In 1890, Oscar Wilde published his one and only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. It was a fascinating piece of gothic horror, and quick gained as much notoriety as it did popularity.
The novel, in case you escaped high school not having read it, follows out title character, Dorian Gray, a young and impressionable man who, while posing for a portrait by the great artist Basil Hallward, makes an impossible wish, the the portrait would age and decay, and that he, Dorian Gray, would stay young and beautiful forever. It’s an impossible wish, but one that does actually come true.
At this point in the story Dorian begins a long a slow decline into hedonistic madness, prompted in no small part by Lord Henry Wotton, the man who first put the thoughts of beauty and debauchery into Dorian’s mind. Dorian becomes shallow and vain, leading to the suicides of those he torments and rejects, and the eventual outright murder of Basil when he attempts to stop Dorian’s madness.
In the end, Dorian himself decides that he must end the corruption that is his life, and decides to start by destroying the once beautiful painting of himself. The painting has become vile and repulsive, with the Dorian pictured there fully exposing all the marks that Dorian had inflected upon his life. The bitter and twisted figure bears no resemblance to the beautiful man Dorian still was, but when Dorian stabs the painting with a knife, he screams and falls dead himself.
His body is discovered next to the painting soon after. The painting has now reverted to its original shape, and Dorian himself has been transformed to match his image on the painting. He is only recognizable by the rings on his fingers.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a remarkable cautionary tale about the price of vanity, and is one that Hollywood has, for years, attempted to get right on the screen. There’s even a Wikipedia page dedicated just to listing all of the adaptations that have been made. It’s be adapted into musicals, plays, television shows, and, of course, comic books.
Marvel Comics released a version of the novel under their Marvel Illustrated line. It was adapted by Stan Lee’s successor and co creator of over a dozen different characters including Wolverine, Roy Thomas. The art for the comic was done by Sebastian Fiumara, and while a competent retelling in some ways, it sadly lacks much of the psychological horror that made Wilde’s original so great.
Plus, I’m not a huge fan of the look they gave Dorian. A bit too Lucifer for my tastes.
This is not the only attempt to bring Dorian Gray into the comics realm. Alan Moore, praise be upon him, snuck in a the titular portrait in the background of his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. There were rumors that Dorian Gray was going to appear in the live action version of that comic, but sadly, that film never existed…
All of this, of course, brings us to today’s comic, a sequel to the original work from the good people at Vault Comics: The Picture of Everything Else.
Here’s the blurb:
As the 20th century dawns, art promises to change the world…and steep it in blood. A rash of impossible killings sweeps through Paris, tearing the rich and beautiful apart in their beds. When two art thieves stumble upon the portraits of the victims damaged in the exact same manner they died, it appears the man who once painted the immortal portrait of Dorian Gray has returned—with darker plans for future works. From the minds of Dan Watters (Coffin Bound, Lucifer, Home Sick Pilots) and Kishore Mohan comes a haunting balance of depravity and beauty.
Let’s break it down.
First off, the writing in The Picture of Everything Else is fantastic. Dan Watters is a personal favorite of mine, and the perfect author for this kind of story. If you have never read Coffin Bound you are missing out on one of the best bizarre and wonderful series that has come out in a long time, and if you loved old school Vertigo, you have to check it out. His run on Lucifer, sadly cut short by DC, was a fascinating mix of horror, mythology, and in many cases, a brilliant deconstruction of a sadly neglected part of the DC pantheon.
Watters brings all of that to bear on this book. It’s funny, scandalous, frightening, bloody, violent, and amazing. The characters are unique and inspired, and quiet easy to emphasize with. They are painters in the time when portraits are slowly being replaced with photography, and as such the work is tinged throughout with the subtle, but clearly present, theme that art is fighting back against this world.
Like the original novel, The Picture of Everything Else is a work that is sure to provoke a lot of conversation about it’s meaning. Presenting The Picture of Dorian Gray in an artistic medium like a comic is doubtlessly relevant to the conversation, especially when we are living in a world where film adaptations of comic book characters are quickly replacing the original works in the minds of fans everywhere.
Speaking of art, the art in The Picture of Everything Else is also brilliant. Mohan’s work has a distinctly painted style, which of course is perfect for a book like this, where art is front and center. It adds another layer to the work that is impossible to miss, and helps to set this work apart from a lot of other comics on the shelf.
What doesn’t work:
Well, see, there is one issue I have with The Picture of Everything Else. It’s a bit hard to criticize it because this was only the first issue and I’m sure this will be explained as the series progresses, but, well, the thing is that Basil Hallward isn’t a villain, at all, in any way. Basil is the good angel of the original novel, who is constantly trying to save Dorian and return him to the path of righteousness.
Also, Dorian murdered him and dissolved his body in acid, so there’s that too.
Now, like I said, I’m sure that this will be explained later, and issue one does have Basil reference the fact that some dark power has revived him, so it’s clear this will be addressed later on, but if you were a big fan of the original novel this character change might be a bit off-putting. Still, I trust Watters and have no doubt that this point will eventually be explained.
What’s the verdict?
Even if you’ve never read the original novel, The Picture of Everything Else is a great comic. With the exception of Basil the rest of the characters are new and unique, and require you to know nothing about the source.
If you have read the novel, this comic clearly has many deep, spiritual connections to the original work, and fans will find a lot to love in this book.
Either way, this book is a must read!
Hope you and your had a happy holiday season, and let’s all pray that next year will be better. I mean, it has to be be, right?
Until then, stay safe!