While Dr. Horrible fans wait for the next chapter in the villain's "Sing-Along Blog," which the creators keep saying is going to happen, a new original comic book is telling the prequel to the web-based show.
"It's sort like the origin of Dr. Horrible," said Zack Whedon, the co-writer of the Dr. Horrible Sing-Along Blog website and who is also writing the comic. "We knew the general backgrounds of these characters and their history with each other – that's alluded to in the show, that Dr. Horrible has been getting his butt kicked by Captain Hammer for quite awhile, and that he’s been pining after Penny for a long time. But aside from those things, his origin was all created for this comic book."
The Dr. Horrible comic is just one of the "One-Shot Wonders" being released by Dark Horse Comics every week, featuring some of their most popular properties. This week's Sugarshock one-shot, based on the webcomic by Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon, kicked off the series, which will include comics from Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hellboy, Conan and Dr. Horrible.
Whedon, along with his brothers Jed and writer/director Joss, co-wrote Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog with actress Maurissa Tancharoen, whom Jed later married. The musical story, which debuted in 2008, was told in three parts as web-only streaming episodes. So popular that the website couldn't handle the traffic at first, the episodes and the soundtrack became top-sellers when they hit iTunes and ended up winning a 2009 Emmy Award.
"[The Emmy] is bizarre because it was not on television," said Whedon, whose television writing credits include Deadwood and Fringe. "But yes, we did win and it was a lot of fun. We’re very proud that we won. I mean, we have to be the first web series to win an Emmy. I don’t know that, but I assume so. So that’s pretty cool."
Starring Neil Patrick Harris in the title role, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog told the story of supervillain wannabe Dr. Horrible, his nemesis Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion), and the girl he loves, Penny (Felicia Day).
"[The comic] falls before any of that took place," Zack explained. "It covers the initial meeting of Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer and a little bit of Dr. Horrible's childhood."
Although Penny is in the comic, her role is small as the story focuses on the origins of Billy's quest to be a villain dastardly enough to make it into the Evil League of Evil.
"You sort of see the initial sort of seeds being planted in a young Billy that eventually lead him to being a force of evil rather than a force of good," Whedon explained. "And then you get to see him all grown-up and how that manifests. But it’s a pretty isolated, small little adventure story between Horrible and Hammer.
"Penny does make an appearance, but she doesn’t factor largely in to the plot," he said. "Just more in terms of Billy’s day-to-day existence. But she’s there. It’s more of a nod to her because you don’t want to have a Horrible story without seeing her."
While the popular webisode was filled with songs, including the "Bad Horse Chorus" for which Whedon and his brothers provided the singing voices, the Dr. Horrible comic won't have any singing.
"That would be odd," the writer laughed, but added that it's been easy for him to find the characters' voices even without the music. "Since we produced the web series, I have Neil and Nathan and Felicia’s voices in my head. It’s pretty easy to get back to that."
The comedic issue is being drawn by Joelle Jones, whom Whedon said makes the comedic story work while still keeping elements of realism.
"They all look exactly as they did in the web series, essentially, and Joelle Jones did a really remarkable job of capturing each of the characters’ essences, just little expressions and things that are very true to each of the actors," he said. "You’ll see things that remind you of Nathan and of Neil.... she did real good with that."
Whedon, who also wrote the Captain Hammer online tie-in that Dark Horse ran in conjunction with the release of the webisode, said he grew up with comic books around the house because his brother, Joss, collected them.
"Most of the comics that I was exposed to were given to me by Joss. You know, lots of Frank Miller and Alan Moore and stuff like that," he said. "But I was never going down to the comic store every week to pick up the latest issue of everything. It’s more sort of an interest that I’ve gotten into in the past 10 years or so."
Whedon and his brother aren't the only ones in Hollywood who are dabbling in comics. As Whedon pointed out, the popularity of sci-fi television right now can be traced to comic books.
"I think it's because kids who grew up loving comic books are now creating our television," Whedon said, adding that many of the writers in TV also crossover to comics. "I think part of that is that a lot of comic writers are now writing television. You know, Jeph Loeb helped make Heroes. I mean, obviously Heroes is a superhero story, so it’s going to have a lot of those similar situations and themes and everything as a comic book. But Jeff Loeb being there, then Brian Vaughan writing on Lost and everything. I think that they have influences on those series, and so that’s part of the reason why you see so much [similarity to comic books] there."
Whedon is currently putting together a new television show for AMC called , which he calls "a political thriller" that will debut in summer 2010. "I think it's going to be fantastic, and I'm very, very excited about it," he said.
The writer said he's also involved in the next installment of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which his brother Joss already told Newsarama is definitely going to happen.
"I will certainly be involved, and there is movement, albeit slow movement," Zack Whedon said. "The four of us have been outlining and I know that there are a couple of songs written. But we don’t have a script yet, and that’s the next big step.
"Hopefully, over the next few months, we’ll be able to get that done because we all desperately want to do it, and sooner rather than later because if we wait too long, people will not remember the initial thing," he said. "We’re trying. But all of us are very busy, so it’s tough. But yeah, what we do have, we are very excited about, and I think that other people will be too."
In the meantime, Whedon is hoping Dr. Horrible fans give the prequel story in the comic book a chance.
"I think it will be fun for people to read that are fans of the show," he said. "There are a number of little sort of nods and references to the show – some of which are extremely subtle and nobody will pick up on, or only the diehards will, and some which are overt and ridiculous. But I think it will be fun for that reason, that there’s all these sort of winks and nods to the fans. So I hope everybody that watched the series will pick it up."