by Anthony Rosen
It’s funny to think of The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde, the collection of Cole Haddon and M.S. Corley’s recent Victorian thriller, in light of the recent backlash/excitement/hullabaloo regarding the Watchmen prequels. It’s funny because fans turn to outrage as soon as someone threatens to mine a deeply favored work for new material, yet we continue to celebrate the re-use or re-appropriation of older characters or older fictions all the time. The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has often been refurbished for different settings, but can you imagine how strange it would be if Robert Louis Stevenson rose from the grave to track down Cole Haddon and M.S. Corley so he could tell them to leave his precious intellectual property the hell alone? But I digress.
The crossover of fictional characters into newer stories has a history that stretches back as far as Faulkner, and often people aren’t too outraged by the maneuver because hey, who doesn’t enjoy spending more time with their favorite characters? But the question remains, why use those old characters instead of creating new ones? By what litmus should we judge the use of those older characters? These were the questions that dogged me through my reading of The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde.
We follow our narrator, Inspector Thomas Adye, at the height of the Whitechapel murders as he attempts to hunt down the infamous Jack the Ripper. Fortunately for the good inspector, the culprit demonstrates abilities curiously similar to one Dr. Jekyll, better known as Mr. Hyde during his notorious rampage. This tale picks up well after the end of Stevenson’s original novel, and the crazed scientist has long been presumed dead. Of course he’s still alive and looking to redeem himself, so our reluctant narrator sets out with his less than trustworthy partner to uncover the man behind the brutal slayings.
First, let’s talk positives. The book’s colors are a nice affair, bringing atmosphere where needed and lending character and credence to the book’s Victorian setting. The opening scenes of the book set the stage well, moving deftly from a recap of the original Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde tale to the introduction of Inspector Adye as he heads off to examine the scene of the Ripper’s latest victim. From there however, things begin to fall apart.
By the time I had reached the end of the book, I found myself hard pressed to choose a character I identified with, or who had even intrigued me. Adye is a combination of the classic man of science and the duty-bound, 80s-style cop on a mission, the type who only cares about getting the job done. He’s not necessarily a man of action though, and relies mostly on SCIENCE(!) to push his case forward, or at least that’s what the narrative would have us believe. Developments in the case occur simply because the plot needs to move forward, not because some aspect of the case has been puzzled out by the detective or his companion. There’s the sense that these characters are supposed to be intelligent and charismatic, but at each turn of the mystery’s machinations, they both flounder on as the plot moves itself for them.
Jekyll/Hyde is a distillation of his earliest incarnation, and a weak one at that. Both the Ripper and Mr. Hyde have had dozens upon dozens of appearances in other works of fiction, so of course one has to wonder why it would be necessary to bring those characters into yet another new work. Is there some new light shed on either of them through a thorough examination of what makes them compelling characters? Is there a modern lens of philosophy we can use to discuss a bygone era? Does this creative team breathe new life into the characters? Unfortunately, I found none of those qualities in this book.
Every character besides Adye seems like they couldn't care less about what their predicament is. Any dialogue not between the good inspector and Hyde reads woodenly, and the dialogue that does exist between the inspector and his unwanted companion jumps from attempts to shock with ribald gestures, or present philosophies intended to stir the mind. None of it works. Hyde, as a character, is intriguing because of the way he bends and twists human morality so that his ideology eventually makes us question our own. Here though, his personality exists simply to illustrate how inadequate our narrator is, and ultimately his ramblings feel like those of a college freshman who just received his first philosophy textbook. Content to simply spout a few lines of obscene dialogue or a half-hearted attempt at the Victorian vernacular, Jekyll suffers as the rest of the characters in the novel do; from a lack of full complexions of depth.
The art is adequate. There are panels with some charming detail or an elaborate layout that catches the eye, but for the most part it too is a paint-by-numbers affair. It’s nice enough at a glance and it certainly pads out the story, but ultimately it has no character of its own other than to move your eye from beginning to end. Forms, figures and poses are all anatomically correct, all pleasant looking in a wash of subdued candles and not-so-dark nights. However, any hint of action throws the whole thing off balance. People seem to have no weight or momentum in their movements, and the awkwardness you feel moving from one panel to the next during the more action-packed moments is hard to avoid. You can tell these characters are supposed to be making great haste in high intensity scenes, but as soon as the energy of said scene ramps up, the composition and balance fall apart.
There’s a climatic scene late in the story, the panels drawing out the timing of the actions in an attempt to swell the importance and catharsis of the moment. But in the end it just feels like everything else in the book, layers of wooden dialogue and mundane artwork that fail to entertain.
TL;DR The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde is all loud noises and no heart. Unnecessary use of a classic character in a story that has good intentions and a weak execution.
The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde is written by Cole Haddon, with art by M.S. Corley. It is published by Dark Horse Comics. It will be released in comic book shops and bookstores everywhere Februar 22, or, you can support Spandexless by purchasing from our Amazon web store.
A review PDF of The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde was graciously provided to Spandexless by the publisher.
Anthony Rosen prides himself on two things: his beard and his comic book collection. He once ate a tablespoon of nutmeg on some bad advice from a friend. He hasn’t been the same since.