In keeping with a request I’ve had to review trade collections on the site to better inform readers in making their purchasing decisions, I’m going to address the recently collected volume of Penny Dreadful comics published by Titan. In fact it’s a March book, so it will arrive shortly on shelves.
Truth be told, I picked up the first couple of issues of this comic when they were released in 2016, then fell behind through no specific criticism of the comic, and so was happy enough to find the trade collection was being released. One of the reasons I’d picked up the comic in the first place was because I had been a very big fan of the show and was disappointed, like many, that it ended suddenly. Another reason I was interested in the comic is that it has been created by the show’s writers, and is considered in continuity for the world of the show, making any plot developments or character revelations that much more interesting and authentic to the mythology I have come to admire.
Working on the story we have Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Andrew Hinderaker, and Chris King, and the actual scripting is by Wilson-Cairns and King. The artwork is by Canadian artist Louie De Martinis, with letters by Simon Bowland and Rob Steen. The book also contains 12 pages of extras, including excerpts on art direction and character design from a larger artbook–The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful–from Titan Books.
The story arc contained in this collection is a prequel to the show itself, and ostensibly slots into the time between Mina’s estrangement from her father and Vanessa’s reconnecting with him in order to look for Mina. Though I wouldn’t say that fitting a story into this time period seemed absolutely essential to understanding and appreciating the show, the comic does successfully answer a number of questions you might have about how and why Ives and Sir Malcolm Murray team up.
Another big plus is that the comic seems to dive more deeply into the plans and motivations of the Master and into supernatural forces in general, whereas the show left you guessing more often than not. In tandem with this greater sense of limited omniscient perspective on what the dark side is up to, we see a Vanessa who is a little different than you might expect. This could be an area to criticize or it could be an area to praise–depending on your personal feelings about Ives’ personality.
The comic presents a slightly less reserved and restrained Ives in terms of her spiritual insights, understanding of her personal abilities, and her intuitive interaction with others. Interestingly, this does seem more like a version of Ives we have met before–in the past. The Vanessa who learned witchcraft in the countryside was a little more direct, inquisitive, accepting of her gifts. In this story arc we see a Vanessa who stands a bit in contrast to the version of herself in the “main” timeline of the show. In that timeline we actually see her sink further into herself, perhaps, the more suffering she endures.
You can gather from this discussion that this story focuses heavily on Ives, though not exclusively. We get asides regarding Malcolm’s time in Africa that are enlightening. Most surprisingly we meet a whole group of new characters, ranging from Mina’s lawyer-husband Harker (Stoker fans rejoice), to his cohorts, Quincey, a Texan with guns and a female sharp-shooter, Lucy. If they were characters who were originally going to feature in the show, it’s a shame they didn’t, but meeting them here does feel in keeping with meeting some of the other side-characters the show brought in to expand the Penny Dreadful universe and show the reach of the “demimonde”.
The story is well told, the dialogue entirely suited to the world of the show thanks to the involvement of the show’s creators. The pacing is perhaps a little rushed compared to the show which felt unhurried, but the fact that this story focuses on a more select group of characters all on the same mission–to look for Mina, and confront the dark powers that hold her–explains that in part. The story could have been decompressed a little further, but having said that, there are nicely defined moments where characters have significant conversations or tell their own tales in ways that really retain the flavor of storytelling in the show.
The artwork on the series by de Martinis is in many ways superb. He was clearly an excellent choice for conveying mood and atmosphere, as well as for creating character likenesses that fans would appreciate. In particular his use of color, and a layered effect works well for horror and for adding a sense of disorientation when needed to make you feel drawn into sudden danger and the like. His artwork on this arc is an achievement because he presents intangible qualities of mood that really do feel like the world of the show without trying to bend the comics medium to the rules or demands of moving pictures.
My only reservation about the artwork is that sometimes the layered effect impedes clear panel to panel reading of events (sometimes intentional, no doubt), and sometimes the combination of dark colors means it’s hard to visually pick out detail that De Martinis has included for storytelling purposes. I would say this is only the case about 10 percent of the time, though, so it’s hardly a major issue.
What we get in this volume of Penny Dreadful comics is a world we know further expanded, and it’s a narrative world we are used to being expanded through flashbacks, recursive returns, and new framing devices in the show itself. So adding another segment to that expandable universe seems fitting. Reading this comic will change the way you view Vanessa and Sir Malcolm, certainly. If you would like that expanded experience, then read it, especially since you have the opportunity to read a story written by the creative team behind the show. Due care and attention has clearly been paid to do justice to the world of Penny Dreadful, and that something to celebrate.
The official release date of Penny Dreadful Volume 1 is March 28th.