This week saw the release of The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde, from Dark Horse Comics. The mini, written by screenwriter Cole Haddon (on Twitter at @ColeHaddon) with art by illustrator and graphic designer by M.S. Corley, it takes its cue from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, placing that classic work on a collision course with Jack the Ripper. Taking place some time after Stevenson’s novel, Hyde follows Scotland Yard Inspector and prominent forensic investigator Thomas Adye as he begins investigating the string of murders in the Whitechapel area of 1890’s London. The killer appears to strike with almost preternatural ability and Adye finds himself forced to rely on a certain serum-sipping doctor if he has any hope of stopping this vicious murder.
In a recent interview with Mr. Haddon, MTV Geek learned about the origins of the story, the potentially dense layers of fictional and historical content embedded in the work, and geeking out over history and classic horror.
***It’s Creator’s Commentary, so you know the drill: there will be spoilers below the cut.***
MTV Geek: You seemed to be matching the cadence and style of dialog one would find in Stevenson’s original story in the first few pages. But the style becomes a little less formal in later pages. Was this deliberate?
Cole Haddon: I wasn’t sure if anyone would ever notice it, so thank you for being so astute. Each issue of The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde begins with a flashback to the events—at least my interpretation of the events—that took place during the original novel. I wanted these flashbacks to echo Stevenson’s voice if only because I think that stiff, rather formal interpretation of Victorian England is pretty much all that exists in the majority of people’s minds today. The rest of the comic book, the story proper, was intended to flip that point of view on its head, to, in a way, generate a transformation similar to the ones experienced or that will be experienced by my main characters.
Geek: Could you walk us through design of the Ripper?
CH: The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde, like the original novel, is about transformation. As I was saying above, I tried to keep this in mind when structuring and even when reimagining characters and historical figures… like the Ripper. The Ripper is popularly a gentleman killer. A man in a black overcoat, in a black top hat. I wanted to keep that, that popular perception, but I also wanted to turn him into something else. Something new. His origin, his motivations do that in particular. Physically, he’s also capable of things we haven’t seen the Ripper do before. Feats that might be, as readers will discover, derived from the serum that also gave birth to Mr. Hyde. Such speed, such agility, such grace, I decided, required a different way to utilize the tools of his trade – his medical knives and saws. They couldn’t be kept in a cumbersome medical bag or pouch that would be unrolled and rolled up as necessary. They had to be easily accessed, in deft, fluid, almost cat-like movements. That’s how I came upon the use of a utility vest. A sort of rig that the Ripper wears under his overcoat. Dozens of knives, worn closet o his body like they’re part of him. I won’t deny my love of Asian cinema probably contributed to this as well. Samurai and ninja would be similarly outfitted in these flicks, for quick and smooth access to weaponry. So, too, is my Ripper.
Geek: How did you and artist M.S. Corley pair up on this project?
CH: My editor at Dark Horse, then Dave Land, suggested four or five different artists, many of them very experienced, but I—and I hope not too arrogantly—vetoed them all. Not because they weren’t talented. Several I’m a big fan of and would love to work with immediately. But none of them, at least in their published worked, captured the tone and visual language of the world I wanted my hero, Inspector Thomas Adye, to inhabit. I’m a great fan of Universal and Hammer monster films. I grew up on these and continue to obsess over them. I think I wanted, more than anything, to pay homage to the atmosphere and visual style of those films and Mike Corley got that from the start. He loved the same films as me and, if he didn’t know what I was talking about, he quickly found the film and became articulate on it. The result is a comic book that, for my money, looks like very little else out there. Especially with the help of our brilliant colorist Jim Campbell.
Geek: What were some of the resources you used in studying the ripper killings? They’re practically a field of study in and of themselves.
CH: I’d read several books over the years, just out of general interest. While in England, I’d also taken Ripper tours and visited a few relevant sites. But nothing was as helpful to me as a website called Casebook: Jack The Ripper, that’s collected, quite comprehensively, all of the physical evidence there is on the murders.
Geek: Inspector Adye joins a long history of fictional investigators into the killings. Tell us a little about him and his methods.
CH: Thomas Adye isn’t actually my own creation, though I’ve certainly reinterpreted his character a bit. He made his literary debut in H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man eleven years after the publication of Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which means my comic is a sort of secret origin for that hero. From the start, I wanted to collect all of Gothic literature’s monsters and, more specifically, super-villains into one time line. The choice to use Adye is the product of that, and you’ll find oblique references to characters in The Invisible Man in my comic as well as other Gothic horror characters and places.
Regarding who Adye is as a character and his methodology, he’s very much a man torn by the time period in which he lived—very much as England concurrently was. He’s a deeply devout man, a spiritual man stuck in the past and mired by what others will argue to him are outdated ideas of ethics and morality. He’s also a willing slave of his culture’s equally outdated class system, to the point that he dreams of escaping his own caste for one where his true worth, his inherent gentility, will be recognized. On the other hand, he’s a trained scientist. He’s one of the first forensics detectives the world has probably ever produced. His intellect tells him to question everything, to tear away layers until the truth is revealed… a conundrum, when you think about it, if faith and institutionalized systems are involved. Dr. Jekyll is the catalyst that brings this conflict into the forefront of Adye’s life.
Geek: I noticed that in contrast to the title of the novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you’ve chosen to omit the good doctor. Should we take that to mean he’s no longer around?
CH: Dr. Jekyll, despite the title, is alive and well and very much the character Inspector Adye finds himself trying to solve the Ripper case with. Edward Hyde, his crimes and the myth around the monster, still haunts London five years later. Nobody really buys the persona is altogether gone either, which is true since it really isn’t. Jekyll now exists as an amalgamation of who he was—a good and noble man who tried to cure evil, and the id-driven monster that Hyde was. He retains all of Jekyll’s intellect, his powers of reason, but, through Hyde, has learned so much about the world, about society and how it really works, about the darkness in men’s souls, that he now preaches a sort of religion of liberation from “the powers that be.” A religion that, on one hand, sounds beaver-sxxx crazy, but, on the other… well, it’s hard to argue with him. He’s a homicidal humanist and that doesn’t exactly make him a character easy to understand until, especially for Adye, it’s too late.
Geek: Both the original story, and yours question the nature of evil—is it chemical? Is it something spiritual and outside of ourselves? What’s the appeal of the argument for you and do you have a stance on it one way or the other?
CH: I’m an American, which means I live in one of the most divided countries in the world today. Things are increasingly defined in black and white terms, as impossibly strict as the Bible would have us believe good and evil, right and wrong—basically, morality—is. We’re either Democrat or Republican; pro-choice or anti-choice; gay or straight; Christian or not. The list goes on and on. You’re either “with us or against us,” as George W. Bush said. Well, I might have paraphrased that. But you get the point. It’s a binary, antagonistic way of looking at life that’s, as far as I’m concerned, fostered to control groups. Jekyll isn’t so much fascinated by good and evil, by duality, as much as he’s opposed to systems, to controls, to those “powers that be” that profit from suppressing free thought and free will. Evil exists, and Jekyll himself might be evil, but it doesn’t make the crime any less repugnant if you defend it with false morality or claims of spiritual supremacy. Morality should never be defined by those in power or those with power. It should be defined by the masses, based on reason and common sense, without supernatural interference. That’s my long-winded way of saying, I just wanted to explore the duality that’s consumed America and Jekyll and Hyde, and England during a period still reeling from evolution’s attack on the Anglican Church and the class system it supported, seemed like an ideal way to do that.
Now if you’re interested in my own particular feelings on evil, is it chemical or spiritual, that would yank the metaphorical rug out from under the case Jekyll will ultimately make to Adye. I have my own feelings, which the comic book will probably make evident to some degree, but I’m much more interested in the reader trying to seriously address that question in him or herself.
Geek: Tell us a little about your interpretation of Hyde and any influences you might have drawn on in creating him.
CH: Well, Dr. Jekyll you mean. Hyde is now trapped inside Jekyll’s persona, even if Jekyll can still hear Hyde shouting at him. Jekyll, to beat the transformation motif to death, had to offer up a reversal of expectations to meet the standard I set for myself. Characters had to transform, both in how we expected them to be presented, but also within the story itself. Jekyll, along with Hyde, I thought, had always been interpreted as a fiendish monster. A slavering, disgusting ghoul. Stevenson himself described him as rather gnome-like, not a hulking thing, by the way, so even this perception is wrong and really based wholly on the films made about the character. My interpretation had to stay true to the spirit of the book, but also be different. Unexpected. You’ll get your first glimpse of that interpretation in Issue 2. For now, I can say that, when reimagining Jekyll, I was heavily inspired by the writings of more than a few philosophers and ethicists dead and still alive, Christopher Lee’s creepy, but sexy early performances in Hammer horrors, and, of course, Hannibal Lecter. That last comparison is inevitable because of the set-up, I know, but disappears quite quickly after the first issue. The Silence of the Lambs had a huge impact on me as a kid, primarily because I had never before seen a B-film elevated to high art. It showed me that there was a way to make the macabre and even campy accessible to wide audiences.
Geek: Back to the particulars of the killings again—to what degree did you feel compelled to match the specifics of the crimes?
CH: There was one golden rule regarding the crimes, and that was that who the victims were and when, where, and how they died all had to be historically accurate. Everything else was open game. Jack the Ripper, on the other hand, is now so mythologized by pop culture that I had almost no loyalty to historical accuracy there. He was actually an even easier to work with than Jekyll and Hyde since I didn’t want to dishonor Stevenson’s work or what I loved so much about the original novel.
Geek: What was the genesis for your idea of this super-powered Ripper?
CH: I’ve rambled on about intellectual, existential ideas for most of this commentary, but, at the end of the day, I’m also a fan of monster fights. It’s probably why I loved the Universal monster mash-ups, like House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, so much. Pitting one serum-tweaked monster against another—monsters that became as such in very similar, but very dissimilar ways—just sounded like a lot of fun. I mean, it serves the story, too. There are those thematic parallels I’ve been discussing, as you’ll eventually see. But it really just sounded cool to write a comic book about two super-powered monsters beating the shit out of one another.
Geek: Any big moments from the upcoming issues you’d like to tease?
CH: Issue 2 will see Dr. Jekyll leave his dungeon for the first time in 5 years and the results are, let’s just say, bloody. Each issue just gets bigger and better after that thanks to Mike Corley’s fantastic artwork. He’s about to start Issue 4, which I’ve seen his layouts for. I’m confident the finale will be the most explosive and exciting of the series!
The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde is on shelves now.