Moriarty the Patriot GN 1

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Despite his legacy as Sherlock Holmes' greatest foe, Professor Moriarty only appears (or is mentioned) in six of Arthur Conan Doyle's canonical works, and he is, it must be admitted, relatively underdeveloped. Enter Ryōsuke Takeuchi's Moriarty the Patriot, which seems to take as its raison d'être the exploration of what motivated the professor to pit himself against the great detective. In order to do this, Takeuchi has done an impressive amount of research, not just into Conan Doyle's actual work (and Sidney Paget's careworn illustrations, which form the basis of at least one gag), but into the legacy that fans of the Holmes canon have created for a man who only exists because Conan Doyle was trying to kill Holmes off so he could stop writing about him. (It didn't work - The Adventure of the Final Problem was published in 1893, and the last of his Holmes tales was published in 1927.) This means that Takeuchi takes into consideration the seeming contradictions Conan Doyle himself wrote into his canon – things like the unsettled number of brothers, possibly all named James, or the various jobs the professor (or his unspecified number of brothers) held and where they lived.

These particular issues are resolved in Takeuchi's work by dint of having the man Holmes would eventually confront and a younger brother be orphans on the streets of a Victorian city. The elder brother was self-educated; the boys camped out in an abandoned library and he entertained himself by reading all of the books. They eventually had to move to an orphanage when the younger brother, Louis, came down with a heart condition, or an illness that led to one. There they were spotted by the scion of the Moriarty family, Albert James Moriarty, who convinced his parents to adopt (or at least sponsor) the two so that Louis could have a life-saving operation. But far from being welcomed into the bosom of the family, Louis and William (which may or may not be his real name) are treated like slaves and belittled even by the servants, much to Albert's horror. And that's when the boys begin to plan. They set a fire that kills the Moriarty parents and Albert's younger brother, also named William, and claim that while one boy was lost, the other three Moriarty children survived: Albert James Moriarty, William James Moriarty, and Louis James Moriarty, thus taking care of the seeming contradictions of the Holmes canon. While it seems a little strange that all three boys would share a middle name, if we consider that James can also be a surname it works a little better – think of it as a hyphenated last name (James-Moriarty) rather than parents being uncreative.

Takeuchi's Moriarty is a man deeply embittered by the power discrepancy between the gentry and nobility and the common man, and he sees this as a failing of the British Empire as a whole. This ties in nicely with Holmes' own descriptions of the man; in The Final Problem he says that, “He is a man of good birth and excellent education, endowed by nature with a phenomenal mathematical faculty,” while in 1914's The Valley of Fear he adds “a brain which might have made or marred the destiny of nations—that's the man! But so aloof is he from general suspicion, so immune from criticism, so admirable in his management and self-effacement, that for those very words that you have uttered, he could hale you to a court and emerge with your year's pension as a solatium for his wounded character.” The professor in the manga manages to do all of those things – a math professor by age twenty-one, he sets himself up as a “crime consultant” (in direct opposition to Holmes' line of work) and actively works to punish the scions of empire for their mistreatment of the lower classes, and as someone who has lived in both worlds, he's in a good position to do it. His goal is to fix the social ills of the Victorian era, one murder at a time, and it makes for compelling reading. Over the course of this volume, he removes the elder Moriartys, takes out a nobleman whose callous behavior cost a tenant family the life of their child, and permanently removes a corrupt university employee and his abuse of opium to remove “problems” for the noble students, such as a tavern waitress who became pregnant.

Alongside the attention to the Holmes canon, the book also does its best to maintain a fidelity to the time period in which it is set, with most of the action taking place in 1879, or roughly ten years before the publication of the first Holmes story. It must be noted that the text is better than the art at this, with costumes being a sort of hodge-podge of the late Victorian era, but details like the card game being played in the beginning (pontoon, a form of blackjack that would probably still have been called vingt-un at the time) and the texts and people referenced all fit the setting. The translation is a little patchier, throwing in some modern language and, oddly, switching to the anachronistic “ms.” after properly using “miss.”

The Professor Moriarty of Moriarty the Patriot is not necessarily a good man, but he's not strictly bad, either. He's Robin Hood by way of a serial killer, standing up for what he believes in and righting very real wrongs – just not in the way a “good guy” is expected to. Only one thing's for sure: if Holmes didn't die at Reichenbach Falls, there's even less of a chance that this man did.

He's playing the long game.

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