The neo-Victorian adventure genre is getting crowded and some authors seem compelled to go to great lengths to show how their fictional London is unique and special. The resulting heaps of exposition can deflate their dirigible before it gets off the ground. The best that can be said of The Trials and Tribulations of Miss Tilney is that author David Doub has handily avoided that trap. Instead, his undeveloped characters bounce through an ill-defined London, using only the blankest of shorthand to suggest who they are or why we might care.
The titular Miss Tilney opens the book by asking her editor at the London Post to reward her years of diligent column-writing with a meaty reporting assignment. He answers her with a derisive chuckle, but quickly changes his mind and sends her to interview Lord Beowulf Harwood, a gentleman adventurer who’s been arrested for mass murder. When she meets Harwood and his Watson-esque compatriot Dr. Plum, the men lay out their brief and unsubstantiated tale of false accusation. She immediately agrees to help get them out of jail and the plot trundles on from there, doing little to surprise readers with even a cursory knowledge of the genre.
The book shows a general lack of narrative logic in both art and writing. Characters announce their actions and intentions, but rarely convey their motivations. Changes of setting or circumstance between panels are abrupt and disorienting. The publisher has billed this book as a “penny dreadful,” which does suggest a degree of playful superficiality, but even the pulpiest comic needs something more than cookie-cutter characters and amateurish action sequences to hold the audiences’ attention.
Perhaps this story will deepen with time. This is slated to be the first of three parts, though the publisher’s website gives no indication of when later books might be released. With only 21 pages of comics in this volume, I might have preferred to wait until I could read the story in one go. This volume is rounded out with a nine-page prose piece featuring a stilted old-timey style and tired Orientalist tropes that I’d have gladly forgone.
The Trials and Tribulations of Miss Tilney
by David Doub
Art by Sarah Elkins
Dusk Comics, 2012