Based on the Works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Storyboards by Ryosuke Takeuchi
Art by Hikaru Miyoshi
English Supervisor: Guillaume Hennequin
Translated by (‘・∀・`)サァ?
Touch-Up & Lettering by Annaliese “Ace” Christman
Design by Joy Zhang
Edited by Marlene First
Sherlock Holmes and his associates have been reinterpreted and reappropriated in many creative contexts over the years. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s savvy sleuth is an icon of pop culture and even if you’ve never read one of Doyle’s original 56 Sherlock adventures, you’ve probably seen the character reproduced over numerous other adaptations and media. Interestingly, those decades of reinterpretations have shaped what people consider essential elements of a Sherlock Holmes story, including his iconic catchphrase “Elementary, my dear Watson,” which was never once uttered in Doyle’s stories.
This is similarly true of the enduring popularity of Sherlock Holmes’ archnemesis, Professor James Moriarty. Moriarty was meant to be a one-off character, the end-all antagonist that would serve as Sherlock’s greatest foil for “The Final Problem,” the last Sherlock adventure. Of course, fans demanded Sherlock’s return and have helped keep his stories alive even decades after Doyle stopped writing him, and Moriarty lived on alongside him. “The Final Problem” established Moriarty as a criminal mastermind with an intellect to rival Sherlock’s, one whose genius even the great detective couldn’t help but admire and respect. More importantly, Sherlock and Moriarty’s duel at Reichenbach Falls and mutual demise cemented him as a character whose very fate was intertwined with Sherlock’s. As such, Moriarty has become the de facto antagonist of modern Sherlock Holmes stories, usually portrayed as the master schemer of all things criminal Doyle hyped him up as. What makes the eponymous Moriarty the Patriot stand out is that it manages to breathe new life into this well-trodden character by flipping him from an elite criminal to a folk hero punishing criminal elites.
In his author’s comment, writer Ryosuke Takeuchi comments that he came to empathize with villains wanting to change an irrational world. He describes how fun it is to fantasize about the motivations of enigmatic villains, Moriarty being one of them. This philosophy is at the core of the manga’s perspective on the character; Takeuchi is not fascinated with Moriarty as he was written by Doyle so much as the rebellious force he represents to the status quo. Takeuchi takes that quintessential appeal of the character and redirects his defiance from the moral good towards systemic injustices, thereby reframing Moriarty as heroic in the face of greater villainy.
Rather than the “organizer of all that is evil,” Takeuchi’s Moriarty is a class act. His perspective is shaped by the classism he witnessed and experienced during the height of the British Empire’s imperialism in the late 19th century. In a society stratified into hierarchical classes “placing different values on people’s lives,” the discrimination and exploitation of the lower classes by the rich elite went on unabated and unpunished. Moriarty came to realize that the law wouldn’t hold the rich accountable for any crimes they callously inflicted on the poor. As such, even when he attains wealth and becomes a noble, Moriarty is charitable. He offers a helping hand to those in need, is generous with his wealth, and demands only the happiness of his clients as compensation. Despite his resentment towards elites, Moriarty doesn’t discriminate against individual aristocrats who demonstrate empathy. He becomes a professor at the elite Durham University to help impart the right moral lessons upon his noble-born students so that they may not grow up to become as corrupt and complacent as their parents. In contrast to other versions, this Moriarty is a selfless character; he works not in his self-interest so much as in the interest of helping others.
This isn’t to say this Moriarty isn’t still a criminal genius in his own right. While he doesn’t have a spider-web of shady operations serving his own interests, he is a master criminal. He gets away with committing the perfect crime every time, which so far has mostly been murders. Interestingly, this Moriarty adopts qualities one would ascribe to Sherlock Holmes in terms of his investigation efforts and perceptiveness, and it makes for a fun twist on the formula to make Moriarty a detective in his own right, trying to deduce clandestine crimes and entrap his victims. Of course, Moriarty isn’t presented as a detective but as a “crime consultant” (which seems like a copyright-safe appropriation of the BBC Sherlock Moriarty’s occupation of “consulting criminal”), helping his clients seek justice against those who wronged them. Through this framing, the manga gets away with the perfect crime of showing Moriarty as having a murderous edge while still keeping him likable and endearing.
There’s never any question of whether Moriarty’s murders are morally justified. Moriarty himself sees them as a righteous, even logical, means to an end. It makes sense why this manga is titled Moriarty the Patriot; Moriarty sees ridding the country of the evil people corrupting it as his civic duty and the right thing to do. Even as a child, he gleefully espouses the virtues of killing corrupt nobles to create a better world, which is disturbing in contrast with his otherwise benevolent demeanor. However, this philosophy is made palatable and justifiable when contrasted with his victims, who are always portrayed as unrepentantly corrupt and cruel aristocrats that have already gotten away with committing crimes and murder themselves. Moriarty also never takes justice into his own hands by himself; his services are always requested by his client, a victim of his target’s crimes. So it’s cathartic when Moriarty successfully murders one of his targets, because the extent of the suffering they’ve caused and would continue to cause is clear, as is the emotional closure the proceedings give to Moriarty’s clients, allowing them to rebuild their lives. Meanwhile, while Moriarty indulges in the revenge fantasies of his clients and gladly dishes out karmic retribution to the cruel, his true goal is to destroy the classist society that oppresses the people of his country, and his endeavors as a crime consultant are a stopgap to realize that dream one person at a time. While this Moriarty is still a criminal mastermind in the sense he gets away with murdering the elites who’ve defined what’s considered justice in his society, through the lens of the people he helps and the reader, he is heroic.
