Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a story, like Frankenstein and Dracula, that everybody thinks they know. How much originality is it possible for an author to infuse into such a story that has been retold hundreds of times? The answer is quite a bit if you’re Cole Haddon. Teaming up with Dark Horse Comics and the artistry of M. S. Corley, Haddon has given a new spin to an old classic, in fact multiple classics, in his comic, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” As I was flipping through the opening chapter of this four part series, it started out with a retelling of Jekyll’s transformation into Hyde – a story full of hubris and Victorian era views on morality that are almost painful to the modern reader. An abrupt jump in the narration five years into the future, after Jekyll has become Hyde, gives the reader the first inkling that this comic will be anything but a retelling of the classic. I found myself thinking, “Wait a second. I don’t remember Hyde slicing and dicing prostitutes. Wasn’t that . . . Jack the Ripper?” Sure enough Haddon has attempted, and succeeded, in creating a literary mash-up of the cream of the Victorian crop. Read on for the skinny…
Originally intended as a screenplay, there are an abundance of cinematic elements in “The Strange Case,” that give the flow of narration an almost movie like feel. This is especially evident in the multiple action scenes where the main character, detective Thomas Adye (based on the inspector from “The Invisible Man”), grapples with the super villain Jack the Ripper. Adye is a sort of young and idealistic Sherlock Holmes at the onset of the series, and flashbacks to Adye’s childhood, as well as Jekyll’s past life, add to the movie-like qualities and give his character added depth. This pays homage to the original Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but does not slow down the breakneck pace at which Haddon’s narrative unfolds. Corley’s artistry is central to this pace, and also adds another subtle layer to the work as a whole, making this a series that is as visually pleasing as it is intellectual.
The action scenes that are bereft of dialogue, often going frame by frame for whole pages, are also full of painstakingly accurate details. An early scene that is central to the rest of the movie is reminiscent of “Silence of the Lambs,” where Clarice Starling visits Hannibal Lecter in jail for the first time. Light and dark are integral elements in Corley’s representation of the bowel’s of Scotland Yard, and mixed with Haddon’s dialogue, this scene, like many other parts of the comic, is what makes this narrative much more than a retelling of an old classic.
While it is not a shock to anyone who has read “Watchmen” to come across heady philosophical themes in a comic, it is refreshing to get a little jab of this in a series that is not even 100 pages long and has as much as gore as it does dialogue. Haddon tackles, head on, the issue at the heart of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic: the duality of human nature, albeit in a distilled form. As I mentioned before with the flashbacks, this added intellectual layer does not slow the pace of the narration, but drives it forward by making the reader aware of the stakes that Adye is playing for and gives this comic much more substance than just the violence and sex that would grab the eye of anyone absentmindedly thumbing through it. Although later in the series the philosophy does take a back seat to the violence… and the sex… and did I mention the drugs?
Overall I feel that Haddon comes off as sort of a Quentin Tarrantino of comic books. Borrowing heavily, and unabashedly, from childhood inspiration and classic characters, Haddon has succeeded in concocting a heady literary mash-up that is extremely entertaining. The breakneck narrative flows like “Pulp Fiction” in that it has scenes where the focus is quick moving dialogue, followed immediately by scenes of extreme violence. The beginning of the series starts off with a much heavier emphasis on the dialogue, while the end of the series has a heavier emphasis on the action and is superbly illustrated by Corley. My one critique is that in the second half of the series the events unfold almost too quickly, but the whole arc is less than 100 pages. This has the effect of making the characters less sympathetic as I felt locked out of their heads at key times. The wax museum is an example of this, where the shining Adye first crosses that blurry line Hyde has been pushing him towards. This scene would have been wonderful in a movie with an actor portraying Adye’s emotion, but it falls a little flat in comic book form as Haddon trades dialogue for bloody torture, and we miss out on Adye’s thought process during his own transformation. Hyde also comes across as more James Bond and not enough Joker – too much witty repartee and not enough maniacal threat. Again, I feel that this is more because of the size series than any shortcomings on Haddon’s part, but the ending is left open for both Hyde and Adye to make a reappearance. Very successful for a first series, I’m eager to see Haddon develop these characters and his unique take on the Victorian world in later, hopefully longer, installments.
“THE STRANGE CASE OF MR. HYDE” Issues #1 – 4 Are Available NOW From Dark Horse Comics! (MSRP – $3.50)