Monday, 16 July 2012

Comic Book Review | Dollhouse Vol. I: Epitaphs

"Did I fall asleep?"

"For a little while."

A familiar refrain, the recent repetition of which - much to my surprise - made my goddamn day.

Let's begin with a quantity of that rarest commodity: honesty. For a brief period, I thought Dollhouse was awesome. Right through to the provocative first season finale, I was all for Joss Whedon's most recent TV series — even the sad fact that it was over was alright, considering how magnificently it had ended.

Except, as it happened, it hadn't ended. It wasn't over, after all. Because at the very last second, after the showrunners had closed the door on any suggestion of a sensible second season with was essentially an epilogue, optimistic execs brought Dollhouse back from the precipice. Its unlikely renewal meant that the overarching narrative, so smartly concluded in the episode "Epitaph One," had to find some way forward, or else test the patience of even its most dedicated viewers - of which I was one - by backtracking.

Instead, the second season of Dollhouse did both things... badly. This batch of episodes went so far, so fast, and so suddenly beyond the bounds of the first season's remit that it seemed like a completely different series. You couldn't help but suspect the writers were playing fast and loose with a mythology they no longer had a handle on. If I could unwatch it, mark my words: I would. 

Long story short, I was sweet on Dollhouse for a year, but its mishandled second season left me with a sour taste in my mouth. So it came as something of a shock to realise how happy I would be to hear the exchange with which we began again. I wasn't even aware there was a way for me to do so, short of rewatching the first season, until, quite by chance, I came across Epitaphs: the first - and thus far I fear the only - volume of a comic book continuation of the cancelled TV series, along the selfsame lines as Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, and involving some of the selfsame talent, including Andrew Chambliss and Joss Whedon's little brother Jed.

Epitaphs collects the complete five issue miniseries of the same name, as well as the one-shot prelude from the season two Blu-ray box-set. The action occurs after the events of the series, in an LA decimated by Dollhouse technology. The signal pioneered by the Rossum Corporation has gone viral, turning anyone who hears it into an automaton, open to instructions, up to and including orders to spread the signal ever further.

In amidst this apocalyptic chaos, we find what you might call a chaotic mind: the schizophrenic Alpha has been imprinted with so many personalities that the constant struggle to keep them in check - especially the wicked ones that want nothing so much as to stab folks in the faces - has left him as weak as any mere mortal. But when Alpha meets Trevor, a young boy reeling from the loss of his family, he sees that he can do good, too. Together, Alpha, Trevor, and the Ivys - a single rebel who has imprinted her personality upon multiple minds (and bodies, obviously) - together, they resolve to root out Eliza Dushku's Echo, who may be able to help them turn the tide against the Rossum Corporation.

Meanwhile, Felicia Day. That's really all I want to say.

These concurrent narrative arcs do come together eventually, but for the longest time I couldn't be bothered with the scenes starring her character. Perhaps Mag will play an important role in future Dollhouse comics, however in Epitaphs her pages are basically wasted space. Fan service, of a sort.

But that's the only complaint I want to make about Epitaphs, and it's really no big deal. On the whole, this is a great graphic novel. It's better paced and markedly more interesting than the second season of the ill-fated TV series, and its closing moments suggest a return to the fantastic form of the first. Returning characters, too, ring true, and those newbies introduced in Epitaphs - like Trevor - sit neatly alongside the likes of Echo and Alpha. I particularly enjoyed the interplay between the aforementioned Ivys.

Joss Whedon's actual involvement in this comic book may be minimal, especially compared to Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, but in its appealing cast, their smart, snappy banter, and the self-aware sense of humour that elevates even the most minor events above and beyond the banal, his geek-lord legacy is nonetheless felt.

I'm actually shocked at how much I enjoyed Epitaphs. I had not known that I missed this world, yet these characters and the "thoughtpocalypse" they find themselves embroiled in are as compelling to me as ever they were. Now that I've finished with this first volume of the TV series' continuation in comic book form, I can only hope that its creators come together again — and the sooner, the better!

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