Tony’s feeling smug. Oh, and grateful.
Forgive me, but there are, as you’d expect in the closing issue of a fantastic comic-book series, at least a couple of reveals in Mycroft Holmes #5, and – perhaps trained by the likes of BBC’s Sherlock and CBS’ Elementary – we called them way early.
That’s one of the joys of great detective fiction, of course – the Deduce-Along-A-Genius to which it invites you. Can you beat the detective to the punch, the reveal, the understanding of the true motivations that have seemed hidden, the true villains whose hands have moved the pieces of the puzzle along?
There are two schools of thought: one is that you should be encouraged to do just that, and given perhaps an almost fair shot at it, nothing explicitly put out of sight or made seemingly impossible expressly to throw you off the scent (improbable, yes, absolutely, but never impossible). And the other is that you want your detective to be better than their reader, able to see things that we can’t see, know things we can’t know, and pull the truth out of the air like a rabbit out of a proverbial, not to say clichéd, hat.
Sherlock Holmes frequently erred on this second side, bringing in great swatches of national or international context seemingly from nowhere that put a whole new light on the affair you’d been trying to puzzle out, Watson-fashion, with only the ‘domestic’ facts made available to you.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in rendering the young Mycroft for us, gives us the best of both worlds in issue #5 of the best and most exciting non-Who comic from Titan in 2016 – he allows us to work things out ahead of time, but only by being privy to the whole history of Sherlock Holmes and his enemies, which is information Mycroft himself of course doesn’t have. So yes, technically we get there just ahead of the detective, but his brilliance isn’t diminished by that because, although he doesn’t have the perspective of our knowledge, he gets there pretty quickly himself – indeed, he claims to get there at exactly the same point that we do, hence the best of both worlds: Mycroft is brilliant, and so are we.
There’s a certain amount of Sherlockian fun when someone’s kidnapped, and instead of racing straight to the rescue, Mycroft, in a seemingly heartless gesture, heads off in an entirely different direction, but of course as the climax of the story unfolds, and the villains are doing some cackling as they propose to rain death and destruction down on the hapless civilian populace of the US, the detour turns out to have been not only prudent but essential.
It’s no shock of course to learn that Mycroft Holmes saves the day for what we laughingly call ‘civilisation,’ but, more in keeping with modern readings of the original Holmes texts, decides that if there are to be blueprints of weapons of appalling steampunk destruction in existence (and they’d better be, otherwise some damned fool will only use them as a quest of re-invention), they’d be far safer in his keeping than even the keeping of Her Imperial Majesty, Victoria Regina. And so begins a long association between the Holmes boys and the Crown.
More than the pure simple action of the finale of the story, which has plenty of the elements you want – surprise, deviousness, beheading with pocketwatches, betrayal, chemical weapons with a steampunk twist, an explanation of the elements that gave the villainy away, fisticuffs and ultimate victory, while establishing the villains as people to be reckoned with going forward (in this case giving a delicious twist on the legends of Holmes), it’s the scope of the storytelling that makes us want to take off our anoraks and cheer here. Abdul-Jabbar’s breadth of reference, his imaginative impulses, and the degree of flair he brings to the forging of a new Holmes legend all resonate more like a cello than a violin in the souls of geek-readers, giving us a deep smile and a nod of ‘This is so right, why has no-one done it this way before.’
Artistically, we’ve almost said everything that can be said about this series – the artwork from Raymond Obstfeld and Joshua Cassara delivers a fascinating combination of detailed environments and sometimes almost notional figures, which puts us in the situation and allows us to give the action our own version of its actors because it anchors us in the place, the time, and the period and then lets us play, but which, when it needs to, is not afraid of delivering the detail to help convey mood, tension, energy or whatever else is needed to propel the story along. Colourwise, Luis Geurrero is probably a god, or an X-Man or something similar, taking raw light and conjuring reality between his hands, here giving some elements an almost washed-out watercolour look, and very distinctly separating the opening sequence, which Abdul-Jabbar dedicates to some Holmes boys backstory between Mycroft and his brother, from the main thrust of the story by a wash that’s not sepia but something colder, something greyer and darker as it dwells on the events that shaped the hardness in Sherlock’s soul, and how that contrasts itself with Mycroft’s more hedonistic, grab-while-the-lights-of-life-are-on approach.
Bottom line, grab Mycroft Holmes #5 while the lights of life are on too. Grab every issue individually, and then grab the inevitable collected version, because each will enrich your life in different ways. Look at it this way: you’re alive now, in a time of grimness, mediocrity and seemingly enforced joylessness and anti-humanism. In times like these, be glad that there are also people like Abdul-Jabbar, like Obstfeld, like Guerrero and like Simon Bowland, the other colourist on this series. Be glad that you can grab this intelligent re-imagining of the Holmes legend from the point of view of the elder Holmes brother, and delve into it – emerge in the world of steam and steampunkery, for adventures with a modern sensibility of richness, raunch and rock and roll, and a glorious Victorian swagger. At the end of its five issues, it’s still the best non-Who Titan comic of 2016. Here’s hoping for more throughout the course of 2017.
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