Basketball legend, novelist, and superstar polymath Kareem Abdul-Jabbar brings his take on Sherlock Holmes’ older brother to comics at last! An all-new adventure set in the world of the bestselling Mycroft novel, The Apocalypse Handbook sees the diffident, brilliant Mycroft pulled into a globe-spanning adventure at the behest of Queen Victoria and a secret organization at the heart of the British government. A madman is on the loose with civilization-destroying weapons, each two hundred years in advance of the status quo. Can the smartest man in England set aside his idle, womanizing ways for long enough to track down the foe that may be his match?
London, England in 1874 is a place full of potential where curious and ambitious minds explore areas previously believed to be beyond the realm of possibility. Scientific advancements are expanding the scope of human knowledge and control, and each newly discovered answer opens up a series of new questions. One concept yet to be fully explored, however, is the moral “just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.” This concept is given form when a school field trip to the British National Museum ends in destruction. A mysterious object, left behind by a mysterious man, causes everything around it to fall to pieces, leaving nothing but rubble behind.
Meanwhile in the philosophy class at Cambridge University, questions of morality are explored every day. On this day, the question is: The Mona Lisa, Da Vinci’s original masterwork, is trapped inside a burning building along with a mangy, flea-ridden, snorting, farting dog. You can only save one. Which do you choose? Some of the students believe that Da Vinci’s masterpiece has much more value, both monetarily and culturally, than a simple dog. Others believe that a life, any life, should be worth more than an object. One student believes that the painting is just a painting, that there will eventually be “another Da Vinci to splash paint on a canvas”, and that the dog is both faster and more attuned to danger than any human and would be better able to save itself without interference. The obvious answer, according to rogue student Mycroft Holmes, is that the smart person would focus on saving himself. The following uproar lands young Master Holmes, once again, in danger of expulsion from the university after an outraged philosophy professor lodges the latest in an apparently long line of formal complaint against his forever arrogant student.
Unconcerned with these trivialities, Mycroft goes on about his day, doing the things that he enjoys… one of which finds him in bed with the wife of the aforementioned philosophy professor. Mycroft’s display of sexual superiority is interrupted by the entrance of his younger brother, Sherlock. What follows is the typical brotherly banter, enhanced by by the famed Holmes intellect. The interruption is itself interrupted, poor Mrs. Philosophy Professor still wearing nothing but a hastily wrapped bedsheet, when the door is kicked in by masked men who wordlessly attack Mycroft. The elder Holmes brother does his best to fight them off, all the while calling to Sherlock for help. For his part, Sherlock is convinced that the whole scene is being staged by his manipulative, grandstanding brother, and does nothing but sit back and watch. In the end, Mycroft is overpowered and carried out of the house, leaving Sherlock to wonder what the point of the drama was, and the professor’s wife wondering if the attack was staged by her husband. Meanwhile, Mycroft himself regains consciousness, wondering why he’s bound and hanging upside down in a dungeon, surrounded by the same masked men who abducted him.
I am, in no way, shape, or form, an expert on Sherlock Holmes. As a kid I’d watched a couple of the old Basil Rathbone movies on TV (Sunday mornings were the best for the old reruns), and later the Chris Columbus movie Young Sherlock Holmes. It wasn’t until later in life that I really dipped into the world of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A Study in Scarlet depicts the first meeting of Sherlock and his friend/sidekick Dr. Watson. The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably the most famous of Doyle’s books. There are countless others, each depicting Sherlock Holmes in all of his superior yet extremely flawed glory. The important thing here is that in Doyle’s work, Sherlock’s older brother Mycroft gets nothing much more than an honorable mention. I don’t know that he ever really appears in the books, and if he does it’s only very briefly. What’s important about that small fact is that Sherlock confesses without any shadow of a doubt that his reclusive older brother is, by every measure that counts, even more brilliant than he is. In these mentions, Sherlock states that in matters of intellect and deductive reasoning, Mycroft stands head and shoulders above his younger brother, but has no interest whatsoever in pursuing any professions that might make use of these qualities.
Why does any of that matter? In a culture that was steeped in poverty and Penny Dreadful novels, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle crafted a deeply layered character in Sherlock Holmes. With all of his qualities and expertise, Holmes is as flawed an individual as you could ever think to meet in real life. He’s obsessive compulsive to the extreme, a characteristic completely overshadowed later in life by his opiate addiction. So with all of that backstory to explore in Sherlock, the reader is left to wonder… What the hell happened to Mycroft? Sherlock’s compulsion to look for any puzzle, any mystery, to occupy his always in motion mind any way he can because leaving it without something to work with is an almost literal torture. If Mycroft was created as a person even more brilliant than Sherlock, presumably a deliberate and carefully thought out character from the mind of the same man who gave us Sherlock himself, there has to be some story behind his hermitic existence later in life.
And so, completely ignoring the much more famous and culturally recognized younger Holmes brother, none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (an admitted Holmesian) has taken it upon himself to create a backstory that fits snuggly into Doyle’s unexplored narrative. Now, before you start going off on a “isn’t he a basketball player” tangent, I’m going to point out that he’s written a few best-sellers already. The first, in 1983, was his own auto-biography Giant Steps. His other works include books of social and historical fact (Brothers in Arms, co-written with Anthony Walton about an all-black armored unit that served in Europe during World War II sounds really interesting), as well as… wait for it… Mycroft Holmes, co-written with Anna Waterhouse and depicting young Mycroft’s days immediately following his graduation from Cambridge. Where other works have chronicled Mycroft’s days as an Agent in the service of Her Majesty the Queen, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse have chosen to flesh out earlier adventures.
Oh yeah, I’ll be checking that book out… but believe it or not, this wordy little article isn’t about any of those works. It’s about the latest book from Titan Comics, co-written by Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld, dipping back even farther into Mycroft’s previously unwritten history, the days before leaving Cambridge. The story so far leaves us with more questions than answers, but the potential for discovery runs just as deep as it might have in Victorian England itself. Abdul-Jabbar and Obstfeld establish several things in a relatively short amount of time, foremost being the simple truth that Mycroft is an arrogant ass to pretty much everyone around him, not in the least excluding his younger brother Sherlock. Other questions to be answered are: What was the object responsible for the destruction of the British Museum, and who was the man who placed it? Who are these masked men intent on capturing Mycroft, and are they in any way associated with his philosophy professor? For that matter, what’s Mrs. Philosophy Professor’s name, assuming she’s going to be more than yet another notch on Mycroft’s bedpost?
I don’t think it would be a surprise to anyone reading this review when I say that I had doubts going in. I wasn’t aware of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s obsession with the legend of Sherlock Holmes, going all the way back to his early days in the NBA when he was first given one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original books. I knew that he had written his own auto-biography. I also knew that he was hilarious in Airplane. What I didn’t know was that he was a knowledgeable historian and best-selling author, with a deep respect of and love for the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s that spirit that shows up pretty quickly in this opening issue from Titan Comics. The dialogue is sharp and authentic, with Victorian era London serving as a very well-researched backdrop.
My final score on this one is an admittedly surprising A+, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in some background on the lesser known Holmes. As much as I might want to, I’m not going to dip to the obvious line… I won’t. It’s not gonna happen.
Investing one’s time and money in this ongoing series is……… sigh….. elementary.