October 29, 2020

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Quick Hit: The Dollhouse Family by M.R. Carey and Peter Gross

The Dollhouse Family
Written by M.R. Carey
Art by Peter Gross with finishes by Vince Locke
Colors by Cris Peter
Published by DC Comics/Black Label/Hill House

Dolls are creepy and terrifying. So, if a story is called The Dollhouse Family, I'm already freaked out before I've even read the book. But the great news is, this is a good creepy read, but it's also about a lot more than just scares. It's scary and unsettling, but also funny (at points), dramatic, and sweet (from time to time). M.R. Carey and Peter Gross are master storytellers, and they bring a weird and wonderfully creepy story to life. If you've been missing classic DC Vertigo stories, you'll absolutely love The Dollhouse Family

The Dollhouse Family begins in both 1826 and in 1979.In 1979, young Alice receives the bequest of a distant relative. A beautiful, intricately detailed dollhouse. In 1826, surveyor Joseph Kent is working on an updated map of Ireland when he finds himself in a cave that yields strange and terrifying mysteries. Alice's life takes some difficult turns, but remarkably, the dollhouse shows up when she needs it. I don't want to say too much more about Alice, Joseph Kent, the dollhouse, or the threads that connect all of these together. But they're all connected, in a story that's big, unsettling at times,  expansive and thoroughly engaging. This is an entertaining story, but there are also clearly some ideas about generational trauma and consequences at play here.

Carey and Gross have worked together on many excellent collaborations over the years, including several long-running series at the Vertigo imprint (Lucifer, The Unwritten) and other more recent miniseries (The Highest House).  I haven't read the others, but I can strongly recommend The Unwritten. The Dollhouse Family, feels like a return to Vertigo-style stories. What would that be, exactly?  Well first, given their influence, Carey and Gross themselves very much had a hand in creating what one might think of as a the Vertigo "style". But more broadly, a Vertigo style story is a story with elements of fantasy and magic. Something that feels smart, literary, sometimes scary, often darkly funny, and often addressing larger themes and ideas (all of which began, of course, with Sandman).  


The Dollhouse Family has all of the elements I mentioned above. There's a mysterious dollhouse, and impossible supernatural occurrences. There's unsettling phenomena, a dark past, and a larger overarching story. But The Dollhouse Family is very accessible. As soon as you start reading, you'll want to figure out what's going on, and a huge part of that is the wonderful art of Gross and Vince Locke and colorist Cris Peter. Gross (with Locke) has a skillful, highly accessible cartooning style. He's got an incredible eye for locations, as all of the various locations in the story, whether they're in an orphanage, a strange cave, or an old mansion, all of these locations come to life with a high degree of verisimilitude. He's a gifted illustrator of people as well as places, and there's a ton of humanity and emotion that comes across from every character on every page. But Gross and Locke are equally adept a bringing the terrifying to life. There are some gross and horrible things in the story (though never graphically violent), and they're equally skillful in bringing the sinister to life as well. The art team has a great partner in Peter, whose colors have a remarkable variety to them, from vibrant spring days, to terrifying rooms, to subterranean depths. All of the colors of this book are full of life and purpose.

 
The Dollhouse Family is an excellent, scary read. For those looking for a fun fright in a compelling tale, I can't recommend this book enough.