For a character that appeared in exactly two stories in a very peripheral context, Professor James Moriarty casts a long shadow indeed. The "Napoleon of Crime," rumored to have presided over a vast global empire built on crime is probably the best example of fear-by-association, that J. K. Rowling describes as thus -"Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself." Moriarty is a name that even those who have not read the original stories recognize as the master-adversary of the Great Detective. A very limited, but nonetheless powerful presence in the original canon (Conan Doyle reportedly invented the character with the sole intention of finishing Holmes off!) has ensured that other writers with equally fertile imaginations have taken this character and made him their own. Recent screen incarnations of the character have played around with the gender and age to make "Moriarty" more accessible to the audience of the 21st century. Daniel Corey takes a whole new approach in his graphic novel "Moriarty: The Dark Chamber."
The story opens with Moriarty living a life of forced seclusion under an alias, doing investigative work for petty criminals (sounds familiar?). His famous duel with Sherlock Holmes atop the Reichenbach Falls is twenty years in the past, and Europe stands on the brink of a conflict that threatens to engulf the whole world. Then comes the news of Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination in Sarajevo, and suddenly, the invincible British Empire does not seem very invincible any more. Blackmailed by the British Secret Service into investigating a series of disappearances, including that of one Mycroft Holmes, the brother to his erstwhile arch-enemy, Moriarty is thrust into a complex game of politics and crime as an expendable pawn - a situation certainly not to his liking.
How Moriarty conducts his investigations and unravels a conspiracy deep in the ranks of Whitehall covers the rest of the story. There are intentional parallels between his modus operandi and that of Holmes - because, on an abstract level, they are simply two sides of the same coin. I loved the few inside references to other characters in Victorian London (Fagin, with his army of street urchins and thugs, as the lead informer for Moriarty - by Dickens, it totally makes sense! right?) There are a few twists-and-turns and the end of the story is quite a poignant reminder that as a criminal, you may yet serve a 'life sentence' while living your life outside the four walls of prison. The ending also sets up a launching point for possible sequels involving Moriarty and Holmes (c'mon, if you did not already guess that from the cover photo above!)
Corey's Moriarty is a tortured soul, a once successful 'businessman' whose entire life's work was dismantled by an equally brilliant, and tortured adversary. But where Holmes is the typical high-functioning sociopath who shuns people, Moriarty thrives by remaining in the shadows and making people work for him. As such, he is connected and invested at a higher level into his minions and associates. Where Holmes is driven by cold, calculating logic for solving a case (The Game is afoot!), Moriarty follows the path of passion and redemption, to conquer the "inner Dragon" that has tormented him for the past twenty years, or more. This Moriarty is a true anti-hero, one who functions outside the law and outside all societal norms, but who will not hesitate to sacrifice himself for a cause that he believes in. As we turn the last page of this story, we may very well find our perceptions of heroes and villains overturned to the extent that we may start rooting for the Napoleon of Crime to come out of his self-imposed exile and begin the Game anew!
Being a graphic novel, a few words about the visual quality of the story: The illustrations and inks are perfect in bringing the Gothic atmosphere of Victorian London to fore. The style of rendering is highly consistent and does not distract from the story itself. That said, there a a few instances of "what-are-we-looking-at" given that the artists emphasize characters over the environment. But all in all, an excellent package!