David Liss is an Edgar Award winning crime novelist and is a perfect choice for writing about Professor Moriarty’s “comeback” after his presumed death at Reichenbach Falls. Moriarty Lives #1 follows the beginning of his journey to regain the mantle of “Napoleon of Crime” in a strange, little Swiss village. Using dialogue and caption boxes, Liss shows literature’s first villain hatching schemes, but ends up making him a sympathetic character as well without making him too much of a hero. He understands Moriarty is a dark, twisted mirror of Sherlock Holmes and even gives him his own “Sherlock scan” moment. However, the art and supporting cast fall short of such a great character. Colorist Josan Gonzalez switches from a darker to lighter color palette for a scene that happens in the same room. Daniel Indro’s backgrounds and layouts create a creepy atmosphere with billowy smoke to go with the comic’s supernatural-themed villain. But his line work could be stronger, and his figures have very exaggerated facial features.
David Liss proves worthy of the task of writing one of literature’s greatest villains. Moriarty is clever, pompous, evil, and charming all at once. His wit and biting sarcasm keep the story entertaining and contrasts his theatrical nature with his dull surroundings. Liss doesn’t hesitate to show Moriarty saying and doing evil things, like threatening to rape a man’s wife and daughters if he doesn’t give him clothes. But Moriarty Lives #1 isn’t a House of Cards situation where the villainous protagonist succeeds at all his evil schemes. Through twists and turns of the plot, Moriarty becomes a sympathetic, maybe even a heroic figure. This development and Liss’ ability to capture Moriarty’s intelligence and villainy through his writing are the best parts of Moriarty Lives #1. But the people around Moriarty are flat characters. The villain lacks a motivation beyond wanting to dominate a small Swiss town and the rest of the characters act as plot devices for him and Moriarty. The only female character in the comic is especially underdeveloped even though Liss hints at a mysterious backstory.
One problem with many of Dynamite’s comics is that the interior art live up to the high standards of the cover art. (There are exceptions, like Walter Geovani’s work on Red Sonja.) Francesco Francavilla’s cover of Moriarty Lives #1 shows its protagonist’s dark and twisted nature with wonderful play of shadow and a horrid facial expression. Daniel Indro brings some of these elements to the interior art. His Moriarty is hideous and world-weary, and the streets of the town he wanders are filled with shadows and billowing smoke. But sometimes Indro’s characters have grossly exaggerated facial features which makes the story a little more melodramatic than it should be. There is also one big moment of visual discontinuity towards the end of the comic where colorist Josan Gonzalez changes the colors in the background even though the setting hasn’t shifted. Moriarty Lives‘ art isn’t particularly bad, just uneven. It also doesn’t have any standout moments, except for the opening watercolor influenced Reichenbach Falls scene and a big fight scene towards the end of the issue. Moriarty Lives #1 has an intriguing protagonist and a pulse pounding plot from crime/thriller novelist David Liss, but falls short in the visual department.