REVIEW: ‘Penny Dreadful: Artist Edition,’ Volume 1

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Penny Dreadful Artist Edition Volume 1 - But Why Tho?

Originally published in 2017, Penny Dreadful: The Awakening Vol. 1  is a part of the comic series taking place six months after the finale of the television series created by John Logan. If you haven’t seen the series before, the show draws its name from the era of literature from the Victorian United Kingdom. Penny dreadfuls were cheap sensational stories called dreadful for their content. Published once a week and sold for a penny, these serialized stories often told tales of horror and so, the name just fits. It also makes sense that the series would make its way to comics.

The television series focused on Victorian horrors, science fiction, and myths. Known for a lackluster finale in spite of a wonderful series, the continuation of the series in comic form was warm-welcomed. On January 16th, Titan Comics, the series publisher, released Penny Dreadful: Artist Edition Vol. 1, written by Chris King with letters from Rob Steen. In this black, white, and red version of  Penny Dreadful: The Awakening Vol. 1, the work of the series’ artist Jesus Hervás is on full display with the colors removed, save for the blood-red, in order to fully highlight Hervás’ inking.

The story itself follows Ethan and Sir Malcom as they search for new meaning after Vanessa’s death. A mummy is raised, a ballroom full of zombies are fought, Ethan deals with a wolfy situation, and all-in-all the through-line of the book is the heart of the television series. That being said, the first third of this trade is bogged down by too much dialogue. This would be okay if the dialogue was in fact exposition to make the comic accessible to those who haven’t seen the show, but that isn’t the case.

However, it is wordy because it reflects a lot of the conversations you would hear in the television series but in a comic, these need to be either informative or concise. And honestly, I’m not sure many of the new audience would fully comprehend what is happening in the beginning. Thankfully, by the time the mummy comes to life the story picks up its pace and the dialogue is a good length. From this scene forward, it’s also where the art is the strongest.

Having read the original volume in its fully colored version, the artist rendition leaves me apathetic. A lot of the panels are muddy and without the vibrant colors that played well against the gothic illustrations from Jason Wordie, the colorist on the original volume. You also lose much of the details that helped bring the likeness of these characters on the page from the television screen. Sir Malcom, played in the series by Timothy Dalton, is recognizable and from the side, Ethan (Josh Hartnett) is as well, but beyond that and especially in his transformations the likenesses are very minimal in comparison to what they looked like with color added – which was only slightly better.

But beyond likeness, the opening third of the book is not visually striking and the inking obscures some things. Granted, this was the Victorian gothic and pulp style that Hervás was going for, which means that this is more of an issue I have that other readers might not. When the blood red is added in, it balances out and enhances the illustrations and for the last two-thirds of the book, it really works.

Personally, the story is good, and the creature design and continuation of the series succeeds, it just takes time to get it’s legs. But, if you’re going to pick up a copy of Penny Dreadful Vol. 1, I highly recommend that you pick up the original version of the book in it’s beautifully colored glory for a full experience.

Penny Dreadful: Artist Edition Vol. 1 is available now.

Penny Dreadful: Artist Edition Vol. 1
2.5

Tl;DR

Personally, the story is good, and the creature design and continuation of the series succeeds, it just takes time to get it’s legs. But, if you’re going to pick up a copy of Penny Dreadful Vol. 1, I highly recommend that you pick up the original version of the book in it’s beautifully colored glory for a full experience.