"Dollhouse: Epitaphs" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Originally Published as Dollhouse #1-5 and Dollhouse One Shot
Written by Andrew Chambliss, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jed Whedon
Illustrated by Cliff Richards
2011, 162 Pages
Trade Paperback released on April 11th, 2012
Dark Horse perfected the post-cancellation comic book with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They're now working with that same formula on Dollhouse, another lost franchise from the mind of Joss Whedon. They seem to be testing the waters with a mini-series and a one shot, collected here in Epitaphs. The problem that Dollhouse faced during its short-lived run on Fox was that it was just getting to the good parts when it came to an end. Fortunately, without the budget restraints and nosey studio execs, the writers get to tell the huge apocalyptic story that they wanted to get through on air.
The idea behind Dollhouse was that the Rossum Corporation, a huge and somewhat mysterious company, used a very advanced technology to imprint volunteers with made-up personalities to meet the needs of a very high-end and very secretive clientele. Echo (Eliza Dushku) was one of these "dolls", but unlike the others she started remembering things from each of her imprints. Eventually, the technology evolved to the point where anyone could be imprinted at any time through phones or radios. You didn't have to get a special brain pattern set up or sit in that spooky chair that did the re-making of your personality. This was how the world ended.
Click images to enlarge.
Epitaphs picks up shortly after this starts to roll out on a global scale. There are a few survivors who are trying to escape the people that have been imprinted and have become mindless butchers. A smaller sect of the infected don't look for violence. Instead they create hand-held devices to imprint others. It's a very creepy process. Fortunately, Alpha (Alan Tudyk) is out there and he wants to stop all this mess. Unfortunately, he's a bit crazy with about 50 personalities rattling around in his noggin with at least one of them belonging to a murderous psychopath.
The book presents an alternate take with Alpha, who was presented in the show as a super villain of sorts, out to make Echo just like him. He was brilliant, but his intentions weren't in the right place. Now that the world has gone to hell, he's come to his senses a bit and he's looking to bring down Rossum. Despite the character only appearing in a couple of episodes of the show, Alpha is center stage in the comic, which I loved because he's so interesting to read. There's a lot going on with him and they only scratched the surface on TV.
The world that the comic shows is a terrifying one. Society has been destroyed. Technology is something to be feared. Any survivors are cowering some place dark and snapping at any new people they come across just in case they might be one of the infected. Forget SkyNet. You should be afraid of Rossum.
Click images to enlarge.
My only real complaint with the book is that it lacks that signature Joss Whedon wit that we've come to love from his other properties. Granted, this is a much darker tale than what we've seen in Buffy or Serenity, but the dialogue is something that I always look forward to in comics that are based on Whedon creations, even if he isn't participating directly.
Cliff Richards handled the art for both the mini-series and the one shot. Drawing a book based on a TV show can be tough because it's not like you can put your own spin on the look of the characters. They're all actual people, so if they don't look right it can hurt the comic. Fortunately, Richards does a great job matching up his style with the actors that portrayed the characters in the show. He's also able to help with the scope of the story. There are chunks of the comic where he's able to show just how devastated the world has become without the writers needing to chime in with any narration. It really helped put things in perspective and move the plot along.
There's also a really cool effect when Alpha is talking to himself. Every time his psychotic side comes out, the background of the panel is depicted as shattered glass. It works very well in distinguishing between the personalities.
Dollhouse: Epitaphs provides a satisfying continuation to the all too short-lived television show. The writers (who also worked on the show) picked up several of the plot threads that were left hanging and weaved them into this epic, world-ending comic. The story is far from finished, but we're given so much more information to work with that I just want to see what else can come of it. I don't know if this is how the world will end, but it is certainly going to make me think twice before I get a new smartphone.