There is an unnerving, voyeuristic undertone to the very concept of dollhouses. When they are hyper-detailed and expertly hand-crafted, they are equal parts gorgeous and off-putting. Capturing the lives of tiny people who have never existed is a strange conceit in childhood wish fulfillment. When kids play with them, they are essentially gods in a narrative of their own choosing. Sure this can be said for all action figures and dolls, but there is something inherently creepy about the uncanny replication of a familiar setting. We ain't talking about Castle Grayskull here. Writer Mike Carey with artists Peter Gross and Vince Locke explore this in The Dollhouse Family #1 from Joe Hill's new DC Comics imprint, Hill House Comics.
The main story in the Dollhouse Family #1 centers on a working class British family in the early 1980s. When the family's young daughter, Alice is bequeathed a gorgeous, detailed dollhouse by an eccentric relative, her father is set on edge, which exacerbates the financial crunch they're in. Things get out of control when Alice learns she is able to enter the dollhouse and interact with its inhabitants. A second story about a Nineteenth Century land surveyor named Joseph Kent parallels the strange happens with Alice, despite there being more than a hundred and fifty years between them. Kent's story might be even weirder than the one unfolding for Alice. Without getting into spoilers: none of it is good news for anybody
Mike Carey (Lucifer, John Constantine: Hellblazer) presents a wry script without a lot of fat bogging it down. Every line of exposition establishes characterizations, plot progression, or character relationships. It's the type of stern-faced horror writing we don't see in comics nearly enough. Carey has always had an ear for local vernacular, and he employs in here wonderfully by spicing up bits of dialogue with regional colloquialisms and phonetic spellings. The pacing of the issue is also handled rather well, even as it jets back and forth (sometimes mid-page) between two wildly different narratives.
Peter Gross (The Books of Magic, Lucifer) and Vince Locke (A History of Violence, all those gnarly Cannibal Corpse album covers) handle art duties and do so perfectly. Their styles have a lot of overlap so seeing them work together in a layouts and finishes capacity makes a lot of sense. Individually, they have a wonderful sense of place in their own illustrations, and bring that talent to The Dollhouse Family #1. There is a ton of detail which could easily be overlooked in every panel. From every little pock mark in wood grain to the wild strands of a character's hair, the worlds they draw feel lived in.
If there's any negative aspects to this first issue is that it might be too dry for some readers. Not a lot "action" happens on the page, but when things get weird, they stick with you. As pretentious as it may come off as, this is "adult horror." The issue isn't littered with gross out gags or shocking images for the sake of having shocking images. This is a very measured story despite how quickly things get fantastical. Once you buy into the premise the comic puts forward, the rest is just character building. Overall, The Dollhouse Family #1 is another win for Hill House Comics, and it has us excited to see what the upcoming miniseries from the imprint has to offer.