REVIEW: ‘Adler,’ Volume #1

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Adler Collection

Adler Volume #1 is published by Titan Comics, written by Lavie Tidhar, art by Paul McCaffrey, and letters by Simon Bowland. The year is 1902. The Boer War rages in South Africa, and a young nurse named Jane struggles to aid the wounded of this terrible conflict when a particularly bad battlefield experience sees her returning to London for the first time in three years. But with no place to live, and not a great deal of money, how will she survive? As luck would have it, a friend of hers is about to introduce her to the world-famous adventurer Irene Adler.

It is often said that there are no new stories. That everything has been done, and anything new is simply the reworking of something that has come before. I have often found that there is still a way to create a new story. It’s to take concepts, themes, and styles of several different things and meld them into something new. Adler Volume #1 proves to be an excellent example of how one can do this with not just the story itself, but also the manner of its presentation. Let’s dive in.

First, I want to talk about the way this book tells its story. Despite the title and the narrative focusing on Adler, this book is all told from the point of view of Jane. It is her version of the world we are given. Her thoughts narrate the story.

The way Jane’s thoughts are delivered, along with the general pacing and structure of the story, give Adler Volume #1 a classic pulp mystery feel to it. Many of the well-known plot points from such stories are present here. Most chiefly among them is the large portion of the book that revolves around a mysterious package being brought to London with the intent of being delivered to Adler. However, a shadowy enemy pursues the item and has no intention of ever letting it arrive in London.

The old-school pulp storytelling is combined seamlessly with modern comic book art styles and structure. Delivering a multi-part mystery, each chapter has its plot hook or cliffhanger to keep the reader turning the page.

The story of Adler Volume #1 itself is a veritable melting pot of inspirations and story types. Set in alternative Victorian London featuring a Sherlock Holmes-like protagonist, steampunk aesthetic, and a blend of both fictional and historical personalities, the story takes a handful of familiar things and with them creates something new. While this story utilizes most of its concepts well, there is a small recurring point where it struggles for me. And that is how it modernizes its many female characters.

Practically all of the main personalities in this book are female. From Jane and Adler to their adversary herself, pretty much all the vital roles are female. And that is fine. The fact that writer Tidhar opts to distance all his major characters from everything the era would consider proper is also fine. What fails for me is how hard the writer feels compelled to drive the point home. It feels like several scenes in this story exist for no good reason other than simply for one of the characters to say, “I’m no lady!”, whether literally or figuratively. I prefer it if the characters were just allowed to be who they are, and let who they are come out naturally. As it stands, these moments, while a little ham-fisted sometimes, do little to spoil the overall enjoyment of the story.

The art of Adler Volume #1 does a great job of mixing the various themes, concepts, and story styles into a cohesive-looking visual presentation. While the general setting is pure Victorian-era England, the main characters lean into a more modern and stem punk-inspired look. This allows them to stand out nicely as exceptional personalities in the mundane world. The only place in which the visuals fail for me is in the presentation of the villainess and her minions.

Described by Adler, the villainess is a “Barbarian queen from a faraway land”. While the garb of these characters certainly feels inspired by a cross-section of non-European cultures from various places, the skin tone of these characters is oddly white. If you changed them into regular English garb I would be hard-pressed to pick them out of a crowd.

Visualization aside, I enjoy the villain herself. The character is a striking change from what one might expect of a pulp villain from somewhere other than Europe. She is shrewd, coldly calculating, and shown to be playing on the same level as Adler is. These reasons, however, only make what feels like the improper coloring of the character’s skin all the more unfortunate. With how progressive Adler Volume #1 is in general, having a powerful woman of color matching wits with the story’s brilliant female protagonist would’ve been a nice icing on the cake.

Rounding out the presentation here is Bowland’s letters. The letter work here keeps the story flowing smoothly and clearly. The panels throughout the story tend to be on the large side and Bowland takes full advantage of this to keep the letters out of the art’s way.

When all is said and done, I think Adler Volume #1 is a fun and unique story. With a few presentation hiccups aside, the cast is filled with memorable characters and the plot delivers a pulp-style mystery perfectly. Add in the steampunk elements and you have a truly memorable tale.

Adler Volume #1 is available on March 31st wherever comics are sold.

Adler Volume #1
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TL;DR

When all is said and done, I think Adler Volume #1 is a fun and unique story. With a few presentation hiccups aside, the cast is filled with memorable characters and the plot delivers a pulp-style mystery perfectly. Add in the steampunk elements and you have a truly memorable tale.