Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Holmes Sweet Holmes

Posted by Don MacPherson on May 7th, 2009

Sherlock Holmes #1
“The Trial of Sherlock Holmes, Part One: A Smoking Gun”
Writers: Leah Moore & John Reppion
Artist: Aaron Campbell
Colors: Tony Avina
Letters: Simon Bowland
Cover artist: John Cassaday
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Price: $3.50 US

Being a comics writing team consisting of the daughter and son-in-law of Alan Moore must be something of a daunting prospect. The family association no doubt brings a lot of expectations along with it. Of the various Leah Moore/John Reppion comics I’ve read in the past, they’ve ranged from capably crafted, entertaining works to groan-inducing, creative flops. Sherlock Holmes doesn’t fall into either category, as it stands out as the strongest bit of writing I’ve seen from this team thus far in its career (albeit, I admit I haven’t sampled every one of their published efforts to date). Moore and Reppion capture a classic Holmes tone (or least what passes for one as far as I can tell), and they do so with some fun, intriguing mystery storytelling. There’s not just one mystery for Holmes to solve here, but several, all intertwining with one another. This was a strong debut issue, and I await the next episode with bated breath.

In the wake of a devastating and puzzling bombing incident in London, an ailing man who once served as an assistant police commissioner calls upon Sherlock Holmes to bring his keen mind to prevent his own murder. Someone claiming to be responsible for the bombing has sent the sick man a message predicting his death at a specific hour. That time draws near, so Holmes and his trusted colleague Dr. Watson head out to the scene of the supposed crime-to-be.

Aaron Campbell’s style, which has a sort of rough-around-the-edges quality, captures the period nicely. His style reminds me of that of Lee (Joker graphic novel) Bermejo. Oddly enough, I really enjoyed his take on Watson; there’s so much character in his face. There’s something familiar and comforting about Watson as compared to the lean, clean Holmes. Sometimes, his backgrounds are lacking in detail, notably during Holmes and Watson’s first conversation in this issue, but overall, his visuals really reinforce the story and draw the reader into an atmosphere of intrigue and tension. Adding to that mood are the colors. Tony Avina does an exceptional job when it comes to fostering a haunting environment, especially later in the issue.

It’s probably just because I’m a news reporter by day, but I thoroughly enjoyed the late 19th-century take on news reporting, which serves as the narrative voice for the opening scene. I have no idea if such purple prose was common in newspapers of that era, but I loved the colorful, Victorian-era prose for some reason. It put me in just the right mood for the rest of the story.

I rather enjoyed how the writers keep shifting gears throughout the script. At first, the mystery stems from a bombing. Next, we learn of Holmes being contacted by a noted celebrity with a link to royalty, but why, we don’t know. And then there’s the mystery of the dying man threatened with a precise time of death. Clearly, there’s a far more complex story forming; Moore and Reppion have tossed out a few piece of the puzzle that will converge as part of a larger picture. In the meantime, the reader gets more mysteries for his money.

Moore and Reppion have quite the advantage when it comes to this title character. They don’t have to spend much time with introductions or character development. Sherlock Holmes is an icon known the world over, so the writers know going in that the audience is going to be quite familiar with him. That allows them to pull off the best scene in the book, and that’s the one featuring a befuddled and speechless Holmes. The reader’s knowledge of Holmes, his intellect and his confidence allow that moment to pack a much stronger impact without having to firmly establish Holmes’s ego and reputation beyond some superficial exposition in the script. It’s a great take on Holmes, and if the mysteries peppered throughout the issue before that moment weren’t enough to hook you, that look on Holmes’s face will. 8/10

One Response to “Holmes Sweet Holmes”

  1. Aaron Thall Says:

    I’m just a casual Holmes fan myself, but I picked this up on a hunch that it might be something special.

    I was right. The climax of the issue, the whole thing, was absolutely astonishing. No spoilers here, nope nope. While one element of it I’ve seen before (in the old black and white tv series), what leads up to it just floored me.

    A lot of people will probably wait for the trade. They’re fools. When the cliffhanger’s this good, the anticipation is half the point and the fun.