Writer: Mark Waid
Artists: Butch Guice (p), Mike Perkins (i)
Publisher: CrossGen Comics
The book opens with Emma trying to figure out why Simon's return to Partington has him on a crime-solving spree, while his investigation of the Lightbourne matter has fallen by the wayside. As Emma attempts to learn more about Lightboure, by digging through old case files, we see she is caught red-handed by Simon, but he response to this intrusion by dragging her with him on his latest case, which looks on the surface to be death by natural causes. However, with this death also comes a heated debate over who is the rightful heir to the dead man's property, and when the man's will turns up missing, Simon begins to suspect foul play. After a brief return visit to Simon's labs, where Emma finds herself accused of stealing evidence, as she is the only party who could've had access to it, we see Emma begins to wonder if Simon suspects the truth about her. We then return to the crime scene where Simon reveals the dead man was poisoned, and after he exposes the murderers, we see Simon also has ferreted out Lightbourne's involvement in this crime, as we see this murder is Lightbourne's method of sending a message to Simon.
It's issues like this that have me a bit concerned about the news that Mark Waid's impending departure from this title stems a disagreement about the future direction of this title. Now I realize that the entire CrossGen universe is Mark Alessi's sandbox, and given it was his money & creative imagination that made CrossGen Comics a reality, this is exactly as it should be. Plus, like most companies, employees should be asking the question how high, when the man up top tells them to jump. However, Mark Waid's work on this series has been top notch material, and given his past work I would've felt more secure knowing that he was the one guiding the ship from a creative sense. Now Scott Beatty is certainly a capable writer, though most of his work that I've read has been with his writing partner Chuck Dixon. However, I'm finding it difficult to look at this book & see a title that doesn't already have itself a sound creative vision. The characters, and their interaction with each other is highly engaging. The mysteries they're called upon to solve are a great deal of fun, and often times genuinely surprising. If it ain't broke...
This issue is yet another fine example of the bar that Mark Waid is setting on this series, as this issue is a fairly standard murder mystery plot, that evolves into something really quite memorable. Now while he may be trying to distance this title from its Sherlock Holmes roots, it's difficult to not see Lightbourne as Mark Waid's answer to Professor Moriarty, when we see that Lightbourne is being presented as Simon intellectual rival. It also doesn't hurt that Mark Waid uses this issue to establish that Lightbourne is going to engage Simon is a rather horrific game, in which he's going to reenact infamous cases that they solved together, back when he was Simon's assistant (or as the newspaper articles seem to suggest, when Simon was Lightbourne's assistant). The issue also has itself a fairly engaging mystery, that is capped off with a scenario lifted right out of the "Thin Man" films, that has Simon gathering all the murder suspects into a single room, before he outs the murderer, and Emma gets to play the role of Nora as she points out to Simon that most murderers tend to flee once they're exposed as the killer.
Butch Guice is turning out the best work of his career, and I do believe I'm going to keep using this opening line in my discussion of this book's art, as it bears continual repeating. His art is the perfect match for this title, as by Butch Guice's own admission he's having a grand old time detailing the Victorian era setting of this series, with its turn of the century clothing styles, lush country estates complete with castles, and of course how could one forget the frantic escape that the two murderess attempt in a leaky row boat. Now even after nine issues I'm still finding myself trying to adjust to the left to right, double-paged format that Butch Guice has embraced on this series, but it does result in action scenes that have an almost extended quality to them, as we see on the sequence that details the two sisters escape attempt. The book also continues to do its wonderful job on it's facial expressions & body language, as the mini feud that exists between Emma and Ophelia is a great running visual gag, from Emma's curious expression when she first spots Ophelia, to the amusing scene where Emma uses her umbrella to underscore her insult.
A highly entertaining issue that gathers together all the best elements of this series into a single issue. We have a fairly engaging murder mystery, some first-rate character interaction, including a delightfully amusing feud between Emma & a bearded woman, and the issue also lays the groundwork for Simon's impending showdown with the villainous Lightbourne. We also get a fairly intense scene between Simon & Emma, as a lingering thread from the opening arc rears its head, and Emma is left to wonder if the secret she's hiding from Simon is about to be exposed. The issue also adds another fun character to Simon's ever expanding collection of oddball operatives, as we're introduced to the late Otto's twin sister, Ophelia. The murder mysteryis also a fairly clever little plot, as the murder weapon is fairly unique, and it also ties itself quite nicely to the Lightbourne case, with the final panel of the issue being a wonderful hint of where Lightbourne is going to take this game.
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