Elvira! Constantine! And purgatory, Oh my God! A Brief History of DC’s House of Mystery



It’s no secret that DC comics and the horror genre tend to cross threads from time to time. Whether it be The Batman by directly mixing horror DNA into the film, the company successfully launched a line of horror comics or recruited Troma royalty, James Gunn, to give a wild boost The Suicide Squad and one of the oldest villains in the business. As indie horror director David F. Sandberg brings one of the first superheroes of all time to life with Shazam! The roots of horror run deep in the business responsible for some of the world’s best characters and comics.

A lot of people don’t seem to remember that DC was also responsible for several spooky comic book series, all with one common thread: The House of Mystery. An old, antiquated estate known for changing rooms in the name of fooling locals and visitors/intruders. The house also serves as the home of one of DC’s most iconic characters, John Constantine, and also at one time one of horror’s most beloved hosts: Elvira, Mistress of Darkness. You might be wondering how this is possible or if they’re even remotely connected, so let’s walk through the history of this house of horrors and why it remains relevant to this day.

house of mystery 1951 #1

DC Comics began publishing House of Mystery in December 1951. What began as a competitor to EC Comics’ infamous horror series Tales from the Crypt, Haunt of Fear, and Vault of Horror, the book contained macabre stories. He was no stranger to presenting stories of werewolves, witches, ghosts, and even death. The book seemed to be a moderate success, and everything seemed peachy. Unfortunately, 1954 saw the rise of the Comics Code Authority and comic book censorship. Horror books were particularly hard hit and were either sterilized, canceled or had to pivot to a new subject entirely. House of Mystery temporality leaned towards sci-fi and was even Martian Manhunter’s flagship title after his debut in Police comics. Also House of Mystery was condemned for the moment… or was he?

house of mystery #175

In 1968, comic companies began questioning the Comics Code Authority, believing they were being overly censored. DC Comics decided to hire former EC Comics editor Joe Orlando, who was no stranger to CCA censorship, to take over as editor of their House of Mystery title and breathe new life into the series. So began the horror focus with issue #175, which was a reprint of earlier stories and tales. The issue would also feature Cain as the Domain’s Guardian (DC’s take on the Crypt Keeper), and the House began to become a character in itself. With its moving parts meant to fool the inhabitants, the house seemed to exist on the edge of the DC Universe. Not quite real but surreal in nature. The house felt pulled from purgatory, graveyard and all (more on that last bit a bit later). Cain would later appear in the Sand seller series by Neil Gaiman

house of mystery #321

The original series ended with issue #321, likely due to sales. the House of Mystery needed a shot in the arm if he was to be revived. And that’s exactly what happened. Who better to host a horror series than none other than one of the most iconic horror animators of all time? Yes, I’m talking about Elvira, Mistress of Darkness. In 1986, the series was relaunched under the title Elvira’s Mystery House. The series saw the icon bring his signature humor and flair to the fledgling title. In it, Elvira takes the infamous house as her final estate provided she finds the original inhabitant, Cain. This story proved that the House of Mystery we saw in those older titles from the 1950s and 1960s is indeed the same house, quirks and all.

Although the series only had 11 issues, it’s a fun and memorable ride that faithfully adapts Elvira’s charms. This series is notable for running alongside the infamous Crisis on Infinite Earths, a DC mega-event that saw the company hit the reset button on known canon in an effort to streamline the DC Multiverse for new readers. Unfortunately, Elvira’s mysterious house was one of the titles to be canceled afterCrisis. The series continues digitally on the DC Universe Infinite app where readers can still enjoy it (seriously, go ahead. I promise it’s worth it).

elvira house of mystery 1

The House of Mystery sat idle for a while until 2008, when the series was rebooted under DC’s “mature readers” imprint, Vertigo. House of Mystery by Lilah Sturges and Bill Willingham saw the acclaimed horror series reboot as a dark, gritty version of the source material, borrowing elements from the original series such as Cain and the domain’s supernatural abilities. In the book, the house acts as a sort of purgatory, with each person who comes in contact telling a gruesome story of how they got there, in a setup not unlike the 1973 film. The Vault of Horror (based on the EC comic of the same name). The Vertigo imprint allowed writers more freedom with blood and gore and more gruesome stories because they didn’t have to join the CCA, but at the same time this House of Mystery existed outside of continuity main of DC.


The House of Mystery wouldn’t return to DC’s main continuity until around 2011. After one Crisis-like called event Breaking point, the DC Universe has been completely rebooted from the ground up with a few changes to attract new readers. One of those changes was the house’s new owner: the one and only paranormal investigator, John Constantine. Constantine not only uses it as his home, but also as a base for the Justice League Dark (supernatural heroes who tackle situations the normal Justice League isn’t equipped to handle). All along The new 52it is strongly suggested that this is the same house that Cain once lived in in the original horror series and, in turn, allows the reader to assume that this is the same mystery house as Elvira herself occupied during this brief period in the 1980s.

Since the return of the House of Mystery, he has appeared in many animated films such as Justice League Dark and its sequel Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. But perhaps the most interesting is his appearance in the film Constantine: House of Mystery, which was released earlier this month. Following the events of Apokolips War, John Constantine finds himself trapped in the titular house, forced to relive his death over and over again with seemingly no way to escape or take refuge there. The short is lean, mean, and full of gore and revelations that are sure to have lasting effects in the DC Universe. Borrowing another page from the roots of the original series, Constantine: House of Mystery also features other short stories based on the wild, weird, and sci-fi-driven side of DC’s back catalog. Overall, it’s great fun and pays homage to this legendary series, and cements its place in modern DC canon. Between that and Elvira getting another cartoon treatment, there’s never been a better time to open the doors, sit by the fire in the House of Mystery and enjoy DC’s lesser-known spooky side.


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