Oh, Dollhouse. Joss Whedon is a great writer, but everyone gets a flop and this is his. To be fair, for a flop it’s still better than many, many shows.
Dollhouse was a two-season TV series with the premise that the rich and famous knew of the titular Dollhouse which, for a price, gave a person the exact personality specifications he or she requested. Each season had a finale (entitled “Epitaph One” and “Epitaph Two” respectively) set about ten years in the future, after this technology has basically caused the end of the world. This comic attempts to bridge the gap between the modern day and that time. It does so rather poorly.
For starters, if you haven’t watched the show you won’t understand the comic. It tries to explain the core concepts, but it makes no effort to explain who the characters are, or their history with the Dollhouse or with each other. If you didn’t avidly follow the series, you’re lost from the start. Even if you did follow the series, the main plot (people are brainwashed by a signal transmitted via phone) relies on technology that the main characters later completely destroyed. No attempt is made to explain how this technology was recreated.
The story follows a motley band of newcomers and secondary characters from the TV show as they try to contain the signal in the early days of its outbreak. To quote another of Whedon’s works, “You can’t stop the signal.” And they don’t. The book is all about trying and failing to play catch up to this big evil plot. In an oddly realistic twist, the best the sorry crew can come up with against the hordes of the mind-controlled is a way to keep themselves from being “infected” with the signal. It’s a dark, gritty comic that would be good if it just took the time to explain itself. As is, it stands somewhere in between being a confused mess and being utterly incomprehensible.
The art is pretty good. It’s dark and matches the feel of the world quite nicely. There are few bright colors, which helps with the dense, post-apocalyptic feel. And the people are drawn like real people. The characters from the show proper are instantly recognizable, because they’re drawn like the actors but not in such a way that look like static portraits. This book is fairly graphic in its depiction of a world where society has stopped functioning and doesn’t shy away from violence, so it falls firmly into the 13 and up category.
by Andrew Chambliss, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen
Art by Cliff Richards, Andy Owens, Michelle Madsen
Dark Horse, 2012