Mycroft Holmes and the Apocalypse Handbook #1
Writers: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Raymond Obstfeld
Artist: Joshua Cassara
Colors: Luis Guerrero
Letters: Simon Bowland
Cover artists: Joshua Cassara/Rod Reis/Rob Farmer/Paul McCaffrey
Publisher: Titan Comics
Price: $3.99 US
I’ve been critical of what I call “celebri-comics” in the past, projects that see the light of day mainly because someone famous from outside the industry has become involved in some way. That being said, NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s association with this comic is one of only two reasons I bothered to read this debut issue (the other being that the publisher provided a digital review copy as well). But it wasn’t Abdul-Jabaar’s involvement in the book that piqued my curiosity, but the rather the complete disconnect between the subject matter and one’s perception of the noted athlete. Victorian adventure and mystery aren’t exactly what come to mind when Kareem’s name is considered. Other such celebri-comics too often place a star in the role of protagonist and often come across as a pitch for a movie or TV series. There’s no such vanity aspect to Mycroft Holmes, which further engaged my interest. Ultimately, while this debut issue is fun, it’s also rather unremarkable. It’s competent, genre-comics fare, but little more.
While equally as brilliant as his younger brother Sherlock (and perhaps moreso), Mycroft Holmes is something of a hedonist, an arrogant sort who lacks his brother’s focus and studiousness. His ultimate goal is to skate through life, to remain a professional student without responsibility, and to indulge his sex and mockery of those he views as his inferiors. His ways threaten to catch up with him in 1874, though, as an insult to a key figure at the university brings about the potential for expulsion. More importantly, though, an attack by a group of mystery men at his home threatens to draw him into a plot that places the British Empire in peril.
I rather enjoyed the art throughout this opening chapter of The Apocalypse Handbook (a great title that whets the reader’s appetite to learn more). Joshua Cassara’s style here reminded me of the works of such artists as Leinil Francis (Secret Invasion) Yu and Michael (Sandman) Zulli, and the dark, loose qualities of his linework suit the Victorian backdrop nicely. His style is a bit on the inconsistent side. For example, the sudden intrusion by the masked men initially looked as though they were rendered by a different artist with a more finished, realistic approach. All of a sudden, it looked as though I was soaking in the work of someone whose style was more like that of Sean (Iron Man, Wolverine) Chen. Now, I’m not saying the art there is poor, but the shift was a bit jarring.
A minor gripe with this comic is unrelated to the creativity found on its pages, but rather with the packaging of the published product (assuming my digital version mirrors the final, printed comic). The interior title page that lists the creators omits their various roles, and the colorist and letterer don’t seem to be listed. I had to do some quick research to delineate the duties of those listed and to discover the names of those left unmentioned. In an age when more and more readers are interested in the creative credit for all aspects of comics creation, this seems like an unnecessary and puzzling oversight.
Clearly, Mycroft’s status as a rogue is meant to serve as the book’s greatest appeal, and his mix of intelligence and ego certainly makes for an interesting character. But the writers haven’t done anything to temper the negative aspects of his personality, at least not in this initial issue. His arrogance is one thing, but the ways he treats his lover and his brother are quite off-putting. It’s one thing to simply indulge his sexual urges, but to use a woman as a toy in his games with his brother seems cruel, as does the travelling ordeal through which he knowingly puts Sherlock. It’s not enough for him to feel superior to others, but he also seems to revel in tormenting them. So far, he’s an utter narcissist, and honestly, that’s the sort of thing with which we could do less of these days, not more. While I trust we will see some humanity emerge in Mycroft as the story progresses, the audience really needs a hint of it here in this inaugural chapter to keep it on the protagonist’s side.
That being said, the issue is written well and paced appropriately. I’m pleased the writers bring Sherlock into the mix early on and explain exactly who the lesser-known Holmes brother is without resorting to an overtly expositional tone. I find it a little difficult to believe that someone as self-indulgent and hedonistic as Mycroft would be as well-read and as accomplished as he is, but it’s not a major hurdle. The creators also don’t seem to commit completely to the edgier tone I suspect they want to achieve here. The language is fairly tame, and for the most part, sexuality is kept purposefully obscured — until the moment it isn’t, for some reason. The opening scene feels a bit clichéd but is nevertheless fun. In the end, I think Abdul-Jabbar and company are trying to craft the sort of fare that’s been done a bit better with some of the same characters and archetypes in a much more far-reaching medium. Just check out the Guy Ritchie-directed, Robert Downey Jr.-starring Sherlock Holmes movies to see what I mean. Nevertheless, this is a promising debut for new and lesser-known comics talents, and better things may be in store for us after they cut their teeth here. 6/10
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