Comics Review – The Dollhouse Family by M.R. Carey, Peter Gross, and Vince Locke

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Dollhouse Family is one of the initial entries in the new Hill House Comics line of horror comics from DC. The line comes from the head of accomplished horror author Joe Hill, who comics fans will know from co-creating the fantastic series Locke & Key. The Dollhouse Family comes from writer M.R. Carey (Mike Carey), artists Peter Gross and Vince Locke, and colorist Chris Peter. All members of the team are veterans of Vertigo’s Sandman universe, with Carey notably writing the Lucifer spin-off. They’ve also teamed up previously with The Unwritten, also from Vertigo. This group seems like a pretty natural fit to help launch a new horror line at DC. The collected volume is slated for release in early Fall. I received an advanced copy from NetGalley.

The Dollhouse Family begins with the story of a down-on-their-luck English family in the early 80s. Six year old Alice inherits an antique dollhouse from a distant relative that’s more than one-hundred years old. Whether to sell this antiquity becomes a source of friction in the family, but Alice quickly becomes attached. Indeed, there is more to the dollhouse than meets the eye and Alice quickly comes to realize just what kind of magic her favorite new possession holds. The dollhouse offers Alice an escape from real life, where she and her mother must deal with an abusive father and husband. It also offers Alice an idea on how to solve her family issues.

The Dollhouse Family bounces back and forth between Alice’s worsening circumstances and the story of an early nineteenth century land surveyor named Joseph Kent. Kent stumbles upon a mind-bending cave in the line of duty that sees him lost for 8 days and an encounter therein with a mysterious woman starts him down a path of madness. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Kent’s story is a telling of the origins of Alice’s dollhouse. This interweaving of the downward spiral of Alice and Kent’s life centered on this strange toy is effective horror storytelling.

The story on the whole is very reminiscent of the English, Vertigo-style horror that its creators might be associated with. The horror isn’t based on jump scares or body-horror, but on the demonic and paranormal. The Dollhouse Family is of a kind with The Sandman and early Hellblazer, tonally if admittedly not on the same level. That happens to be the kind of horror I enjoy best. The climax felt a bit rushed, but there’s only so much space when you’re working with just six issues. I liked that it was a self-contained mini-series, though. There is room for future exploration, but we get a whole story end-to-end. It’s a compelling enough comic.

Gross’ pencils and Locke’s inks are solid enough. I didn’t find them to be the highlight of the book, but they got the job done when paired with Peter’s colors. The more demonic elements are pretty memorably rendered. Though this is a collection, the covers for the single issues have been included and it should be noted that the work Jessica Dalva did on them is striking. The doll-like covers are reminiscent of Coraline, and surely some of the best cover work that I’ve seen in quite some time.

I thought on the whole that The Dollhouse Family was a good read and a good first exposure to Hill House Comics. There should always be room for this kind of comic on shelves and I’m a bit excited to see if Hill House can fill the Vertigo-sized hole in the horror market. Dark Horse puts out some good stuff, but it’s tonally a bit different than something like The Dollhouse Family usually. I look forward to checking out more from the line.

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