Recap #186: Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror #17
Title: The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror #17
Summary: Prepare for a trilogy of Halloween treats in this year’s terrifying Treehouse of Horror! First, punk rock pixie and Go-Gos founding member Jane Wieldlin (Lady Robotika) leads Marge down the path of the walking dead; then, Zander Cannon and Gene Ha (Top Ten) offer up a remake, Simpsons-style, of the classic horror flick Nosferatu; and finally, indie artist Jim Woodring (Jim) helps Bart uncover the truth behind the biggest mystery in the history of horror comics.
You’ve all heard of “Treehouse of Horror” the annual Halloween themed episodes done yearly on “The Simpsons.” What you probably don’t know is Bongo Comics, alongside the regular Simpsons Comics, releases a “Treehouse of Horror” issue every year. Or at least they did.
I own nearly all the issues in either trade paperback form or as individual issues. Some of my favorites include:
- The one where the Simpsons buy an alien Christmas tree that plans to take over the world
- The one by Jill Thompson that starts off as a Carrie parody before Lisa goes full on Dark Phoenix [Wing: Well that sounds amazing.]
- The Death Note parody by Nina Matsumoto
- Oh, and this one ad
I wanted to talk about #17 from 2011, an issue I missed when it first came out and tracked down a couple of years ago. And friends, it’s one of the most legitimately fucked up Halloween-related Simpsons media I’ve seen so far, mainly for its first and last stories.
NOSFERATU A SIMPSONY OF HORROR
Author: Zander Cannon
Penciller/Inker: Gene Ha
Colorist: Art Lyon
The Simpsons already did a Dracula parody way back in “Treehouse of Horror IV,” but while that was a parody of the Gary Oldman version of “Dracula,” this one covers the famed silent movie “Nosferatu.” Once again Mr. Burns is cast in the role of the vampire, and the story is done as a literal parody of silent films by having most of the dialog contained within individual panels, like screen cards.
The reason this story is so terrifying is because of Gene Ha’s artwork. His take on the Simpsons is incredibly disturbing to look at, like some kind of warped knock off “Wallace and Gromit.” Practically every time a character smiles it’s creepy even when it’s not supposed to be.
It’s a beautiful day in Springborg, and Bartholomew Hutter is as happy as can be.
[Wing: Ugh, those smiles are terrifying. LOOK AT HOMER’S TEETH OH MY GOD.]
But then Bart is informed by his father of a memo he has received from his boss, Lord Master Burlok of the Western Lands. Burlok desires to move closer to the home of his faithful servant, so Homer explains Bart must sell the deed to his treehouse. Marge tells Bart selling the treehouse would bring the family money they need, and that way Bart wouldn’t have to sell his incredibly rare copy of Radioactive Man #1. Bart concedes, to the joy of his father.
Before Bart leaves on an epic journey that will take up whole tens of minutes, Lisa gives Bart a book on vampires. She warns him of the horrible stories she’s heard of Burlok, deep in the heart of Transfornaxia in the west. At Burlok’s castle, Bart is greeted by the master himself, which Bart really doesn’t enjoy.
Meanwhile, Homer skips and rants around town about how his master has told him the secret of power residing in every living thing… but then gets distracted by beer.
As Bart signs over his treehouse, a photo slips out and Burlok sees both Marge and the rare copy of Radioactive Man #1. Burlok muses on the, er, comic book, so full of blood. Back home, Marge awakes in a sweat proclaiming “My special little guy!” as Burlok tries to bite Bart’s neck.
After passing out, Bart awakens in a tower in Burlok’s castle, to find the book on vampires out of his bag. Inside, it foretells to stop a vampire, a beautiful woman must make a great sacrifice to distract the creature until dawn. Bart escapes the castle, while in town a limo is found with the driver (Smithers) dead and tied to the steering wheel. Bart rushes to save his mother, only to find Marge is letting Burlok read Radioactive Man #1. At that moment the sun rises, causing Burlok to burst into flames.
Unfortunately, Bart’s comic is destroyed in the process, so realizing this was all Homer’s fault, he decides to strangle him.
MARGE OF THE DEAD
Writer: Jane Wiedlin
Pencils and Inks: Tom Hodges
Colors: Nathan Hamill
Letterer: Karen Bates
Editor: Bill Morrison
This is the weakest of the three stories, because it just doesn’t match the fucked up creepiness of the first and third. I’m not really familiar with Jane’s writing, but I am a fan of Tom Hodge’s usual artwork and I hate that I haven’t had many opportunities to commission him over the years like a friend of mine has.
The particular sore point about is this Star Wars-related sequence that just feels so clunky in how it was shoved into the plot. The ending’s pretty freaky though.
