Sherlock Holmes is preoccupied, so Irene Adler will have to take on Professor Moriarty herself. On the way, she’s teaming up with a “League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen” including famous female figures from science, history, and literature.
Historical fiction draws two audiences: one looks for historical accuracy/“faithfulness,” while the other looks for an aesthetic/escape. If you belong to the latter, Adler may be your cup of tea.
Lavie Tidhar and Paul McCaffrey’s Adler attempts to blend Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories with Alan Moore’s critically acclaimed League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But now Irene Adler (Holmes’ once lover/competition) is the one chasing Moriarty. Joining her are a “League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen” including Jane Eyre, Miss Havisham, Carmilla, Ayesha (She-who-must-be-obeyed), and little orphan Annie.
If this seems like a lot for a comic to take on in its first issue, you’d be right, and Adler doesn’t quite pull it off. I think this can be put down to Adler’s relationship with its literary inspirations and large cast. Adler is obsessed both with being and not being the stories it’s inspired by, and Sherlock Holmes in particular.
Jane Eyre acts as the audience POV character. Returning to England after been injured as a nurse on the front of the Boer War, She’s introduced to Irene Adler by a mutual friend (Lady Havisham, a scientist/inventor) who thinks Jane and Irene could make good roommates. Adler immediately deduces John’s — er, Jane’s — occupation and expounds upon her own quirky habits: keeping unorthodox hours, playing piano (she explicitly states “not the violin”), and throwing knives when she’s thinking. (Yes, Holmes shoots a pistol instead.) Tidhar’s narrative seems obsessed (generally and here in particular) with both being and not being a Sherlock Holmes story. Jane isn’t Watson. She’s a nurse. Adler isn’t Holmes. She plays piano. They’re women.
As for Moriarty, other than get someone to tail Adler, kill this man, and talk about Holmes at a restaurant, he does very little. I’m not sure what he’s up to. I’m not even sure I care.
As to the other three members of Adler’s cast, you’ll need to reference the front matter or your own knowledge of 19th century fiction. Only these two places will explain to you that Carmilla is a vampire, Ayesha hates the British Empire, and that Annie exists. Annie wasn’t in this issue, and Ayesha for two pages at best.
Readers of the Anno Dracula comic will be familiar with McCaffrey’s depiction of a fantastical 19th century. His jewel and sepia tones are a charming fit for Adler’s Victorian trappings. Nonetheless, Adler feels lacking here too. Considering its impressively large female cast, “same face syndrome” becomes not only irritating but impossible to ignore. Each woman bears the same giant doe eyes, large pouty lips, and jawline. The period-be-damned costumes and characters are, however, well-designed enough to make it easy to tell the protagonists apart. Ayesha’s golden bikini and Carmilla’s chic 21st century goth look prove particularly memorable.
Butch Guice’s cover sees Adler about to enter a knife fight: a dynamic moment that never shows. Irene fights precisely one man for a page. With a gun. Perhaps six pages of Adler is “action.” While misleading, the cover is nonetheless pleasant.
For all of its shortcomings, I still hope that Adler finds its footing with the story’s progression. A penny dreadful or pseudo-Victorian romp can be incredibly fun when well-executed. Its characters are likable and intriguing and it’s always refreshing to start a story with no tragically deceased women, and instead several female protagonists with lives outside of romance.
At its finest, Adler is a delightful, progressive penny dreadful that reminds readers of its Victorian inspirations. Yet, the unbalanced narrative and facial monotony may make you wish you’d read Sherlock Holmes, Carmilla, or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen instead. Hopefully, Adler will come into its own with time. For now, Adler’s biggest mystery is what anyone should expect from it.
Adler #1: An Ambitious Penny Dreadful
Writing - 6/106/10
Storyline - 7/107/10
Art - 6/106/10
Color - 7/107/10
Cover Art - 7/107/10
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