Dollhouse: Epitaphs #1

Written by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen

Art by Cliff Richards and Michelle Madsen

Lettering by Nate Piekos

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by David Pepose

Whatever you do, don't pick up your phone.

I was a late convert to the show Dollhouse, and as much as I love the show, I can understand why it was an acquired taste. The overarching plot, in many ways, didn't really start to ramp up until later in the season… before exploding into the future with "Epitaph One."

To make a long story short: the Dollhouse takes in vulnerable men and women for a contract of five years, to brainwash and imprint them with any sort of personality traits for any sort of mission. Until their contract ends, they're assassins, they're prostitutes, they're unwitting, brainwashed slaves. But with "Epitaph One," that technology suddenly went viral, turning anyone with a cell phone or a Bluetooth headset into vicious killing machines.

There's plenty more that I haven't gotten into -- namely, some of the characters and their shifting abilities and allegiances -- and the thing is, all that's pretty important to truly appreciate Dollhouse: Epitaphs #1. If you haven't watched the series, this comic is not the place to start -- nor should it be expected to be. But after you've Netflix'd your way through at least the first season -- all of it -- I think you'll find this bit of apocrypha like a reunion with some old friends.

Just to start off -- Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, who wrote the original "Epitaph One" and "Epitaph Two" episodes, are quick and to the point, showing from the survivors' perspective the day that everything went to hell. Whether its showing Zone and his girlfriend finding out she's pregnant -- right before she goes to answer the phone -- or Griff's secretary suddenly going on a killing spree, it's brutally fast, and intercut with some smart dialogue to boot. There's this underlying theme of imprinting either taking humanity to its lowest point -- or teaching us how to fly. It's a nice touch that foreshadows the questions to come.

Artwise, Cliff Richards and Michelle Madsen have a tough act to follow. Dollhouse, particularly for the Netflix crowd, was a gorgeous HD extravaganza -- just visually one of the best-looking Joss Whedon projects this side of Toy Story. Madsen's colorwork doesn't quite have that same sort of brightness to it, which is a shame. Richards, meanwhile, excels when he's putting characters in motion -- when Griff's secretary attacks, for example, it almost evokes that Stuart Immonen kind of sharp angles and lush shadowing. But at the same time, Richards is coming at this with a handicap -- namely, the fact that he's got to hew to images of the real-life actors, such as Felicia Day and Alan Tudyk, which brings you out of the story a bit.

For those who have watched the television show and got to know and love these characters, Dollhouse: Epitaphs #1 is a nice opportunity to get back into the swing of things, and one of those rare comic book experiences where you actually get to witness the disaster taking place, rather than just watching people try to stop or reverse it. The artwork might not be quite at the level that Dollhouse might make you expect, but the writing alone means I'm back next month.


Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters #1

Written by Eric Powell and Tracy Marsh

Art by Phil Hester, Bruce McCorkindale and Ronda Pattison

Lettering by Chris Mowry

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Scott Cederlund

Eric Powell, Tracy Marsh and Phil Hester have the interesting job of reintroducing Godzilla to comic book fans. There have been a few previous Godzilla comic series in the past with the most fondly remembered one maybe being the Marvel series drawn by Herb Trimpe. Powell and Marsh tackle the story fairly conservatively, falling back on re-imagining the story of Godzilla first appearing and rampaging through Japan. If you’ve seen any of the movies (including the abysmal Matthew Broderick one), the story of mankind first encountering one of these giant monsters is nothing new. Reintroducing the character to comics, the creators of this comic take the disappointing safe and traditional path and retell stories that we’ve seen before.

Godzilla isn’t a character in this comic book; he’s a force of nature. Powell and Marsh take the monster and show him rising out of the ground, being attacked by mankind and destroying Tokyo. In this issue, there’s no purpose or motivation to the monster. Which is not bad in itself but then you need to show the impact of the monster on other characters. For some reason, Powell and Marsh decided to not include any real characters in this book and just show various people being shocked by the monster’s appearance, including, for some unexplainable reason, President Obama. People point and run away but Powell and Marsh are not interested in following any of those characters. They’re only interested in following the destruction without exploring anything beyond that.

