Never trust an innocent hostage, says Tony.
Mycroft Holmes is our pick for Non-Who Titan Comic of 2016. As such, if you clicked on this review hoping to read issue #4 trashed, you’re not gonna have that great a day.
We’ve said in reviews of previous issues that Mycroft Holmes, as reimagined in comic-book form by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (there are books too, by the way – go buy them now) is the kind of story just begging for a really good movie treatment. Handled correctly, it could be the most original new franchise since Harry Potter, blending the right amount of steampunk and skulduggery with the already-famous Holmes brain, but shifting the focus so that the universe is not cluttered up with one more current version of Sherlock’s adventures, and the whole high-functioning sociopath, ascetic, snappy, cocaine-taking baggage that comes with him. There’s a glorious sense of freedom in Abdul-Jabbar’s Mycroft comic-book, because anything’s possible. There’s also the notion that, while both of them would be pretty insufferable in their own ways, you could at least have some fun with Mycroft, which is a concept that never seems to enter Sherlock’s head in any of his incarnations.
Mycroft’s continuing adventure in America on the trail of the Apocalypse Handbook (a set of blueprints to build steampunky weapons of mass destruction to you and me), has him crossing the path of Frank and Jesse James in this issue – the James boys having unknowingly intercepted some mail of a highly significant nature. Mycroft’s American good luck charm and angel of mercy has arranged to have herself and Mycroft picked up off the train, and it’s early in this issue that we get to learn her name. When we do, we almost fall off our chair, then look around, make sure no-one saw us, and punch the air discretely, because it’s a name that promises excitement, adventure and really wild things.
There’s at least a logical reason why he lets himself be abducted by the mail-thieves, bringing the girl who has been the focus of his prior enquiries with him – the girl whose aunt spluttered out a potentially vital clue just moments before expiring unfortunately early into the senior Holmes boy’s adventures in the new world. And, by using the famed Holmes brain, he negotiates with the outlaws to be allowed to look through their stash of looted mail, in return for an enormous sack of cash from Her Imperial Majesty back home. There follows a long and tedious night of looking through mailbags for the vital piece of evidence in the James boys’ barn, while the angel of mercy, whose name is Lark, spins him a line about her life and heritage and he, with forensic attention to tiny details, proves which parts of her story are true and which are inventions and embellishments she throws at the world so it won’t ask her harder questions.
Having found the blueprints, it’s notable that Kerry, the girl with the aunt and the clue which to us with hindsight screams relevance, slips up and tells the James boys that the plans are for the making of apocalyptic weapons, leading to a certain amount of unpleasantness and running, and a great deal more unpleasantness with a long-drop in an outhouse, all of which gives Abdul-Jabbar and artists Raymond Obstfeld and Josh Cassara the chance to give us a little sepia-toned backstory of Mycroft in earlier life, another nugget of his pathway to becoming the rakish genius he is today, in this case, Mycroft in love, and how intolerable it would be to be in love with him when he knows absolutely everything you’re ever going to say, even when it leads you to leave him, but can never bring himself to soften, to lie, to pretend to be surprised by you.
A brief stay with some native Americans leads Mycroft, Lark and Kerry out of immediate danger, only to have Kerry set to leave their company after an ‘interview’ for a chambermaid’s position in the guest house where they’re staying. There’s a certain titillating nudity as Lark and Mycroft share a tin bath, and then, as you might expect, all hell breaks loose again, as Kerry is kidnapped by some people with access to some properly steampunk kit – a kind of instant expando-net, which leaves our heroes butt naked in a corridor. A random note demands the blueprints in exchange for Kerry’s life, and Mycroft and Lark end the issue preparing to get their derring-do – and indeed their underwear – on.
Meanwhile, the nominal villain of the piece, whose appearances in the comic-books so far have been both minimal and memorable, is arranging an auction with any number of power players for the Apocalypse Handbook, and also ensuring his merchandise has a final, sale-inspiring demonstration before the bidding begins. If none of that sounds particularly memorable… well, there’s also a beheading with a pocket watch to consider in this issue.
Memorable now, isn’t it?
Abdul-Jabbar’s script is a thing of gorgeous judgment, dropping treats all the way along, but using just enough restraint to make them feel like realistic, timely events, rather than the treats they are. The story is tight and for all we think we now understand what’s going on, there are still likely to be surprises in the concluding fifth issue. We would still pay good popcorn-money for a movie version of this story, but in the meantime, Obstfeld and Cassara build the world in Abdul-Jabbar’s head with a convincing sense of wild, Western scruffiness and contrasting personal elegance, aided as ever by Luis Guerrro and Simon Bowland on colourwork. As is always the case, Guerrero and Bowland bring great qualities of light to the work, from lamps to moonlight to the weird sepia or pale blue worlds of memory. Obstfeld and Cassara give the world and its characters enough detail and solidity to feel real, and Guerrero and Bowland bring it to distinct, fleshy, active life.
We started out by saying Mycroft Holmes was our pick for non-Who Titan comic-book of 2016. Four issues in, this series is as strong as ever, while getting richer with every backstory revelation and each plot twist that’s revealed to us.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk