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"Before Houdini" Comic Review

Written by James Ferguson

Published by Insight Comics


Written by Jeremy Holt
Illustrated by John Lucas
Colored by Adi Crossa
Lettered by A Larger World Studios
2019, 96 Pages
Graphic novel released on July 16th, 2019


Harry Houdini is synonymous with magic, illusion, and escape artistry. He made a major mark on that industry and pursued his dream to the fullest...but what if that wasn't all he did? What if, before he came a world-renowned master of magic, he was recruited by MI6 with other young and talented people to hunt down a killer? That's the idea behind Before Houdini. Oh, and the best part? The killer is Jack the Ripper.

You cannot deny the amazing hook that Before Houdini has. Add in the mysterious talents on display with Houdini (known as Ehrich Weiss as this is before the fame) and the other teenagers have, not to mention the mysterious and deadly nature of Jack the Ripper, and you've got a pretty solid premise. The issue is that it takes quite a long time to get there.

Things don't really get moving until you're deep into the story. The first third or so of the book is essentially the early days of Houdini coming to America, discovering magic, and perfecting his craft. The main conflict of the comic doesn't come in for a while, so it's more like an interesting retelling of the magician's early days with an espionage twist. The conflict takes too long to appear.

Click images to enlarge

That being said, when Jack the Ripper finally does show up, things take a pretty frightening turn. I knew he was coming, but not like this. Artist John Lucas turns in some unsettling imagery that puts the serial killer in a whole new light. Everything about it is unnatural and absolutely terrifying.

Lucas' style is a nice fit for the magical elements of Before Houdini. It's a nice blend of classic pencils with slightly quirky designs, lending themselves to the mystical nature of the story. For example, Raj, one of the other gifted youngsters, has this crazy hair style that seems to have a mind of its own. It moves atop his head like flames in odd directions, creating a rather unique profile.

Colorist Adi Crossa matches up to this tone perfectly, creating a moody atmosphere that's perfect for hunting a serial killer, especially one like Jack the Ripper. The streets are lit by sporadic candles in the evening, creating a menacing darkness that looms around the characters. Even in the daylight, the city looks dark and dingy, like an ominous cloud hangs over this place.

Click images to enlarge

This uneasy feeling is also seen in the lettering from A Larger World Studios. It's all shown in squares instead of traditional balloons, with a font that just feels right for the time period.

While there are some fascinating ideas introduced in Before Houdini, it takes too long to really get going and ultimately doesn't come together in the end. I don't know that we needed as much backstory before digging into the real meat of the story. Once we get into the MI6 pieces, the book takes off like a freight train, however some important elements are glossed over and not fully explained. There is definitely room for growth and more ideas that can be explored in this series.


Story: Twoandahalfstars Cover
Buy from Amazon US
Art: fourstars
Overall: 3 Star Rating

About The Author
James Ferguson
Lord of the Funny Books
James has a 2nd grade reading level and, as a result, only reads books with pictures. Horror is his 5th favorite genre right after romantic comedy and just before silent films. No one knows why he's here, but he won't leave.
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