After the exceptionally disappointing conclusion of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, I was hesitant to pick up the comic series. The Season Three fiasco left me sour, and the announcement of the comic series seemed like a rushed half-apology instead of an extension which promised more while potentially delivering further heartache.
But this is me we’re talking about, so of course I bought it. Issues One through Three have been available for a while, and Issue Four was released September 14th. Considering the comic and the television series are tied together, there will be spoilers for both in this review. Former show writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns designed the original story, which is written by Andrew Hinderaker and illustrated by Louie de Martinis.
Issue One starts out like the end of Season One’s fifth episode, with Mina and Vanessa meeting by the sea and Vanessa’s subsequent visit to Sir Malcolm regarding his daughter. My first impressions weren’t favorable. The interior art struck me as lazy, like someone had dropped stills from the show into Illustrator and traced lines over them. The panel colors are muddy in places, making the images difficult to interpret.
Aesthetics aside, the story line veers more toward Bram Stoker’s tale, with Vanessa and Malcolm headed to Mina’s home, Sembene in tow. On the way, the group is accosted by wolves, something Jonathan Harker faces in his own encounters with the Count in the novel. It’s clear Mina isn’t at home, but a few vampires are, and Sir Malcolm certainly isn’t gun shy. A masked man enters to provide aid, and here we meet Jonathan himself, who we never met in the television series.
I did find it strange he never made an appearance, what with his wife missing and all. Sure, Malcolm didn’t approve of the marriage, but wouldn’t he pop in or at least write a letter asking if Malcolm has heard from his daughter?
Lucy is amazingly sassy and I have my fingers crossed that she gets to (finally) be a strong female character.Issue Two gets into Jonathan and Mina’s relationship, and how Dracula came to have hold over Mina. Again, the art is iffy, but I was thrilled to see Quincey and Lucy join the cast.
And Lucy is amazingly sassy and I have my fingers crossed that she gets to (finally) be a strong female character. She gets the short end of the stick in the novel, a victim of the Victorian Era’s penchant for never talking about anything.
Considering what we know of Mina in Penny Dreadful’s incarnation, it seems to me like Lucy is taking over the role Mina played in the original text, like Vanessa transposing Mina on the show.
We also get a nice expansion of Vanessa’s powers. Here, she insists Jonathan “show” her what happened to Mina, we’re taken on a ride through Jonathan’s memories, which Vanessa sees through his eyes. Jonathan also has strong religious faith in this version, which I don’t recall in Stoker’s novel, or from any other adaptation I’ve seen. Maybe his faith his why Malcolm didn’t approve of the match.
I’m still not over how the television series robbed Vanessa for her autonomy—actually, I’ll never be over it—but I am glad to see that not only is the story line for the comic series different, but they’re exploring story lines previously excluded, such as Jonathan’s. For every story you choose to tell, there are a dozen others untold. One of the sticking points in the series for me was the lack of background for Sembene, and the end of Issue Two takes us back to Africa.
As in the television series, Malcolm’s son Peter dies, but here Sembene warns Malcolm against burying his son in a foreign country. Failing to return the body to its homeland unleashes a curse. Malcolm, not believing in curses, does whatever he wants and buries Peter anyway.
Hey, look, there’s a curse!
In the show, we got the barest scrap of background on Sembene, largely the ritual scarring on his face denoting him as a slave trader. In the comics, this fact is proven true, and it’s Sembene’s men who begin to suffer as a result of Sir Malcolm’s ostentation. The consequences of Malcolm’s trials in Africa not only secure Sembene to him as a friend and guide, but gives Malcolm the experience to believe in the demons Vanessa feels she sees and the monsters who stole his daughter. I’m still mad at you, Penny Dreadful, for cheating Sembene out of his agency.
I’m still mad at you, Penny Dreadful, for cheating Sembene out of his agency.Unfortunately, Issue Three didn’t give me a hint as to the next phase of the story, only the continuing search for Mina. I hope we continue to see these new and side characters developed further, and I hope the writers don’t feed into the harmful tropes that did such a great injustice to Vanessa, Sembene, and other characters in the series.
I will say that focus of the comic line seems to have shifted to Mina. I’m interested to see how it unfolds, and I’m hoping for the inclusion of the new and wholly underutilized characters we saw in Season Three.
My only other critique so far is the length of issues. They average 24 pages, which is, well, average. I usually wait for trade volumes to come out (because then I can binge read), so I forget how short comic issues are. This is purely a failing of my own: I’m impatient.
Even three issues in, I’m still hesitant. The comics lack the depth of the show (but that’s read versus acting), and they’re heavier on action rather than dialogue. John Logan burned me, so I’m hoping against hope that Wilson-Cairns and Hinderaker do better by the characters I knew and loved. I don’t know how long the series will be, but we’ll find out together. If you’re a hardcore “Dreadful,” pick up the series and look at the gang from a new perspective and enjoy some rather delightful cover art and behind-the-scenes.
Who else is joining me in the demimonde?
Meghan Harker is a Horror writer for Girls in Capes. She’s currently working on her own Gothic novel and hosts the Courting Casualties podcast. When not writing, she’s either drawing, reading, hunting antiques, or lamenting that she wasn’t born in the 1800s. If you follow her on Twitter (@ExquisitelyOdd), you might get the chance to play Guess Who’s Dead!, her favorite post-mortem photography game (no one else likes to play.)