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Dorian Gray #1

Darren Davis and Scott Davis
Frederico De Luca
Bluewater $3.99

My curiosity as piqued after learning that Bluewater intended to release a Dorian Gray comic. Sure, I had reservations. Roy Thomas’ adaptation several years ago for Marvel of Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray left me a bit disappointed, but I had just finished re-reading the novel beforehand as a refresher. I’ve given away my set of the Marvel adaptation and I don’t think I need to refer to Wilde’s novel for this review because Bluewater’s comic is not an adaptation. The solicitation copy for the first issue of Dorian Gray reads: “The Grays are a cursed family. Dorian Gray IV, the last of his line, struggles with the realization that his personal demons are exactly that — a supernatural force that plagues not only the Grays but many of society’s wealthiest families. Convinced his redemption is only secured through ridding the city of demons called the Morbi, Dorian launches an ongoing crusade for his soul.”

Well, now. A wealthy, moody and supernatural Dorian for the 21st century compared to a wealthy dandy, user, killer, supernatural Dorian for the 19th.

Let’s forego the homoerotic subtext of Wilde’s novel and the fact that the novel ends with servants finding Gray’s body with a knife in the chest and so withered the only means of identification is the rings he wore. Details like that can be bothersome. What matters is that Gray got better somehow and managed to find a woman with whom one child (or more) was born, who begat Dorian III, who begat our twenty something Dorian IV. It seems, we learn, that Dorian III died when his son was very young, his mother has quite effectively disappeared, but a family friend has discovered a shipping container connected to Dorian II that has been shipped from London to New York City, home of the youngest Gray, the contents of which are waiting to be auctioned to pay family debt. Enclosed with this letter is an ornate key with the further instructions to find the container at the Port Authority and retrieve whatever family pieces he fancies before the contents are delivered to the auction house. Just how large is the family debt because someone has to pay for the private school and the absurdly expensive sports car he drives. Maybe Dorian’s benefactor is the mother of his best and totally platonic friend and classmate whose name may be Henry, but it isn’t clearly stated with any dialog. She is in a fashion already as Dorian lives in the posh Upper West Side home. Plot contrivance or simply a situation awaiting explanation in one of the remaining issues?  Also on hand is a modern Sibyl Vane, meant to be as breathtaking as the original. This one is a dancer, unlike the first who was an actress, and being a fellow St Paschal’s student means she comes from a well to do family. New Dorian is no less gobsmacked than notorious ancestor. Perhaps this Sibyl will become a kickass Buffy style accomplice to Gray instead of a used and spurned lover turned suicide like her predecessor.

Young Dorian has a way to go before becoming a likeable character in my opinion. I suppose Wilde’s Dorian isn’t Miss Congeniality either, but Wilde imbued him with wit, charm, and guile. The space limitation of a four part mini doesn’t engender itself to the comparatively luxurious page rate of a novel in establishing subtleties and quirks of personality traits and relationship dynamics. Writers can use this to their advantage, see Greg Rucka’s Stumptown with an incredibly flawed and complex Dex Parios. Here though an easier, economized method was used to show Dorian’s character which I interpret as callous and conceited, especially when it comes to interacting with women and getting access to the object of his desire, Sibyl. Plus, his sense of privileged entitlement is quite evident in his interior monologue regarding his pseudo mother and the car he drives speeding through Manhattan. His arrogance is also pointed out in the opening paintball fight sequence: “I don’t make the rules. I just make the difference.” Yes, Dorian is a most excellent paintball fighter! And damned skillful at Parkour on top of it! These abilities will be damned handy when Dorian has his “life is being more than a rich kid asshole” epiphany and if he forms the BAMF Morbi Squad with Dudebro Henry-maybe-not-Henry and sexy dance nymph Sibyl. Well, maybe that’s a stretch, but there will be demon bashing if those steampunky style weapons cached in the shipping container are a hint of things to come. Oh, and there’s another mystery to uncover in the revelation of a new scary ass portrait!

The art and coloring are better than I anticipated based on my admitted limited exposure to the publisher’s books. I recall the art being good in its first Titans issue, but not quite so in the Ellen bio comic and rather regrettable with the Rosie one in that paper was used. Based on samples of art I’ve seen around, photo references seem to be a favorite resource for the artist on the Dr Who book. Faces and bodies are consistently rendered and well done. De Luca has a good sense of anatomy as well though that girl classmate’s shoulder and arm on page 14 just cannot exist in the real world without being dislocated and broken. Individual panel compositions are standard throughout the story. Backgrounds are sometimes sketchy, which works to nice effect in the scene of Dorian driving through traffic but is far less effective when there is no background to anchor people in other panels. The coloring is moody, muted, and has painterly qualities that suit the tone. A little restraint with highlights on facial features might be considered. I’ve noticed on occasion other colorists working for DC and Marvel who have a tendency to do the same in their work. Who is the colorist though? There aren’t full credits in the PDF copy provided by Bluewater and only by looking at Previews did I find the artist’s and the other Davis’ first names. Presumably full credits are listed in print copies.

I’m not a strict purist. I fairly enjoy Alan Moore’s liberal usage of literary characters in League of Extraordinary Gentleman, not counting the parts that get past me. And there are some for certain. You won’t read me lament about how my Legion has been screwed over, but I don’t understand the impetus for liberally borrowomg from a formerly subversive novel to tell this story. That said, I think the Dorian Gray mini series and I are not meant to be four color reading companions. The story so far just isn’t my type of guilty pleasure and maybe the fact that the DiNozzo and McGee reference didn’t register for me shows you just how lacking in pop culture  I am. For a review with a different take, may I suggest  you click this link to pop over and read my friend Steven Leitman’s assessment.

March 7, 2015
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