Unashamedly touting itself as a ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen’, the new Victorian-era set series Adler by Lavie Tidhar (writer), Paul McCaffrey (artist) and Simon Bowland (letters) is a great hook for readers to be dragged in with, but it really is far more than a female rendition of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s own literary-mined series that has just seen its end in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Tempest. Having read an advance copy of the debut issue, from the script to the art, this is a very different beast altogether.
Where I often found Moore and O’Neill’s traipse through the literary classics more of a ‘who’s who’ of characters from texts of the past – including comics, television and film as we journeyed through the 20th century with the League – often at the expense of the narrative, this new title from Titan Comics is all about the story, while also re-introduce readers to characters they may or may not be familiar with. But, with a handy character guide at the beginning fo the book, it’s clear that you don’t need to know these classic characters to enjoy this book. Is it a boon that I knew the identity of the dead Doctor Seward, lying in the arms of Jane Eyre, to be a character out of Bram Stoker’s Dracula? Probably not, although my English teacher’s mind did translate this scene as a shot across the boughs, of sorts. A reminder that in this series there is no room for the old patriarchy so prevalent at this time in history. A patriarchy about to be challenged in reality with the growth of the Suffragettes movement and the early strings of a feminist movement at the dawn of the 20th century. And what better way to signal this to readers than by killing off one such example from literature. After all, if you really think about it, Dracula is really all about Victorian blokes trying to stop women from being sexually liberated. Even if it is at the hand of a centuries-old aristocrat.
Enter then a series of evocative scenes of early 20th century London and designed to be engaging, entertaining and breathtaking, thanks to the stylings of McCaffrey, who’s artwork always sings the most when he’s coloring his own art, as we take a whistle stop tour around the capital at the height of it’s colonial empiricism and meet up with the likes of Lady Estella Havisham, who many will recognise as the cruel temptress from Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, who still doesn’t like men but has now turned her energies to the sciences and become a throughly modern independent of men, or anyone for that matter. If nothing else, this is a happy ending to a character who could have turned out far more tragic.
On the flip side to the introduction Estella, the eponymous Irene Adler, and more, we also have the revelation of the enemies of this particular ripping yarn, Professor Moriarty (again, like Adler, appropriated from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories), Ayesha (an iconic literary characters taken from the novel, Ayesha, The Return of She, by H Rider Haggard and a sequel to his more famous Alan Quartermain vehicle, She) and the less well known vampire Carmilla (from Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu book of the same name), to name but a few. Well, mots of them, really. But, what many of these novels do have in common are that many are great examples of the type of gothic literature that gripped the 19th century as well as the early years of the 20th century too. It’s an appropriate genre to mine for this story and one that offers a far more fantastical and phasmagorical type of tale to be played out. Something more akin to Anno Dracula 1895: Seven Days of Mayhem by author Kim Newman and a certain Paul McCaffrey. It’s certainly a genre that looms heavily on this book. There are a lot of dark, shadowy corners in London, with the gothic architecture to match. Looks like we’re in for a thrilling, supernaturally-laced adventure!
Adler, in her scarlet haute couture, certainly stands out in a crowded London street, which is where we first come across her as she is accosted by a scruffy looking ne’er-do-well who we soon find out was not simply there attempting to make a quick buck in mugging someone of Alder’s background. Don’t forget, she has the honour of being one fo the few people to ever outwit the misogynistic Sherlock Holmes, and certainly the only woman. It’s about time she had the spotlight shone on her. And no better time either as diversity on the kind of comics we’re all able to choose from has certainly taken to the fore in recent years. Although, a comic full of female heroes should not be the one reason to pick this book up. And, I doubt many will see this book in this way.
What I’d hope they pick it up for is the story, the art most definitely (McCaffrey can work slowly but meticulously as his finished artwork will attest, so it’s always a delight when new artwork comes to light) that is a delight to read and one that fans of Victoriana, steam punk, gothic literature and good comics will want to pick up when it comes out this Wednesday 5th February from Titan Comics.