Great public domain literature adaptations redefine our understanding of classic universes and the characters contained within. Alan Moore’s re-imagining of British heroes and villains in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and so many other works draw us in because they tease a decidedly different rendition of a tale or character we’re intimately aware of. We want to be surprised by a new take on our favorite classics and we’re excited to see where the authors might take them.
Moriarty: The Dark Chamber #1, written by Daniel Corey with artist Anthony Diecidue, takes the great detective’s arch-enemy down a road we’ve yet seen him travel: the way of the hero. It wouldn’t work as well as it does if Corey had simply cast him headlong into a suit of shining armor though. Rather he sets the stage for a compelling tale of criminal intrigue set just before the woes of World War I. There’s a bit of political unrest, a dab of the supernatural, and a mystery just big enough to end the Professor’s self-imposed exile from the dark underbelly of the world he once ran.
The story takes place 20 years after Sherlock Holme’s death, and the Professor is working odd jobs for the petty criminals of London. He’s a shade of his former villainous self. Without the detective, where’s the challenge? While some of the narrative runs dry at times, Moriarty himself is exceptionally well written. The character is calculating, driven, dangerous, egotistical, and incredibly self-aware.
I was intrigued most by Corey’s display of Moriarty’s deductive abilities. Unlike a lot of other pseudo-detective stories in comics, in which the hero finds clues but only reveals the solution to the mystery at the end (the typical “parlor scene”), you actually witness the Professor’s powerful mind working through certain situations with terrifying clarity. Using his masterful deductive reasoning abilities he discerns intimate details of a man just by looking at his handwriting. These episodes are fun to read because you feel as though you’re there standing beside Moriarty, seeing what he sees and uncovering the secrets with him.
Anthony Diecidue puts you next to Moriarty with his awesome pencils and wonderful line work. His hatching adds a dingy aura to the pages, and the colors, a palette of blacks, grays, and browns, only enhance the dreary, rundown feel of London and her denizens. Occasionally the inks seem to vary in width for no particular reason, as in one panel Moriarty will be realized with thin fine lines, while in another directly next to it he’ll be blocky and almost misshapen, penned into existence by a much thicker instrument.
Unfortunately with such a drab, atmospheric color scheme nothing jumps off the panel. It sets the tone but doesn’t draw the eye. However, when events explode later in the issue Diecidue experiments with a brilliant gamma green that really lights up the page and hopefully indicates more brilliant color work later in the series.
Moriarty: The Dark Chamber #1 is an absolutely solid first issue. Corey and Diecidue mined material from one of the most celebrated literary universes in history and do Sir Doyle’s ultimate villain justice, all while crafting a comic with a unique flavor all its own. I can’t wait to see more.