Pullbox Reviews: Adler #1- An actress, a nurse, & a vampire assassin… must be Wednesday

For Sherlock, there was only ever one woman – now Irene Adler is on a mission to take down Moriarty! It’s the League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen, as Adler teams up with a host of famous female faces from science, history and literature to defeat the greatest criminal mastermind of all time!

After being injured while serving as a nurse in the Boer War, Jane Eyre is looking for a fresh start. Through mutual acquaintance, the unconventional Lady Havisham, she is put in contact with an American performer by the name of Irene Adler. The two come to an arrangement by which both would benefit, securing lodging together in order to share the cost. Together, they will come into contact, & more than likely conflict, with the likes of Professor Moriarty, & Ayesha the Amazon Queen.

In 1902, London is a hard place for a pair of young women on their own, & merry ol’ England doesn’t stand a chance.

The works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle really didn’t feature the character Irene Adler on the page for more than a comparative blink, but the impression she left has saturated the legend of Sherlock Holmes for all time. Despite being noted by the detective himself as his intellectual rival, Adler’s story has never been explored or filled in. The good news is that these large narrative gaps leave writer Lavie Tidhar with a lot of room to work.

Mirroring the events of A Study in Scarlet to a large degree, the opening issue of Adler ties this story to the world of Holmes (among others) in a way that established fans should be able to appreciate. It also brings new readers into the fold, possibly giving some the inclination to look into the classic stories to check out the origins of these characters. In either case, Lavie Tidhar doesn’t give any indication of being in a hurry. The pace does a good job of moving the story along, but there’s no doubt that this is an introduction to a larger world, and is including story elements that Doyle had never intended or even imagined. At its core, Tidhar’s approach to Adler reminds me of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but doing away with the boys’ club attitude and aiming to showcase what the girls of history & classic literature can do on their own. Just as impressive given some of the cast involved, Tidhar doesn’t spoon feed readers more information than we need, encouraging us to do some investigating into who these people were.

Doing his part in the equation, Paul McCaffrey takes the elements as written by Tidhar and gives them form. His London shows all of the grit of having just entered into the age of the electric light bulb, and is thickly populated with people who all look as if they have things to do & places to be, even when simply filling space in the backgrounds. The work & detail he’s put into the character designs is really impressive, but he didn’t stop there. Doubling down on the artistic duties by handling colors as well as pencils, McCaffrey also does a great job in setting the mood of any given scene. Villains lurk in the shadows, street lights glow through the London fog, and there’s hardly a panel I can find on a second look-through that doesn’t have something going on in the background to keep the eye moving.

The creative team is rounded out by the work of Simon Bowland on lettering. Bowland presents Tidhar’s script in a no-frills, straightforward style that’s easy on the eyes and doesn’t get in the way. While that might seem poor praise to some, it’s increasingly important to note that a letterer is the unsung hero of comics. They have to balance creative design elements with the need to leave room on the page for the story. Bowland doesn’t waste time with sound effects, & doesn’t try to get too cute with the fonts- some period pieces insist on using heavy calligraphy to show us uneducated types that we’re reading stuff that happened in the past. You know, in case the caption “1902” just didn’t make it plain enough.

With a hint of a steampunk flair, Adler is off to a solid start. Readers are introduced to a group of characters, all very different people with vastly diverse goals in play, so there really wasn’t a lot of time to get into the actual story arc. It works for me, though. The characters are interesting, all hinting at plots & subplots yet to be revealed, & I’m really looking forward to getting into the meat of the story. If the goal of a creative team is to wrap up the first issue leaving readers hungry for more, I think we can call Adler a win.

Final Score: 9

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