Titan Comic’s Penny Dreadful Volume 1 is a prequel to season one that picks up with Mina begging Vanessa to save her from the Master. The beach-set plea was from the episode “Closer Than Sisters,” and it remains one of the show’s best hours, unraveling the events that left Vanessa plagued by demons and Mina vulnerable to the Master’s vampire pursuits. Volume 1 references the girls’ rift but doesn’t rehash all the details. Any readers unfamiliar with the series will get to watch it unspoiled at a later date.
What the volume does get into are Vanessa’s immediate actions after learning of Mina’s fate, primarily seeking out Mina’s father, Sir Malcolm Murray, and traveling with him to visit Mina’s married home with Jonathan Harker. If she was hoping Malcolm would serve as a mediator between her and the couple she was sadly mistaken. Malcolm wasn’t keen on their marriage and never visited. He doesn’t recognize Harker upon bumping into him but does have the audacity to issue reprove, for not being told Mina was missing.
Flashbacks to an expedition in Africa (Malcolm was an explorer) show Malcolm at his worst yet somehow associate, Sambene, retains sympathy for his hard heart. ‘World’s best dad’ has a history of prioritizing ambition over family, yet lays blame on a cursed life. The trouble with curses, and Buffy had the same problem calling Angel’s soul a curse on Buffy, is fairy tales say they are meant to be broken. Break Angel’s curse and he becomes the villainous vampire, Angelus. Break Malcolm’s curse and, well, he could. Many times. Except Malcolm has his head stuck in clouds of glory. His cursed existence is a bunch of hooey.
Possibly the best barometer for deciding to check out this volume is whether you find Malcolm tragic or complicit in his misfortune. Where the show has always slanted towards telling Vanessa’s story, Penny Dreadful, the comic, inflates Malcolm’s role from a sidelined character, who’s interestingly despicable, to a main character made intolerable.
I’m not sure this volume is going to inspire new readers to watch Penny Dreadful, any more than I’m confident readers who are already fans will be sated. The comic has a lot going for it, starting with the talent. Both writers worked on the show: Kristy Wilson-Cairns scripted two episodes in season three and Chris King was a co-executive producer. This is also a new story that fits canon. Penny Dreadful was canceled last June so comics, including Titan’s upcoming Penny Dreadful series in April, offer a rare chance at continuation past show life. This particular interlude didn’t have to be told. Jumping straight from Mina getting married to Mina being turned, it’s a supernatural event that’s played out countless times before and doesn’t stray from form.
Louie De Martini’s art switches between photo realistic images of the actors and silhouettes. The coloring is superb, overlaying scratch marks and runes for a collage effect. Pinks during Mina’s transformation aren’t girly but sharp and Martini knows how to make sure dark colors (blacks, sepias, and rain streaked greys) come alive instead of swallow or dull the page. What’s missing is the physicality of Eva Green’s performance as Vanessa Ives. A possession scene is flat without her herky jerky movements and there’s not the same attention to metaphor and literary tangent in the dialogue. The comic has Vanessa’s eyes but not her tortured soul and it’s the poetic that makes Penny Dreadful ache.