DOPPELGÄNGER #1 by Jordan Hart and Emmanuel Xerx Javier
DOPPELGÄNGER #1 delivers its story and illustrations simply, in a realistic world with a single twist. The comic holds a lot of potential as an exploration of identity.
87 %
Twice as nice

The two silhouettes on the cover of DOPPELGÄNGER #1 hover on top of one another indecisively. Are they two separate people or one person seen twice? Writer Jordan Hart’s and artist Emmanuel Xerx Javier’s new comic dives headfirst into the instability of identity as its central question.

The series gets its title from the German word meaning alter ego or, literally, “double goer.” It tackles themes that put it in conversation with literary giants such as Fyodor Dostoevsky and Edgar Allan Poe. DOPPELGÄNGER #1 asks readers what we mean when we talk about who we are.

Image courtesy of Alterna Comics.

In this premier issue of a four-part series from Alterna Comics, we meet our protagonist Dennis. A tech engineer with a wife and daughter, he enters the story with a “CRASH!” at the scene of his car accident. That night, the concussed Dennis learns from an unexpected visitor that he has only 36 hours to live. What scares Dennis most of all isn’t the threat of death, but the fact that this visitor is an exact copy of Dennis himself.

Dennis is bullied at work, during his childhood, and now by his new doppelgänger. He’s established as the underdog. The author sets the stage for character growth with a comment by Dennis’ wife: “I just wish you’d stick up for yourself,” she says. Will we watch Dennis grow to find his voice? Will Dennis be able to retaliate when his latest aggressor is, impossibly, a more sinister version of himself?

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DOPPELGÄNGER #1’s Artwork Complements Its Story

DOPPELGÄNGER #1 climaxes in a full-page panel where the two Dennises meet face-to-face at the threshold of Dennis’ house. The door literally and figuratively  opens to reveal a new phase in Dennis’ story. The pastel coloring of previous panels fades to muted blues and reds as the mood also darkens.

We sense that something sinister looms, since the blues and yellows of the house blend into an eerie green. Before, the illustrations’ direct lines and flat colors evoked mundane scenes of office life and suburbia. Here, however, when the supernatural occurs, the colors bleed into one another for the first time in the story. The effect is a purposeful intersection of narrative and visual art.

The artist of DOPPELGÄNGER #1 also faced the particularly challenging task of illustrating identical figures with distinct personalities. Emmanuel Xerx Javier manages to sketch out a pair of Dennises that appear spookily similar, yet identifiable. In fact, the confusion that arises as we try to keep track of the two Dennises serves a purpose.

Which Dennis just said that? Which Dennis is facing my direction? This uncertainty gives the reader a sense of what the character Dennis must be feeling at this moment. How can he be sure if he is the one speaking? Is he seeing his house from his own point of view or through the eyes of his doppelgänger?

Image courtesy of Alterna Comics.

What Makes a Person: Mind or Body?

The creators of DOPPELGÄNGER #1 propose a spectrum of ideas about what constitutes a person. To Dennis, the whole of his identity lies in his mind. To indicate this, several panels show Dennis clutching his head in the opening scene of his car crash and concussion.

Throughout the comic, Dennis sporadically cradles his head in his hand. The gesture represents the value he places on his mind. Even the bullying from Dennis’ boss — though not invited or condoned —implies that Dennis primarily experiences pain mentally. His struggle with “emotional harassment” is a relatively unexplored topic that the comic will hopefully illuminate further in future issues.

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To challenge Dennis, the creators disperse other points of view throughout the comic. For instance, the second Dennis claims to be “an exact copy, down to every single cell.” He also boasts, “I’ve got all of your memories too.” With cool superiority, this doppelgänger includes both body and mind in his definition of a human being.

Another perspective comes from Dennis’ friend Ricky, who asks Dennis about the other victim in the car crash. Ricky exists for the reader as a personification of the idea that humans are just bundles of flesh and bones. He asks, “How’d he smell? You know, when people die, they’re supposed to shit themselves.” It’s a gritty reminder that, in death, each of us is nothing more than a body.

Which part of a person makes them who they are? Their mind or their body? DOPPELGÄNGER #1 presents the question but offers no firm conclusions.

Image courtesy of Alterna Comics.

DOPPELGÄNGER #1 Asks Tough Questions 

DOPPELGÄNGER #1 does not shy away from any of the big questions. For instance, the knowledge of Dennis’ imminent death suggests life is a game in which some people are chosen at random to live and to die. “There are rules to this thing,” Dennis’ doppelgänger tells him. Yet, there is no explanation of who gets to make the rules and whether or not they make any sense.

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Dennis’ daughter, Sarah, is a subtle means of introducing the story’s most complex moral dilemmas. With childlike confusion, she asks her dad if “the bad man” who caused the accident went to jail. With this question, Sarah reminds me of my own instinct to try and categorize people as good and bad. We all want to find a target to blame. Similarly, Sarah asks about her father’s “owie,” expecting him to be cured. In her black-and-white question, Sarah echoes the narrative of healing that we all crave during times of illness.

Dennis’ replies to his daughter are poignantly simple, masking the complex uncertainties that lie beneath. I look forward to watching how the answers Dennis gives about morality and illness in DOPPELGÄNGER #1 will inevitably come into conflict with decisions he makes in the coming issues.

DOPPELGÄNGER #1 Leaves Us Wanting Answers

DOPPELGÄNGER #1 sets up a number of hooks that will keep me coming back for more. Dennis will die in 36 hours. How will he spend that time? Notice the freshly withdrawn bundle of cash bulging out of his back pocket in the final frame. We’re tempted to imagine a downward spiral.

Much as the comic’s climactic scene occurs on the doorstep of Dennis’ house, the final panel shows Dennis in front of a half-shut garage door. Will the door open or close for Dennis? What’s beyond this next door for the reader? Readers should be excited about the second issue when we’ll find out.

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