Review – The Dollhouse Family #1 (DC)

Publisher: DC (Hill House Comics Imprint)
Writer: Mike Carey
Artwork: Peter Gross, Vince Locke
Colours: Cris Peter
Lettering: Todd Klein
Release Date: 13th November 2019

The Dollhouse and its family of antique dolls, a 19th century heirloom gifted to her on her 6th birthday in her Aunt’s will, is Alice’s whole world.  Not only that, but Alice quickly discovers that she can escape from her cruel and abusive father into a fantastic world where the dolls are alive and she can visit them within the halls and corridors of the Dollhouse. There is a sinister side to the Dollhouse, however, and when she learns of the Black Room, she may have just the answer to her and her mother’s problems… but at what cost?

This is a superb first issue that is very much a love letter to Joe Hill’s Locke & Key but also channels the British horror comics of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s that I grew up with. Without doing a disservice to Mike Carey’s excellent story, It is very easy to draw comparisons with Locke & Key, especially the standalone story ‘Small World’ which centres around a dollhouse. In the flashbacks to the early 1800s we find a sleeping Colossus buried deep under the earth, being watched over by a beguiling and beautiful woman, who just happens to sound exactly like the voice Alice encounters in the black room…

I was also reminded, in this depiction of the colossus and his keeper (?) of the worlds of Pennywise the Clown & The Turtle, of Charlie Manx & Vi McQueen, all of whom inhabit the same universe as Locke & Key and I’m hoping that this, along with Basketful of Heads, will eventually tie in with them all.

The parallels with Dodge and the Well House are undeniable, but the delivery elevates this story from homage into its own world. What I loved about a lot of the horror comics I read as a kid was that they were typically an unflinching and bleak view of life in England at the height of the strikes and the Irish troubles; and a time when a man’s wife was still very much classed as his property (up until the early ‘90s it was still legal for a man to rape his wife for example). Well, this is exactly the vibe I get from this issue.  It’s very much in the style of the early Hellblazer, Sandman, Misty, House of Mystery/Secrets, and there’s a feeling that Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and a host of other British writers are looking over your shoulder when you read this.

Alice’s father is not a nice man. He’s not a good husband or father. He threatens and lashes out and views all his personal failings as the fault of his family. Alice’s mother is not the modern, strong and independent woman you expect to see in today’s stories. In fact, she is afraid and downtrodden, and the more irrational her husband becomes, the more she shrinks into herself. Alice is very much a typical child, using the dollhouse as both a metaphorical and physical escape from reality and the worse things get, the further she retreats. Her thoughts and actions are those of a child, and children can be very cruel when they’re pushed. This alone is the basis for a fantastic horror story and that’s before we even get to the supernatural aspects of the story.

Peter Gross and Vince Locke’s artwork is fantastic in this issue, and this is a book that looks like it was produced in the late ‘70s. The heavy lines, the colour pallets, everything fills me with a warm nostalgic glow. The level of detail in the panels, however, is a completely different animal. Where the comics of my childhood could be a little lacking in detail (I blame the quality of the paper and the printing process of the time), the detail in this issue however, is beautiful. I particularly like the depiction of Joseph’s descent through the caves which for me was sort of a cross between Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Lovecraft’s Nameless City.

This, for me, is an absolutely stellar first issue, and if it’s not on your pull list already, it really needs to be. Between this and the other titles either already released or on the horizon, Hill House Comics has the potential to rival Vertigo in its prime.

Rating: 4.5/5.


The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek ‏

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