It’s difficult to follow up on something as popular as Trick ‘r Treat, Michael Dougherty’s Halloween opus that inspired a graphic novel, cosplays, and a 24 hour movie marathon. Trick ‘r Treat 2 has been hinted at, but the road to creating a new film is difficult, and Dougherty has been busy with his Christmas anthology Krampus anyway. Instead of a new film, Dougherty set to work writing four more Trick ‘r Treat stories for a graphic novel collection, hearkening back to the original film’s opening credits. Trick ‘r Treat: Days of the Dead is meant to tide fans over until the sequel film, but there’s no indication of whether these same stories will be used for the big screen format.
In an attempt to step away from the original’s concurrent storylines, Dougherty – along with the help of co-writers Todd Casey, Zach Shields, and Marc Andreyko – instead produces four shorts that take place in different time periods and settings, keeping just a couple things in common – they’re all set on Halloween, and Sam always makes an appearance. This approach is an interesting one, an attempt to maneuver around the successes of the original and undercut some inevitable disappointments. Dougherty doesn’t want to focus on the traditional; this time, he takes a look at differing cultures and their versions of Halloween, and most of them tend to be those that are marginalized from society.
In the first, “Seed” – with artwork from Fiona Staples – the wrap-around story frames how the entirety of Days of the Dead will work. There’s a little girl who’s afraid to go trick-or-treating, so her grandfather tells her some (questionably terrifying) tales to get her in the mood. “Seed” explores witches during the mass witch hunts, a tale of romance where a man falls for a branded witch and attempts to free her from the inquisitors who seek to burn her at the stake. In a way, it’s a tale that changes very little about the witch sub-genre, except for acknowledging the importance of the pumpkin within the Halloween tradition. Staples’ artwork is clean and moody, and this is a successful, if somewhat trite, story.
“Corn Maiden” is one of the better stories in this anthology, with artwork from Stephen Byrne. A pioneer girl, whose father is basically Thomas Durant from Hell on Wheels, befriends a Native American tribe on Halloween night; unfortunately, she brings them tainted candy akin to history’s smallpox blankets, and accidentally murders them all. But Sam – and the Native American culture’s Corn Maiden spirits – help to protect the night from true evil, turning all of the railroad men into a field of pumpkins. Byrne’s colors and concise panels, along with lots of open space, help to make “Corn Maiden” a fantastic read.
The anthology moves into “Echoes,” however, which is the least successful offering. Part of that comes from Stuart Sayger’s artwork, often too messy with scribbled lines and dark colors to tell what is actually happening. But “Echoes” also has a confusing premise, one that’s related more to murder mystery than to Halloween itself. It’s the one big misstep in this book, and hopefully – if Dougherty chooses to use these stories for his sequel – he decides to skip this one.
“Monster Mash” is the best story, and saved for last. It has some great artwork from Zid – mostly because he is able to create a huge assortment of creatures – but it also revels in the spirit of Halloween that’s most akin to the original Trick ‘r Treat. It follows two kids trying to enjoy some mischief on Halloween – decorations, mostly – blockaded by the intensely religious people in town who decide to do a lock-in on All Hallow’s Eve. That’s because the ghouls come out late at night, and our boys get caught up in the spirit of frolicking with witches, goblins, and other traditional monsters. It’s so much fun that one of the boys wants to stay and become a monster.
Another reason this fun story works so well, though, is because it directly ties into the framing tale. Dougherty is good at doing this sort of thing, and here he uses it to his advantage by relating each of these stories together without having to resort to the same technique in Trick ‘r Treat.
However, I must admit that Days of the Dead is something of a letdown. Where Trick ‘r Treat felt magical, this is merely a series of tales attempting to incorporate different elements of the Halloween tradition from multiple timelines. That’s actually a very interesting concept, and it works for the most part as a stand-alone Halloween anthology. But with Trick ‘r Treat: Days of the Dead, the traditional Halloween elements that made the original so beloved – capturing the spirit of the contemporary holiday season – are missing, and even the decorations, sights, and sounds of the season are lacking specifically because of the specificity of the time periods.
Clearly, the reader (me, in this case) has to take some of the blame. Dougherty can’t just give us another night of terror that follows the same procedure, and so he shakes things up by jumping through time. That doesn’t excuse some of the poorer elements, like “Echoes,” but it does highlight the need to set aside preconceived notions of what a Trick ‘r Treat sequel should be. As a stand-alone graphic novel, Trick ‘r Treat: Days of the Dead is a treat, but readers will most likely find themselves looking for a few more tricks.