Comic Review: “Stoker & Wells” (Festival of Dread Special)
Welcome back to the Festival of Dread, The Splintering’s month-long celebration of all things batty and blood-sucking.
Today we’re going to look at Stoker & Wells: Order of the Golden Dawn, an alternate history of Victorian Era England with some fantastic and horrific twists. Some story spoilers will follow.
Written by Steven Peros and illustrated by Barry Orkin, Stoker & Wells was successfully funded in 2019 via Kickstarter. The story is set in the year 1894, where struggling writers Bram Stoker and H.G. Wells have yet to write the classic tales that will ultimately define their careers. After a chance meeting between the two, they decide to secretly infiltrate a meeting of the Order of the Golden Dawn, an underground group of Hermeticists (adherents of the alchemic philosophies of Thoth Hermes Trismegistus) to see what mysteries the order is up to.
What they find is a remarkable invention shaped like a sled. If you’re familiar with the writings of H.G. Wells, you probably already know that this device is actually a time machine. The two interloping authors are ultimately found out, and the Hermetic leader forces Stoker and Wells to be the invention’s first test subjects.
The two are propelled forward in time 30 centuries to the year 5894 A.D., and must survive a couple of short days before the machine is set to return them home. This might seem like a simple trip, as both Stoker and Wells would only have to stay near the time machine for a couple of days and then hop back in as it boots up, but that would make for a boring book, right?
Of course, the two quickly realize that they are not alone on this strange, future world, and are forced to delve deeper into the world than they would otherwise prefer. Adding drama to the situation is that Bram Stoker and H.G. Wells themselves are an “odd couple” type, with Wells being the plucky youngster with a penchant for getting into trouble, and Stoker being the older, more matter-of-fact voice of reason.
Here’s where we really start to enter some spoiler territory, so I’ll endeavor to be as nonspecific as possible. Stoker and Wells find themselves confronted with a centuries-long war between the humans of the future and the bestial, apelike Morlocks. They befriend members of each group, and use their help to confront giant underground moles, subterranean crabs (Crab People!), and the vampiric mastermind of this future society’s ills.
Readers who are familiar with Bram Stoker’s Dracula and H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine can possibly guess a few more of the main story elements of Stoker and Wells, but it’s pretty clear by the end that this amazing tale is (fictitiously) the inspiration for both of these aforementioned classics. This makes Stoker & Wells an interesting yarn for those who know the two novels, and I have to imagine that most people in the “Western” audience are at least marginally familiar with Dracula. However, if you are a “normie” reader who isn’t very well informed about these books, then a lot of Stoker & Wells charm will be lost on you.
This story-telling strategy is a double-edge sword, however. If you are someone who knows both Dracula and The Time Machine fairly well, then much of Stoker and Wells, particularly its “big reveals” will be predictable to you. In any case, knowing that the two main characters are destined to return to their own time and use the adventure as an inspiration in their writings, that implicitly means that neither one of them is in any danger as the story progresses. The only real stakes (Urrrr!) are those that affect the few supporting characters, but the book is titled Stoker & Wells, not Nina & Wren the Morlock.
Orkin’s artwork blends the fantasy elements of the monstrous creatures and futuristic settings with a fairly grounded style, and it works. Some of the layouts got a little too clever for their own good once or twice, and following the panels properly wasn’t always clear. There weren’t really any “wow” moments, though the depiction of vampire abilities later in the book were pretty cool, and I really liked Nina’s character design.
For me, the colors are the book’s real show-stopper. Coloring duties were split between Chris Summers (pages 1-54) and Studio Haus (pages 55-94). I’m not a colorist pro, but I didn’t see a noticeable break between the two. I liked how vibrant yet grounded the world of the 59th century was, and the characters passed from location to location, each environment got a new, unique color palette that seemed natural but also set a proper mood.
Overall, if you are a classic horror or sci-fi aficionado, then Stoker & Wells: Order of the Golden Dawn may be right up your alley. The book feels a little too dependent on the source material to be enjoyed by someone unfamiliar with it, though. While Order of the Golden Dawn tells a complete, satisfying story, it is worth noting that there is supposed to be a sequel at some point, currently titled Stoker & Wells: Ashes of Revenge. I expect that this book, if it ever materializes, will also go the crowdfunding route, and there may be opportunities to pick up reprints or leftover copies of Order of the Golden Dawn along with the sequel. The creators are also selling copies directly through Amazon, as well, so you can check it out there if you don’t want to wait around.
In the meantime, I’d like to suggest a spinoff comic featuring a meetup between William Blake and H.P. Lovecraft. Sure, they weren’t contemporaries, but a fantasy world designed around their combined works would be delightfully bizarre, don’t you think?
Thanks for reading!
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