Saturday's Sherlockian Conundrum

With Mr. Holmes in theaters and a new Sherlock special on the horizon, once again the 'best version' discussion-slash-friendly-wrangle-of-an-argument has cropped up among my Holmesian friends. Someone asked me about the best version of Holmes in COMICS and it stonkered me.

There are lots of adaptations, of course. The old Classics Illustrated took a couple of swings at Holmes back in the fifties. And there was a newspaper strip as well that was reasonably faithful to Doyle.

Those were okay for what they were, but they didn't really light up the room. The disappointment with the old Classics Illustrated, in my admittedly limited experience, was that they put it all into the gorgeous painted covers. Once you opened the book it was all dull, stilted art and overloaded, talky writing.

There was the two-part The Hound of the Baskervilles in Marvel Preview back in the seventies.

That was from Roy Thomas, with art by Val Mayerik and Tony DeZuniga. It's a solid adaptation, and long enough to do the story justice. Mayerik did a good job of visual interpretation, considering the story is mostly a lot of Watson ruminating on the bleakness of the moor, mixed with the occasional dialogue scene between the main characters. Holmes isn't even there for a lot of it and there are few action set-pieces. (Although there are more action scenes than any other Sherlock Holmes tale, which is probably why it's picked so often for adaptation.)

DC also did a Holmes series in the 1970s... that ran one issue.

This was by Denny O'Neil and E.R. Cruz. It suffered from trying to cram both "The Final Problem" and "The Empty House" into one issue. I can certainly understand wanting to lead off with the evil Professor Moriarty, especially if DC planned to do originals as well as adaptations, but eighteen pages wasn't nearly enough. This was exacerbated by O'Neil adding action scenes.

Certainly, again, it makes sense to try and add a more visual element but eighteen pages is simply too limited an amount of real estate. Pity it was stillborn, because O'Neil had a good feel for Holmes and the art from Cruz was stunning.

Renegade Press did some heavily-illustrated text comics in the 1980s, but these were not great.

The art from Dan Day was gorgeous but the text was just too tiny and the layout was difficult to follow. I'd have to file that one under 'nice try,' sadly.

More recently we've had the Arthur Conan Doyle collection from Graphic Classics.

This is a terrific anthology featuring not just Sherlock Holmes, but other Doyle stories as well. The two Sherlockian entries are "The Copper Beeches" (with terrific art from Rick Geary!) and "The Engineer's Thumb."

And Kelley Jones has been doing some really gorgeous Holmes stuff for IDW.

These are heavily-illustrated prose editions, again, not true comics. But they are beautiful illustrations. Recently IDW announced Jones would be adapting The Seven Per Cent Solution, the Nicholas Meyer pastiche that triggered the wave of Sherlock-mania back when I was in high school.

At the end of the day, though, they're still stories that most all Holmes fans have seen before. The Marvel Hound from Thomas and Mayerik is my pick for the best of them just because of the fact that it's got so much room to work in, and the pages are large enough that you can appreciate the art even on that crappy newsprint. The Graphic Classics collection is also very cool but that recommendation is just as much for the non-Sherlockian content.

When you get away from doing straight-up comics versions of Doyle, things start looking up. Pastiches of Holmes in comics are a lot more interesting. There's Son of Sherlock Holmes, which can be admittedly spendy to track down, from Byron Preiss's short-lived graphic novel experiment Fiction Illustrated.

Story by Preiss, art by Ralph Reese. The art far surpasses the story but the story's not BAD.

Then there's Scarlet in Gaslight from Martin Powell and Seppo Makinen. This Holmes vs. Dracula tale is brilliant.

They followed this up with A Case of Blind Fear, and there was also The Case of The Missing Martian, crossing over with H.G. Wells's Invisible Man and War of the Worlds, respectively. Both are pretty good but Scarlet is the one to get, and fortunately it's easy to find, there have been a number of reprint collections over the years.

Another genius pastiche was the gender-bending Baker Street co-written by Gary Reed and Guy Davis, with amazing art from Guy Davis.

This was a little gem of a black-and-white series from Caliber Comics that ran ten issues and a couple of specials, all of which have been collected in paperback in various editions.

I think the trades are out of print but they're well worth searching out.

More recently Dynamite has done a couple of Holmes originals, and there's also been one from Dark Horse, all of which I enjoyed.

Nothing earth-shattering but each one was fair-to-middlin' good.

And they keep coming-- I can't keep up. I'm especially interested in the Watson and Holmes comics from Karl Bollers and Rick Leonardi. This raises the ante on television's Sherlock/Elementary idea of putting Holmes and Watson in the modern day by making them tough African-Americans in today's Harlem.

Book one was successfully Kickstarted not too long ago and book two's on the way.

That's just one of many new Sherlockian efforts to pop up in the last couple of years. We're seeing another surge like the one in the wake of Nicholas Meyer that I remember from high school, except this one is in comics.

I hear good things about Moriarty from Image, particularly, though the new Holmes-Houdini miniseries from Dynamite is probably more in my wheelhouse. Of the pastiches I have seen, though, my pick for all-time best is probably still a tie between Baker Street and Scarlet in Gaslight, I can't choose between those. The good news is, I don't have to.

I'd be curious to hear from the Sherlockians out there reading this. I know I probably missed some. What are they? And what's your pick for best Holmes in comics?

Let's hear it down in the comments. Meanwhile, I've got a Holmes deadline of my own, so I'll see you next week.

Rob Liefeld Is Done With Marvel for Foreseeable Future

More in Comics