Review by J.L. Corbett
Writer: Cooper Anderson
Artist: A.C. Ironside
Publisher: ArrowKey Studios
Release date: 3rd March 2020
Price: £10 (plus p&p)
Inner Workings is the first title produced by ArrowKey Studios, a comic book publisher based in Glasgow, UK.
The story is a modern-day retelling of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a penny dreadful by Robert Louis Stevenson. Since the novella’s publication in 1886, this tale of inner conflict between good and evil has become a cornerstone of the horror genre, spawning countless film, television and stage adaptations, as well as inspiring one of Marvel Comics’ most recognisable characters, The Hulk.
The original book tells the story of Dr Jekyll, a reclusive researcher who develops a potion which allows him to distil his bad thoughts and impulses into a separate identity. When he drinks the potion he transforms into Mr Hyde, and thus enjoys short periods of time doing as he pleases (i.e. committing heinous crimes) without feeling the guilt of a moral compass. Before long, Mr Hyde begins to emerge more frequently, even when Dr Jekyll has not drunk any of the potion. Finally, Dr Jekyll realises that he will never regain control of his evil counterpart, and so he commits suicide in order to save both himself and the rest of the world from the wrath of Mr Hyde.
Inner Workings reimagines the gothic Victorian tale as a contemporary crime noir. We follow Detective Inspector Andrews as he investigates the murder of Joseph Zaines, a colleague of Dr Jekyll’s. We watch Jekyll struggle against Mr Hyde for control of his body and ultimately join forces to face off against Jekyll’s business partner, Tyler Burns.
On the whole, Inner Workings does a good job of exploring the themes of repression and the duality of human nature, whilst building upon the source material just enough to keep the plot fresh. The dialogue hits all the rhythmic beats of comic storytelling and uses sardonic humour to cement its new setting within the crime noir genre.
Cooper Anderson also introduces a new character: Tyler Burns, Jekyll’s business partner. In this version, Burns assisted Jekyll in creating the potion (here called the Menoetius Serum), and as such he has his own Hyde-esque counterpart. This is a smart move by Anderson, as it allows an exploration of the different ways in which people deal with the prospect of having a split identity, as well as providing a villain with whom Jekyll can feud.
One new character with a slightly more lacklustre presence is Kristy, Jekyll’s overly hospitable neighbour. The original novella only featured one female character, and she wasn’t even given a name (she was referred to only as “maid”), so the inclusion of a newly invented female character in Inner Workings was a welcome surprise.
Kristy is presented as a potential love interest for Jekyll… and that’s it. She jumps at the chance to tend to his injuries and even has extra spaghetti ready in a Tupperware container for him to take home. The purpose of her character seems to be to admire and to serve Jekyll, despite his apparent disinterest. Kristy’s character is two-dimensional: the reader is not given insight into her personality or backstory, and as the sole female major character, that’s rough.
Inner Workings sadly does not pass the Bechdel Test (a simple test which requires at least two female characters to speak to each other about something other than men or babies). Whilst this by no means makes it a bad comic, it does perhaps illustrate a missed opportunity in bringing this story into the twenty-first century.
But then again, who knows? Perhaps Kristy’s role will be expanded in future issues.
By contrast, the character of Hyde is given a lot more nuance than he had in the original novella, wherein he was evil for evil’s sake and seemed to be actively working against Jekyll. In Inner Workings, he’s still undeniably a bad guy (he’d have to be, given that that’s the purpose of his existence), but his heinous actions seem to be rooted in a warped sense of affection for Jekyll. When a group of teenagers yell insults at Jekyll, Hyde possesses him and beats them up. Towards the end of the comic, he plays an instrumental part in Jekyll’s confrontation with Burns. He’s still chaotic, but he seems to have Jekyll’s back.
Anderson also fleshes out the story to give it more context and meaning. In the original novella, the reader never really learns what motivated Jekyll to develop the potion, other than a desire to see what it would be like. In Inner Workings, both Jekyll and Burns are grieving the deaths of close family members, and it is through this haze of grief that they gain a shared desire to separate their good impulses from the bad.
The artwork by A.C. Ironside is strong, and particularly showcased by the full-page illustrations. These full-page spreads are detailed and stylised, and a great way for Ironside to flex her creative muscles.
Her representation of Hyde as a dark shadow clinging to Jekyll is very reminiscent of the artwork from early editions of the novella. This imagery pays homage to the source material whilst retaining Ironside’s more modern art style, and the result is stunningly dark images.
Whilst the artwork is for the most part strong, the level of detail is a little inconsistent in places, with some panels being packed with detail and others appearing rather sparse by comparison. To some extent, this is to be expected: all artwork in this comic is drawn solely by Ironside, who had no liner, colourist or letterer to assist her.
To complete an entire comic with just two contributors (a writer and an artist) is an extraordinary feat, and Anderson and Ironside have produced a brilliant comic. Inner Workings is a beautifully imaginative, boldly executed retelling of a classic gothic tale, which can be enjoyed by both fans of the original novella and the general population.
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Cooper Anderson was born in the backwoods of North Carolina where he fell in love with all things strange and fantastic. He has earned his Masters degree in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow, Scotland. He is currently living in Glasgow with his wife, Amanda.
A.C. Ironside is an archaeological illustrator and multi-media artist who explores the line between anatomical and the beautiful. Holding a Bachelor of Fine Arts and two history degrees, including a Masters degree in Early Modern History, when not creating she runs workshops about art, excavation, public archaeology and history.