Of course, a week and a half before Hallowe’en is the perfect time to put out a Hallowe’en special, isn’t it? It’s not like there’s a comics shipping day on the 28th October, or anything! Anyway, this is the latest in what now appears to be a twice-yearly tradition (the other occasion being Christmas) of DC putting out a “holiday”-themed anthology book, with a couple of big names involved (usually on the art front) to attract a bit of interest, but largely relying on less-known or untested names to bash out stories from between one and six pages.
It’s a hefty package, cramming thirteen stories into sixty-odd pages – but as with so many comics nowadays, it still manages to avoid feeling like great value, as at six dollars it’s the absolute top end of what you’d pay for a non-trade. And sadly, being by its very nature variant in quality, the overall experience simply isn’t worth that. Some of the stories are downright dull – particularly the opening, overlong Green Lantern tale, which draws from an outdated characterisation of Guy Gardner and seems to have little point other than getting Mark Bagley to draw a full-page cheescake shot of Ice painted blue and dressed as a “sexy Guardian” (no, seriously) at the end. A similar T&A affliction blights Mandy McMurray and Scott Clark’s Wonder Woman/Wonder Girl/Miss Marvel/Aquagirl story, which not only works in a gratutious “three teenage heroes in swimwear frolicking in a lagoon” shot, but also actually features Wonder Woman delivering the line “This reality TV is a strange American ritual”.
Other stories just verge on incomprehensible – either deliberately, in the case of the bookending Bizarro tale, or simply through bad visual storytelling, in the case of a Batman tale that seems to be trying to evoke Azzarello and Risso, but which suffers from clunky action moments that simply don’t flow or properly convey what’s happening. The two solo Robin stories (one about Damian, one about Tim), meanwhile, rely far too heavily on reams of tedious internal monologue that completely dominate for multiple panels.
There are good points, though, with a fairly decent idea underpinning a Mirror Master story (though it’s billed as Kid Flash), and neat one-page gag strips about Beast Boy and Ravager. Only one story actually jumps out as an entire package, though, and that’s Billy Tucci’s “To The Finish Line!”. Lovely, retro artwork drives it, and while some of its content is initially a little disconcerting – overwrought monologue, the bizarre gathering of villains spectating – everything is explained by a lovely final page twist that also explains why it’s meant to be relevant to Hallowe’en in the first place.
In the end, though, while it’s nice that DC have got a place for idiosyncratic short stories like the above, it’s hard to see what the point of only doing them in an expensive, festival-themed anthology is – I don’t know why Hallowe’en needs to be used as an excuse to give some of these creators and stories their shot at the limelight. Perhaps it’s something to do with the festival not being as big a deal over here as it is in America (we don’t even refer to it as a “holiday”, really), but the very concept just seems a little pointless.