Powers – Fearful & Divine
Written by Cy Dethan, art by RHStewart and letters by Nic Wilkinson
The Victorian era is often thought of as a time of progress. The industrial revolution unleashed a golden age of engineering. New scientific discoveries like Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution unlocked the secrets of life. The industrial transformation of society was studied by political philosophers like Karl Marx who mapped the historical forces at play and sought to map the way to a classless utopia. Even in the field of mythology and religion we saw the publication of The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer, which traced the common origins of superstitious beliefs.
In an example of what Karl might have seen as the dialectical interplay of opposites, there was a reaction to this progress. The era saw a remarkable growth of interest in esoteric supernatural movements such as spiritualism and mesmerism. Among the greatest supporters of spiritualism were the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The influence of these movements extended throughout the literature of the time with the notable popularity of ghost stories, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol being a lasting example. The genre of Gothic fiction saw the publication of masterpieces like Wuthering Heights and the Turn of the Screw. That these tales could only reach a mass audience through new innovations like the novel, itself dependent on advances in printing, is another example of how progress and superstition were strange bedfellows.
It is this dance between science, industry and progress on one hand and the supernatural on the other that Powers – Fearful and Divine plays with. Set a couple of decades after the Victorian era in the early Twentieth Century it brings together figures like Houdini and Tesla, H.P. Lovecraft and Conan Doyle. Another literary figure that we meet is H.P. Lovecraft. His blatantly racist and anti-semitic views are not shied away from.
The book is a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen style tour of the literary and scientific personalities of the late 20th century both real and fictional. The real-life battle of Houdini against the spiritualist movement and its figurehead Conan-Doyle becomes a global struggle for control of new forces which encompass the scientific and spiritual.
One figure who also casts a long shadow over the book is Mary Wolstonecraft Shelley. Long dead by the 1920’s setting of the book, her novel Frankenstein in particular still looms large. Frankenstein‘s gothic literary impact and themes of science and the nature of humanity are among those explored by this comic. It is a shame we don’t have some kind of meeting with her, especially given the male dominated nature of the times. Perhaps some kind of flashback or other plot device will introduce her in a future issue.
The books colour palette is muted except where flashes of lightning or bursts of energy from futuristic ray weapons light up the scene. The art from RH Stewart has to deal with a lot of talking heads but livens up where some period automobiles or steampunkesque machinery is called for.
Overall the book lays the groundwork for some interesting adventures. Like a lot of first issues it struggles with exposition and the introduction of lots of characters and information, including historical characters some readers will not be familiar with. Future issues will have the opportunity to pick up the pace.
Powers – Fearful and Divine will be coming to Kickstarter in August 2021.Check out Blue Fox Comics for more details.