It’s been 126 years since Arthur Conan Doyle introduced Sherlock Holmes in “A Study in Scarlet,” but over a century later, the character remains in high demand. In recent years there have been two films starring Robert Downey Jr. as the master detective, plus the BBC’s acclaimed “Sherlock” TV series and current CBS drama “Elementary.”
The Sherlock Holmes zeitgeist has also reached comics, with Dynamite Entertainment publishing books based on the character since 2009. The latest is “Sherlock Holmes: Moriarty Lives,” a five-issue miniseries written by historical novelist (“The Whiskey Rebels”) and comic book writer (“Black Panther: The Man Without Fear”) David Liss, and illustrated by Dynamite mainstay Daniel Indro, recently of “The Green Hornet.” The series is set to debut in December, with covers from Eisner-winning “The Black Beetle” artist Francesco Francavilla.
“Sherlock Holmes: Moriarty Lives” takes place after “The Final Problem,” an 1893 Doyle story that introduced — and killed — Moriarty, a criminal mastermind frequently depicted as Holmes’ greatest enemy. This miniseries sees Moriarty surviving the fall, and embarking on a solo adventure in the unfamiliar role of hero. CBR News talked with Liss for the writer’s exclusive first interview on the series, announced on the eve of Baltimore Comic-Con.
CBR News: David, I imagine that the Sherlock Holmes canon is certainly material you’re familiar with, and you’re no stranger to mysteries set in the past — how much of a fan are you of the character and the mythology
David Liss: I’m not a crazy Holmes enthusiast, but I’ve worked in the idiom before. Obviously, the character is hugely important, and Moriarty, for somebody who appeared hardly at all in the original Conan Doyle stories, has cast a really long shadow. He’s an interesting figure, with a long legacy.
But this is a Sherlock Holmes story without Holmes himself, correct?
Correct. I wanted to do a story about Moriarty, and that was the original plan. I was interested in the moment after they disappear over the falls [in “The Final Problem”]. I’ve always liked the idea of taking a villain and turning him into the hero of the story, just getting a different perspective.
What kind of challenge is it to turn it around and get into the head of a very famous villain for not just a little bit, but an entire miniseries?
It’s really been a fun project to work on all the way around. I’m not interested in cookie-cutter villains, people who are just evil. I think it’s a mistake to see Moriarty that way, so much as he is this insanely clever guy who’s on the wrong side of the law. I was interested in showing a different angle. We always see him as being opposed to Holmes, but here’s this situation in which he’s got something else going on.
As you were alluding to, even though the character didn’t appear much in the original stories, he has been re-interpreted frequently, especially recently. With Moriarty in this story, do you find yourself with room to bring your own spin on the character into it?
Absolutely. I think this is a Moriarty people haven’t seen before. I don’t really present him as being a particularly nice guy, but he’s complex. He’s in a situation where there’s somebody who is much more evil than he is. There’s a clear, good thing to do, a clear, bad thing to do and there’s somewhere in the middle — and he opts for the middle.
He’s the ersatz good guy of the story.
He’s definitely the lesser of two evils. I don’t want to give too much away, but he’s essentially in a position where he thinks he can do the right thing — and make some money. There are temptations to be moderately bad or be really bad, and that’s one of the problem he faces. There are also people he’s allied with who know basically who and what he is, who don’t trust him, so there’s a lot of cat and mouse going on. The reader is not going to be sure exactly how evil he is, and the people he’s working with aren’t sure how evil he is.
Going into a story like this, and working on a very famous, very enduring character, does it involve an amount of research — diving into the original text, but maybe also some of the other versions of the character, and figure out where you want to go with Moriarty?
I actually chose not to expose myself to the character beyond what I already [knew], other than to read the Doyle texts. I figured that’s canon, and the character’s been played with and interpreted in lots of different ways, but I didn’t want to feel beholden to anyone else’s interpretation. I was tempted to look at some stuff, but then I decided that it was probably a mistake. I wanted to run with my concepts based on what Doyle had written, rather than accidentally run with somebody else’s concept.
That makes sense, because there is so much out there with the character, especially right now.
I haven’t seen the TV series [either “Sherlock” or “Elementary”], and I haven’t seen the recent movies, so I feel like I’m kind of inoculated. [Laughs]
The interior art in the series will be by Daniel Indro – it’s very early on, but from your perspective, what’s he bringing to the table?
I just got the inks for the first issue today, and it looks amazing. I think it has really exactly the right tone, and it really captures the 19th century flavor of the story. I really like it a lot, I think it looks great.
It’s going to have a different vibe than a lot of the Sherlock Holmes stuff. I tend to like to write with humor, and this is a story that leans a little bit more towards the hilariously grotesque than some other Sherlock Holmes stuff.
“Sherlock Holmes: Moriarty Lives” debuts in December from Dynamite Entertainment.