House of Mystery vol. 3: The Space Between
I've been a fan of this series for a while, but I've never gotten around to reviewing it. However, I plan to fx that right now, with a review of the series' third volume, "The Space Between."
The main character of this Vertigo series (main story by Matthew Sturges and Bill Willingham, main story artwork by Luca Rossi) is Fig Keele, a young architect with a famous children's author father, who abandoned her when she was young. As the story opens, she is fleeing her burning house, while being pursued by a mysterious pair, one male and one female, who refer to themself as a "Pair of the Conception," who want her for an unknown reason. She suddenly discovers a house that looks exactly like one from her dreams, and runs in, only to discover that she cannot leave. The house is the House of Mystery, and it serves as a waypoint between multiple worlds, where most of the patrons stop on their way for a drink in exchange for stories told. That is, except for five people--bartender Harry, grumpy barmaid Cress, the aptly named Poet, pirate Anne, and now Fig herself. For whatever reason, these five cannot leave.
The main story deals with the five trying to figure out how to leave (it is possible to be let go, as happens to a woman named Rina at the beginning of the story, but no one knows how to make it happen), as well as a variety of mysteries which surround both Harry and Fig. Lurking behind it all are the mysterious Pair of the Conception, who want Fig for some unknown reason, as well as the equally mysterious masked figure, who wants to enter the House at all costs.
in addition to the main story, every time someone tells a tale to pay their tab we get to see it, illustrated by a true treasure trove of comic book artists and written by variety of authors. This is an interesting twist, particularly as since the characters come from such different worlds, their stories are similarly quite creative and interesting. In this volume, one issue (issue 13) is even made up entirely of three such stories (all to do with the number 13, appropriately enough),with no frame story at all.
For the past two volumes, the stories people tell have been my primary draw. The frame story is interesting enough, but I preferred these strange little efforts, with their wild shifts in tone going from one to the other, to the main story, which while not dull was just simply not as entertaining. But this changes in this volume, where the story really starts to take off. Rina, the woman who we had previously seen leaving the House of Mysteries, begins this volume having been recruited by an agent of the Conception to assist in guiding threatening forces to the House in exchange for changes to her home world. Fig's father has appeared, and while being somewhat of a smug ass about things, is starting to provide answers to what's the deal with the House, why it won't let our five main characters leave, and what its connection to Harry is. Things really seem to be happening, making "House of Mysteries" a real page turner.
Of course, the stories people tell are still very interesting. A new character, a woman named Genevieve Montaigne who can find anything on any world, tells a story that explains part of why Cress is so constantly angry (especially at the roguish Genevieve). Jordan, an NYU student from a world so infested with supernatural monsters that they're mostly considered to be pests, gives his idea for a movie which is as awesome as it is ridiculous. Rina explains her backstory, which is both heartbreakingly sad as well as revolving around a truly interesting twist on a common kind of monster. The first of the three 13 themed stories, finally, is an interesting and amusing little yarn of a world in which the Apocalypse comes every day and destroys the world before rewinding itself as if it never happened, and the one man who is destined to remember it every day. It is interesting and surprisingly witty, (a favorite touch of mine were the various text boxes swearing that this or that ridiculous rumor about the geography of San Francisco has nothing at all to do with the supernatural, honest we swear) and makes the whole volume worth picking up as soon as you can manage it.
All in all, this volume is where the series really took off for me. Before it was a good series which I enjoyed, but now I am truly excited to read the next volume. A great series that you should really check out if you love a whole variety of different stories.