Vertigo veterans Mike Carey and Peter Gross (Lucifer, The Unwritten) come together once again to deliver “The Dollhouse Family” #1, the spooky and delightfully interesting start of a six issue mini-series on Joe Hill’s “Hill House Comics” imprint at DC.
On her sixth birthday, little Alice Dealy receives a massive and ornate antique dollhouse from a distant relative. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that the little dollhouse family inside is very real indeed. The five members of the doll family are sweet and happy, and invite Alice for games and tea. Meanwhile, Alice’s own real family begins to fall apart, and the house itself makes Alice a sinister offer to fix it all – for a price. After all, such is the way of magic. All young Alice has to do is accept.
Highly accomplished longtime writer M.R. Carey (aka Mike Carey) brings his usual amount of expertise and nuance to this project. The writing in this debut issue of “Dollhouse” is a brilliant balance of interweaving plot threads and vastly different styles of dialogue. Anyone who has read any of Carey’s work knows how fantastic he is at juggling multiple voices and building a puzzle piece by piece with a story. This issue proves he likely isn’t going to lose his touch anytime soon. The central plot with Alice, her family, and the dollhouse is a mysterious and emotionally painful journey to witness. The revelations about the house are a strange joy that contrasts directly with the disintegrating home life going on around Alice. Without getting into spoilers, there’s also an immensely intriguing subplot that teases how large this story could be in scope, but it never feels boggy or unnecessary. Carey’s dialogue swings from standard British English with slang to the high-class pomp of Victorian speech, and even to more mystic and vague moments. Every bit of the writing here is airtight and entirely enjoyable to read.
While Peter Gross provides the layouts for “Dollhouse,” the actual art work goes to fellow Vertigo veteran Vince Locke (Sandman). Gross’s layouts give the issue a fantastic sense of pacing and easy-to-follow flow from page to page and panel to panel, often with some original design choices thrown in for atmosphere. Locke’s penciling gives the book its pitch perfect creepy aesthetic, however. “Dollhouse” may be a part of DC’s Black Label, but it has the soul of an early 90’s Vertigo title. The sort of unpolished penciling with thick line work and purposefully messy shading help give the comic its strange and unsettling elements and aid the plot itself. This is reinforced by Chris Peters’ very classic styled coloring. The colors in this issue all have a sort of muted vibrancy to them that casts a light shadow over everything in the book, while still being a gorgeous set of colors to look at. There’s a definite mastery of the nuances in this book, as would be expected from a team of longtime professionals.
Speaking of veterans, there are few more practiced hands at lettering than Todd Klein. Klein displays just what great lettering can do for the reading experience of a comic of this caliber. Characters and scenarios are given their own fonts based on the context of what is happening in a scene. The choice and frequency of bold words keeps the eyes drawn to each and every bubble and box, improving the pacing of the sentences themselves. There’s one particular font choice for a mysterious supporting character (no spoilers) that mirrors the font used by the likes of Dream of the Endless or Lucifer Morningstar, and seeing it increases the importance of a passage tenfold. Fantastic work by a legend in the medium.
“The Dollhouse Family #1” is a brilliant and wholly engrossing start to what’s sure to be a fantastic mini-series. M.R. Carey brings his usual near-unmatched plotting and dialogue variety, while Peter Gross and the art team bring the story to life in an atmospherically perfect manner. If you’re a fan of suspense and mystery with a supernatural edge, or just of great comics in general, be sure to put this on your pull list come 11-13.