The House of Secrets is a twenty-five issue series that started in 1996 and is written by Steven T. Seagle and illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen. It features a lying, unreliable runaway named Rain Harper; a young girl she takes under her wing named Traci; and a group of musicians, one of whom, Ben Volk, becomes the third central character in the series. Right after Rain and Traci meet, Traci tells Rain a valuable secret: She knows a place to squat where they will be safe. Rain, therefore, joins Traci and moves into the House of Secrets. And then all the fun starts.
This series brings with it a long history: House of Secrets, an old horror series that started in 1956, was mainly a platform for one-off stories in the tradition of all the old classic horror comic books, most famous of which were the ones put out by EC. Abel would introduce these stories in the same way that Cain would introduce horror stories in the companion title The House of Mystery. This old House of Secrets run is best known these days for its 1971 issue #92 because it introduced the Swamp Thing, the character who would one day serve as the vehicle for Alan Moore’s grand entrance into the U.S. comic book market.
The House of Secrets, as a fictional location, would later come to even better recognition through Neil Gaiman’s Sandman in which The House of Secrets and The House of Mystery were regular parts of the ever-changing landscape that we seen in the world of The Dreaming. However, the House of Secrets also somehow still in exists in the real world. It’s a space that can exist in both places at once. Starting in The Sandman, Cain stepped into the narrative and was no longer merely a character used to introduce stories: He is a caretaker of the House of Mystery and lives within it. In the same manner, Abel is the caretaker and resident of the House of Secrets. Both Cain and Abel became regular characters in The Sandman and The Dreaming. Even in recent comics, these two characters will show up from time to time in DC titles.
Because of this great tradition I was eager to read The House of Secrets series that started in 1996. However, when I found out Cain, Abel, and the Dreaming weren’t a part of the story, I lost some of my interest. And then I looked at the art, and I made the decision to put off my reading indefinitely. However, over the years, I have tried to read the first few issues, but I gave up every time, never getting hooked by the story. I think that is in part because the giant omnibus edition starts with a later issue telling the history of the house. Issue #1, not surprisingly, is a better place to start because we meet Rain and become quickly interested in her and in her story.
Just a few weeks ago, when I started reading the series in earnest, I got engaged because I decided to skip this initial (but later) issue and start with issue #1. I am glad that I gave this series a chance. Not only do I think this series takes us on a fantastic trip, but I also think highly of the art now. It took about five issues to grow on me. I knew I really had come to love the art when another artist did an entire issue towards the end of the series, and I wanted the regular artist to come back immediately. He did, thank goodness. There are other guest artists, and they are used more effectively throughout the series — they are often used to tell a story from the past or in some way to more clearly distinguish one story in an issue from the main story of Rain and her friends.
And it’s this story that makes The House of Secrets so wonderful. Rain has a tongue that’s as sharp as a razor, even when talking to her friends: Traci just ignores the sarcasm, and Ben manages to grow fond of Rain in spite of it, even though he frequently gets worked up in response. As readers, we get the insight into Rain’s thoughts as she tells us this story, and so we can see how much more caring she is inside. Don’t get me wrong — she’s not an overly emotional person even when we know her thoughts, but the contrast between her words and thoughts is a dramatic one. I like her character so much now, I wish could keep reading comics about Rain.
These three friends face a number of problems. Ben’s aren’t as troubling as Traci’s and Rain’s, but he is wrestling with his own demons. Traci’s had a rough life, and Rain seems to be the only one who can really take care of her. Rain has her own demons and a hell of a secret that keeps readers in suspense throughout the series. There’s a detective on her trail, and he’s building a case on Rain while tracking her down for her father. Meanwhile, Rain lies to us and her friends about her past, so we have no idea what Rain’s problems really are. Rain’s demons are more immediate, however; the House of Secrets is home to a ghost jury that forces people into the house, pries their deepest secrets from them, judges them, and compels Rain to be the official witness to the case and reader of the verdict. The jury’s displeasure results in a house that is more haunted than we ever realized, and Rain both wants to escape and is compelled to stay. To tell much more would be to give away too many secrets.
I highly recommend The House of Secrets as one of the best Vertigo titles from the 1990s. I can’t believe I waited this long to read it. It’s available in a beautiful, but giant, hardback omnibus edition of almost eight hundred pages, or it can be read on Comixology for $1.99 an issue. Comixology might be the route to take since you have to invest only a few dollars to see if you want to make the full financial plunge. At the very least, I hope you will give the series a try by reading the first arc, issues #1-5. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in Seagle’s House of Secrets.