You can’t keep a good story down. Especially if it’s Joss Whedon’s.Several of Joss Whedon’s projects have come back from the dead to live on in other mediums, from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer to Angel and Firefly. And now another Whedon story does the same. Beginning on July 13, after a special, Dollhouse comes back to comics in the five-issue series Dollhouse: Epitaphs.
Set in the near-future world glimpsed in the television series, Dollhouse: Epitaphs covers a future where the prototype technology to wipe people’s mind and imprint it with other memories has gone global as the Rossum Corporation turns telemarketing robo-calls even more evil as they transform unsuspecting people on the other end into mindless zombies. This comic covers the time between the present day of Dollhouse and the future shown in the fan-favorite “Epitaphs” episodes and how the big bad of the series, Alpha, could switch teams and be one of the good guys.
Although Whedon himself is busy working on the new season of Buffy comics and the Avengers movie, Dark Horse has enlisted one of the Dollhouse TV writers, Andrew Chambliss, to continue on his story. Since the end of Dollhouse, Chambliss has gone on to write for both Spartacus: Blood and Sand as well as The Vampire Diaries, but returning here is something he’d been hoping for since the final episode wrapped years ago.Newsarama: Andrew, the solicits for this miniseries show the ex-villain Alpha leading a band of survivors in this future world. Although Alpha showed up in the season finale turning from big bad to big good, that’s never been covered. Will that be explained here?
Andrew Chambliss: Alpha nearly killed Paul in "A Love Supreme" and the next time we saw him in "Epitaph Two," he was a good guy. But there really wasn't any hint as to how or why. We skipped all that. The miniseries will definitely go towards answering those questions. In a way, the entire miniseries is about that -- Alpha's journey is one of redemption as he struggles to overcome his dark past and make up for the things he did. I'm glad that we left the question as a blank in “Epitaph Two” because it really gave us the opportunity to explore Alpha's character and give him a real journey.
Nrama: Who exactly are the survivors we should know about?
Chambliss: There are two groups of survivors. First, there's Alpha and Trevor. Trevor was introduced in the one-shot that Jed and Maurissa wrote. He's a young kid who manages to survive the initial wave of robo-calls and meets Alpha, who takes him under his wing as they fight back against the apocalypse. He's young, idealistic and perfect contrast to Alpha, who has seen it all and is much more cynical about what's happening to the world.
Zone, Mag and Griff make up the other group of survivors. These are the characters who we first met in “Epitaph One”. In the miniseries we get to dial back the clock and see them long before they discovered the Dollhouse. They were just regular people who didn't pick up the phone when the robo-calls were going out. Their story is a very human one as they learn to survive in a world that's being destroyed by tech they don't understand.Nrama: Where does this series fit into the Dollhouse timeline?
Chambliss: The series picks up some time after the Season 2 episode "The Hollow Men," but takes place before either of the Epitaph episodes. It begins just after the first wave of Rossum robo-calls so it's at the very beginning of the apocalypse when everyone is reacting to a world where most of the population's minds have been erased. It fills in a lot of the blanks about how the apocalypse came to be and shows how a lot of familiar characters managed to survive.
The nice thing about the timeline Jed, Mo and I worked out is that “Epitaph 1” doesn't take place until 2019. This miniseries starts up somewhere around 2013 so it leaves a huge chunk of time (and lots of story!) to explore in all its post-apocalyptic awesomeness.
Nrama: To borrow a term from Joss, who’s the big bad in all of this?Chambliss: There's not so much a big bad as lots of little bads. The real villains in the miniseries are the Butchers and Wielders -- the millions of people the Rossum corporation imprinted to destroy civilization. For some of the survivors, like Zone, Mag and Griff, the anonymous hordes of bad guys are actually a lot scarier than any single individual because it seems like there's no rhyme or reason to all the mayhem and destruction that surrounds them. But of course there is a rhyme and reason to what's going on, and at the end of the day, we'll see that the Butchers and the Wielders exist to serve a bigger purpose, and maybe even a bigger bad -- BUT it'd be no fun if I gave all that away. At least not now.
Nrama: How detailed a plan do you have for this comic series, and how far could you see it going?
Chambliss: The five issue mini-series has a very detailed plan, with a very specific ending. That said, there is still a huge amount of story that isn't told in the miniseries and lots of characters from the television series who we weren't able to fit in due to lack of space. I have a pretty good idea who the big bad of the next miniseries will be and I know which characters I'd like to bring into the comic world (I miss writing so many of the Dollhouse characters!). Given how open we left the events leading up to the “Epitaph” TV episodes and the amount of time that gap encompasses, the comic series could go on for a very long time. Actually, there was a very short cliffhanger-y scene at the end of the fifth issue of the miniseries that we decided to hold off on for the time being. I'm so glad we decided to hold off on that scene because it'll make for a great issue one of the next bunch of comics.Nrama: Since you were on the TV staff, can you tell us how the “Epitaphs” segments of Dollhouse materialized in the writers room? It seemed perfect but also a reaction to what the series was doing, so some people were unsure if it was originally planned or came about as a reaction to the series.
Chambliss: If I remember correctly, the idea for doing Epitaphs didn't come out of the room. Rather, it was an idea that Joss brought to the room. We needed an extra episode at the end of the first season for international distribution and we needed to shoot it simultaneously with another episode. This meant it would be difficult to use a lot of the regular cast members since they'd be busy on the other episode. Joss had the brilliant idea of setting the story in the future with new characters after the Dollhouse tech had run amuck. The post-apocalyptic storyline would frame a smaller story with our regular cast that explained how the apocalypse happened. As soon as we heard the idea in the room, we all latched on to it because it was so kick-ass. And it really focused us in on where the series was leading.
Nrama: The Epitaph episodes were vastly different than the standard Dollhouse episodes – will this comic series be essentially all in that “Epitaph” future?Chambliss: The comic series will be set in the Epitaph future. There were so many questions left unanswered by the Epitaphs that it really seemed like the most interesting place to set a comic series. In future comics, there could always be flashbacks to the Dollhouse before the apocalypse, but, c'mon, once you go post-apocalyptic, you never go back.
Nrama: Dark Horse is billing this as your comic debut, but didn’t you do some stories for the Heroes comic awhile back?
Chambliss: I wrote a couple five or six page stories for the Heroes web comics, but this is my first time writing anything full length. It's a lot more challenging to tell a story that lasts for five ISSUES instead of five PAGES, but Scott, Sierra and Freddye (my editors at Dark Horse) have been great at helping meet that challenge.
Nrama: So, what’s it like to be in the driver’s seat on a comic book series – spinning out of your previous run on the TV series Dollhouse?
Chambliss: It's a blast to be writing a comic series, especially one that picks up where a TV series like Dollhouse left off. Dollhouse has always been very close to my heart. Writing for the TV series was such an amazing experience, which really helped me grow as a writer (not to mention make a lot of great friends). So it's extremely rewarding to revisit that world in comic form and do so many of the things that we didn't get a chance to do on the TV show.