Revenge: The Secret Origin of Emily Thorne, by Erica Schultz and Ted Sullivan with art by Felix Ruiz and Vincenzo Balzano, is the latest attempt at synergy between the Disney-owned ABC and Marvel Comics.
While it’s an interesting experiment, the world of Revenge just isn’t the same without the likes of series stars Madeleine Stowe, Emily VanCamp and Gabriel Mann. Though the television series has a certain charm and personality that audiences enjoy, the graphic novel goes for dead serious and comes up feeling hollow. With two authors and two artists, The Secret Origin of Emily Thorne feels like it was made by committee, with none of the show’s classist and moral themes present.
A prequel that takes place a few years before the series begins, The Secret Origin of Emily Thorne finds Emily—or rather, Amanda, as she hasn’t yet adopted her new identity—training with mentor/sensei Takeda in Japan. Takeda tells Amanda that she is one of his proudest achievements but also one of his most profound disappointments, as she doesn’t have her priorities straight, she’s too trusting and too reckless. Amanda challenges Takeda to let her prove herself, and he sends her on a mission to Switzerland to take down Julien Fassler, a corrupt U.N. weapons inspector. Amanda decides to get to Julien by going through Christophe, his warm, intelligent son, and Lara, his hard-partying daughter. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Revenge story without some twists, and before long Amanda learns that Julien was involved with the Flight 197 crash that ruined her and her father’s life all those years ago. Before long, Amanda is romancing (and beginning to truly fall for) Christophe, becoming Lara’s new best friend and antagonizing Julien in much the same way she does Victoria in the television series.
The story unfolds like an extended episode of the television series and recalls flashback-centric episodes from the first two seasons. Schultz and Sullivan are careful not to contradict anything from the show, but the resulting story feels safe and dull. We know that Emily/Amanda will survive any life-threatening ordeals she encounters, so watching her get into perilous fights and obstacles isn’t at all thrilling. Characters from the show are reduced to cameos; there are occasional appearances by Nolan, and we are treated to an illustrated version of David Clarke’s arrest, but aside from that, the connections to the series are fleeting. This has likely been done so that ABC and Marvel can market the book as a good jumping-on point for those unfamiliar with the show, but it’s just no fun for fans.
The art is hit-or-miss. Ruiz and Balzano avoid generic “superhero” and go for a painterly, abstract look. The imagery is sometimes strikingly beautiful, but it’s also inconsistent, with some pages going for “stark” and coming off as unfinished. Ruiz and Balzano’s style is very similar, but some readers will be able to tell when Ruiz’s work ends and Balzano’s begins. Had the two artists worked on different parts of the story to convey different tones or styles, this wouldn’t be a problem, but that isn’t the case here. Instead, the final product feels rushed.
It’s not all bad, though. The story does have some fun twists, and there are a few smart choices made by Schultz and Sullivan in which Amanda learns how to hide her anger and true self to fit in with the “high society” villains. And as this is an origin story, there are some clever moments that pay homage to superhero origins, like when Amanda dyes her hair from black to blonde to easily fit in with Lara and woo Christophe.
For fans of the series, Revenge: The Secret Origin of Emily Thorne is a harmless, if dull, little nugget to chew on before the Season 4 premiere on September 28. But for those who aren’t familiar with Revenge, this graphic novel isn’t a suitable introduction to the characters and doesn’t really represent the tone or voice of the show.