Previously in Penny Dreadful #2
Greetings, Dreadfuls! Are you rewatching the series with us? The first two comics covered a bit of the Mina and Jonathan Harker backstory, and #3 takes us into a story many of us were curious about from the start: Malcolm and Sembene’s history in Africa. All of these ideas were introduced in the first half of Season 1, which I’m covering now (Episode 1 review).
The art in this comic was much more compelling than the last, leaving the scratchy hieroglyphs behind in favor of the yellows, oranges, and reds of a Nile expedition. First the cover:
Story-wise, however, I am a bit irate. The issue opens with Peter’s death in Africa, in Malcolm’s arms, and Sembene instructing him not to curse the land with laying his bones where they don’t belong. But Malcolm, being the insensitive arse he used to be, declares that finding the Nile’s origin is more important than rushing home and plows ahead. My main problem with this is we heard the story of Peter’s death through Vanessa’s possession in S1E2 Seance, and it sounded distinctly like Malcolm left the dying man behind at camp, where he was eventually abandoned, without food or water, by the porters, perhaps not even buried. But let’s imagine that he came back to camp and found Peter dead.
That night the men, save Malcolm and Sembene, are all afflicted by some plague, confirming Sembene’s concerns. But again, Malcolm moves on, commanding Sembene’s remaining slaves to row them up the Nile. The favorable conditions have Malcolm feeling confident, but he sees Peter’s face in the water and reaches for it, right into a crocodile’s mouth. They fight it off, but are swarmed by others, losing the two remaining porters. Sembene saves Malcolm from drowning.
Sembene admits that he lost a son as well, and his loss turned him into a hardened man, which may have led to him trading slaves. I guess. In the night, Peter’s spirit wakes Malcolm, saying he does not blame him and knows the source of the Nile. Instead, he leads his father into a solo confrontation with a lion and the infamous situation in which Malcolm turns from hunter to prey. Again, not the exact situation I was picturing when Malcolm told Vanessa about it in S1E3, unless this is a reenactment.
Being told that is not quite the same as realizing that, so, meh. Peter’s ghost leaves him to die, but Sembene intervenes with his fancy knife and the two men kill the beast together, binding them for life as saving Malcolm has redeemed Sembene’s sins. And this, he tells Vanessa, is why he now believes in the Demimonde and curses.
On one hand, it’s pretty rad that the lion’s head hangs in the center of Grandage Place, a symbol of the moment Malcolm and Sembene bound their lives together over a kill and redemption… which, incidentally, makes me wish that those two crazy kids could have lived grumpily ever after. How romantic is that?! On the other, these incidents seemed more dilute and problematic than I had imagined initially and that makes me cranky.
Despite the besmirchment of three crucial pillars in the Penny Dreadful story, the comic once again has two nice back-matter stories, filling in the development of Mina’s character by director Coky Giedroyc and clothing designer Gabriella Pescucci and the collaboration of all the designers on the vampire brides, called the Somnolent Women. Their concept, “fine China that’s just begun to crack,” truly speaks to their ultimately terrifying and tragic product.
What I loved about this issue is that it really captures Malcolm’s voice; it is impossible not to read it without hearing Timothy Dalton in your head. My favorite page is their first moment in the Nile with Malcolm crowing about their good fortune, right before it all goes to hell. Art-wise, my only minor complaint is the moment Malcolm reaches for Peter in the water; it is not entirely clear that’s what he was doing and I inferred that from the result. The rest very much captured the colors and contrast one might expect on such an expedition. My least favorite page is the final one in which it appears that someone went Photoshop filter-crazy… Poster Edges, Ink Outlines, and Sprayed Strokes to be exact. What, no Craquelure? No Ocean Ripple? The effect makes Vanessa and everyone else look ancient, and there is no need to resort to such obvious tools. I felt disappointed by the lack of emotional punch in this backstory, and I’m not sure that I buy how Sembene saving Malcolm makes up for the two of them getting their entire team killed that very day by being hardened bastards, in addition to innumerable past sins which I suppose they both blame on their sons’ deaths. Really, guys?
Penny Dreadful #3 = 6.7/10