Review: Daphne Byrne by Laura Marks, Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen

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cover of the graphic novel Daphne ByrneDaphne Byrne by Laura Marks, Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen
DC Comics (November 2020)
160 pages; $24.99 hardcover
Reviewed by Danica Davidson

14-year-old Daphne Byrne lives in a world where she doesn’t belong. Her father was the only person who understood her, but he died in a disgraceful way, a way that gives gossips plenty to talk about. This is 1886 in New York, and Daphne’s morbid, literate, precocious personality doesn’t fit well in a time and place where women are expected to be docile and obedient. The other girls at school all make fun of her, so she doesn’t fit in anywhere.

Desperate, Daphne’s mother goes to a spiritualist to communicate with her late husband. The spiritualist easily sways the mother, but Daphne is skeptical. Even after Daphne more or less proves to her mother that the spiritualist is doing cold reading and can be led along, the mother continues to go. Daphne wants her mother to see logic, but is Daphne one to judge?

Because while she scoffs at her mother’s easy beliefs, Daphne has been getting farther and farther away from reality. A boy she sees in a dream starts showing up in her real life, following her. The dream seemed to involve some sort of cult, and a sacrifice. Where did those images come from? She sees horrible visions of demons and death. Are these things real? How can she believe in dreams becoming reality, but not in spiritualists? And if she is going insane, what can she do? Another character brings up the horrible situation that sanitariums are in. Without help from anyone else, and even questioning her own sanity, Daphne will have to strike out alone.

Daphne is definitely the strongest character in the book, and the most interesting. She’s out of her place in the 1880s, but she isn’t an exaggerated modern girl placed back in time, as you sometimes see in historical fiction where modern sensibilities clash with historical accuracy. Some twists at the end are fun, and though it’s a single standalone volume, it reads as if more information could be given at a later date to flesh out the story more.

Daphne Byrne is published by Joe Hill’s Hill House Comics, an imprint of DC. Writer Laura Marks has a history of writing for television and stage and is a newcomer to comics. Artist Kelley Jones, on the other hand, is a veteran in the comics field, having worked for DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and IDW, and done everything from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman to the Batman & Dracula trilogy to Frankenstein Alive, Alive! At the end of the book, in addition to seeing some beautiful extra covers, there are short but fascinating interviews with Marks and Jones. Some of the covers contained in the book have the most striking artwork, really bringing out the atmosphere.

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