Review by Ian Keogh
Sherlock Holmes is the inspiration for private investigator Simon Archard, a similarly arrogant and supremely confident man, described as hurtling through life with the compassion of a thrown brick, yet able to deduce certainty from what others overlook.
Archard’s Doctor Watson is Emma Bishop, and writer Mark Waid has seemingly dipped into a later piece of fiction than Holmes to source her from The Eliza Stories, as the woman smarter than the pompous know it all whose narrative this is. The characters of both are nailed down in an excellent opening sequence that also displays Emma to be more than Archard realises. This is a maguffin, a manner of tying in Ruse with other Crossgen titles featuring more obviously super-powered characters, but one that remains resolutely underplayed. With a single exception it’s confined to comments about impractical clothing or that Miss Bishop is remarkable for her gender, so sealing off Ruse in its own environment.
That environment is the city of Partington, a faux late Victorian London where the sharp dressed man still wears spats and women require bustles and bodices, but there’s a hint of the anomalous via a population of gargoyles. This is extremely well realised by pencil artist Butch Guice, whose attention to period feel convinces whether authentic or otherwise, while he spares no effort on decorative scenery, ornately furnished rooms and well-populated crowds. Mike Perkins inking is unobtrusive and a perfect match. Guice elected to tell the story across spreads, which to begin with confuses when one’s used to finishing a page before starting on the next, but the adaptable will cope.
As will Archard when the city turns against him. While his brusque personality has ensured he’s tolerated rather than loved, the rapid manner of his fortunes declining is surely more than mere misfortune. As Archard attempts to uncover the source of his woes, Waid introduces us to a selection of supporting players slotting under ‘rum’, ‘sinister’ or ‘eccentric’, and the manner in which his extreme character plays off them is a delight. Emma is also well presented, able to maintain poise when frustrated due to her own air of confidence and her secrets.
Waid’s long since mastered the plot bomb, and revels in casting complex and impossible deductions via an exceptionally observant detective. Emma’s no slouch either, although requires more time and patience during the penultimate chapter when she conducts her own investigation. The plots slot together with precision, the cast appeal, and while Jeff Johnson illustrating the final chapter’s not quite up to Guice’s standard, neither does he drag the collection down. Everything is neatly slotted together, and with the cast and their relationships now in place we’re ready for The Silent Partner.