Dark Horse recently released a collection of short comics in the universe of the Hugo-winning, much-loved Whedon project Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. It’s penned by Zack Whedon with art by Eric Canete, Farel Dalrymple, Jim Rugg, Joelle Jones, and Scott Hepburn.
Dr. Horrible and Other Horrible Stories is made up of five shorts, one about each of the major characters from the movie—Captain Hammer, Penny, the Evil League of Evil, Moist, and obviously the good Doctor himself. For a fan of the short film, it’s a fun and quick read for under ten dollars—no reason not to pick it up. For someone who has not seen the source material—well, why not? Just go watch it really quick, and then come back to this review. (You won’t regret it, promise.)
Captain Hammer: Be Like Me is the beginning story, and it’s pretty much what you would expect from a Captain Hammer narrative. It is interesting to get a deeper view of his actual perception of his world, as if the song about the homeless from the film wasn’t enough—man, he’s an asshole. It does satirize the distrust of intellectuals and intelligence so prominent in the everyday world: report the geeks! (I often think the world does work like this, sometimes, and it makes me bitter.)
Moist: Humidity Rising explains how Moist got, well, moist. It’s a sad and personal little story—his life when the story begins is lonely, awkward, and unpleasant, all because his father tried to cure his dry skin problem with a nuclear machine. (The least-developed and best hinted part of the Dr. Horrible universe is the availability of crazy science, so this bit of information is cool.) Then he meets Billy, and we find out how they ended up getting together: Moist found a purpose—being a henchmen and trying to help somebody who actually wants to improve the state of society get the job done. It’s a cute story, as are most of those in the collection, and rewarding because we get to actually see Billy through his friend/henchman’s eyes. He’s much more competent and cool to Moist than he is to himself.
Penny: Keep Your Head Up was the least rewarding of the stories for me narratively because it’s extremely short and doesn’t reveal anything new or unexpected about Penny’s character. She isn’t the most well developed sweet, volunteering, socially-concerned girl. On the other hand, the sick pigeon and her kindness toward others are poignant, as is the candle she lights for her dead parents to celebrate her birthday. (Is it wrong that I feel cheated that she calls Billy a cute guy at the end and is thrilled that she thinks he talked to her? Because part of what made their relationship so interesting in the film is that it’s not really a relationship—it never gets the chance to be one. It could have been, but it won’t be. It’s somehow less rewarding if she’s always noticed him.)
The Evil League of Evil is the funniest of the shorts. It’s great to see a little bit of each of the League’s members, who we only get a glimpse of at the end of the film, and how they interact—they are all a bit nerdy, socially awkward, and goofy. They’re also pretty badass on top of it. And then there’s poor Johnny Snow, who just wants to be a good guy, but doesn’t have the greatest luck and ends up getting called out as a villain instead. Whoops? It’s not a serious story, but it’s entertaining and that’s good enough for me.
Dr. Horrible—which is Billy’s “origin story”—is the best of the lot by far. Maybe it’s because, well, I totally was that kid, but Billy’s flip from hero-fan to villain-fan is both humorous and a little heartbreaking. He’s the odd one out, smarter than everyone else, and when he sees the “hero” picking on the smarter “villain” it clicks in his brain that maybe he’s rooting for the wrong side. Little-Billy’s big grin when the villain wins is fantastic. And when he’s old enough to go for it, his run-in with Captain Hammer is a success: in the sense that now he’s got a newspaper article. Doctor Horrible is here, and it’s a step in the right direction. This is the longest story and also the most well-developed, fleshing out parts of the film that we didn’t get to see. It does plenty of narrative work for the universe while still telling its own story. Zack’s skill at writing dialogue is undeniable. Every line seems to be spoken from the mouths of the actors that made the movie such a success, with appropriate snarkiness and dead-pan humor. It’s very “Whedon” but, really, that’s not a bad thing. It works to great effect in Doctor Horrible, comic and live-action.
As a whole: The artists all do a good job with representing the characters. The pin-up inserts are all great. The colors are done with skill and the lines are crisp, resulting in a pretty product. The choice of a fold-out cover is perhaps not the best, because it’s such a short collection that it’s hard to hold onto the sides and page through the comic. I think I lost my place four or five separate times because I don’t like to bend the spine and so I don’t hold the comic super-open. (That seems like an odd gripe for a review, but the handling of a book as an object is part of reading it. One can always buy digital copies of the seperate shorts, but still.)
The low price point, on the other hand, raises the potential B+ content and production to a nice comfortable A-. It’s a great supplement to the film that does plenty of work with the characters, though Penny’s short could have been better and Captain Hammer’s doesn’t do much extra either. The final story about Billy himself is a reason alone to pick up this collection and give it a read—I recommend it, especially if you need something quick and light. (If only it had the singing.)