Written by Chris King | Art by Jesus Hervas | Published by Titan Comics
Penny Dreadful was one of my favourite shows of the last few years. I’m certainly not alone in that it quickly grew into something of a cult classic. Often violent and bloody, but very stylish and superbly written and acted. It’s fair to say I was extremely disappointed when it ended after three seasons. If you are picking this book up, or are thinking of it, chances are you are a fan yourself, and missing the show just as much. If you are a newcomer to the world of Penny Dreadful, all you need to know is that it explores the horror and supernatural elements lurking under the surface in a splendidly gothic late Victorian world, and it is most definitely worth a visit.
Penny Dreadful originally followed an interesting group of characters, most of whom would be familiar from popular fiction – Victor Frankenstein, the Creature, Dorian Gray, Dr Jekyll, Dracula, a Wolf man (Ethan Chandler, an American), Sir Malcolm Murray (a prototypical late nineteenth century African explorer), a flamboyant Egyptologist Mr. Lyle, and Vanessa Ives, a powerful witch/ psychic of sorts, tortured by her own ability. The three seasons that ran on TV saw the group deal with all sorts of supernatural threats, while also fighting their own internal demons. The quest to find and destroy Dracula had been the main plot thread through all three seasons, as he had killed and turned Sir Malcolm’s daughter into an undead vampire. This ultimately culminated in the death of Vanessa Ives after a brutal confrontation with Dracula and his minions saw her sacrifice herself to win.
This Penny Dreadful series from Titan Comics is, in essence, season four of the show. It is ‘officially’ canon in that one of the show runners, Chris King, is writing it. It picks up 6 months after Vanessa’s death, with her friends all struggling to cope with life after her sacrifice. None has suffered more so than her lover Ethan Chandler, who was forced to kill her by her own request. As the opening scenes here show, he still has nightmares about it pretty much every night. We catch up first with Mr. Lyle, the world’s campest Egyptologist, on a excavation dig near Cairo. His dig has ominously just unearthed an ornate tomb, covered in hieroglyphs concerning the annihilation of mankind. It tells of an imminent battle between Amun-Ra and his blood drinking followers, and the demon god Set and his followers. Mr. Lyle insists the tomb is resealed and left alone, though the Duke of Kent, financing the expedition, can only see £ signs.
We switch back to London and Kaetenay, the Native American who trained Ethan, is in the midst of a vision also showing some apocalyptic conflict. Not looking good. He leaves, telling Ethan he will return with others to help. Ethan, meanwhile, goes to visit Vanessa’s therapist, Dr Seward, to talk about his feeling that Vanessa is following him, even though she is dead, and to see if Dr Seward can cure his transformations though hypnosis. She agrees, and they travel to the cottage Vanessa used when she lived with the cut-wife Joan Clayton (who bore an uncanny resemblance to Dr Seward). The full moon rises and Ethan transforms, scaring the bejesus out of Dr Seward. How that turns out we’ll need to see next time round.
The real drama though is happening at the Mr. Lyle’s Egyptian Dynasty opening night gala, attended by Sir Malcolm and the cream of London society. Mr. Lyle is horrified to find that the Duke of Kent brought the sarcophagus of Belial back from Egypt after all. He’d be even more horrified if her knew what we do, that The Duke of Kent was excavating for that on purpose. He is a devil worshipper, one of the sons of darkness who will use Belial to help raise Lucifer from the dead by creating an undead army. Always the royals isn’t it. As you can imagine, the mummified Belial’s appearance in the gala, and brutal murder of a museum bigwig, is going to end badly.
Wow. I don’t think I could have enjoyed that more. The story was of course extremely good in its own right, cleverly interweaving the ongoing plot threads while allowing us to catch up with our favourite dysfunctional family of characters. The individual characterisation was even better, each character’s voice perfectly echoing that of the actors and actresses that brought them to life. Simply a joy to read. The artwork was also a joy to look at. Perfectly paced, some nice layouts and splash pages, all enhanced by perfect murky and muted colours.
A perfect blend of new story and old friends. Loved it.
Penny Dreadful: The Awaking #1 is released on April 5th, courtesy of Titan Comics.