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A History of the

House of Mystery


Okay, the short story is this: The House of Mystery lies across a cemetery from the House of Secrets in the Kentucky Hills, and in the Dreaming at the same time. The house itself is alive and thinks for itself. It contains many, many mysteries, perhaps an infinite amount. Rooms come and go, and it changes in appearance constantly. Its caretaker, Cain, looks after the mysteries and tells their stories to dreamers and the like. It's only ever really had one other host; for a short period of time, Elvira. Thankfully though, that was short lived. It's been burned down, rebuilt, has possessed someone before, and once merged with the House of Secrets. But that's only the short of it. As a title, it has been around for 30 years, so it DOES have quite a history. Everything on this page is true to the best of my knowledge. My info sources are listed at the bottom. - Nurse Melody


In the early 1950's, the comic book industry was relatively new. It was an experimental time, when many different genres were being explored. Romance, war, westerns, sci-fi and horror books were all being put out by various companies. At the time DC was searching for new directions, so they decided to try their hand at the horror genre. It was doing very successful at EC comics, and several other companies had horror titles out at the time as well.

So it was that the first issue of House of Mystery came out, December 1951/January 1952. It had no host, and would feature several short, spooky stories that usually ended with a logical explanation for the supernatural. The title did relatively well, and ran with this formula until the late 1950's. Somewhere, a little bit before its hundredth issue, it went sci-fi. This is around the same time everyone's favorite doctor, Fredric Wertham, caused an uproar with his infamous book, Seduction of the Innocent. Soon after its release, the Catholic Comics Code appeared, causing hassles for the entire comics industry, and pretty much putting EC comics out of business. This isn't fact, but my opinion, that rather than deal with the negative publicity of a horror title, DC decided it would simply be easier to make the switch to sci-fi.

Due to the success Marvel comics was having at the time with Spiderman and other titles, superheroes were soon integrated into the book, although it kept its sci-fi base. Martian Manhunter and Dial 'H' For Hero became regular features and began to dominate the title. Slowly but surely the heading for 'House of Mystery began to shrink in size. In my opinion, this was rather a stale period for HOM.

It wasn't until the late sixties when DC picked up Joe Orlando, who soon became an editor, that the House of Mystery was returned to its former glory, and beyond. First he gave it back its heading space, and dropped the sci-fi/superhero features. Having formerly worked for the now defunked EC comics, whose weight was almost entirely carried by their horror titles, he decided to bring HOM back to its roots. He started reprinting tame DC monster stories from the 1950s, and THEN, he decided to have a host to tie them all together. That is when Cain, the Caretaker stepped into the house in HOM #175, and started it all. With the team of artists and writers (Wrightson, Wolfman, Wood, Cardy, Aragones, Kane, Kanigher, Wein, Oleck, Kaluta, etc.) Cain had chained in the basement, HOM became a big seller. Its success made room for other "mystery" titles, and hosts. DC advertised them as such, to avoid the bad connotations, almost stigma attached to the "horror" comics of the past. However, they seemed to have little trouble with the comics code. Joe Orlando worked within the code for its openings, not its restrictions, and managed to pull off an incredible book.

Things went very well for quite some time. By 1969 Abel moved in across the street at the House of Secrets. There were the witches: Cynthia, Mildred and Mathilde in the Witching Hour. Death (No not THAT Death) in Ghosts, and Eve and Destiny sort of hopped around a bit. Even Lucien (The librarian in the Dreaming) had a title, Tales of Ghost Castle.... for three issues. There was no scarcity of "mystery" titles. In 1972 Joe Orlando won an A.C.B.A. Award for his work as writer and editor on a story in HOM #201, "The Demon Within". It was definitely a renaissance for horror comics at DC. They did well by them, and were known for having great mystery books. "Make Mystery Your Thing!" they advertised, encouraging readers to subscribe to the many mystery titles.

Though the coolest mystery title other than HOM in my opinion, had to be PLOP! Which was a truly unique gallows humor type book with framing sequences by Sergio Aragones. Cain, Abel, and Eve would participate in 'storyteller showdowns' competing in various situations for the prominence of being the best storyteller (of course Cain always outdid all of them!) In the end it didn't really matter who told the best story since they were just going to get plopped. This formula was carried over to the early issues of Secrets of the Haunted House, though with Destiny thrown into the mix. Eventually, by issue #18, Destiny kicked everyone else out, and became the sole host at the Haunted House (though Cain's stories WERE always much better). Some of the most delightfully insane moments can be found in these books.

By the early eighties the demand for mystery titles started fading. Consequently, many hosts were finding themselves unemployed. They were seen only on rare occasions. Of the twelve-plus titles that had come and gone, all that remained were five. SOTHH, the Unexpected and Ghosts hung on until 1982; Weird War Tales until 1983. When it came down to it, House of Mystery was the last remaining mystery title. After being passed down by many editors, including Orlando, Levitz, Harris, and Wein, Karen Berger was the last editor to work for the house. In issue #290, Cain introduced a story called "I Vampire" by Mishkin/Cohn and Sutton. It starred a vampire anti-hero named Andrew Bennet. This became a regular feature and EVENTUALLY took over the title. Then the fateful day came when Cain was KICKED OUT of the House of Mystery! It happened in 1984, issue #321, the story was "This Property is Condemned." It mostly consisted of Berger and Orlando explaining to Cain that he was old hat, and on top of that, not real, and only a comic book character. It was a terrible day, but at least Cain reassured us with his parting words that as long as we believed in him, the supernatural, and the House of Mystery, it still existed.

One day about a year later in 1985, who but ELVIRA comes stumbling into the house! She was being chased after by an angry mob of religious weirdoes who were, you guessed it, convinced that she was guilty of witchcraft. Very much alone, and in need of a caretaker, the house itself starts talking to her, in hopes that she'd stay with it, and basically fill the space Cain did in its life. The house takes her through various historical mystery stories and eventually convinces her to stay. So Elvira's House of Mystery lasts for twelve issues and ends in 1987. Cain makes small appearances here and there, while Elvira searches for him (as requested by the house). She teases and belittles him throughout the series, something that I'm sure he would not put up with these days. He didn't seem to care very much at the time, but this all happened during Crisis on Infinite Earth, and everything was all CRAZY! The house was having an identity crisis, and had developed multiple personalities. Several facets of the house were in existence that contradicted each other, The Elvira/Kentucky house, a dark humor "House of Weirdness" and a very serious HOM in nightmare.

This nightmare house was the one that Alan Moore brought out in Swamp Thing #33. This would be the monumental first time we witness Cain killing Abel (on panel at least - and for the time, it was certainly fabulously gruesome!) Abby, the Swamp Thing's companion, has a dream. She travels to the cemetery between the two houses, and encounters Cain and Abel. They give her a choice between a mystery and a secret, and she CHOOSES a SECRET! (WHY?!) She goes with Abel over to his house, and he tells her an old story about another Swamp Thing (note: the origin of the Swamp Thing was originally told in HOS #92), to help her better understand her own. But regardless of Abby and her choices, the important thing was that Cain was back in all his CLASSIC horror host glory!

It was only shortly after that Neil Gaiman did him a great service and gave him a permanent address in the Dreaming. Things have been pretty good for Cain since then. Cain was a regular, along with his doofus brother throughout all 75 issues of The Sandman, and even more paneltime in the following series, The Dreaming. In fact Eve, Destiny and Lucien all found jobs there as well.

And that's all there is to know for now.



Amazing World of DC Comics #6 (Joe Orlando interview)
Ramon Schenk's Weird Comics Homepage
Who's Who (June 1985)
Who's Who #1 (1990)

being obsessed with Cain


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