When grieving, support can come in many ways. For Daphne, it came as a demon.
Turn-of-the-century New York is a growing metropolis for many, but not for Daphne Byrne. After her father’s death, her mother is drawn to a spirtualistic group that claims to speak to the dead. Daphne sees through their act right away, but something from the other side sees her too. Or someone?
Daphne finds herself in new company, Brother. He offers support and encourages Daphne to stand up for herself…and to use the powers he has too.
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Set in 19th century New York, Laura Marks’ macabre graphic novel debut shines light on the psychological effects and pains of loss, and a spiritual need to speak once again with those who have passed beyond. It perfectly captures the disorientation that accompanies the dreadful feeling of being utterly alone in a world that can’t possibly understand the pain caused by losing a loved one. Readers follow the path of fourteen-year-old Daphne as she navigates life without her beloved father, eventually embracing the darkness that lives within. Filled with hungry demons, mediums with alternate agendas, and those more than willing to prey upon the weak, this tale has a ton of potential. Unfortunately, the execution fell a bit flat for me.
There’s a lot going on in this graphic novel – two separate narratives the author attempts to weave together, but in the end they feel disjointed. The first of the two details Daphne’s journey in the face of profound loss. She’s different, bullied, a realist, and isn’t afraid to submit to the demons that haunt her. The other yarn focuses on the yearning of Daphne’s mother, Althea, to contact her husband beyond the veil. She spends what meager money she has on regular visits to a medium in hopes of holding onto what she once had. Daphne sees through the facade, and urges her mother to stop this foolish endeavor, but she refuses to listen to reason. And yep, it’s as predictable as you thought, the medium is a fraud. I really enjoyed the mystery and became quite invested in Daphne’s downward spiral, but the jarring shifts from one to the other was completely distracting. I was unable to connect to Althea at all.
Kelley Jones bring Marks’ story to life with art that perfectly captures the dark and unsettling tone it exudes. Utilizing the textures and palettes associated with Gothic Horror aesthetics, he definitely hits the nail on the head setting the stage. However, I wasn’t a fan of his portrayal of the characters. I appreciate consistency when it comes to visual storytelling, and I unfortunately didn’t get that in this book. Age is indiscernible – at times Daphne appeared childlike, and look 30 years older in the immediately following frame. Distinction is difficult – if it weren’t for dialogue, I may not have even known who was in scene several points throughout. Again, I felt there were too many distractions to become fully immersed in this story.
As soon as Daphne Byrne was brought to my attention, I was really excited to give it a read. Its promising premise of psychological hauntings and the occult, along with that beautiful cover, immediately drew me in. And while the execution of it wasn’t perfect, I’m thrilled I was given a chance to give this an early read. If you’re looking for a dark and gritty tale drenched in blood and the unknown, this may be just the story you’re looking for.
NOTE: A huge thank you to the author and DC Comics for a complementary advance copy of this graphic novel in exchange for an honest review.
Laura Marks is a PEN Award winning playwright, television writer and comic book writer. Her plays Bethany and Mine have garnered acclaim from critics and been published and produced across the US and overseas. For TV, she’s written episodes of The Good Fight, The Expanse, Servant, Ray Donovan, The Exorcist, and BrainDead, and she’s currently co-writing a new project with Carlton Cuse. Her debut comic series for DC’s Hill House Comics, Daphne Byrne (with art by Kelley Jones), will be released as a hardcover compilation in November 2020. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Brooklyn.