The Simpsons have been engaging in a championship game of “Trivial Itch,” a trivia board based on all things “Itchy and Scratchy.” Bart correctly answers the final question:
“In episode 49, Itchy decapitates Scratchy’s head with a light saber”
Which means the family must now do whatever Bart asks until midnight. Prompted by the question and seeing Maggie swinging around an action figure of Sideshow Bob, Bart declares his family must engage in an epic light saber battle, in full cosplay, on top of Mount Springfield. Surely this can’t go wrong… [Wing: Okay, this sounds like a delightful way to spend the evening.]
Marge is sure this isn’t a good idea since it’s so dark out, but Bart thinks the radioactive glow of the power plant provides all the light they need. [Wing: At first I thought he meant he wanted to paint them with the radioactive glow a la the Radium Girls.] Once the Simpsons climb the top of the mountain, Lisa hopes they don’t get in legal trouble with Lucasfilm. Apparently they have a thing about non-Jedis using light sabers.
The kids, even Maggie, have an easier time handling their sabers than the parents (because of their costumes). Unfortunately, Homer knocks Marge off a small cliff thanks to his Jabba the Hutt costume. As she tumbles down the mountainside, something pops in her leg. Bart’s more worried about her expensive light saber.
At the hospital, Dr. Hibbert informs Marge she ruptured her ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligature) and will need a tendon transplant. Hibbert assures Marge it’s a standard procedure, and they’ll be use a transplant from… a HUMAN CADAVER.
Oh but don’t worry, Hibbert promises they get the transplants from a perfectly reputable medical supply company. Nothing could possib-lie go wrong.
Actually yes it can because the cadaver supplies are harvested from a cemetery full of zombies.
Marge has the surgery, and something seems… different, about her. Maybe it’s the vacant look in her eyes. Maybe it’s her feelings of uncertain hunger. Maybe it’s the fact she keeps thinking everyone is talking about brains. And then this happens.
On the news, Kent Brockman announces there’s been a rash of “Brain Thievery” across Springfield. Chief Wiggum promises Kent the police will get right on it. While watching the report, Marge lets out a satisfied belch.
Lisa converses with Bart and Maggie and fears their mom has become a zombie. Bart figures it must’ve been that tendon transplant, and Homer wishes he didn’t have such a difficult wife. The next day, Lisa gets together all her brainy friends (and Milhouse) to figure out a solution for Marge’s brain fetish. After hours of research, the only answer they come up with sounds completely ludicrous. Sadly, it’s the only way to stop Marge from killing anyone else.
The next morning, Marge is preparing a nice, hot breakfast, and everyone’s pleased Lisa came up with a way for things to go back to normal.
[Wing: NO NOT THAT TERRIBLE OLD LIE OF A TROPE DAMN IT.]
HARVEST OF FEAR
Writer: Jim Woodring
Artist: Jim Woodring, “Quilty As Sin” Segment by Max Badger
This sort of makes up for the lackluster quality of the second story. It features a riff on classic E.C. Horror comics and features the “Story Within A Story” trope, which is one of my faves.
Jim Woodring has an exceptionally creepy style; even when he’s not deliberately drawing grotesque things there’s something genuinely off about the more seemingly innocent scenes. My friend Alec is a big fan of his twisted “Frank” comics.
Bart comes across a cheap E.C. Comics knockoff at a garage sale (actually Snake Jailbird broke into Hans Moleman’s house and is selling his stuff). He’s told “Harvest of Fear” #3 was part of an entire sub genre of E.C. imitators written and drawn by bottom of the barrel hacks in an attempt to cash in on E.C.’s fame back in the Silver Age. “Harvest of Fear” was by far the worst, because by then the only available creators were mental asylum patients [Wing: Damn it.] and burnt out alcoholic has beens who hadn’t worked in years. Some horror collectors feel it’s actually better than those it imitated, because it truly was as messed up and horrifying as it looked.
Later that night, Bart decides to give the comic a try and laughs to himself at how corny and dated the issue is… at first.
QUILTY AS SIN
Johnny’s a degenerate punk who smashes open a turtle’s shell and rips the poor creature apart to see what’s inside. His two disgusted friends ask why Johnny would do something so horrible, but Johnny doesn’t care because he thinks turtles are gross. He kills them because their skin is creepy. Johnny’s friends are still disturbed by Johnny’s lack of conscience, calling him a sociopath and knowing he’ll eventually pay for his actions because everyone does in the end.
Johnny returns home to find his Ma sitting in the living room with the lights turned off. Ma tells Johnny to drink his lemonade, and as he does, she asks him a very important question. She asks Johnny if he’s comfortable in his skin, or rather, could his skin be even more comfortable than it already is.
