Publisher: Alterna Comics
Writer: Jordan Hart
Artist: Emmanuel Xerx Javier
Cover: Emmanuel Xerx Javier
Colors: Jordan Hart
Reviewer: Steve Sellers
Admittedly, Doppelganger was a title that I didn’t know what to make of initially. Consequently, I didn’t have any real expectations coming into this book. At the same time, Alterna is a reliable publisher, and their titles generally have good emotional heart to them. That proved to be true here as well. In the end, it only took an issue to turn me around on this series.
Doppelganger offers a premise that is at once intriguing and horrifying, and that is its charm. Through a horrible twist of fate, an average person realizes that he has an exact duplicate that can perfectly pass as him. Worse, this duplicate is a creature of terrifying evil, capable of doing virtually anything with complete impunity.
Although I was skeptical of this title initially, Doppelganger has turned out to be a surprise gem for Alterna.
The covers for this series are mainly notable for their simplicity, and yet they get the point across reasonably well. The shadows of the two figures of Dennis reinforce the idea of duality and the evil twin without the use of unnecessary detail. The contrasting shades of red against a darker orange create the sense of likeness with a subtle distinction, which essentially sums up Dennis and his duplicate. The red also works for its symbolic factor, given the events of the story. I’m less certain about the use of a warmer color like yellow as a background color, though it does provide suitable enough contrast to the two main figures of the piece. The accompanying text may not be necessary, though they do provide enough of a hook to spark interest in the story. All in all, it’s a serviceable cover that gets the central idea across.
One of the strengths of Javier’s art in this series is his visual characterization. This is especially important in a story involving body doubles, but he pulls it off effectively. While the characters can be confused about who the real Dennis is, the reader should be able to recognize each Dennis at the right times. Something as simple as a cruel smile or an arched eyebrow adds a subtle touch that allows us to recognize the doppelganger at the dramatic moments. Likewise, the real Dennis’s posture and arm movements are also distinct from the doppelganger, and this becomes vital in the scenes where the two versions of Dennis interact.
At the same time, I can also respect the level of detail as well as the panel framework in this issue. The splash pages are dramatic and impactful when they should be, imparting detail as well as implication. However, Javier also makes good use of four-panel and five-panel pages to tell the story, using widescreen panels to give a good sense of cinematic depth. While there are some sparse panels, when Javier provides description in his backgrounds, it’s always thorough and believable. At other times, the layouts make clever use of computer screens, using the frames to indicate what is going on online in a way that fits seamlessly into the style of the book.
Although Justin Hart is the writer of the book, he also lends his efforts as a colorist this issue. This is solid coloring work, especially in the way that it uses darker tones to create atmosphere. Since this is a horror title, the coloring should carry much of the load in establishing the tone of the book. Most of the colors in this book are muted and drab, reflecting the mundane world that Dennis lives in. This helps when creating the sense of drabness at Dennis’s work scenes, where the dull colors create a drab sense of normalcy. However, the colors also shift dramatically when the drab company scenes quickly shift into terror at the end of the issue. This is good, atmospheric coloring that makes the doppelganger even more horrific when he finally acts.
While there’s no letterer credited in this comic, the lettering work is fairly solid. For most of the issue, the lettering is good, standard work that allows the art to breathe and the story to do its work. However, the lettering work is at its most exceptional at two particular moments. In the first place, it stands out in a scene that depicts a fantasy roleplaying card that depicts the doppelganger. The font work in this panel is exceedingly credible and comes across as the kind of lettering one might expect to find in a card deck. The other takes place during the office scenes, where much of the work in establishing the e-mails and the web sites is done largely through text. Though the text style looks slightly dated, it’s dated in a sense that makes sense for an office computer. It’s panels like these where the lettering lends realism to the comic, and there, it works effectively.
Jordan Hart is beginning to earn my respect with this series, and this story is a good illustration of why. In the first place, the script allows for both an attention hook in the first splash page and a strong cliffhanger visual on the last page. Knowing how to begin and end a story with strong images is the mark of a quality writer, and even many mainstream titles don’t always succeed at this. Hart trusts his artist to get his point across, and this is saying something in a book where the whole point is not knowing in each panel who is the real Dennis, and who is the doppelganger.
The other compelling aspect of Hart’s storytelling is that this is a writer who grasps the elements of horror. This is horror that is built on psychological manipulation of both the characters and the audience, and it succeeds in both respects. Hart is patient as he gradually establishes how evil his villain is, and slowly increasing the stakes as the true Dennis realizes just how much danger he’s in. When the doppelganger reveals his next move, it is fiendishly sadistic and yet also clever. The doppelganger makes the reader wonder if at first he would be better at being Dennis, then pulls the rug as the audience sees the full extent of the creature’s depravity.
Even the reader may guess at times who is the real Dennis, and that is the magic of the horror. This is a story that forces the reader to question Dennis’s very identity and doubt what we see in these panels. When the curtain is drawn, there is legitimate shock as the story takes an unexpected swerve, and we’re again forced to question our understanding. To succeed at that kind of shock in a genre that is as tapped out as horror takes some real talent.
If you’re looking for something new to try and don’t want to pay for a full-priced mainstream book, Doppelganger is a good candidate. At Alterna’s low pricing, this is a series that is easy to catch up on, and you’ll get more than worth the entertainment value in return. Good psychological horror is a rarity in any medium, and this series shows a strong understanding of what makes the genre work. I hope to see more comics from this team in the future, because they’ve shown real promise on this title.
Written by Steve Sellers
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