A few years ago, Joe Hill joined forces with DC Comics’ Black Label and cultivated his own line of horror comics. The series launched with Basketful of Heads, written by Hill himself. The line continued in the following months with The Dollhouse Family; The Low, Low Woods; Daphne Byrne; and Plunge. I decided to start my journey into Hill House with Daphne Bryne.
This would prove to be a poor decision.
Daphne Byrne, written by Laura Marks, follows fourteen year-old Daphne in the mourning period after her father’s untimely death. Set in New York in 1886, the setting is perfect for the spiritualist background of the story. Daphne’s mother is drawn in by a charlatan medium who claims to converse with her dead husband and will not believe her daughter’s attempts to disprove the woman. Daphne watches as her mother wastes their dwindling coin and wrestles with troubling dreams she is beginning to have, about a young man who claims to be her friend, but who also appears to her during the daytime as well.
On the surface, Daphne Byrne sounded great and I wanted to love this story. What I got instead was a mess of convoluted ideas, many of which never went anywhere and they did absolutely nothing to advance the story. At best this was derivative of Rosemary’s Baby and honestly, it was barely passable as a cohesive narrative. Unless you are a series completist, I can’t think of any reason to recommend this title.
The bar was set low for Hill House Comics.
The Dollhouse Family, written by M.R. Carey, was my next dive into this curated graphic novel line. This story follows Alice who inherits a beautiful 19th-century dollhouse from an estranged great aunt. Alice quickly falls in love with the house and the little antique dolls inside. It’s not long before she realizes that she can magically enter the house and interact with the dolls. What starts off as a joyous escape quickly becomes a nightmare as Alice discovers the Black Room and what it asks of her to do.
Aaaand we are back on track.
The Dollhouse Family was exactly what I wanted Hill House Comics to be – dark, haunting, mysterious, cohesive – you get the picture. Dollhouse delivered with demons, a mystery, and nods to Alice in Wonderland, while still maintaining its own identity. In Alice, we have a character who takes no guff and delivers as a solid protagonist. I genuinely liked this story and would recommend it for Sandman fans. There are parts of this story that made me think of the Gaiman classic quite a few times.
Thanks to The Dollhouse Family, my faith has not been completely lost in Hill House Comics. I will be continuing on next with Basketful of Heads.