Writer: Jeremy Holt
Illustrator: John Lucas
Colorist: Adi Crossa
Letterer: A Larger World Studios
Publisher: Insight Comics
Release Date: July 16, 2019
The time is 1888, the setting is London, and a blood-thirsty killer wanders the streets. Before Houdini introduces us to a team of four who join together to stop the murderer. Among the four teenage special agents, we meet Ehrich Weiss, Harry Houdini’s ancestor. Like the famous Houdini name, Weiss himself is a talented escape artist and magician. But that’s not what this story is about. It’s about the before, when he was just a young American immigrant looking for adventure.
Observing Ehrich’s development, first with sports and then with the mental dexterity necessary for magic tricks and being an escape artist, is thoroughly enjoyable. His running coach also becomes his magic coach. It’s a pairing that I never would have thought of, but then I thought, “OF COURSE!” he must be both physically and mentally fit. As his skills increase, so does his visibility in the public sphere. Local police find him to be a nuisance, so he sets off on a city-by-city tour. When he catches the attention of the Martinka Brothers, he is recruited to join her majesty the queen’s secret intelligence service. As Ehrich moves from street performer to special agent, he learns about the very real world of magic, of positive and negative forces, and of monsters wandering the streets of London.
Before Houdini is a well thought-out read with smart pacing and a clear narrative arc. It’s a fun Victorian murder mystery, complete with supernatural warfare. Ehrich is a compelling character, and his diverse team of co-agents Raj, Elenora, and Atsuko are well-designed. The writing flows very well from panel to panel, and it’s the kind of dialogue where you can *hear* the voices. Likewise, the art is enjoyable to look at. The thick line-work, moody coloring, and nice shadow work pair well with the story. It all contributes to the story’s Gothic notes but still manages to keep it light enough so that it will be enjoyable to a wide range of readers. My only issue is that the lettering is poor quality, but fortunately, the skilled writing and art overshadow it.
Before Houdini will be available July 16, 2019. In the meantime, pick up a copy of After Houdini (2018) to learn more about Ehrich Weiss’s relatives.