Jul 28, 2015

[Comics] Dollhouse Volume 1: Epitaphs

It's rather fascinating how a good number of Joss Whedon's creations have found new life in comic books. This has been especially valuable for shows like Firefly, that were perceived to have ended too soon but were sort of able to continue to tell new stories in this alternate medium. It's not quite the same as getting a new season for the original show, but it gets pretty darned close.

Yet another comiXology sale had me picking up this first volume of the Dollhouse comics, another title based on a Joss Whedon show that at least managed to get to a second season. Tobie and I were rather fond of the show and were quite curious to see where the story might go in the long run, but of course things didn't go as hoped and the show did not continue.

I've rarely dabbled in TV tie-in material for one reason or another save perhaps for the various Star Trek comics and of course the material connected to Adventure Time. So this was somewhat new territory for me, but I was eager to see what they decided to do with the characters in this story and where they'd eventually try to direct the story. This first volume is quite the meaty morsel and I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to read on beyond this book.

Synopsis: Dollhouse Volume 1: Epitaphs is the first compilation of Dollhouse comics as written by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen. The collection includes all give issues of the Epitaphs mini-series.

The series is set around the beginning of the "thoughtpocalypse" when the Dollhouse imprinting technology is used out in the wild, forcibly imprinting people to serve some greater master. The story largely has us following Alpha, once an antagonist on the show, but here shown to be more stable and more in control of the many personalities imprinted in his head. His journey largely focuses on Trevor, a boy that they manage to recruit to the cause and is equipped with technology that lets him swap in and out new skills and knowledge without the need for a full personality imprint.  Alpha's main accomplice in all this is the Ivy personality, who is now imprinted on a few individuals as part of a plan to survive the onslaught.

At the same time the world is dealing with increasingly aggressive imprinting first by signals broadcast over telephone calls and eventually using handheld transmitters. Ivy had managed to sneak her personality into perhaps one in ever hundred imprints as an effort to create a counter army against the takeover, but only a handful of her instances managed to survive. And more and more it's clear that Alpha isn't always in control of himself with his darker side still coming to the fore. It eventually becomes clear that he little bad of rebels need to find Echo herself in order to find a way to defeat their enemies - but finding Echo is also the top priority of every imprinted individual out there.

Admittedly, this weird break-down of society due to rogue personality imprinting technology seems to be a crazy spin on a zombie apocalypse. But it's one that I rather enjoyed and ever since the first glimpse of this dark future in the show, I was eager to see more. So the fact that this comic clearly intended to tackle that era and revisit popular characters like Mag and Zone had me all sorts of giddy. And then they opted to focus on Alpha as well? DYING.

As far as fan service goes, the show clearly did a lot to tie into the show and make the narrative feel very much part of the original story world. And that's all one can really ask for from a TV-related comic book like this, right? Sure, people aren't 100% sure if everything that appears in this story can be considered as canon per se, but it's a close enough shot.

That being said, the story starts out pretty, slows own a bit in the middle and then continues on at a decent clip towards the end. This is not the most amazing, involved piece of writing on the planet by any means. But it still fits into the vibe of the show and the character progression rather makes sense.

It took me a while to remember what Ivy looked like back in the show and it didn't help that she's represented here by a variety of characters. As much as it has always been interesting to study Alpha and how he tries to integrate his disparate personalities inside of him, this Ivy proves to be interesting in even more ways since she's a single personality occupying multiple bodies. Each has become a new version of her with different perspectives and creating new memories and experiences with every second they're alive, and thus become distinct individuals in their own right. So yeah, go Ivy! You were being all Sense8 like even before the show!

I'm also glad that Echo was not front and center in this story from the very beginning. As much as most of the show had her as it focus, we all know that stories of the future didn't feature her until the very end. And so the comic sort of follows that same pattern with the characters themselves seeking out Echo and they won't be able to find her until later on.

I'm not 100% sure if I was totally on board for the Trevor character and what potential role he could have in this story. In the end, he was largely meant as a tool for Alpha to begin his counter-offensive against the enemy behind the aggressive imprinting. But then it's not like they go all that far down this route. I will give credit for his creativeness at times and how he's able to toggle his skill selections at will in order to suit present circumstances.

Art was decent but at times inconsistent. There were some fun splash panels and good establishing shots, but some of the dialogue-dominated panels resulted in somewhat skewed faces. But that does tend to happen when some of the character pegs are inspired by actual actors and other real life people. And that never gets easy.

Dollhouse Volume 1: Epitaphs is an interesting glimpse of the end of society and the advance of the imprinted army of drones. It was nice to revisit the world of Dollhouse and now I wonder what happens next but before the parts covered by the show. Thus the comic gets 3.5 imprinted orders out of a possible 5.

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