This issue is just full of people screaming, running and reacting to the monster. There’s no one to cheer for in this comic book. Are we supposed to be worrying for the people in Godzilla’s path? Are we supposed to feel sympathy for the monster who’s maybe fighting for his survival? Is there any rhyme or reason to what anyone in this comic is doing? Without a purpose for any character, this issue becomes just an exercise in mindless destruction.

Matching Godzilla’s large stature, Phil Hester draws large in this book, creating big and open pages that focus the reader on that destruction. Hester keeps the images clear and simple, trying to capture the size of the monster. Much like the story which lacks any urgency, Hester’s artwork is missing his usual crispness. The panels and images just lay there on the page and are disconnected from the terror or actions that are being shown.

In trying to retell the story of Godzilla’s first appearance, Powell, Marsh and Hester add nothing new to the story of Godzilla. Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters #1 recounts the plot points it needs to: rampaging monster, terrorized mankind and mass destruction. It hits the story points you would expect a Godzilla comic to hit but does not show anything beyond those. The book is full of pages of a monster stomping around. Hopefully the second issue could actually show a story about the monster doing the stomping or the people being stomped.


American Vampire #13

Written by Scott Snyder

Art by Rafael Albuquerque and Dave McCaig

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by Vertigo

Review by David Pepose

When American Vampire first came out, everything about the project just clicked. That creepy image of the desperado with fangs, clashing alongside the flapper actress with blood around her lips. Those are the kinds of images that comics excel at more than any other medium, as Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque proved that vampires could go anywhere we could.

Yet with the latest arc of this series -- "Ghost War" -- that feeling hasn't quite clicked for me.

Part of that can be chalked up to the slow pacing that many of this book's arcs have had in their first issues -- heck, it took me awhile to even warm up to American Vampire when Stephen King was on board. But following Henry Preston -- the aging boyfriend of the eternal twentysomething American vampire Pearl Jones -- to fight vampires in World War II Taipan doesn't quite have that same visual, visceral punch. It's far from a bad showing, but there's something missing here -- that unexpected creative spark that is the American Vampire's truest strength.

Maybe that's partially because of Snyder's choice of protagonist. It's funny, because I think Snyder's supporting characters absolutely steal the show when he writes Detective Comics, but in American Vampire, Henry doesn't seem to grow beyond his initial crisis: He feels old, and is constantly reminded of this by the immortal, everlasting beauty in his bed. There are some nice flourishes of dialogue, however -- when Hobbes says it was great for Henry to join his mission, Henry snarks back, "f--- you, too, Hobbes."

Where Snyder does light things up, of course, is when Pearl makes an appearance. To me at least, Pearl works as a protagonist -- she's just a touch shallow as far as defining characteristics go, but I think that works for this story, because it allows her to evolve and react based on the era and relationships at hand. And her chemistry with Henry just works. "I've realized I'm less frightened of losing you in the fight than I am of losing you here, this way, little by little in front of my eyes," Pearl says tearfully. That's a great line, and just the highlight of the book.

Artwise, I think Rafael Albuquerque ends up wrestling with some of the same difficulties. There's just a hint of a bounce in his lifework this issue, giving a rubberiness to the characters that clashes interestingly with Dave McCaig's painterly colors. The sequences with Pearl have a real beauty to the expressiveness -- but unfortunately, those scenes aren't long enough. Because we linger on Henry so long, there are some moments -- like a two-page sequence where he wrestles with his own aging, as all his colleagues get to fly new planes and really take the fight to the Axis -- that don't really knock you in the gut. Like I was saying before, it seems like the design isn't quite clicking here -- Skinner doesn't quite feel at home in this era, and so there's no big images to bring it home.

In a lot of ways, new arcs have to juggle a lot of different priorities: Not only do they have to maintain existing readership, but they have to try new tricks to try to convince the skeptics or the inattentive that their work has value. I think American Vampire certainly preaches to the choir -- if you're hooked on Pearl and Skinner, you likely won't find anything wrong with this book -- but I don't think it's got quite the ambitious, wild spirit to draw new folks in that some of the previous arcs had. While this book still has a consistency that is certainly worth applauding, I'm also ready to see Pearl and Skinner take their own book back.

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