Sunday, July 13, 2008


By Michael Schofield
Staff Writer

AUTHORS: Steven-Elliot Altman, Michael Reaves
ILLUSTRATOR: Angelo Ty “Bong” Dazo
LETTERING: Simon Bowland
COVER: Ben Templesmith
PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Books

GENRE: Adventure, Horror & Mystery
FORMAT: Softcover
EDITION: First Edition
PAGES: 128 Pages
COLOR: Black and White
ISBN-10: 1-59307-303-8
ISBN-13: 978-1593073039

It ain’t quite elementary, my dear Wiggins. What we all pretty much associate with the deer-hatted sleuth shan’t ever ‘gain be taken for granted, ay guv’nor? Rather, Reaves and Altman’s bizartistry designates all that logic stuff to the dull sepia tones of adulthood. The world of these colorful bunch of kids is ironically just black and white, which — if you’re so inclined to read too deeply into stuff — portends bleak things for their comings-of-age. It’s Whitechapel 1888, after all.

This is dark even for Sherlock Holmes, but it’s the Victorian London underworld to a T and thick with fallen women and cockney foulmouthery and, to wit, a murder.

“A killer stalks the streets of London’s Whitechapel slum, leaving a trail of grisly murders in his wake. The police have only one suspect. The master detective Sherlock Holmes, in order to solve the most fantastic mystery of his career and save his greatest friend from the gallows, employs a band of young street urchins to infiltrate the alleys of Whitechapel. They can go everywhere, see everything, overhear everyone. They are the Baker Street Irregulars!”

Of course Inspector Lestrade and the Professor James Moriarty play their alternately agitating and malevolent roles, but the real gems are a gang of six and their dog Toby. Led by Wiggins (who is packing heat), Molly, Patch the Pickpocket, James, Burke, and Puck descend into a Lovecraftian tale of black wizardry and dreams and helpful talking birds. There are giant carnivorous worms and swords in stones and Egyptian armies and mute violinists from the future.

And there is a lot to make parents cringe. While the adventure is pretty far-fetched, the social context is a stark portrayal of the nineteenth-century English lower class: Wiggins and Puck were violently orphaned, and the former — to protect his troupe — is carrying a six-shooter; Molly is an adolescent accosted by the real possibility that she’ll soon be forced to support herself through prostitution, and in a fever-dream she believes she is physically assaulted by Holmes himself. The dialogue is well done and dialectal and charming, but it isn’t totally youth appropriate. Then, of course, there is the whole dallying with demons thing.

I reckon the story a tad busy, multi-themed and multi-referenced (Edmund Burke, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Candyland, late nineteenth-century occult fads, Jack the Ripper), but the characterization among the kids is superb and the art is, if not breath-taking, certainly eye-catching. Pages are just full of highly detailed and contrasted and sometimes-schizophrenic images. Bong Dazo puts plenty of effort in making London jive with Puck’s bizarre imagination, capable of warping cobble into ice-cream and gingerbreading perfectly bleary brownstones.

I’m sure I didn’t make it clear—it would be hard to without spoiling the story — but the plot is actually successful: it rounds out, everything jives, all loose-ends are satisfied save the distant observation that none of the children went insane. In fact, THE IRREGULARS are completely charming.

That said, I have reservations keeping this in the Young Adult section of the library. Albeit the adventure of a bunch of tweens, their world is in fact very adult. It is a perfectly pleasant concept matured by a Barker-like supernatural and an all-too-natural lesson in history. Especially if read against Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock and backed by a lecture on Whitechapel and Jack (and maybe some HP Lovecraft, and oh, I digress), your class or book club could dissect THE IRREGULARS for hours. While not the focus, there is enough poignant truth in their situation to drain the color out of anyone’s pages.

Michael's Recommended Age: High School
High School is a school of … hmm ... clever rhetoric, and I am sure the happenstance language and dialect will only make the story that much more enjoyable. Still, the violence and sexual undertones warrant caution, but read in the proper context could make light reading a highly educational thing. Subsequently,

Recommended with Strong Reservations
There is so much charming about THE IRREGULARS with room for so much discussion that it is hard for me not to recommend it. But, with all of the above in mind, keep a weathered eye.

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