Publisher: DC (Hill House Comics Imprint)
Writer: Mike Carey
Artwork: Peter Gross, Vince Locke
Colours: Cris Peter
Lettering: Todd Klein
Release Date: 12th February 2020
The bus explodes. There is nothing Alice can do to stop it and there is nothing she can do to protect Una. A dozen or more lifetimes ago, Joseph faces the demon in the cave and learns that everything he thought he knew was a lie – for whatever good it will do him in his remaining moments.
A small step through time, and five weeks after the explosion, Alice awakens to the aftermath, the horror and trauma of not only her own injuries but those Una has sustained and the bitter pain that comes from failing her only duty as a mother, to protect her child from harm. While mother and daughter try to recover from the physical and mental scars they have endured, the voice in the black room has other plans for them – plans which it intends to fulfil through the twisted, sadistic creature that Jenny, the once orphanage bully, has become.
If you have read my previous reviews of The Dollhouse Family and still haven’t picked up a copy then I’m not sure what else I can say to convince you to pick up what, even this early in the year, is shaping up to be my top horror title of 2020. However, if you have been following this dark mixture of Gothic haunted house and Lovecraftian horror with, me then I hope that you’ve enjoyed my fevered ramblings so far and are as enthusiastic about Carey and Gross’s masterpiece as I am.
I would already contend that this is the best title that Hill House Comics is currently producing, but this issue raises the bar even higher than before and, for me, cements this imprint as the premier horror imprint on the market. Joe Hill has done amazing things in a very short time, and I think a lot of that is as much to do with the creative teams he has brought into the fold as his own obvious skill at inspiring those same talents to excel.
Issue four of The Dollhouse Family really piles on the tension and doesn’t flinch from the realities of the disfiguring injuries that Alice and Una have sustained at the hands of a madman inspired by the unexpectedly long reach of the darkness within the dollhouse. There is a simple beauty and heart-wrenching innocence in how swiftly Una adapts, which is shown to be the polar opposite of her mother’s own recovery which is hampered by guilt. As a parent I cannot think of anything more horrifying than not being able to save my child from harm, especially something as life changing as Una’s injury. I’m sure I’m not alone in having had nightmares about this, and I can’t imagine how I would cope with that guilt, that I hadn’t suffered in her place. As a mature <cough> reader, things like this can often hit harder than any Alan Moore eldritch horror or Junji Ito body horror ever could.
That being said, there are plenty of more conventional horror moments in this series, including revelations about the creatures inhabiting the caves of Joseph’s nightmare which are beautifully and horrifyingly rendered by Peter Gross and Vince Locke. The twisted caricature that once was Jenny is absolutely terrifying, and the artwork as a whole continues to go from strength to strength, drawing on the ‘80s nostalgia that I’ve previously written about, but raising it to a whole new level that just jumps off the page, grips you by the throat and refuses let go.
This is a horror story first and foremost, but it’s also a story of a mother desperately doing her best to raise her daughter in a safe and loving environment against insurmountable odds. The balance between this and the horrors that unfold within the pages of this book make it a story that delivers heart, soul and horror in one wonderfully crafted package. In my humble opinion, The Dollhouse Family is a title that is going to be ranked alongside the greats of Vertigo’s prime in years to come.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek