Ian Edginton ("Stormwatch: Post Human Division") is no stranger to the world of Sherlock Holmes. So when WildStorm senior editor Ben Abernathy offered the British writer a crack at telling a tale showcasing the good detective's consulting talents in a zombiefied London, Edginton didn't hesitate. In fact, he jumped in faster than Moriarty's infamous plunge over Reichenbach Falls.
Featuring art by Italian illustrator Davide Fabbri ("Star Wars: Empire"), "Victorian Undead" features Holmes and Dr. Watson in a foggier than usual London confronting the most extraordinary case of their career - the dead are returning to life. Holmes' arch nemesis Professor Moriarty has been dead for years, and yet, could he somehow be involved in this Victorian resurrection?
CBR News checked in with Edginton to see what we could unearth, and we found a writer who is about to unleash a Holmes that is equal parts Jeremy Brett, Gene Wilder and Gil Grissom.
First off, how did this project come about? Was it your pitch, or did WildStorm bring it to you?
It was sort of six-of-one and half-a-dozen of the other. I'd just finished my last issue of "Stormwatch: PHD" and was part way through putting together some new pitches, when Ben Abernathy got in touch. Having done "Scarlet Traces" for Dark Horse and "Stickleback" and "Leviathan" for 2000AD here in the UK, he knew I had a thing for steampunk, detective type stories. He asked me if I wanted to work up something that involved Sherlock Holmes, but was a horror book that involved zombies.
Simon Coleby's cover to "Victorian Undead" #1
Let me tell you, it felt like Christmas had come early. Coincidentally, it also helps that I'm part way through a fairly epic program to adapt the entire Holmes canon into a series of graphic novels, so it wasn't exactly a tough choice.
Obviously then, you're well familiar with Sherlock Holmes and very comfortable working in his world. He's a legendary character, even more so in Britain. What was your first exposure to character?
I am a big Holmes fan. When I was in my mid 'teens, I came down with glandular fever and was laid up for months. It wasn't an especially bad bout, but it just left me feeling wiped out all the time. It was also very, very boring. I read a lot back then anyway, but with not much else to do, I began to plough through books with a vengeance. I worked my way through a whole raft of titles, including one huge doorstop of a book that contained the entire Holmes canon. I remember reading it in just under a week, then going back and reading it again. The books I read during that time pretty much formed the bedrock of material that's inspired me to do what I do now, and Sherlock Holmes plays a big part in that.
What is it about Holmes that makes him such terrific subject matter? His stories have been told for more than 100 years, and The Guinness World Records lists him as the 'most portrayed movie character,' with more than 70 actors playing the part in over 200 films.
The thing that makes us buy into Sherlock Holmes... is Doctor Watson. If we weren't seeing their adventures through Watson's eyes, I think Holmes would be a lot harder to like. His intellect, arrogance and addictions are all filtered through Watson's perception of this flawed genius. He marvels at Holmes observations and deductions, but is disturbed, especially as a doctor, by Holmes' descent into dark moods and his need for the needle when he doesn't have the mental stimulation that he thrives on.
When writing Holmes opposite Dr. Watson, how do you find their voices? Did you go back and watch old films, or read Doyle's original stories again? Or maybe you watched some new episodes of "House" to watch Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard interact?
I've re-read the Holmes books several times recently, as well as watching some of the better movies, but it's the Granada TV series, with Jeremy Brett as Holmes and Edward Hardwicke and David Burke as Watson, which is really the benchmark. It's the little nuances of character that stand out.
In the episode 'The Three Gables,' there's a small, almost insignificant moment, when Watson has taken quite beating and is sitting, bruised and battered, on the stairs of their client. As Holmes passes him by, he doesn't gush with concern but simply gently pats him on the shoulder and says, "Physician, heal thyself." It's only a minor moment, but it speaks volumes about their characters and how they interact with each other.
Funnily enough, I didn't think of watching "House." I might go back and do that now. I did watch a lot of "CSI," especially the one's that heavily feature Gil Grissom. He and Holmes have a lot in common.
What can you tell us about the story you are going to tell? From the solicitations, it's certainly not traditional Holmesian fare.
Well, it is traditionally Holmesian in the way he deals with the situation he's confronted with. It's just that the situation is like nothing he's ever encountered before. I've woven into the plot a number of real-world events that happened at the time and do have a direct bearing on the story. Some are to do with the wretched, squalid conditions that existed in London back then, and one in particular is to do with a strange celestial event that became a matter of public record.
One thing I have deliberately done, is to make sure that this doesn't come over as "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" light. With perhaps just one or two minor exceptions, the series is set solely in the world of Sherlock Holmes with no guest appearances from other, external literary characters and so on. If they've appeared in the Holmes books and certain of Conan Doyle's other works, then they're fair game.
The solicitation teases, so I have to ask. Who - or what - is behind the resurrection of these ravenous revenants? Because, isn't Professor Moriarty dead? Or at least a zombie?
You're right, I can't say and the story's set in 1898, some years after Moriarty's death at the Reichenbach Falls, so there's no way he could be involved... is there?
Are there any basic rules to follow when you're writing zombie tales? I often wonder if the powers, strengths, abilities and weaknesses of zombies are universal, or do writers do whatever they like when they're writing the "Undead?"