Johnny doesn’t understand as she goes on to talk about potholders and how pleasant they feel, and if he’s ever wanted his skin to feel as nice as a potholder. Johnny says no fucking way, but his Sis thinks he’s a dumb boy and doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Ma tells Sis not to agitate Johnny, because it’s important for him to feel relaxed.
They explain how all three of them, Ma, Sis, and Dad, have tried something new. They’ve gotten their skin “Quilted” and they want Johnny to feel as comfortable as they are. The drugs in Johnny’s lemonade finally take effect, so as he passes out, Sis turns the lights on…
(Oh, apparently this is based on an actual story: http://stanleystories.blogspot.com/2009/10/tales-from-tomb-1-part-3-padded.html)
Bart is so scared he spends the entire night in a state of shock, and by morning he’s literally soaked the sheets with his color. Bart wanders into the kitchen looking completely exhausted and wearing his clothes inside out.
The comic disturbed him so much he starts imagining Marge saying horrible, unnerving things, until he runs out of the house in terror. Realizing the comic is screwing with his head, he decides he needs to finish the issue so he can get it over with it and see what’s the worst it can offer. [Wing: … this is actually part of my theory about reading things that horrify me, too. Can’t leave the story unfinished, because what if. What if.]
A FINE BROTH OF A BOY
Some weird guy’s been going around town buying all the comics! He bought them at Mr. Jipper’s place and he bought them at Whilliker’s ice cream parlor. The local kids want to know why a grown man would buy up all the comics? Officer Carey recalls seeing a man with a long white box; it was Mr. Stokes, who just bought the creepy old Granville House. Officer Carey didn’t like the looks of him at all…
Our nameless protagonist decides to confront Mr. Stokes, even when his friend chickens out. At the creepy old Granville abode, the kid knocks on the door and asks if Mr. Stokes did indeed buy all the comics in town. He asks if he could buy a few from the man. Mr. Stokes refuses, but realizes how greedy that sounds and offers to let the kid buy a few off him.
Inside the house, the kid notices Mr. Stokes owns a lot of weird stuff. Stokes claims to be a collector of… many things. In fact, he used to run a store but didn’t like the business. He prefers his new job.
The kid asks why Mr. Stokes bought all the comics in town in the first place. Stokes says something about it being bait for “New friends.”
And then he turns on the basement light.
But unfortunately, we have no idea what happens because the last page in the comic is missing!
Bart flips out and is determined to find another copy so he can learn what happens. He won’t be able to rest until he finishes the story. Sadly, Bart’s in for a bad revelation when he asks local expert Comic Book Guy. CBG asks why Bart is bothering to find another copy of “Harvest of Fear” #3? Doesn’t he know ALL the copies are missing the last page? CBG blames this on the failure of the public school system.
It turns out “A Fine Broth Of A Boy” was written and drawn by Mort Hopper while on a severe nutmeg binge. After the issue went to print (and Mort crashed) he was so horrified by what he’d drawn he went around the country cutting out every last page from all the copies of “Harvest of Fear” #3. No one’s ever seen the last page except for Hopper, who coincidentally happens to live near Springfield. He’s not talking though; CBG mentions he tried to interview him during last year’s Wondercon, but to no avail.
Bart’s not giving up and finds Hopper’s address in the phone book. Milhouse offers to come along, but Bart feels he’d just muck things up. For that, Milhouse almost considers uninviting Bart to his birthday party at the textile museum. Bart wouldn’t care either way.
By bike, Bart heads outside of town and finds Mort Hopper’s house by the abandoned zinc mine. Bart’s surprised the place is a dump since he thought cartoonists were rich, and fails to notice it looks a bit similar to the house in the story.
Hopper answers the door and is glad to meet a fan, until Bart starts asking about “Harvest of Fear.” He’s sick of getting pestered about that story and won’t answer Bart’s questions, even as Bart describes how much the story’s lack of resolution is haunting him. Bart threatens to follow Hopper wherever he goes; he’ll camp outside Hopper’s house, he’ll call him day and night, etc. Hopper relents and invites Bart inside. Bart is flattered by how he managed to get Hopper to reveal a secret he’s kept for decades. The last page shows…
A monster. A run of the mill monster you’d find in any old horror comic.
So why did Hopper make such a big deal about it?
Oh but damn it! Someone ripped out the last page in MY comic too! [Wing: I am dying. What a fun ending.]
Sorry guys. I haven’t been able to find a replacement issue.
Well at least we can check out this ad in the back of the comic.
I guess we’ll just never know how that last story ended…
[Wing: This is a delight. I haven’t read any of this set of comics, but I may need to give them a try.]