I am typically attracted to texts and films that re-work early modern British artifacts like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the comic and film) and Guy Ritchie‘s Sherlock Holmes. Dark Horse’s graphic novel The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde, written by Cole Haddon, drawn by M.S. Corley, and colored by Jim Campbell, excited me, particularly since it will soon undergo a filmic adaptation. But, is it the next Sherlock?
The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde is essentially Silence of the Lambs meets Training Day set in the Victorian period with cameos from nineteenth century gothic figures like Dr. Moreau and Spring-Heeled Jack. Inspector Adye, AKA Clarice, and Jekyll/Hyde, AKA Hannibal Lecter, work to uncover the latest serial killer madman, Jack the Ripper.
I loved the comic’s overall visual sensibility. Jim Campbell and M.S. Corley worked well together, conveying a deliberately and painstakingly well-crafted aesthetic. I loved Campbell’s muted colors contrasted with the occasional garish red splash. Also, Corley’s art incorporated a gritty Victoriana steampunk vibe similar to Kevin O’Neill’s art in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Admittedly, the Adye and Hyde characters seemed to occasionally meld together visually (assumedly deliberately) and sometimes appeared blocky, but overall I dug the graphical vibe.
Cole Haddon’s script seemed best suited to the silver screen. As a film script, it’s exactly what I want. It’s clear, concise and direct without meandering twists. The characters are clearly defined. It paces well and does a good job of alternating between action and dialogue. To adapt this to the big screen, all Haddon has to do is cut down the monologues. Otherwise it’s pretty well done as a moving picure script.
However, as a comic text, it felt too restrained and too formulaic. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) served as a tribute to Foucauldian libidinous excess. While it wasn’t as challenging a read as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the original novel visualized man’s inner darkness. Unfortunately, the graphic novel lacked the uninhibited gothic horror of imagining a bestial man trampling a helpless screaming child
Without giving anything away, the truly original parts I enjoyed surrounded Hyde’s process for extracting his formula’s essence, Adye’s forensics techniques in the beginning, the upper world’s under world, and Adye’s increasing investigative focus on the weird and twisted towards the end. I also viewed the reveal of the true killer’s identity as pretty unique. However, I felt the text spent too much time depicting what we’ve already seen: the innocent naïve kid, mocked by his co-workers for his intellectual ways and meets a knowing, jaded mentor (Scent of a Woman, Training Day, Sanctuary).
The glimpses of actuated uninhibited desires, similar to the original text, occurred too fleetingly. I wanted to see more of the upper world’s underworld more than the Oliver Twist-esque lower-class with their colorful “peelers” dialect. Because my doctorate specializes in 18th-century British Literature, I’m less impressed by contemporary Americans overusing period British slang to set the mood. I’m surprised he didn’t fit “guv’nah” in there. Class distinctions, as written in the book, didn’t happen quite as blatantly (although they happened). But, like racism, the upper-class’ verbalization of financial and social hierarchies was typically subtle and indirect. Plus, I wanted to see more of Hyde’s “badness” than just allusions to it.
However, when the gothic horror or sexual excess occurred, I enjoyed them, particularly the scene recreating the Ripper’s final victim’s death room, Hyde’s “knob polishing,” the upper class’ dark side, and the legion of police attempting to overwhelm Hyde. However, Adye’s eventual “girlfriend” seemed typical and if Adye were bi-sexual (as opposed to picked on for his new-fangled ways, using an unnecessary phrase), I would’ve loved to see more of a covert attraction to Hyde. I also wanted to see more of his forensics science and intellectual prowess, initially hinted at, outside Hyde’s prodding. Honestly, I wanted to see Haddon play up more of the originality he wrote into the text, as opposed to giving us glimpses before reverting to a well-known formula.
At the same time, Haddon has something here. Modern society hasn’t focused on Victorian Jekyll and Hyde as much as Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Frankenstein. Sanctuary did a great job bringing Hyde to life this season (but only on SyFy). Moore did a great job incorporating Hyde in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic (but only as a side figure). The BBC version rocked (but only if you have access to it). And Mary Reilly wasn’t my cup of tea (or anyone else’s, for that matter). We could do with more non-Sherlock Victorian investigative figures in the comic world. Hopefully, Haddon revisits the character but releases his inner id while writing, so both Hyde and Adye can release theirs.
I expect the eventual film version to look somewhat like Sherlock and, hopefully, nothing at all like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s adaptation. This could come across as pretty slick if directed well and cast well. Like I said, as a film script it’s pretty darn good and I hope it maintains its clarity during the translation process. Luckily, Haddon will adapt it for the big screen. With the right production values it can only get better.
Since 2010, I’ve read a lot about Hyde coming to the big US screen. Haddon wrote both the film and comic script simultaneously, after initially pitching it as a feature film. David Ellison’s Skydance Prods., Dark Horse Entertainment and producer Mark Gordon are reported to produce Hyde once studio backing occurs. If the final product stays true to the original written text and it has the right level of production effects (without over-production), it could do very well. In the interim, another of Haddon’s scripts, initially titled Thieves of Baghdad, should come out on film sometime in 2012.
Is Hyde the next Sherlock? If adapted, produced, cast and marketed well … it could be.
In the interim, while you wait for The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde to hit our large screens, check out the graphic novel, hitting stores next week.
Dark Horse provided a preview sample copy for review.