Review: Dollhouse – Epitaphs

By | March 31st, 2011
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

Written by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen
Illustrated by Cliff Richards

Having penned the show’s final, post-apocalyptic episode, show writers Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon continue the tale of three survivors in a world overcome by a devastating technological virus. The wealthy and powerful could buy any kind of companionship at the Dollhouses, where the Rossum Corporation paid young people to have their minds wiped clean and be imprinted with computer-enhanced personalities and skills–all according to a buyer’s request. Now the technology has gone viral, wiping the minds of everyone it reached, turning them into mindless butchers. Those who’ve avoided the call must try to survive their friends and families if they hope to destroy Rossum and save the world.

Dollhouse is one of those shows that never really had the chance to quite make it on it’s own. Considering it debuted on FOX, aka one of the toughest channels when it comes to the risk of cancellation at the drop of a hat, it was fairly doomed from the start. However, the second season of the show saw it go leaps and bounds above the first in terms of quality – yet still, in the ratings game it’s quantity over quality, and the ratings just weren’t high enough to keep it around. Sadness all around.

However, this is where those lovely people over at Dark Horse come in. Having given Buffy an additional “season” and with Angel to get one as well soon, they announced that Dollhouse would be the next cancelled Whedon series to get the gift of life in comics (although why we haven’t seen Firefly: The Ongoing is beyond me). And now that the first issue is here, we can take a minute and look to see if our new series is going to be as good as the show was.

Take a look beyond the cut for some thoughts on the prelude to the new series.

If there is one thing to be said for Dollhouse (the show), it’s that it certainly picked quite a sinister note to go out on. The initial season loomed in the realm of the “possibly to be cancelled” for so long that it seems Whedon had created the Epitaph episode almost as a dare to the network to let him go forward with the story, teasing what was to come in later storylines (i.e. the downfall of civilization and post-apocalyptia galore). When granted a bit of a reprieve, this allowed Whedon to wrap up many storylines in the second season but ultimately still leave the ending of the show up in the air as we were transported to a post-apocalyptic future where the Dollhouse imprint technology has run rampant and effectively destroyed the modern world as we know it. And that’s right where our story begins.

Picking up at the exact moment where the world ends, phones around the globe begin ringing and imprinting helpless bystanders to become dolls, both of the docile and violent kind. Unfortunately the Rossum corporation had won as season 2 ended, although we never did quite see how it all went down. This one-shot seeks to do that, both as an epilogue to the season 2 finale and as the introduction to the “third season.” We’re introduced to our new heroes (excluding Felicia Day’s character, who was around during both Epitaph episodes) as they fight for their lives in the new landscape. The issue is a dark testament to what made Dollhouse so good. It showcases the technological paranoia that the show always had while also setting up what is assumed to be all the new elements. We’re now going to be on an odyssey following two groups as they attempt to survive in the wasteland of humanity – and if that’s not a great premise for a comic to have then I’m not quite sure what is.

As is the way with any new series based on an older(ish) property, this is primarily for fans. That being said, it’s not unreasonable to believe that a new fan could hop in with this series. There are no inherent spoilers (only three overtly familiar characters, one by name only), and provided that a new reader reads the brief overview at the beginning of the comic it’s very easy to hop into this world and play along. There’s something to be said for continuity, and the book certainly holds to the show’s feel, albeit on a darker scale given what you can and cannot get away with in a television show. In fact, it’s really fair to say that the show works better as a comic book, because now we can assumedly get into the darker elements of the assassin nature of the dolls, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t looking forward to the eventual Alpha confrontation (although we did learn he is somewhat of a “good guy” in Epitaph 2). The comic very quickly establishes that we’re in a new world by having an “on screen” assassination of a character, which the show would never have done so overtly. So as a fan of violence in comics and the “nothing is safe” attitude, we’re already off to a good start.

Continued below

The comic is written by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, whom fans might remember as the duo that wrote both Epitah episodes for the show (and more), so to have them as the duo handling this story feels incredibly appropriate. There were a lot of questions left unanswered by the end of the series, so you’d imagine that two former writers of the show would be perfect to handle it’s future. While they don’t let too much be revealed right off the bat, enough is established here to whet the appetite of any former fan of the show as to the future of these characters, and while characters like Echo are nowhere to be seen, it’s safe to assume that there’s a big “yet” on that as far as the future of the story goes.

Having Cliff Richards on art details also certainly works, as he effectively manages to recreate the established characters we’ve seen visually, with Felicia Day looking like Felicia Day. Often you’ll find some artists have difficulty recreating actual people, but there’s no issues here, and all of the new characters look real enough to be based on actors we never met in the show. The only inherent issue is Richards’ seeming hatred of open mouths. All of the characters, unless screaming or grunting, have closed mouths during all forms of dialogue. Normally this isn’t something you’d notice offhand, but as the issue comes, it starts becoming a tad odd to see so many people conveying emotion only through their eyes.

Ultimately, the issue stands as enough of a tease to certainly intrigue old fans to the new series, and while it might have been “better” to actually get a full third season of the show, there’s certainly no complaints here. As it stands right now, Dollhouse: Epitaphs is simply a nice medium point between the show and the new series. Why the book couldn’t just start is somewhat beyond me, but there is assumedly a reason for all things comic, as it were. Buffy’s eighth season with Dark Horse was a huge success all things considered, so I can only hope Dollhouse gets a similar treatment. But right off the bat, things are looking pretty good.

Final Verdict: 8.0 – Buy

Matthew Meylikhov

Once upon a time, Matthew Meylikhov became the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Multiversity Comics, where he was known for his beard and fondness for cats. Then he became only one of those things. Now, if you listen really carefully at night, you may still hear from whispers on the wind a faint voice saying, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not as bad as everyone says it issss."