I've kind of tried to rationalize the zombies' physiology. If you're pretty much intact when you die, no arms or legs missing, then you can move as fast as a normal person. Rigor mortis sets in after about three hours, and ceases somewhere around 72, so there's some stiff-legged shambling about for a while, but after that, you're as fast as normal. More so in fact, since you don't have to worry about injury or exhaustion. The only drawback is maggots and rot. Dead bodies decay, so the further along you are, the more you slow up as tendons and ligaments rot and snap and bits of you fall off and so on, then you're back to shambling around again. I think it's a natural way of incorporating the 'fast' zombies from Zach Snyder's "Dawn of the Dead" and the classic George Romero ambulatory cadavers.
What does Davide Fabbri bring to this project? What about your first issue cover artist, Tony Moore?
Davide's art is just amazing. He's given the stories a wonderful period feel and imbued Holmes and Watson with an energy and dynamism that people don't normally associate with them. If you're not all that familiar with the books, there's a tendency to view them as being a little cerebral and fusty, where Holmes just smokes his pipe, plays his violin, shoots up on occasion and solves mysteries as if they were crossword puzzles. However, there's a great physicality to the characters that's often overlooked, and that I've been determined to put back in. For example, in "Hound of the Baskervilles," Holmes chases down a cab on foot through central London, weaving in and out of the traffic, which is no mean feat. Also, in the case, "The Speckled Band," after being threatened by Sir Grimesby Roylott, who bends a poker into a loop just to show what a hard case he is, Holmes then proceeds to unbend the thing.
Then there's Watson who not only fought and was wounded in the battle of Maiwand, one of the bloodiest battles of the second Afghan war, but on one occasion he slugged it out with the prize-fighter Steve Dixie. Watson's a scrapper, a real little terrier of a man. As For Tony's cover, what's not to love?
When Ben mentioned that Tony was going to be doing the alternate cover, I was over-the-moon. I think his work on "The Walking Dead" is excellent, and that's no reflection on Charlie [Adlard], who, coincidentally, I worked with on "The Establishment," also for WildStorm a few years ago. When I heard that Tony's Holmes was going to be wearing the Deerstalker and Inverness cape, my heart did sink a bit. I really wanted to steer clear of that visual cliche. In Conan Doyle's time, that kind of get-up was only ever worn in the country, never the town. It simply wasn't the done thing. However, when I saw the cover, there was no way I could complain. I mean, come on, it's grisly and grotesque and hilarious. As soon as you see it, you go, "Whoa, what the Hell's this?" Which is a good thing.
This release coincides with the upcoming release of Robert Downey Jr.'s "Sherlock Holmes" movie. What are your thoughts on that project? Do you think Iron Man can deliver?
When I first saw the trailer, I couldn't quite take it in. It seemed so absurd and over-the-top that you couldn't take it seriously, but then I thought, "So what." If you want to see Holmes played straight, there's the exemplary Granda TV adaptations and then Robert Stephens in Billy Wilders classic, "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" and Christopher Plummer in "Murder by Decree."
It's not the first extreme take on Holmes either. There's the Russian version that springs to mind, and a bizarre, Hong Kong, martial arts take, where he conducts a very odd battle with, I think Moriarty, using his violin in a way it most certainty wasn't designed for. The Guy Ritchie film just seems as if he taken the characters and set-up and turned them up to a Nigel Tufnel-style 11. Is it going to be a good film? Who knows? Is it going to be a laugh? Stands a chance.
My personal favorite Holmes-pastiche movie is "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother," starring Gene Wilder as Sherlock's younger brother Sigerson and Marty Feldman as Sergeant Cheeseman, who's unique gift is that he has photographic hearing. There's a great scene where Sigerson and one of Moriarty's men are standing on top of a pair of runaway cabs, slugging it out, except one of them is using a giant boot and the other a giant glove. Now if you could get Robert Downey Jr. doing that, I'd be impressed.
If sales are strong and readers are clamoring for more, would you consider doing more Holmes miniseries? Or even an ongoing?
I have stories blocked out for at least another two mini-series, but it all depends on how this one is received first. The end of the first series leaves it wide open for more adventures. It's just down to economics after that. I like the idea of doing an on-going, monthly Holmes title, but a series of mini-series would probably be more accessible.
What else are you working on these days?
As I mentioned earlier, I'm adapting the entire Sherlock Holmes canon into a series of graphic novels for a company over here in the UK called Self Made Hero. I'm working with a friend of mine, Ian Culbard, who I adapted the "Picture of Dorian Gray" with recently. We've got the okay from the Conan Doyle estate and are working with Daniel Stashower, who's a Holmes scholar and has written a couple of 'Further Adventures of...' novels, where Holmes joins forces with Harry Houdini. We're tackling the four novels first as 130-page graphic novels, and then moving onto the short stories.
"The Hound of the Baskervilles" is already out. "A Study in Scarlet" is out this month, "The Sign of Four," next Spring, and "The Valley of Fear," late Autumn. I'm also writing "Stickleback," "The Red Seas" and "Ampney Crucis Investigates" for 2000AD, and my own take on "Aladdin" for Radical.
"Victorian Undead," written by Ian Edginton with art by Davide Fabbri and covers by Tony Moore and Simon Coleby, goes on sale November 18.