The more things change, the more they stay the same. That seems to be the idea behind this month’s Dr. Horrible: Best Friends Forever, released to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the cult web series. Unfortunately, that ethos has extended to the storytelling, as well. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by other “revival” comic books like Serenity and Batman ’66 and their willingness to take television characters without new episodes and take interesting chances with them, but I found myself wishing for a lot more substance from this one-shot.
The story is perfectly serviceable: a short confrontation pitting the unlikely team of Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer against a gang of hungry timeworms, but it sure feels like writer Joss Whedon resists the urge to give fans some kind of closure in the hopes that he’ll eventually get the band back together to film a true sequel.
I can understand that hesitance. After all, Joe Harris found himself having to quickly wrap up and retcon his X-Files comics when the television series came back and rendered his “official” continuation moot. Nobody wants their story to suddenly not be “real” anymore. However, as the creator and writer of the original property, Joss Whedon knows what comes next. He’s said so in multiple interviews, so I think that’s where he gets in his own way a bit with these one-shots. With Buffy, I think he knew there was no chance of getting Sarah Michelle Gellar back into battle, so he had no problem putting out the further adventures of the Scooby gang. The Serenity comics have continued the story after the events of the film, adding new characters and moving the original characters forward with their lives, accepting that the show and film’s cast members have done the same. With Horrible, I think Whedon still holds onto the possibility of filming that follow-up and so, the status quo of the original remains unscathed…which is a shame. As the Doc himself would remind us, “the status is not quo.” It’s hard to care about characters who are stuck in a holding pattern. I realize I say this as a fan of superhero comics, but even those occasionally shake things up and are seldom satisfied with “business as usual.”
Because of this resistance to change, however, the whole affair ends up having an “okay, so now what?” feel to it. It’s certainly harmless, but at some point, it’s either time to move the story forward or risk running out of road with these one-shots. The few nuggets of forward momentum that we get (such as the possibility of Dr. Horrible finding a method of time travel) are pushed aside, perhaps to be saved for a future live-action project. It’s frustrating, but as a fan of the original, I didn’t get much from this one-shot and I doubt that anyone unfamiliar with the property is going to pick this up, leaving me to wonder exactly who this is for.
The book isn’t entirely without merit, though. There are a few genuinely great jokes and nice callbacks to the show, as well as a surprisingly dark “cameo” from an original series character. The resolution of the story is effective and is the one-shot’s best representation of the brand of funny nihilism that marked so much of the web series’ humor. On the flipside, there are constant cracks about menstruation that come off as more than a little tone deaf and at odds with the gentler misanthropic jokes from the original show. Sure, this is meant to remind us what boneheads the characters can be, but something about it just reads as skeevier than you’d expect, even from a misogynist like Captain Hammer.
I genuinely wanted to enjoy this and was excited by the idea of a return to the world of Dr. Horrible, but I ultimately felt very put off by much of the issue. As a fan, it’s great to see the characters again…now I just wish something smarter and more substantial was being done with them.