Saturday, May 18, 2024

Does the Penny Dreadful Comic Hold up to the Series’ Controversial Ending?

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Trying to bring shows back from the dead is always a tricky subject. Whether they’re beloved and ended too soon or in the case of Penny Dreadful, ended with such a controversial ending, it’s not an easy task. Mind you, some writers and directors do thrive on this, like David Lynch for example, yet when you can’t tell whether this type of ending was actually intended or not, well then you have a little bit of an issue. This is hardly the first series to end on this kind of feeling that doesn’t have its hardcore fanbase behind it. Hannibal for example had certainly a strange ending but of course it was left open ended due to the fact that the series’ cancellation was imminent.

For those who did not see the finale of Penny Dreadful, spoilers ahead, but even for die hard fans of the series the finale came off as a sort of betrayal. Sure we thought it awesome that Ethan found a common ground with his wolf form, Victor learned about true scientific responsibility, and even his creature learned that he was more human than most. It was Vanessa’s end that was most upsetting. It’s not that left her story unfinished, it’s that they turned her into the one thing she was fighting so hard to keep herself from becoming, the mother of evil.

Now it’s hard to say whether it was directorial decision due to the shows cancellation or this was actually how the writers planned on ending it, but one thing was certain and that was that the only way the show could effectively end was with the death of Vanessa Ives. That is how John Logan explained the ending anyhow. Yet, as I said, a lot of us felt sort of betrayed by Vanessa so easily succumbing to the darkness within her at the end that she barely even put up a fight. It is up for interpretation that she was fighting the whole series and simply became too tired to continue by the finale season. Either way, we felt a little piece of incompletion at her loss.

Yet not long after, similarly to how Firefly had continuations in the comics medium as well as in film, Penny Dreadful was brought back to life via comics by publisher Titan Comics. Now my first thought was excitement over the prospect of seeing what all my favorite Victorian horror characters have been up to since the knot that held them together had died but I was surprised when I discovered it was actually a prequel and a very short limited series at that.

Now I’m not saying the series was bad, far from it. I found it to be actually quite good with some really great art. For those who haven’t read it, it follows Vanessa, Malcolm, and Sembene directly after Mina not only went missing but appeared to Vanessa pleading for her to rescue her from evil. This was obviously a trap which is both mentioned in the show and in the comic preceding the event. Either way, they go on the hunt, the comic delves more into the animosity between Malcolm and Vanessa at the inception of the mission which is something only briefly mentioned in the series. As it is, it serves to show us just how close two characters who are so far apart could become.

Two things really stuck out for me in this five part series that I don’t want to say really had an affect on the controversial ending of season 3 but definitely put some things into perspective. The first comes in the third issue of the first series which acts as a memory of when Malcolm and Sembene first became drawn to one another. It opens with the death of Malcolm’s son, Peter, at the shores of Tanganyika, Africa. Sembene who he first meets implores him not to bury his son in that place because it will inflict a terrible curse upon the explorer. Of course, Malcolm being the thick headed man he is does so anyway, with incredibly ruthless implications I might add. As he does as he wishes a curse does truly fall upon him as a plague of animal attacks and other such unexplained events keep him from trying to leave.

Lucifer really likes using Malcolm’s son against him…

Eventually the two do make it away after Malcolm is both mentally and physically tortured. The significance of this issue however is the curse itself. It is never lifted and as we know by the fate of Mina and Malcolm’s wife we can be both superstitious and inquisitive. Could the curse be directly responsible for their fates. Obviously there are a few options to consider. Firstly, that the it was coincidence that these troubles plagued the people that Malcolm loved and it was all fate. Secondly, the curse was the reason they were targeted, because he loved them, though that would have some implications against Malcolm’s feelings towards his wife. With this one we could blame Vanessa’s death on Malcolm’s curse, though that may be reaching. Lastly, perhaps Dracula, was pulling the strings behind this whole time and the curse inflicted by him? Perhaps the comics will go further into that eventually.

The second area of significance is the inclusion of Jonathan Harker, who if you’ve read Dracula, you’ll know he’s a central character along with Mina herself and Renfield in season 3. The main bulk of the story in the first series follows the group coming into contact with Jonathan Harker and some would-be vampire hunters. Like the novel, Harker was married to Mina yet in this instance was unapproved by Malcolm and suddenly the reason behind Malcolm’s and Mina’s separation became clear. While the story line mostly serves as one really expanded easter egg and nod to the novel it gives us a look into the evolution of our favorite Penny Dreadful characters as they go from the heartless hunters to something much closer. If Ethan hadn’t been involved, could Malcolm be the one the give Vanessa an end?

At first I was like woah! but then I was like woah…

Now we move into the new series, which as it begins starts taking into account where all the surviving characters of the series are. Most went their separate ways: Ethan is working with Dr. Seward to control his beastly gift, Catriona is finally put in the center stage she deserves and spends a lot of time with Sir Malcolm who has returned to his old hobbies. Victory now works in Bedlam hospital for the insane along with the newly dubbed Lord Hyde using their miracle cure to help the criminally insane. Dorian works to free himself from his immortal bondage and Lily who is beginning to lose her recent memories and gaining back her life as Brona has joined a covenant of warrior nuns.

As much as I would like to go on about all the characters and their current doings in the still on going series, that could be a whole discussion altogether. The main story of this new series comes up after the finale to my greater excitement but the implications behind it are strange indeed. Mr. Lyle again uncovers another ancient mystery of Egypt that speaks of the coming of awakening of Lucifer’s herald, Belial. Of course rich people do bad things and the mummy is awakened and begins the end times by using his power of resurgence to bring Lucifer back to life within Vanessa’s body. They couldn’t just leave her in the ground huh?

However, more recently in the issues we learn that this is actually not a one sided conflict. The same prophecy revealed by Mr. Lyle also talks of a war between Lucifer and Dracula. Now this changes things a bit from the series. While the show did hint at the difference between forces that were hunting Vanessa it never really let us know that they had different agendas. In fact Lucifer only really appeared as an antagonist in the second season, using his witches to break Vanessa’s will. For the first season vampires, they actually belonged to Dracula who we finally saw in season 3. In the current arc of the series Lucifer/Vanessa has pretty much disposed of Belial and is on the hunt for Ethan because only the wolf of God has the strentgth to impregnate her in order to birth the anti-Christ fulfilling her mother of evil title. Yeah it’s kind of weird.

On the other side, Ethan and his merry gang, with Catriona, always with Catriona please, are on the hunt for Dracula to seek out his help. Yeah you heard me right. Turns out bringing the series’ most beloved character back from the dead as a demon and killing Malcolm makes you the greater of two evils. Their hope at this point is that they kill one another at some point, at least that’s all that has been revealed so far. I won’t lie though, the story is strange, enjoyable but strange. Yet, does it hold up to the series as a worthy successor.

I love her so much

My honest answer for this question is…as of right now I want to say no but it is way too early to keep to that opinion. The comic is enjoyable, there is no doubt in that. In terms of seeing all my favorite characters have their own separate story lines while still looking into the scope of an overall evil or doom is a staple of the series when it was on television. I just wish they didn’t bring Vanessa back, at least not in the way they did. I’m not saying the writing is bad for the comic, far from it, just it felt very cheap bringing her back and even worse that there is nothing of Vanessa within her. At least not yet. I’ll continue to enjoy the comic for now because the direction is proving to be getting better but if Vanessa’s body is all we’re going to see of her in this series…then my opinion might keep the same. If you’re going to bring back such a well loved character, make sure it is actually THAT character.

Images courtesy of Titan Comics

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