At the end of Penny Dreadful #3, Ethan tells the assembled group in Sir Malcom’s house, “Let me guess, something bad is about to happen.” It is striking because that is the most succinct description of all Penny Dreadful stories. It is also pithy description of the entire issue.
Sir Malcolm’s group of adventurers learn the origins of Vanessa’s connection to Lucifer in this issue. It is a strange, bombastic tale. But surprisingly, it somehow lacks real bite.
It is hard to achieve a good balance in a horror comic. Some people may be turned off by too much gore. Others want the story to move ahead quickly and don’t care for the atmospherics. The best horror comics like Harrow County or Baltimore seems to achieve the creepy feeling of foreboding so easily that sometimes it is hard to see everything that goes into making those stories crawl down your spine.
Similarly, as a TV series, the scenes featuring Vanessa that generate the most dread appear to be deceptively simple: the séance scene where Ives confronts Malcom about his son or where she faces off against Lucifer who is disguised as a doll of Vanessa. The elements are so simple, yet the tension ratchets up like a violin string being played so hard, it is about to snap.
What we seem to get here is the kitchen sink approach. We get ancient Egypt. We get dark gods. We get infidelity. We get mummies. We get zombie armies. We get dark rituals. What we don’t get is a real sense of menace. Not until the last two pages when everything shifts back to Victorian London.
I will be the first to admit that Chris King (Outlaw Territory) and Jesús Hervás (Hellraiser, Lucas Stand) have a tough job of matching the the feel and tension of a great television show that went where many would have backed off. I also admire that they are taking the story to places that production costs would have prevented any television series from going.
I just wish that it came together better.
I am not sure who will be more disappointed in this story, hardcore fans or people who have heard so much about Penny Dreadful and try the comic to see what all the fuss is about.
Writer: Chris King
Artist: Jesús Hervás
Colors: Jason Wordie
Publisher: Titan Comics