Written by Krysty Wilson-Cairns | Art by Louie De Martins | Published by Titan Comics | Format: Paperback, 32pp
Sometimes being a fan can work both ways when you review a book. You can either be too lenient, wanting so much for it to be good that you overlook flaws you would normally point out, or be too harsh, being over critical so as to not appear biased. Although never intentionally, I may have slipped into those traps once or twice myself. Self-awareness however is a wonderful thing, and I started to read Penny Dreadful confident that my love of the TV show would not interfere with delivering a nice balanced review. As always, a good start to assessing a new book’s quality is the creative team, and it’s good to see the TV show’s writers and producers are the creative minds behind it. Usually a seal of quality, as they obviously want to oversee all aspects of their baby.
Penny Dreadful, for those of you unaware, is a Victorian set gothic horror show, which unites together previously published famous fictional characters in late nineteenth century London. Characters such as Victor Frankenstein, the Creature, Dr Jekyll, Dracula, Dorian Gray etc. There are also characters that have been formed from archetypes of that era; Sir Malcolm Murray is the typical Victorian African explorer, Vanessa Ives a dark, mysterious woman possessed of supernatural abilities, Ethan Chandler a displaced American gunslinger from the Wild West. It’s a great concept, forming a loose team of Victorian adventurers, following in the footsteps of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, to which it owes a debt. This comic series is intended as a prequel to the first series, so hopefully accessible to both fans and newbie’s alike.
First impressions were of a little too bit style over substance. The story itself was on the surface quite sparse, exposition tied together by some set piece scenes of action, quite natural though for a writer used to the story beats of a television episode. The action scenes were certainly dynamic, with high speed chases, a wolf attack, and a vampire attack among other things. Breathless stuff indeed. What really worked for me most here were two things. Firstly, the atmosphere. Wilson-Cairns writing generated a strong sense of dread and foreboding, an underlying menace on every page. Secondly, the writing of the characters was excellent. The dialogue was very well written on its own merits, but written so well that I could hear the actors voices in my head as I read it as well. You can’t capture the spirit of an adaptation better than that.
The artwork is something of a ‘you’ll love it or hate it’ marmite equation. It took me a little time to adjust to it, but once I did I could see that it suited the concept and tone of the book perfectly. De Martins art is very atmospheric, all blacks and shadows occasionally lit up by splashes of blood red. It obviously works well as a creative choice visually, but helps remind us as readers this is a bleak, dark world these characters inhabit, firmly in the shadows of late Victorian society. It also reinforces the dread and foreboding hinted at in the writing. Character designs are also excellent, great likenesses for the cast of the show and suitably stylized designs for the creatures seemingly lurking everywhere.
A very promising start for this book. It has style in abundance, my only concern would be the substance part. Sometimes screenwriters struggle to adapt their technique to the monthly comic book, so a good story can be undone by uneven pacing. One issue can be overloaded with plot and action, another can just feel like filler, so I hope this book avoids those potential pitfalls. The best thing it has going for it? It captures the spirit and essence of the show perfectly. It just feels ‘right’.
I’m in, and you should be too.
Penny Dreadful #1 is released tomorrow, May 11th, from Titan Comics