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Titan Comics’ PENNY DREADFUL Takes Us Back to the Demimonde (Review)

Titan Comics’ PENNY DREADFUL Takes Us Back to the Demimonde (Review)

In the past, Penny Dreadful would be airing their season premiere on Showtime right about now. Alas, series creator John Logan decided to end the show last year with the third season, even though fans were left wanting more. Luckily, publisher Titan Comics is continuing to expand the world of Penny Dreadful with a sequel series coming this year and this recently released, 5-part prequel miniseries comic, Penny Dreadful, Vol. 1.

For those of you out there who never watched the series during its three season run, the show was a reimagining of classic 19th century horror novels, taking elements from Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and eventually, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and mashing them up together. Although the series was very faithful to the original novels, there were many times when Penny Dreadful deviates from established canon completely.

The main characters of the series—Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton)Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), and Vanessa Ives (Eva Green)—were entirely new creations, related to Mina Murray Harker (the main female protagonist in Dracula). Having said that, Mina herself is only briefly seen in the series, as she’s really just a entry point for all of our new characters.

From TV series writers Krysty Wilson Cairns, Chris King, and Andrew Hinderaker, with illustrations by Louie De Martinis, this particular story fills in many of the story gaps from the very first season of the show. Centered on Sir Malcolm Murray—a famous British 19th century adventurer—and his companion, the mysterious Vanessa Ives, the duo set out to rescue Murray’s daughter Mina from the clutches of a sinister “Master” vampire who, although unnamed, we know to be Dracula. It’s mentioned very briefly in the series, but this Master vampire had Mina abducted from side of of her new husband, a man named Jonathan Harker. This is a name that should be very familiar to anyone who has read or seen an adaptation of Dracula before.

Now, On the actual TV show, we only ever get that very brief mention of Harker and never see him on screen—despite being the lead character in Bram Stoker’s original novel. It’s in this story that we meet not only Harker, but his friends from Stoker’s book, like the Texan gunman Quincy P. Morris, and Mina’s friend (and fellow victim of Dracula’s bite) Lucy Westenra. This story finally reveals how all these classic characters fit into the overall Penny Dreadful narrative.

The first several pages of this story are actually a retelling of scenes from the fifth episode of the season one, “Closer than Sisters,” which revealed the backstory of Vanessa Ives and the Murray family. In that episode, we learned that Vanessa and Mina Murray were childhood best friends, but she betrayed her by having an affair with Mina’s fiancé before the wedding (which Mina later discovered).

The utter shame and sadness at her own actions allowed the already psychic Vanessa to become vulnerable to the demon world, which was a years-long struggle for her to overcome. When she eventually does overcome it, and when her old friend Mina is abducted by Dracula, she offers her unique psychic services to help her father Sir Malcolm find her—and hopefully save her and atone for her own sins.

The story in these pages takes us outside the known narrative of the show, as we follow Sir Malcolm, Vanessa, and Sembene (Malcolm’s African manservant) as they take a carriage to the home of Mina’s husband Jonathan. Chaos ensues, and the trio are forced to look elsewhere for Minda. We also get a bit more of Jonathan’s side of the story, and discover how Mina was seduced and taken by the Master Vampire.

This story gives us flashbacks within flashbacks, as we also get an extended story where we learn how Malcolm Murray lost his son on an African expedition many years ago, and why he and the African Sembene have formed the lifelong bond we see on the TV series. This is a story that is only hinted at in the show itself, so its nice to see it fully fleshed out here.

Eventually, the story dovetails nicely into the beginning of the series, and actually explains a lot of many different things that were left open to interpretation on the TV show in a satisfactory way. After a kind of awkward first chapter dialogue wise, the story begins to echo the language used on the show far more readily, and you feel like you’re immersed in an episode you never saw. John Logan’s florid writing style is hard to match well in comic book form, but eventually the writers get into the groove and style of Penny Dreadful and acquit themselves admirably. Which makes total sense once you remember they wrote for the TV series as well.

As can be a problem in adapting live-action content to the comic form, the art can sometimes look like the artist was just taking still frames from the series and tracing them over a light board. Some like this style while others do not, but all that aside, the actual composition in this graphic novel is actually really well done and beautiful to view. The color palette is particularly impressive here, and some of these pages are worthy of framing. At the end of the day, I have to hand it to artist Louie De Martinis,who handled the entire artwork for this book by himself.

If you’re a big fan of Penny Dreadful and miss it as much as I do, I definitely recommend picking up this collection, as it adds enough new elements to the story that are interesting and sure to excite fans of the source material. Aside from that, there are some nice behind-the-scenes text pieces about the TV series contained in the back of the book that most fans will love. We may no longer have Penny Dreadful on TV, but if Titan Comics keeps making quality spin-offs like this one, it’s sure to keep most fans of the TV series very happy.

4 out of 5 Spooky Burritos:

4-burritos

 

Penny Dreadful: Volume 1  is available at comic book stores and at online retailers now. Are you going to pick it up? Let us know in the comments below!

Images: Titan Comics / Showtime

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