It's a good time to be a Sherlock Holmes fan, for obvious reasons. For the Sherlock fans who love Cumberbatch and Lucy Liu, the Image Comics series Moriarty should also be on your shopping list.
Daniel Corey and Anthony Diecidue's comic series follows the life of Sherlock's former nemesis James Moriarty as he slowly emerges from his deep emotional sleep after having slain Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls, getting himself involved with a gorgeous ninja, Holmes's ally Inspector Lestrade and even Doctor Watson to help battle a villain named Tartarus, a man who would have been the equal of Moriarty — that is, before Moriarty became weak.
I love the idea of Moriarty getting weak and lazy after his archenemy has died. I was intrigued by the question of what a man would do after his enemy is no longer there to provide a counterpoint for his life. After you've removed your greatest adversary, what worthiness does your life have? For any fan of heroic fiction, this is a great question. What is Batman without the Jokier, Superman without Lex, Capt. Kirk without Khan?
One of the things that I enjoyed about Moriarty is how the book has a tight grounding in the very specific setting of late Victorian England and its colonies. Under the richly stark brush of Anthony Diecidue, London is a dank, nasty city, the perfect place for both oppression and for excitement. In a location so bleak, so labyrinthine and so Gothic, strange events seem like they can happen around every corner — because they frequently do.
The second story in this collection sends Moriarty to a very different location: after dreaming of his death under a Banyan Tree in South Asia, the arch-villain travels to a Burma rich with political foment. The forests are being destroyed at an extremely rapid rate, drug use and murder are rampant, and the East India Company is raping the people and the land to devastating effect.
Both stories in this fantastic collection are wonderful adventures, but what makes Moriart especially stand out is the profoundly philosophical attitude of the characters, particularly Moriarty himself. This is an intensely introspective lead, a man who goes through some weighty existential angst as he considers his own mortality — while at the same time he doesn't hesitate to pick up his own fists to get himself away from a massacre in Burma or Jamaica.
This collection merits rereading to pick up some of the details that were missed with the first read through. There's a lot of subtle characterization and plot depth happening in dialogue and narration. Key elements of personality and plot reveal themselves slowly, subtly, as befits a book about Sherlock Holmes. The more we read about him, the more we can't help to respect Moriarty, though we can't quite bring ourselves to love him.
Diecidue has a very unique art style. Sometimes his work appears very abstract and loose, especially in the first section of the book. He has a habit of drawing faces and other items at middle distance as nonfigurative shapes, while trusting the coloring by himself and Perry Freeze to add complex atmosphere to all the scenes. That style fits the story well. The art provides readers with memorable scenes and characters like the dissolute Rupert Thomason, who falls apart right in front of our eyes, or the beautiful Mata Hari, who absolutely does look like the type of woman who would be told major world secrets, or of course the intense depictions of a nasty Doctor Watson, whose better days are behind him in more than one sense of the word.
Moriarty is a tremendously fun and often philosophical addition to our current Holmesian obsessions. I loved traveling to London, Jamaica and Burma with this evil genius, thanks to Daniel Corey and Anthony Diecidue.
Jason Sacks is Publisher of Comics Bulletin. Follow him at @jasonsacks, email him at email@example.com or friend him on Facebook.