“Thumbprint” #3 by Jason Ciaramelia, Joe Hill and Vic Malhotra deviates the most from Hill’s original novella on which the mini-series is based. Readers of the novella were divided about Hill’s open-ended cliffhanger which left the fate of Mallory and the story’s antagonist unclear. Some liked it; others thought it wasn’t a proper ending. “Thumbprint” #3 ties up loose ends for a more conventional ending.
“Thumbprint” #3 begins with in Mallory’s home with a shower scene is dark and psychosexual. It’s an uncomfortable attention-grabber, but not over-the-top. Malhotra’s restrained visuals make the charged, taboo scene of sexuality and self-flagellation obviously about her inner turmoil, and it’s consistent with Mallory’s personality and inner conflict.
It’s appropriate for the atmosphere and themes that Mallory is still in her lonely, dark home in the following scene, when she finally comes face-to-face with her mysterious thumbprint note-leaver and stalker, who is symbolically the external manifestation of Mallory’s inner demons. Malhotra’s cramped panel layout of diagonals conveys the claustrophobia and messiness of the struggle, and his rich neutral dark palette of colors and thick ink brushy shadows also create atmosphere. Instead of lazily piling on the gore or over-using horror film camera angles, he evokes emotion with panel composition.
The identity of Mallory’s attacker has been heavily foreshadowed, but even if the reader has guessed who, there remains some suspense about his motive. Ciaramelia’s monologue for this disturbed individual is explicit about the connection between torture and its consequences. Hill’s original novella was more subtle about this connection. The translation to comics form feels less well-executed as Mallory’s assailant talks for almost three pages with hardly any interruption.
Ciaramelia and Malhotra seem aware of this, though, so they invent an interruption that feels like a “Monty Python”-like cut to a cartoon. The “Guide to Easy Thumb Removal” is sick dark humor and it works to break up the dialogue and let the reader take a step back from the gore. Malhotra does a great job of aping vintage illustrated instructions. It’s an enjoyable trick that achieves the goals of its authors, but it’s not a perfect solution. It comes of out of nowhere in a story that doesn’t have this kind of fourth-wall-breaking anywhere else. It was created as a stopgap to the weaker storytelling during this climax and fight scene.
The denouement, where the fate of the Mallory and her antagonist is sealed, is a let-down compared to the poetry of the original ending, in which Mallory’s fate is unknown. While it may be less of a cop-out for Ciaramelia and Hill to make the ending more concrete, it weakens the theme of crime, confession and redemption. The conclusion that brings Mallory back to a cemetery is nicely circular, but the final image is bizarre. While it makes symbolic sense, it lacks realism, and it takes the reader out of the story when its intent is to shock and creating a lingering takeaway image.
Hill’s original novella ending was optimistic for a horror story, implying that Mallory found solace in the role reversal of being a victim rather than the criminal. Hill’s prose for her thoughts suggested euphoria, even a twisted spiritual bliss, in the place where Mallory has never been so close to death and knows it. Instead, “Thumbprint” #3 provides a resolution where Mallory physically survives, but in which her character arc is less dynamic. The “lesson” of the horror story has worked no change except to break her. This ending diminishes both her character depth and the themes of payback and guilt.
While it’s daring and praiseworthy for Ciaramelia and Hill to rework the “Thumbprint” story so extensively for the comics adaptation, the change in the ending makes “Thumbprint” #3 the weakest issue of the mini-series. However, “Thumbprint” as a whole is still worth reading as an example of the art of prose-to-comics adaption.