Advance Review: Rule Britannia? More Like Rule Ayesha In ‘Adler’ #3

by Olly MacNamee

(+++WARNING: This advance review contains some mild spoilers for Adler #3+++)

The League of Extraordinary Women return in Adler #3, but for me this issue is very much the domain of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, Ayesha. An Amazonian force that dominates all in her presence, physically and mentally. An alpha female out to take her rightful place on the global stage and take revenge on a British Empire at the height of its dominance in the world, raping, pillaging and stealing from other countries with our a second thought of consequences. Thus was the mindset, one imagines, of 19th century England.
Of course, Ayesha – the immortal matriarch of H. Rider Haggard’s series of novels – may well be cast as the villain of the piece by writer Lavie Tidhar, but in context one cannot feel somewhat sympathetic to her position. Yet another foreign ruler colonised by Queen Victoria’s forces. But, a very resourceful one that’s for sure, as she prepares her Death Ray, with little help from a certain Nikola Tesla, powered by a new kind of energy; radiation. Something we are all too familiar with after its rise as a force of destruction rippling across the 20th century, Yet here, at the end of the 19th Century, and the start of the British Empire’s decline, a new energy source that is so new, when it is used the hapless target of its power thinks it hasn’t worked, After all, even us jaded 21st century readers expect explosions, bullets or lasers whenever a device like this is fired. It also delivers one of the more horrific and effective scene in the comic as we get a slow take on the effects of the radiation as it boils the skin, fragments it and peels it away to the very bone, all hypnotically achieved in close-up macabre detail by Paul McCaffrey on art.

McCaffrey not only has an eye for 19th century architecture, decor and minutiae – building a realistic and recognisable London of yesteryear – but the detail he puts into the various clothing these characters wear is astonishing. You can feel the weight of the heavily dressed Victorian women’s fabric, the turn of each crease and the textures of the varied materials. from the rough hessian like garments of the Londoners to the metal armour of Ayesha’s female forces, it’s rather remarkable to take in. It’s not many comics that can suggest the sense of three dimensions so well.
Furthermore, the colour palette chosen here is a rather appropriate mood setter too. Dark, rich browns, deep, duty reds and shadowy streets and secret lairs create a great sepia tone to the whole affair. and the I would never wish too pigeon hole any artist, I do feel McCaffrey is very much at home with this era and drawing such finely regaled characters. See Anno Dracula 1895: Seven Days of Mayhem for more evidence of this, and the title through which I discovered this artist.

As the first two issues came out before the UK lockdown, it gave me an appetite for further reading. And, after speeding through many of the original source material for this book, I turned my eye to Lavie’s recent novel, By Force Alone, a retelling of the Arthurian legend that reimagines the well known archetypes of Arthur’s Round Table rather radically. I mention this now, as the other standout star of this particular issue is Estella Havisham from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Where once she was a man-eater conditioned by the hateful yet iconic Miss Havisham, here she has matured and grown past this rather restrictive characterisation to become one of the leading scientific minds of her era. Borrowing from her mother’s taste in colours, she is all decked out in white, but more than ready for action at any given moment.
Another magnificent issue in this under-rated and over-looked series. It hasn’t helped that this pandemic is ravaging the comic book industry, but this is a title you really should be reading before it’s gone. If not now, then at least when it comes out in trade paperback. But, do check with your local comic book store. You never know, they may have copies of the first two issue too. An easily accessible comic that you don’t need to be well read to enjoy. In fact, like me, it may inspire you to read further and pick up some of the source material I have mentioned here. Definitely for fans of the gothic, steam punk, or just great looking comics.
Adler #3 is out Wednesday 19th August from Titan Comics.

%d bloggers like this: