Writer: Scott Beatty
Artists: Butch Guice (p), Michael Perkins (i)
Publisher: CrossGen Comics
The book opens with Adeline DeWinter getting a visit from one of her undead visitors, and we see the young medium is made aware of a blackmail list that was complied by the Consortium of Aggrieved Menservants that was lost when the member holding it was crushed by a falling chandelier. We then see this list fell into the hands of Adeline's father, who is the publisher of the Penny Arcadian, and this compromising list quickly found its way into the safe at the man's office. However this office is soon paid a visit by a late night intruder, and the contents of the safe vanish. We then see Adeline heads off to get help from Simon Archard, but she soon discover Simon is out of town, and she instead secures help from Cecil Boniface (a young street urchin who Simon employs as one of his agents). As the two young "detectives" investigate the crime scene they discover bits of unusual hair have been left behind, and they soon learn these hairs come from a monkey. The two then travel to the Zoo, which has been closed in the wake of the recent disaster, but it is here that the two encounter Neville Stagg, a decidedly wicked gentleman who is quickly revealed to have trained his monkey to break into safes. As the children run off with the list we see Mr. Stagg has a run-in with the Zoo's enraged ape.
I guess I can thank this issue for confirming the idea that the primary reason I read this title is for the interaction between Simon & Emma, as this issue's focus of a pair of supporting players resulted in a truly boring read. Now perhaps my complete disinterest in this story is due to the fact that Scott Beatty simply decided to focus on two characters who simply aren't all that engaging, as in addition the extremely annoying lisp that leaves her dialogue just this side of unintelligible, the young Adeline DeWinter is a flat, uninteresting character, and Cecil Boniface does little to distinguish himself as anything more that a smart-mouthed street urchin. When Mark Waid first introduced us to Adeline, her ability to talk to the dead created an interesting little moment as we saw the analytical Simon attempting to explain her ability in a rational manner. However, Scott Beatty simply uses this ability as a convenient narrative device, so he doesn't have to bother to come up with an explanation for the more unusual aspects of the mystery. As for Cecil, the role he plays in the story is little more than the act as a diminutive version of Simon, but the smug, almost dismissive style that works so well for Simon, feels completely wrong when it coming from a child.
It also didn't help matters that the mystery that our young leads are trying to solve is incredibly uninvolving, and the solution to it is outright silly, as while I like monkeys, the idea of a safecracking monkey is unbelievably stupid. Now perhaps Scott Beatty was trying for a homage to the classic Poe mystery "Murders in the Rue Morgue", but it ended up feeling more like an episode of Scooby Doo. The path that our young heroes follow to solve this mystery is also a fine example of a writer being outright lazy in how they advance the character from point A to point B, as after discovering the hair at the crime scene belonged to a monkey, they immediately head to the only monkey house in the city, and naturally this is where the villain has decided to lay low. What's more in a display of incredible stupidity we see this villain decides the best place to store incriminating evidence is in plain view in the middle of the room, and the random accident that allows the children to figure out the monkey is the thief reeks of writer manipulation. One also has to love the fact that the villain of this story is one who proceeds to describe his entire plan to the heroes as he prepares to kill them, and he's also dumb enough to wander into the cage of the one creature who would kill him without hesitation.
Butch Guice is a great artist, and his work on this series is the best I've ever seen him deliver in the entire time I've been following his work. However, having him provide the art for this issue is a utter waste of his considerable talents, as the story simply doesn't deserve to have such good art. Now I have to give the art full marks for capturing the idea that the stars of this story are both children, as the wise beyond her years look that Adeline conveys as she converses with the dead is nicely contrasted by the fact that the rest of the time she wears her emotions on her sleeve as she goes about the investigation. The young Cecil is also rather charming, as it's clear his smug sense of confidence is all an act when we see his look of utter confusion when he not presented with the easy answer, and his look of terror as he flees the villain also does a nice job conveying his young age. The art does get a bit confusing in sections, such as the sequence after the villain learns his true identity has been discovered, but a large part of this confusion stems from the simple fact that the writing has called up the art to deliver a scenario that make very little sense, so one can't really fault the art for following instructions so well.
Only the art of Butch Guice & company saves this book from being completely dismissed, but if you have yet to pick up this issue I strongly recommend you leave it on the shelf, if only so the dip in sales sends the message that Simon & Emma are the stars of this book. However, I would be willing to forgive this issue being inserted into the middle of a story arc if it had the decency to be an entertaining read, but Scott Beatty completely drops the ball this month, as instead of entertainment he offers up a tepid mystery that's resolved with an outright goofy manner. He also makes the mistake of giving one of his leads a lisp that is more irksome than it is endearing, and having a character continually point out how difficult another character is to understand doesn't make it any less annoying. Add to this some downright lazy writing that has the main villain suffering huge lapses in logical thinking (e.g. his wandering into the cage of the man killing ape), and the clues that are practically dropped into the heroes' laps & Scott Beatty has delivered one truly awful issue.
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