were fortunate enough to get a hold of the 2002 Amazing Screw-On Head one-shot, then you’ve already read this Eisner Award winning story drawn and written by Mike Mignola. Maybe you’ve also read “The Snake and the Magician” (also an Eisner winning story) written by Mike’s daughter Katie and “Abu Gung and the Beanstalk,” both of which are reprinted in this collection. But it’s the new material that really puts a flame to this jack-o-lantern. Mignola completely redraws Abu Gung and gives us three brand new stories on top of chapter break artwork and sketchbook section. But it’s the story “The Prisoner of Mars” that is totally worth admission. Elements from the other tales make appearances in the story and were a fun little touch. The lead panel for the story reads “How Doctor Snap Murdered Professor Cyclops and What Came of it.” It’s funny, nightmarish and pure Mignola. If you can, seek out the animated version that was made of Screw-On Head. It’s not quite the same story, but still a hoot.

Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai
Dark Horse Comics, November 2009

I read, own and keep current, a full run of Dark Horse’s epic Usagi Yojimbo. The samurai rabbit created by Stan Sakai may have become well known more for his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles appearances than for his long running series, which is a shame. It’s easy to overlook the rabbit ronin because he’s just that – a cartoony anthropomorphic character in a world populated by cartoony anthropomorphic characters. But Sakai’s stories are so much more than that, and this book is no different. The one thing I dig the most is when Usagi encounters creatures from Japanese folklore. It breaks up all the samurai stuff with welcomed supernatural. Yokai are monsters, demons and spirits from Japanese folklore. Usagi faces all kinds, alongside Sasuke the Demon Queller as they fight to rescue a poor woman’s daughter and stop a demon invasion. This book, unlike the regular series, is in full color and spotlights Sakai’s mastery of the paintbrush. The story ends with a fun little reveal that makes it very satisfying. There is also an interview with Sakai in the back and step-by-step examples of how he water-colored the book. This slightly smaller hardcover was created to celebrate Usagi’s 25th anniversary, and it’s a beautiful way to mark the achievement.

In mid-October I spent a few hours going through some forgotten long boxes I’ve squirreled away. In search of who-knows-what, I stumbled across three comics that felt fated to be rediscovered. Like some slime-filled meteor that fell out of the sky, crashed into my backyard and split open — changing the course of everything.

Elvira’s House of Mystery #2
DC Comics, 1985

Elvira is well loved in my house; the wife simply adores her. So it was with great joy that I found this book. It’s got the campy jokes you’ve come to expect from the Mistress of the Dark, and the series placed Elvira as hostess to various suspense and horror tales. Elvira’s story, of her as caretaker of the House of Mystery, frames two tales in this issue. Each focuses on a samurai blade and the doom of those who wielded it. There is a separate artist for each tale, and Elvira’s pages are marvelously drawn by Bob Oskner. In the first offering, the death of a maid drives one samurai to near madness. Haunted, the samurai vows to slay evil wherever it may be, which gives life to his blade — life that outlasts all the swords’ masters. In the second tale, a Samurai flees the battlefield when he sees Death moving amongst the warring clans. Foolish samurai! You cannot outrun Death. After reading this issue it seems like Elvira’s House of Mystery was probably a fun and interesting short-lived series. I might have to keep my eye out for more.

The Thing #19
Marvel Comics, January 1985

Yeah, I know, you’re saying “The Thing?” Yup. I received this comic from a secret Advent Angel, back in Catholic grade school. I’ll never forget this book. Ever. Titled “Monster Mash,” it had the Thing, now calling himself Rocky Grimm Space Ranger, wandering the remains of Beyonder’s World. Yes, that Beyonder. At the end of Secret Wars, Thing stays behind while the remaining heroes return to Earth. Reed had a theory that Ben Grimm’s psyche might be in control of the world around him, shaping the world to do whatever he told it. So when Ben wanders into an area that reminds him of a haunted forest, all the monsters he saw at the movies mysteriously come into being. What begins with a skeletal driver whose carriage is lead by hellish stallions, leads to Count Dracula, the Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster. All of them face the stony fists of the Thing. Written by John Byrne this book is classic ’80s comics – with a horror movie twist!

Tomb of Dracula #55
Marvel Comics, 1977

Requiem for a Vampire! Holy bats that’s a great title! On the cover, ol’ Drac is spouting “Gaze into the eyes of Dracula, human fool — and see your DEATH!” He’s wearing bat-shaped cufflinks. Bat-shaped cuff links! This shit is serious! I never quite understood how Dracula could have his own series. He’s a bad guy, right? Did other villains have their own series in the ’70s? Series where the main character is worshipped by a cult who believes he is Satan? This must have been when the comics code decided to ease up a bit. Anyway, this book is bat-shit crazy. Drac has fallen in love and has successfully made a baby with a mortal woman. The baby is orange with red eyes, which concerns Drac. He’s a caring father. I’m more concerned that vampires can breed. The leader of the cult wants to shift power away from Drac, and a group of vampire hunters sneaks around talking about how they had all these chances to kill Drac but failed every time. Who is in league with whom? What’s Drac to do? I’m still confounded by this series even being a thing.

There you have it – spooktacluar reading for the season of Halloween. Time to start planning for next year. Speaking of that, do you have any reading you feel is perfect for the season? It would be great to hear about them over at our forums and have a chance to make the stack even bigger for next year. GIVE ME THE TREATS!

Wooly Toots is just a man. A man like any other. Although there is not a corner of geekdom that has escaped his eye, he doesn’t always like what he sees. He is uncomfortable with the term “love slave.”