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Dr. Horrible Conquers the Comic Book Realm

on Mon, 01/11/2010 - 00:00

When Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was first released on the World Wide Web during the summer of 2008, it was an immediate hit and even crashed the servers hosting the web series within hours. The three-act musical went on to become a successful selling DVD and soundtrack CD as well, and even won an Emmy Award the following year despite having never been aired on television. Although lacking any sort of sing-along tunes, meanwhile, Dark Horse comics has added to the Dr. Horrible narrative nonetheless with a series of graphic illustration shorts exclusively available on MySpace Dark Horse Presents, as well as a more traditional one-shot comic book.

“It’s sort of like the origin of Dr. Horrible,” Zack Whedon, who co-wrote the original web series, told Newsarama in December 2009. “We knew the general backgrounds of these characters and their history with each other—that’s alluded to in the show, that Dr. Horrible has been getting his butt kicked by Captain Hammer for quite a while, and that he’s been pining after Penny for a long time. But aside from those things, his origin was all created for this comic book.”

In the comic book world of Dr. Horrible that Zack Whedon has crafted, heroes equal strength and stupidity while evil is intelligent but physically weak. This is not only evident in the one-shot, but in the mini-stories Whedon wrote for MySpace Dark Horse Presents as well. In “Captain Hammer: Be Like Me,” for instance, the superhero asks high school students for their assistance. “Evil is everywhere and I can’t do it alone,” he explains. “I need your help.” Captain Hammer then defines his version of evil. “Take a closer look at your schoolmates,” he says while pointing out two Goth kids. “You see harmless death nerds, I see future supervillains.” From there, the Captain continues his sales pitch. “Have a friend that excels in math and science?” he asks. “Report him! If you don’t you could end up an unwitting accomplice to evil.” He concludes with, “So you do your part, I’ll do mine, and maybe we can put these geeky weirdo perverts in their place.”

One of those “geeky weirdo perverts” that Captain Hammer refers to is Dr. Horrible’s friend and sidekick, Moist. In another MySpace Dark Horse Presents mini-comic, entitled “Moist: Humidity Rising,” the clammy henchman’s backstory is revealed, as well as how he first met Dr. Horrible. Penny is also given the MySpace treatment in “Penny: Keep Your Head Up.” Her reaction to a first date’s enthusiasm over superheroes is to recite a litany of real world problems, including the environment, hunger and women’s rights. “Superheroes are good for fighting 60-foot robots,” she says, “but how often do you see one of those? Where’s Wingspan when a little girl goes to sleep hungry or homeless?” In the mind of Penny, the likes of Captain Hammer aren’t the heroes that they portend to be.

The one-shot continues that distinction, but this time from the viewpoint of Dr. Horrible himself. It briefly opens in 1986, when eight-year-old Billy is beaten up by a bully during lunch. With the thrashing fresh in his mind—as well as a black-eye on his face—Billy witnesses a showdown between evil genius Mister Maniacal and hero Justice Joe after school. As the crowd cheers for Justice Joe, the two nemeses exchange barbs. “Now the world will see that brains will always beat brawn,” the evil genius declares. After his lunchtime encounter with the bully, the words have an uplifting effect on young Billy. By the time the battle ends, Billy is noticeably excited that Mister Maniacal has defeated Justice Joe. Intelligence, it would seem, is superior to brawns after all.

The story then jumps to 20 years into the future, where the budding criminal mastermind known as Dr. Horrible has his first encounter with Captain Hammer. The introduction plays out exactly as one would expect, from Captain Hammer’s initial dimwittedness (“Horrible? You’re not evil, are you?”) to his eventual ass-kicking of Dr. Horrible.

Penny, meanwhile, makes a brief appearance at the laundromat. As an excited Billy thinks about his encounter with Captain Hammer (“I faced down Captain Hammer—the master of all things douchebag knows who I am!”), he notices the girl of his dreams. Suddenly he can’t think straight and breaks into a sweat. He regains his focus, however, when a TV news report notes that it is the 20th anniversary of Justice Joe’s death at the hands of Mister Maniacal. Billy’s eyes light up as a plan emerges in his overly intelligent brain.

“Mister Maniacal had the right idea,” he concludes. “Level the playing field.” Enticing Captain Hammer into another fight—or, rather, another ass-beating—the villain escapes the encounter with strains of his nemesis’ hair. Using the DNA, he concocts a strength potion in order to fight Captain Hammer on more physically-equal terms.

Moist, however, doesn’t initially understand the plan. “I don’t get it,” he tells Dr. Horrible. “You want people to follow you, but after Mister Maniacal defeated Justice Joe, he wasn’t followed. I mean he was followed, but it was by a mob that then set him on fire.” Dr. Horrible in turn explains that “people want strength.” Mister Maniacal’s plan failed because it merely weakened Justice Joe. By strengthening himself instead, Dr. Horrible’s “far superior mind will tip the scales” and win both the battle and public opinion.

There are numerous references to the original Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog in the Dark Horse comic. Mister Maniacal’s evil laugh, for instance, is similar to the one Dr. Horrible uses at the start of the online musical. The budding supervillain also devises a plan to “bring the municipal government to its knees” by using quarter-shaped explosives to destroy parking meters, “resulting in a huge loss of revenue for the city.” This is similar to his later remarks concerning stealing gold from Fort Knox. “It’s not about making money, it’s about taking money,” he explains in the web series. “It’s about disrupting the status quo.”

Bad Horse also makes an appearance in the one-shot, as does his terrible death whinny—“Wheeeee Haw Hawn Haaaw!” There are also comic renderings of David Fury and Marti Noxon as TV news anchors, just as the real-life television writers appeared in the original. And Captain Hammer is seen conversing with the three groupies from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and even has his hand on the “ass” of co-creator Maurissa Tancharoen.

When Moist suggest using one of the many ray guns in Dr. Horrible’s arsenal, meanwhile, the evil genius replies, “Those things never work.” Yet when Captain Hammer throws a steel beam at Dr. Horrible, it is the Transmatter Ray that saves the day—although it inevitably turns the beam into liquid form, just as it does with the gold bars from Fort Knox. Finally, upon seeing a billboard for anti-aging skin cream that states “Stop Time,” Dr. Horrible responds, “Not a bad idea.”

“There are a number of little sort of nods and references to the show,” Zack Whedon explained to Newsarama. “Some of which are extremely subtle and nobody will pick up on, or only the diehards will, and some which are overt and ridiculous. But I think it will be fun for that reason, that there’s all these sort of winks and nods to the fans.”

During the 2009 Emmy Awards, the ceremony was briefly interrupted when supervillain Dr. Horrible hijacked the broadcast to announce that “the future of home entertainment is the Internet.” While the validity of such a statement still remains to be seen, Zack Whedon’s comic book contributions to the ongoing story has proven that Dr. Horrible is viable entertainment in a multitude of media forms both on and off the World Wide Web.

Anthony Letizia

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