The Baker Street Four, Vol. 1 (Book Review)

The Baker Street Four, Vol. 1

by J.B. Djian (Author), Olivier Legrand (Author), David Etien (Illustrator)
Insight Comics (May 2017)
112 p. ISBN 9781608878789

Publisher’s Summary

Based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, The Baker Street Four provides an inside look behind the infamous Baker Street Irregulars.

Billy, Charlie, and Tom are inseparable, and for good reason. Filled with con men and scoundrels, London’s East End is not easily survived alone. Fortunately, the three friends—and their faithful feline companion—can count on the protection of Sherlock Holmes, for whom they sometimes act as spies.

When Tom’s girlfriend is kidnapped, the Baker Street Irregulars must put their budding sleuthing skills to use. Then, when a Russian immigrant is framed for a Jack the Ripper–inspired crime, our heroes set out to discover the truth and uncover a conspiracy that may go deeper than they ever imagined. Armed with only their quick wit and street smarts, the Baker Street Irregulars must work together to solve mysteries in the nick of time. Make way for the youngest detective team of the Victorian era!

Hailed by critics and audiences, The Baker Street Four has received numerous awards and was featured at Angoulême in 2012. Insight Editions is proud to continue to bring this exciting story to English audiences worldwide.

General Review

I first read this series in its original French a couple of years ago.  Given how atrocious my French is, you know it had to be good for me to stick with it for six books worth.  Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered that it was being released in English! I was very lucky to receive an ARC from NetGalley of this book so I could enjoy it without wrestling with the language.

The Baker Street Four is a comic book series about the Baker Street Irregulars.  This first book covers two of the French volumes, making it nicely weighty.  Though a comic book, and about the Baker Street Irregulars, this is not necessarily a book that would suit children.  The authors do not shy away from the realities of being poor in Victorian England.  The first story involves a young girl being forced into sex work at an upscale brothel.  The second story involves Russian immigrants in London and the Tsar’s secret police.  The Baker Street Irregulars are frequently hungry, have unsavory contacts, and their own secrets to hide.

All that being said, it’s an excellent book.  In some ways, it follows a standard format for any story involving the Baker Street Irregulars: there is the leader figure who wants to emulate Holmes (in this case, Billy), there is a non-English member (Black Tom, who is Irish), there is the more empathetic child (Charlie), and there is an animal sidekick, who we admittedly don’t meet until the end of the first story.

Where the story differs is first in its relative darkness, but also in that, while the Irregulars work well together, they don’t always get along and have very different ideas about their role with the Irregulars.  Billy is a devoted detective; Tom gave up being a very talented thief; Charlie has their own motivations.  There are frequent conflicts between them, sometimes resolved through talking it out, and sometimes solved by yelling and kicking at each other.  It creates an interesting dynamic, one that speaks more towards a need for mutual survival rather than friendship.  It adds an extra level of tension through the story that often doesn’t exist in Baker Street Irregular stories.

The stories themselves are good, though if you’re looking for complicated mysteries, this wouldn’t work for you.  They’re very workmanlike in some ways.  The first story is the stronger of the two, as it gives us a much stronger sense of the characters and the world they inhabit.  The second story about the Russian exiles is still good, but there is less detective-work happening.

What truly sets this book apart, though, is the art.  The art for this series is absolutely lush, with not a detail spared.  Backgrounds are fully drawn out, so crowd scenes and fight scenes become a feast for the eyes.  Facial expressions are done beautifully, so you can actually decipher what a character is thinking without the narrative spelling it out.  The clothes have folds and wrinkles that move as the characters move from panel to panel.  Simply put, no shortcuts were ever taken, and it pays off by creating a truly gorgeous book.

I highly recommend picking up this volume.  The next volume will come out on August 8th, and the third volume on October 10th, and I can tell you that those stories are even stronger than these first two.  I am very much looking forward to picking them up and reading them without regretting all the time I neglected my French homework!

What About Our Watson?

 As in any Baker Street Irregulars story, Watson and Holmes function more in the background, and don’t have much focus on them.  However, this is a loveable, wonderful Watson.  First of all, let’s take a look at him.  Is this not a person who definitely knew women on three continents?:

(Photo from the French accompanying volume, Le monde de quatre de Baker Street.)

On the rare occasions he is on the page, though, his personality shines through, with Holmes calling him an incorrigible romantic and an incurable optimist at one point.  He helps out a young woman he doesn’t know, and he seems very capable and comfortable around the children themselves.  He is drawn as warm and open.  I love this Watson, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him in future volumes.

(There’s also the cat, but I’ll leave that for you to read yourself.)

You Might Like This If You Like:

Graphic novels; art; darker and sadder depictions of Victorian England

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