The Dollhouse Family #1
Ireland, 1979. Alice finds herself in the possession of a magical dollhouse, willed to her by a distant relative.
1826. Joseph Kent, a cartographer tasked with mapping the Irish countryside, becomes trapped in a mysterious cave with an unspeakable evil.
Mike Carey (writer of X-Men: Legacy, The Unwritten, and celebrated YA zombie novel The Girl with All the Gifts) steps into Joe Hill’s “Hill House” with regular collaborator Peter Gross (The Highest House) for a brand-new spin on a story we’ve seen and read many times before, subverting expectations with a dark, fantastical hook and terrifying with horrors both cosmic and everyday.
The Dollhouse Family #1 follows two seemingly disparate story-lines told in parallel. The first concerns a little girl, Alice Dealey, after she finds herself in the possession of a magical (read: cursed) century-old dollhouse, which she can enter when she says the magic phrase “One by one, go down, be weighed. Be weightless, come up, only one,” shrinking down to doll-size and fraternizing with the house’s tiny residents – who she has named Bess, Cordwainer, Daniel, James, and Peggy-O.
The second story thread takes us back a hundred-and-fifty years, where a hapless cartographer tasked with mapping the Irish countryside, Joseph Kent (who, according to the mysterious letter sent alongside Alice’s new dollhouse, commissioned the toy to be made for his own young son), stumbles upon a mysterious cave. After three days of desperately trying to escape the inescapable cave, Joseph comes across a sleeping giant made of stone, as well as a beautiful, terrifying woman who lives in the cave and seduces the poor mapmaker.
Back in the present, years pass by, and Alice uses the dollhouse as a respite from the horrors of her everyday life and the abuse of her beloved mother, Kell, by her father, Pete. Pete’s a cruel, abusive bully, who constantly belittles his wife and is seen white knuckling a hammer in nearly every scene in which he appears. Alice’s father’s a time-bomb waiting to go off and the dollhouse, like the reader, knows as much. One day, Peggy-O and Daniel are playing with Alice and decide to show her a room she hasn’t seen before – The Black Room. “If the door opens for you, you can go inside,” Peggy-O warns Alice. “It only happens once for each of us.”
Alice enters The Black Room. A voice speaks to her, telling her that her father’s going to kill her mother and that it can reach out into the “Big World” and stop him from doing the deed, but only if she agrees to stay in the dollhouse forever. Instead, Alice decides to take matters into her own hands…
In its final moments, the book’s overwhelming sense of slow, simmering dread explodes in an act of shocking violence, as Alice smashes her father over the head with his hammer, leaving us with a “killer” cliff-hanger.
The layouts, colours, and especially, the line-work, is fantastic throughout this first issue. Specifically, the way in which Peter Gross and finisher Vince Locke implement heavy use of hatched lines in the darker sections of the book – both in terms of light and horrific content – is superb, often evoking Bernie Wrightson’s illustrations for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and even brought to mind some of the works of Albrecht Durer.
Mike Carey’s work on this title is as wonderful as ever, presenting us with a story that echoes – and even has a few not-so-subtle references to – Alice in Wonderland (our protagonist’s name is Alice, for starters), but takes us down the rabbit-hole to a decidedly darker place. The Dollhouse Family #1 contrasts the initial absurdity of its premise (a magical dollhouse) with genuine human darkness in the form of Alice’s father, as well as a permeating feeling of dread that lurks at the edge of every scene inside the dollhouse, made even more ominous by the dollhouse’s tangential relationship to the cosmic horror on display in the Joseph Kent sections of the book.
I recently made my way through Mike Carey’s X-Men run (spanning seventy-three issues; the second longest consecutive run a writer has had on an X-Men book) and I came to realize something that Carey is able to effortlessly balance throughout his work – Carey deftly combines sprawling, cosmic story-lines with genuinely affecting personal drama in a way few writers are capable of. If you get your characters right, and their interactions feel honest and true to life, then the fantastical or horrific elements hit that much harder, making it easier for the reader to buy into the story, and The Dollhouse Family #1 is no exception to this.
The Dollhouse Family #1 (Carey, Gross, Locke, Peter, Klein) delivers the first chapter in a sprawling, multi-generational horror/mystery story that’s genuinely engrossing, with gorgeous artwork and enough connective tissue running between the two parallel plot-lines that I can’t wait to see how they inevitably come together.
The Dollhouse Family #1: Into The Black Room
Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
Storyline - 9.5/109.5/10
Art - 8.5/108.5/10
Color - 8/108/10
Cover Art - 8/108/10
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