Written by Jonathan Wojcik

Michael's 2017!

No matter where in this country I've ever been, there's always been a mikey's around somewhere, and they've always reliably put out their first wave of Halloween stock by the last week of July, right when I'm getting antsiest for the season to hurry up and get here already.

This year, Michael's has a surprising denser, more varied selection and a few stand-out surprises:

First, let's hear it for these local global warming casualties. Even an abnormal 104 degree August can't wipe the smile off the first skeletons of a Halloween season. Is anything in the world more goth than a black skull powering through a disgusting summer?

As we established last year, witch's hats with legs are their own species of monster that can only logically be called a Hocus, and the first Hocuses spotted this season present two very different personalities. Orange Hocus dutifully lets us know whether or not her dark mistress is actually home at the moment, but black Hocus doesn't feel the need to keep us so informed, inviting us in anyway and getting weirdly personal about it. Black Hocus's devil-may-care approach to her job could get the both of them in trouble if orange Hocus wasn't there to be the voice of reason.

Meanwhile, the first new Pocuses of the season are small, simple, straightforward ceramic dishes for a candle, potpourri or whatever you feel like putting in there. They're not especially exciting, but I'm glad I can almost always reliably and immediately find both species of familiar at every Michael's, every year.

Lenticular "haunted" paintings have been a Michael's staple for years, but they usually morph into fairly predictable, skeletal corpses or bloody-fanged demons. This lovely couple has a much more entertaining style, more reminiscent of the ghosts from Beetlejuice, Ghostbusters or Disney's Haunted Mansion ride. The gentleman's toothless yawn is even a little unnerving.

Another portrait attempts something similar with a couple of infants, but I'm a bit more split on this one. The "mean" looking baby on the right is fairly typical, while the one on the left is remarkably disturbing in its subtlety. These would basically be a whole lot better if both faces had the same eeriness to them or they simple came as two separate, smaller pieces.

In the same vein are actually tombstones with lenticular portraits embedded in them, which is something I'm seeing for the first time, and it's a neat idea. They do in fact make tombstones with your photograph in them, though I'm not sure they're ever built quite like this.

There are of course a lot of skeleton items this year, and a number of "fancy ballroom" style skeletons, like these two busts. I was going to say that "hair" could stand to look less like a hunk of foam rubber, but I bet that's exactly something a skeleton would make itself some hair out of anyway.

There's also a nice selection of fancy skeleton mirrors available, warped enough to be useless as actual mirrors but adorably small and tacky with that fake velvet finish - which also comes in red!

The growing prevalence of skeleton rats is nice to see, and I'm still totally willing to accept skeleton animals with nonsensical bone ears, too, though a part of me would still definitely like to see some cool, scientifically accurate rodent skulls.

Likewise with the matching cats. I feel like companies choose these designs just to make absolutely sure the customer knows what kind of animal these skeletons are supposed to be, but the kind of person buying fake animal skeletons perched on fake books probably isn't at all so particular.

Another fanciful skelerat is one of the plastic, bendy-tailed varieties that have become so common, but this one is also zip-tied to a fake gnarly tree branch to serve as a decorative accent. It's something you could just as easily do yourself, but it's the thought that counts. I didn't really check to confirm whether this was more or less expensive than buying these components individually.

These cute little monsters are holding signs we've come to expect from sign-holding Halloween monsters, with the ever-bizarre "mummy knows best" back from previous years. There admittedly aren't that many pun messages you can include with a mummy, but this one always gives me pause. Is it really reminding you to listen to your mom or is it warning you that an actual mummy should have authority over your life choices?

Hey, this is cool! It's exactly like one of those ultra-cheap foam tombstone cut-outs, except it's a ghost. That's really nice. That probably already exists but this is possibly one of my first encounters with one, I think?

Another, more expensive and much more elaborate yard ghost combines fake-rustic wooden boards and metal screen for a pretty cool and distinct look. The screen is especially interesting; it doesn't need to be there, but it adds physical reinforcement and makes the ghost easy to customize with small lights, eyeballs, spiders, whatever!

I'm really liking this classic scary tree, something like five or six feet tall with lovely glowing red facial features. If I actually had a yard people could see, I might get one of these. If it could shine other colors, I might just use it as an indoor lamp.

Here's this year's Halloween nutcracker selection, not especially different from past examples but another of those comforting, predictable staples. This time, every monster has the usual, appropriate nutcracker teeth except for the skeleton, who cracks nuts apparently between its sternum and its bow tie.

"Monster couple" figurines are another predictable staple, and almost always include some pumpkin people in old-timey clothes. This is an alright addition to the long line of pumpkin couples; just look at the love in those little, googly eyeballs. Dress pumpkin knows exactly what it's got in store for tuxedo pumpkin when they get home tonight, right? Nobody however knows this more than scepter pumpkin. This is a pretty wild couple.

...But, whoa, hold up, the skeleton on the left here looks exactly like one we found at Kirkland's last year, only that one had a completely different counterpart. Nothing bad happened, did it? He even looks curiously happier this year, like maybe he knew it just wasn't working out when we last saw him. He had better not have broken whatever passes for an egg zombie's heart.

Putting aside difficult and uncomfortable questions about other people's relationships, take a second to admire these candlesticks. They're not shaped like monsters or anything, but they aim for a softly gothic wonkiness I really appreciate. If you're in the kind of environment where explicit Halloween decorations might be frowned upon outside the autumn months, these are low-key enough to be effectively season-neutral without being too boring.

Not so for dapper, hunch-backed, glitter-sprinkled skeleton butlers, and I don't think anybody has the right to tell you when or where these are appropriate. I don't care how delicate and professional a job you have, nobody should be able to say no to one of these right on your work desk, holding up your cell phone or some mints or something. Or just another skeleton butler. Just stack them to the ceiling. Rubber cement will keep them from falling over.

One of my favorite of Michael's 2017 skeletons, however, might be this one for its low-key weirdness factor. The more thought you put into it, the stranger it is that this skeleton just sort of hangs out in a picture frame, casually showing off the smaller skull it happens to own. Maybe they've got a comedy act together.

On the classier end of the pool are these hanging, glass panels printed with skeleton anatomy, though they're only going to look right on a bright background or when they can be illuminated. I'd really like some bigger stuff along these lines, like a single large frame of skull or entire skeleton, or maybe some non-human bones.

This is another of those skeleton figurines designed to hold a wine or beer bottle, but as usual, almost anything else would be significanly more entertaining. Look how angrily protective this skeleton is. Imagine it's just holding onto a big giant bottle of mayonnaise like that. That's me. That's my skeleton. You're going to dig me up and find me in this position with a big giant bottle of mayonnaise.

This skeleton, meanwhile, was just about to nod off when somebody woke them up AGAIN for something or other. It doesn't have explicitly angry features, but this is totally one of those frightening, "this had goddamn better be important" thousand-yard-stares. Again, this is funnier depending on what you use this for, since it's apparently also a treat dish of some sort. This skeleton could be really pissed off that you interrupted its hourly soak in a coffin full of reese's pieces, as anybody would be.

Or, you know, mayonnaise again.