Comic Review: "Dollhouse: Epitaphs" #1 from Dark Horse

I always thought "Dollhouse" was a show that would have made for a perfect translation to a comic book series, with the main character Echo being able to explore more outlandish scenarios than TV would allow, and each issue serving as a self-contained Echo imprint story.

"Dollhouse: Epitaphs" is NOT that book, but that doesn't mean it's any worse, just different. This is the first issue (well, really second, if you include the one-shot from a few months back) that tells the story of what happens between the end of "The Hollow Man" and the beginning of Season 1's unaired episode "Epitaph One".

If you haven't read the one-shot, you shouldn't be too far behind jumping into this story, but if for some reason you missed both "Epitaph One" and the Season 2 follow-up "Epitaph  Two: The Return", then you might not get what's going on. The book does try to re-introduce readers to the post-Dollhouse apocalyptic world without being too expository, or giving too much away. Still, I can see how some readers might be lost, particularly given that none of the primary characters from the series appears in the book.

The characters that do reappear are Alpha and Ivy, though the latter is really just an imprint -- technically 3 imprints -- of the character from the series. I really did enjoy what they did with the Ivies, exploring all sorts of weirdness about essentially "meeting yourself." Fortunately, the book didn't dwell on that, and instead focused on the story with Alpha training a 13-year-old boy for the war ahead. We see the early stages of the tech that was eventually implanted onto Victor's gang in "Epitaph Two", and there's even some heart behind all the action that's going on.

It's clear that the writing team of Andrew Chambliss, Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon pushed this book more towards the audience that watched "Dollhouse" and already knows the story, because it's a much stronger book if you've got the background knowledge it leaves out, particularly where Alpha is concerned.

On the art side, I've always been a fan of Cliff Richards's style, from back in the early Dark Horse "Buffy" days. He may be a little too "cartoon-y" for some, particularly where likenesses are concerned, and the action doesn't always pop off the page like it should, but overall he's solid. He never gets in the way of the story, and his character models are consistent from page to page, which is important when we're dealing with people who we haven't seen before.

The big question for this series is how engaging it will be on a month-to-month basis. We already saw how this all started, back in the one-shot, and we know how it ends from the TV series. This issue spent a lot of time with the kid, and I did find myself losing interest in those pages. It's not that the writing's bad -- far from it. It's just hard to make a new character compelling in just a few pages, particularly when so much of the audience (myself included) is more interested in the characters we already met and are invested in.

As a bridge between the TV series and one-shot and the ongoing comic series, this book does a good job setting things up, but the series will need some big payoff quickly if it's going to hold readers' interest.