A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to hear from China Mieville, the award-winning fantastical fiction author who currently writes an offbeat series for DC Comics, Dial H. Mr. Mieville's writing can be difficult to pin down, but he is often classified under the genre of "New Weird," and Dial H fits neatly into that realm. But DC isn't only looking forward, as two recently published, significantly sized collections prove. These two works highlight the dark, charmingly awkward, and literary publishing that DC and its Vertigo imprint allowed to flourish in the 1990s. Like Mr. Mieville's oeuvre, they defy easy categorization, so we'll call them "Old Weird" for now.
Writer Pat Mills and illustrator Kevin O'Neill chose to follow the Watchmen/Dark Knight heyday with a bizarre, outright shocking superhero-hunting-superheroes story, entitled Marshal Law. As The Comics Journal recently noted, the whole thing eventually devolves into a Judge Dredd-esque tale of "Who polices the superhero police?" but for much of the new Marshal Law: The Deluxe Edition's 480 pages, it's a fascinating snapshot of where comics were after a sea change in the 1980s. O'Neill's sharp-edged designs are housed in panels that feel more like frames to accentuate Mills' wry, anti-superhero sentiments, but they cannot shake the "across the pond" nature of it storytellers. Unlike American comics, a significant amount of action takes place between the panels, leaving the reader to piece together the transitions. It makes for a read punctuated by staccato jumps, and O'Neill populates the pages with jokes, puns, and mildly offensive winks to anchor readers to the page. This is not a breezy read, but it's a historically unsung one, especially for fans of O'Neill's later collaboration with Alan Moore, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Then there's the House of Secrets Omnibus by Steven T. Seagle and artist Teddy Kristiansen (among others, including Guy Davis, Duncan Fedrego, Dean Ormston, and more), a 750+ page dollhouse-sized tome. Is it horror, thriller, dark fantasy? At about halfway through, even I'm unsure. Protagonist Rain Harper serves as witness and attempted savior for the souls who are called to the house in which she and a jury comprised of ghosts reside. The page layouts are untraditional, often jagged at the corners and imprecise. Kristiansen conveys haunted households and expressions with a graveyard ease"”the supernatural is present from the get-go, with sunken, hollow eyes and writhing bodies against flames. The collection doesn't begin with a hook but rather a slow burn, lengthy prose passages stack atop wide-angle panels. Eventually, the book settles into dialogue balloons and narrative boxes, and the story patiently creeps. Fans of Alan Moore's brand of horror and Matthew Sturges' House of Mystery series will appreciate the maddening twists.
In a publishing world where exhaustive collections are the norm, there still exists a rich undergrowth of cultish stories that deserve greater readership. DC dug deeply with these two hardcovers, unearthing dark soil from which new weird may grow.