While Moriarty is the character most compellingly intertwined with the series’ thematic explorations of classism and morality, he is supported by an equally fascinating entourage. So far I’ve been referring to a singular Moriarty, William, but another interesting facet of this manga’s reinterpretation of the character is that there isn’t a singular James Moriarty. Instead, there are three Moriarty brothers – William, Albert, and Louis – working together to achieve their dream of abolishing the social hierarchy. This idea itself is a fun recontextualization of previous reinterpretations of Moriarty from other authors where he had brothers sharing the same name. In the manga, dividing Moriarty into three characters serves a few different functional roles. While William and Louis were poor orphans adopted into the Moriarty family, Albert is a noble from birth. Despite the rest of his biological family being utterly selfish sociopaths, Albert grew to have a firm moral compass and sense of duty, believing in noblesse oblige. As such, Albert as a character symbolically embodies that same ideal, using your wealth and privilege to uplift and improve the lives of the disadvantaged. He recruits William and Louis into his family so that they use his wealth and privilege to achieve their dream. While William takes charge of the crime consulting gig, Albert assists him behind the scenes by gathering information and making connections to help advance William’s plans. By intentionally relinquishing the authority to make decisions to William and contentful playing a supporting role, Albert lives up to the egalitarian ideals he espouses and has a thematically satisfying presence in the narrative.
Louis, meanwhile, is not quite as fleshed out yet and has a more limited role in the story. However, there are still interesting implications for his social status and role in the family business. Even after William and Louis were adopted into the Moriarty family as kids, they were still seen as lower in class than the servants and unrespected. William was able to claim full rights as a noble by stealing the name and rank of the brother he murdered, which allowed him to go on to earn an education and ingratiate himself among the elite. Louis, however, wasn’t able to change his identity nor his status, so his opportunities were limited. While William and Albert have professions, Louis is seen mostly as a housekeeper to the Moriarty estate, rarely venturing from it. So far, Louis seems to serve as the Watson to Moriarty’s Holmes, an everyman of sorts that Moriarty can exposit his deductions to while still offering a constructive perspective. I’m curious to see how the addition of Moran and Fred to the estate may change his dynamic in the group since he’ll be overseeing their services as housekeepers in the downtime between their assignments from William. Louis is honestly the most enigmatic character of the principal cast, but I think him demanding Moran work at the house and telling him that “those who do not work, are not to be treated like people” are telling of his philosophy. The elites who idly indulge themselves in the wealth they’ve created through exploiting others are considered inhuman and evil by the Moriartys, but they respect people who’ve worked hard and earned their successes. Whereas Doyle’s Moriarty was known for doing little himself, only planning, the Moriarty family of Patriot are active participants in making the changes they want to see in the world, contributing their talents in whatever way they can to the common good.
Moriarty’s fascinating characters and stories are truly given life by Hikaru Miyoshi’s immaculate art. In their author’s comment, they said they studied the British Empire for a full year, and it really shows. There’s a lot of the attention to detail placed on the architecture and backgrounds, with both the exteriors and interiors of the gigantic estate houses looking impressively ornate. Obviously, I’ve never been to late-19th century London, but the fashion choices and locations evoke the time period well, at least in the way it’s been remembered and romanticized in pop culture. Miyoshi also excels in capturing a great sense of ambiance through his use of tones and gradients, with both the incineration of the Moriarty estate and the nighttime confrontation on the riverside bridge both having really striking, moody visuals and dramatic tension. While there isn’t a ton of action, violent beats like Wiliam stabbing his brother of the same name through the mouth with a broken chair leg, Michelle rushing at the Baron with a knife, or Moran shooting at Bale’s feet to make him dance his way to the top of the bridge are all superbly communicated with a visceral sense of speed and impact. Of course, the manga’s greatest strength is its character designs and character art. The protagonists are ridiculously handsome boys with sharp eyes and great hair, and the antagonists, while not hideous, all have snickering eyes, contemptuous sneers, and punchable faces. Facial expressions are the manga’s strong suit in general, some of the most particularly striking ones coming from the despondent and desperate victims Moriarty helps, like Michelle’s ferociously malicious glare and creepy stare and smirk, or the lifeless emptiness in Frida’s eyes. Miyoshi’s characters and artwork are effectively evocative, perfectly complementing Moriarty’s compelling story.
Much like the character himself, Moriarty’s theme of classism and the wealth gap between the rich and poor is an evergreen conflict. The righteous indignation it vents are more relevant than ever in an age of multi-billionaires using their wealth to shape national policy to serve their interests, conscripting their workers into virtual slavery while owning and hoarding essential resources. Moriarty doesn’t have any thoughtful solutions to resolving systemic injustices outside of, well, murdering the rich and redistributing their wealth, but it serves as a very cathartic revenge story and comforting escapism in these very frustrating times. While there may not be a Robin Hood-esque class traitor among the rich like Moriarty working to redistribute wealth in real life, it makes for a compelling hook for a story in which you want “the villain” to succeed.
Moriarty the Patriot’s reinterpretation of the eponymous character to examine themes of class and privilege serves as a really refreshing recontextualization of the Sherlock mythos, and there’s still so much left to explore. The opening page foreshadows Moriarty’s fated confrontation with Sherlock at Reichenbach Falls as a flash-forward, but Sherlock himself is absent from the first volume. This volume is really just Moriarty’s origin story, showing how he came to inherit his estate, establish his reputation, and gather his crew. Now we just need to meet his destined rival, and the game is afoot. It can be a challenge to completely reimagine iconic characters like Moriarty and Holmes from a novel, refreshing perspective, but Moriarty the Patriot makes it seem elementary.