Gene Simmons House of Horrors (Simmons Comics Group/IDW Publishing)

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hoh-poster.jpgTales of the macabre, presented by the legendary KISS bassist.

 

 

192 pages, color, $27.99 trade paperback

(W & A: Various)

 

Horror anthologies always seem to be the great anomaly of the comic book industry. They're attractive to fans of horror and fans of comic books, but rarely seem capable of successfully pleasing both audiences. The most famous entry in the field is, of course, the great EC Comics from the 1950's. With titles like Vault of Horror and Tales From the Crypt, William Gaines' lone-wolf line of scare books entertained thrill-seeking kids and properly horrified their outraged parents.

Where horror anthologies seem to lose their way on the dark and winding road to the inevitable shock ending are the stories themselves. By design, the short story and morality tale format of the genre don't exactly make it easy for the artists and writers to do anything fresh and inventive. The good news for spook fans is that Gene Simmons House of Horrors manages to deliver creepy cool stories with thoughtful writing and some splendidly dark and diverse art.

Being an anthology, this compilation of the three-issue miniseries contains both hits and misses, but quite a few stories tip in favor of the former. "Circle Seven" concerns a man who takes a job exploring a portal to hell, against the wishes of his wife. His slow descent into isolation and madness as he observes hell and all of its unfortunate occupants is goose bump-inducing. The truth he finds once he reaches his ultimate destination is a nice tip of the hat to conspiracy paranoia and is the stuff of theological nightmares. The grainy, photo-realist artwork perfectly portrays the shadowy turmoil of a man being slowly consumed by darkness.  Other highlights include the Desert Storm parable "Crude", the unexpected slasher role-reversal of "The Blacktop Killer", and the bloody eco-thriller "Nymph".

The rest of the pieces, while not quite reaching the quality of the aforementioned titles, still contain concepts and conceits that are more than worth the time spent checking them out. Of particular note are the otherworldly flying beasts of "Wings of the Deep" and back-alley fighters of "Chicken Warrior". The great fun of compilations like this is the experience of enjoying so many artists in quick bursts of energy and color, and the book does not disappoint here.

Each of the three issues are introduced by our favorite neighborhood God of Thunder, scrubbed clean of his demon makeup, who casts himself as a sort of macabre master of ceremonies. Proving that nepotism isn't always necessarily a bad thing, Gene's son Nick Simmons offers up some appropriately sinister prose throughout the book.

A quick glance at the Simmons Comics Group and IDW Publishing sites tells us that future Gene Simmons House of Horror volumes are not in the cards. It's too bad, because the first three issues showed enough promise and forward momentum to turn out increasingly good, quality stories. If you're a fan of horror comics, you won't be disappointed dropping some dough to pick up this collection. | Jim Ousley

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